Fertility Signals In Witchcraft

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Leach, Maria, ed., and Jerome Fried, assoc. ed. Funk & Wag-nall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Opie, Iona, and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Ishtar The great mother GoDDEss of ancient Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. Ishtar was said to be either the daughter of the sky god, Anu, or the MooN god, Sin. Over the course of time, Ishtar absorbed the characteristics of other goddesses and so represents different aspects. Worship of her spread throughout the Middle East, Greece and Egypt. She was an oracle. She ruled over fertility, sex and war and protected man against evil. As the many-breasted Opener of the Womb, she was the giver of all life; as the Destroyer and Queen of the Underworld, she also was the taker of all life. As goddess of the moon, her waxing and waning ruled the cyclical birth and death of the planet. She was the Heavenly Cow, the Green One, the Mistress of the Field.

Her son, Tammuz, also called the Green One, became her lover upon his reaching manhood. Ishtar descended to the realm of the dead to rescue Tammuz, a myth nearly identical to an earlier Sumerian myth of INANNA and Damuzi, and similar to the myth of DEMETER and Kore. When Ishtar descended, both fertility and sexual desire went dormant, to await her seasonal return.

As Queen of Heaven, Ishtar replaced Sin as the moon deity; she rode through the sky at night in a chariot drawn by goats or lions. The Zodiac was known as the "girdle of Ishtar," which also refers to the ancient moon calendar. She was the giver of omens and prophecy through dreams, and through her magic, others could obtain secret knowledge.

Ishtar was associated with the planet Venus. The lion and dove were sacred to her.

Isis The ancient Egyptian Mother GoDDEss, the prototype of the faithful wife and fertile, protective mother. Isis is associated with Sirius, the dog star, the rising of which signals the vernal equinox. Her symbol is the MooN. She is often shown crowned with a lunar orb nestled between the horns of a bull or ram. The worship of Isis was adopted by the Greeks and Romans.

The name Isis is the Greek word for the Egyptian hieroglyphic for "throne." She was the sister and wife of the god Osiris. A mortal magician, Isis acquired immortality by tricking the sun god, Ra, into revealing his secret name. She obtained some of his sPITTLE, made a snake from it and left the snake in his path. Ra was bitten and in great agony. She offered to relieve the pain if he would tell her his secret name, and he relented.

Wiccan Immortality Symbol
Isis (ATHANASIUS KIRCHER, oedipus jgyptiacus, 1652)

When Osiris' treacherous brother, Set (Seth), murdered and dismembered him, Isis scoured the land to find the body parts and used her MAGIC to put them together and breathe life into the body so that she and Osiris could be together one last time before he left to rule the underworld. A son, Horus, was born posthumously and in a virgin birth, and Isis protected the child against Set until Horus was old enough to fight. In art, she was often depicted holding Horus in her arms. After the child was born, Set returned and cut the body of Osiris into 14 pieces, which he scattered along the Nile. Once again, Isis went in search of them, but this time she buried each piece where she found it, so that it would fertilize the land.

Isis of the mysteries and Hermetic wisdom. According to Plutarch, numerous ancient writers believed Isis to be the daughter of HERMES, while others said she was the daughter of Prometheus. Plutarch said her name meant "wisdom." She was known as the goddess of 10,000 appellations. In the Egyptian mysteries, Isis represented the female aspect of the Deity to mankind; she was the Universal Mother of all that lives; wisdom, truth and power. Statues of her were decorated with stars, the Moon and the Sun. Her girdle was joined together with four golden plates which signify the four elements of nature. Her priests were adept at controlling and using the Unseen Forces.

According to Hermetic wisdom, Isis, the Goddess of Women, was schooled by Hermes. With him, she invented the writings of all nations, caused men to love women, invented sailing, gave mankind its laws, ended cannibalism, made justice more powerful than gold or silver, instructed mankind in the mysteries and caused truth to be considered beautiful. An inscription at her temple at Sais read: "I am that which is, which hath been, and which shall be; and no man has ever lifted the veil that hides my Divinity from mortal eyes." The Isis of the mysteries is completely veiled by a scarlet cloth. To initiates who learn her mysteries, she lifts her veil, and they are to remain forever silent about what they have seen.

The Bembine Table of Isis. In 1527, after the sacking of Rome, a bronze tablet measuring 50 by 30 inches and decorated with SILVER and enamel inlay came into the possession of a locksmith or ironworker, who sold it to Cardinal Bembo of Italy. The Bembine Table of Isis, or Isaic Table, is covered with hieroglyphics and inscriptions concerning mystical knowledge and an occult system of sacrifices, rites and ceremonies. It apparently was once used as an altar, perhaps in the chambers where the mysteries of Isis were revealed to initiates. Eliphas Levi believed the tablet was a key to the Book of Thoth, or the Tarot. The tablet is in the Museum of Antiquities at Turin.

Isis as goddess of magic and healing. Isis possessed powerful magic that made even Anubis, god of death, subject to her whims. Therefore, people prayed to her on behalf of the sick and dying. She was goddess of healing and childbirth. At night, she visited the sick, brushing them gently with her wings as she said magical incantations to heal them.

Isis is identified as the Virgin in the constellation Virgo. In Christianity, she has been absorbed by the Virgin Mary. Her image is used in association with magical arts, the occult, thaumaturgy and sorcery.

See HERMETICA.

Island Magee Witches The last witch trial to occur in Ireland took place in 1711 and involved the mysterious death of a widow, poltergeist activities and the bizarre POSSESSION of a serving girl. The accused witches were not executed but sentenced to a much milder punishment of imprisonment and public ridicule.

