Witchcraft in Europe

Long before religions based on a belief in one god, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, became the dominant religions of the world, most cultures believed in more than one god, or were polytheistic. At the center of this ancient belief system was the idea that the world is controlled by powers that are both visible and invisible, and people relied on magic—the use of means believed to have supernatural power over natural forces—to understand and control their environment. Archaeologists, scientists who study the remains of ancient cultures, and scholars have discovered cave drawings dating back as far as 17,000 years that depict the practice of magic. In an ancient community one or two people possessed the wisdom and skill to work magic, which involved making potions and casting spells to bring about certain effects or events. They predicted the future, gave advice, and interpreted the will of unknown spiritual forces. They concocted herb remedies for pain and disease, assisted in the birthing of children, and were relied upon for success in hunting and growing crops.

People with these special skills, which were considered sacred, were granted a high moral and social status. Most were

Words to Know charm: words, action,s or objects that are supposed to have magical powers

Christianity: religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ deity: a god or goddess druid: a group of pagan priests originally in ancient Britain eradication: destruction famine: state when there is not enough for everyone to eat fertility: ability to have children heathen: non-Christians heresy: a belief that strays from the common teachings of a religion hysteria: panic often brought on by fear

Islam: a religion that believes in one God, and believes that the last prophet of that God was Muhammad

Judaism: a religion whose followers believe in one God and do not follow the teachings of Jesus, but rather the Old Testament of the Bible and the Talmud magic: the use of means believed to have supernatural power over natural forces midwife: a woman trained to help a woman during childbirth misogyny: an unfounded fear or hate of women monotheism: the belief in one god pagan: a person without religion polytheism: the belief in many gods potion: a mixture of liquid ingredients that has medicinal or magical powers relic: an object with religious or historical significance shaman: a member of an organized society who acts as a spiritual leader or link between the physical world and the spiritual world sorcerer: a wizard spell: a word or phrase that is believed to have magical powers supernatural: other worldly superstition: belief in something with no factual basis totem: an object, usually an animal or plant, that serves as the symbol of a certain family or clan witch: a woman who is believed to be able to perform magic women, but many men also possessed the knowledge to alter events through supernatural and natural means. Nevertheless women were believed to have a direct connection with unseen forces through their ability to bear children and thus influence the continuity of life. Many modern historians consider this era to have been a life-affirming time in human history, when

Whether magic is used for productive or destructive purposes, it consists of four elements. The first is the use of symbolic gestures and ritualized behavior, which could involve dancing, singing, or any number of motions believed to bring about a desired outcome. Every culture on Earth contains some aspect of symbolic gestures or ritualized behavior performed either by an entire group or by a select few individuals. Another element is the use of particular objects and/or substances that produce magical effects. Among them are totems (emblems), powders, charms, and herbal mixtures. Contemporary scientists have actually conducted research with substances commonly used by ancient practitioners of magic. The scientists found that the substances could induce intense feelings of power and transformation. In one case, ingredients for a "flight potion" from the thirteenth century were mixed by two scientists who independently reported that they felt they had flown to the top of a high mountain and spoken with spirits. A third part of magic is a special utterance or series of words that are believed to carry significant power. The final element involves the qualities possessed by the performer of rituals. Each culture had its own definition of the person who was capable of performing magic, whether it be the shaman, village midwife, or council of druids. Only a select few were trusted— and even feared—for their ability to enter the unique mental and physical state necessary to perform magic.

During ancient times a distinction was made between sorcerers and witches. Both were considered to have the power to influence events through the use of magic, but sorcerers were feared more than witches. Acting in malevolent and spiteful ways, sorcerers performed what was called "black magic." On the other hand, witches used "white magic" for the benefit of their communities. They were regarded as valuable and necessary members of society up until the beginning of the Middle Ages. The distinction between sorcerers and witches was finally erased by the Christian movement, which equated any form of magical practice with Satanism and evil.

women held a special place in the community. Eventually people with magical skills came to be known as witches. The term "witch" has been traced to Old Teutonic (Germanic) words like wik (meaning to bend) or Old English words such as wiccian (to cast spells) and witan (wise person). The use of magic for beneficial purposes was even encouraged by the Old Testament

(the first part of the Bible, the Christian holy book), which demanded the death penalty for practitioners of malevolent (evil) magic but acknowledged the positive virtues of "white" (beneficial and healing) magic.

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