The incidents leading to the trial began in September 1710. Anne Hattridge (or Haltridge), widow of the Presbyterian minister at Island Magee, visited the home of her son, James, and his wife. The widow was plagued every night by some unseen force which hurled stones and turf onto her bed (see LITHOBOLY), blew open the curtains, stripped off her nightclothes and snatched the pillows from under her head. Frightened, Mrs. Hattridge finally moved to another room.

But the mysterious activities continued in other forms. On December 11, as Mrs. Hattridge sat by the fire at about twilight, a strange little boy about 12 years old appeared suddenly and sat down beside her. She couldn't see his face, because he kept it covered with a worn blanket, but she observed that he had short black hair and was dressed in dirty and torn clothing. He didn't answer her questions as to who he was or where he'd come from but danced "very nimbly" around the kitchen and then ran out of the house and into the cow shed. The servants attempted to catch him, but the boy had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

The apparition did not manifest again until February 11, 1711, when it apparently took a book of sermons that Mrs. Hattridge had been reading. The next day, the boy appeared outside the house, thrust his hand through a glass window and held out the book to one of the servants. He declared Mrs. Hattridge would never get the book back and that the DEVIL had taught him how to read.

The servant, named Margaret Spear, exclaimed, "The Lord bless me from thee!" But the boy laughed and produced a sword, threatening to kill all the occupants of the house. They couldn't prevent him from entering, he said, because the Devil could make him any size or creature he pleased (see METAMORpHOSIS). He threw a stone through the window. When the frightened girl next looked out, she saw the boy catching a turkey cock and making off with it into the woods. The bird managed to escape his grasp.

Then the girl saw the boy begin to dig in the ground with his sword. He announced that he was "making a grave for a corpse which will come out of this house very soon." He flew off into the air (see FLYING).

All was quiet in the Hattridge household until February 15, when Mrs. Hattridge's clothes were moved about her room and then were found laid out on the bed like a corpse. By this time, the news of the supernatural activities had spread throughout town, and numerous people, including the new Presbyterian minister, had come to the house to investigate. No one was able to help. One night, Mrs. Hattridge awoke at midnight complaining of a great pain in her back, as though she'd been stabbed with a knife. The pain persisted and Mrs. Hattridge's condition began to deteriorate, until she died on February 22. During her last days, her clothing continued to be moved mysteriously about various rooms in the house. The townspeople gossiped that Mrs. Hattridge had been bewitched to death.

On February 27 a servant girl named Mary Dunbar came to stay at the house to keep the younger Mrs. Hattridge company. The night she arrived, Dunbar was plagued by supernatural trouble. She found her clothing scattered about and one of her aprons tied into five knots (see knots). She undid them and found a flannel cap that had belonged to the deceased Mrs. Hattridge. On the following day she was suddenly seized with a violent pain in her thigh and suffered fits and ravings.

Dunbar exclaimed that several women were bewitching her; she described them during two fits and gave their names: Janet Liston, Elizabeth Seller, Kate M'Calmond, Janet Carson, Janet Mean, Janet Latimer and "Mrs. Ann." Accordingly, the suspects were arrested and brought to trial. Whenever one of them was brought near Dunbar (usually without Dunbar's knowledge), the young girl fell into fits, hearing and seeing visions of her tormentors and vomiting up great quantities of feathers, cotton, yarn, pins and buttons (see ALLoTRiopHAGY). She would repeat her conversations with the alleged witches and thrash about so violently that it took three strong men to hold her down. According to testimony by Rev. Dr. Tisdall, vicar of Belfast:

In her fits she often had her tongue thrust into her windpipe in such a manner than she was like to choak, and the root seemed pulled up into her mouth.

Dunbar claimed her tormentors prohibited her from leaving her room. Whenever she attempted to do so for a while, she fell into fits. One witness claimed he saw a knotted bracelet of yarn appear mysteriously around her wrist. Dunbar also said her tormentors told her she would not be able to give evidence against them in court. During the entire trial, she was struck dumb and sat senseless as though in a trance. Later, Dunbar said she had been possessed by three of the accused witches throughout the proceedings.

According to an account of the trial in MacSkimin's History of Carrickfergus:

It was also deposed that strange noises, as of whistling, scratching, etc., were heard in the house, and that a sulphureous [sic] smell was observed in the rooms; that stones, turf, and the like were thrown about the house, and the coverlets, etc., frequently taken off the beds and made up in the shape of a corpse; and that a bolster [ghost] once walked out of a room into the kitchen with a nightgown about it!

The defendants, none of whom had a lawyer, all denied the charges of witchcraft, and the "one with the worst looks, and therefore the greatest suspect, called God to witness she was wronged." According to court records,

Their characters were inquired into, and some were reported unfavorably of, which seemed to be rather due to their ill appearance than to any facts provided against them. It was made to appear on oath that most of them had received the Communion, some of them very lately, that several of them had been laborious, industrious people, and had frequently been known to pray with their families, both publickly and privately; most of them could say the Lord's Prayer . . . they being every one Presbyterians.

The trial was short, lasting from six o'clock in the morning until two in the afternoon. In Judge Upton's opinion, there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendants. He had no doubt that Dunbar's affliction was "preternatural and diabolical," but if the defendants really were witches in compact with the Devil, "it could hardly be presumed that they should be such constant at-tenders upon Divine Service, both in public and private." He instructed the jury that they could not reach a guilty verdict "upon the sole testimony of the afflicted person's visionary images."

The jury felt differently, however, and declared a guilty verdict for all defendants. They were sentenced to a year in jail and to stand in a pillory four times during their incarceration. While pilloried, the "unfortunate wretches" were pelted with eggs and cabbage stalks; one of them was blinded in one eye.

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