and novels of baby-eating hags and Satan worshipers gathered in candlelit circles intoning ominous chants.
Witchcraft as a religion was born in Britain after World War II and came out of the closet when the anti-witchcraft laws there were repealed in 1953. It is argued that Gerald B. Gardner, the man who more or less invented the religion, should have chosen another term besides witchcraft for the mix of pagan, ceremonial magic and occult material he assembled. Perhaps witchcraft sounded secretive, exotic and forbidden. It certainly struck the right chord with the public, who suddenly could not get enough of witches.
Gardner may not have envisioned a worldwide religious movement, but that is what unfolded, first with the export of Witchcraft to the United States, Canada and Europe, and then around the world. The "Gardner tradition," as it became known, quickly mutated into offshoots.
A spiritual tradition that reinvented pagan deities and rituals, combined with folk magic and ceremonial magic, proved to be what many people wanted. Alienated by the dry, crusty rituals and somber dogma of patriarchal mainstream Christianity and Judaism, people were hungry for a spirituality that was fresh and creative. Witch-craft—as well as reborn Paganism, reconstructions of pre-Christian and non-Christian traditions—offered just that, along with independence, autonomy, a connection to Nature and direct contact with the Divine. No need for meddling priests, ministers and clergy to guard the gates to the Godhead—or the afterlife. Another appeal was the top billing given to the feminine aspect of deity—the Goddess. And, sensuality was honored and celebrated, not punished.
Witchcraft the religion, along with its Pagan cousins, flourished in the blooming New Age counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and then took hold on the edges of mainstream society. In the years since its birth, Witchcraft has solidified some in uniform codes, values and core beliefs. But at heart it remains fluid, constantly evolving in practice and interpretation. Practitioners find Witchcraft empowering and believe it provides a powerful spiritual path on a par with all other mystical, spiritual and religious paths. Dozens and dozens of Witchcraft and Pagan traditions exist, and new ones are born all the time.
Witchcraft and Paganism have survived the first tests of time. The movements took hold in the baby boom generation. Now, the children and grandchildren of those people are growing up Wiccan and Pagan, and new young people are attracted to the fold in increasing numbers.
But there remains that pesky word witchcraft, which still evokes Satan, evil and black magic to many outsiders.
For decades now, Witches have argued about whether or not Witch ought to be replaced with a term that doesn't come with so much negative baggage. Some have adopted the terms Wicca and Wiccan to describe themselves and their religion and also to distinguish who they are and what they do from folk magic.
Today, most Witches stand firm by the terms Witch and Witchcraft, believing that the public can and should be reeducated about both. They have made headway, for Witchcraft/Wiccan churches are recognized legally, Witch holidays have gained some official recognition, and, in the United States, Wiccan military veterans have won the right to have the pentacle, their religious symbol, placed on their tombstones.
The different kinds and definitions of witchcraft present a challenge in putting together an encyclopedia. First, there is witchcraft the magical art, which deals with sorcery, spell-casting for good or ill, healing and divination. Then there is the Inquisition witchcraft, the alleged Devil worship. And then there is Witchcraft the religion. All three overlap, and all three are covered in this volume. Most of the topics deal with the history and evolution of witchcraft in the West, though there are entries of cross-cultural interest.
I have used a lower-case w to describe folk and Inquisition witches and witchcraft, and a capital W to refer to the modern religion. I have also used the terms Wicca and Wiccan for the modern religion. Likewise, a lowercase p in pagan and paganism are used for pre- and non-Christian references, while a capital P refers to modern religious traditions. Witchcraft the modern religion is considered a form of Paganism, but there are many forms of Paganism that are not Witchcraft.
Topics include folklore, historical cases and events, biographies, descriptions of beliefs, rites and practices and related topics. For the third edition, I have added entries in all categories and have updated entries to reflect changes and developments. Students of the Salem witch hysteria will find individual biographies on the key victims.
Witchcraft is a topic of enduring interest and study. In one respect, it peeks into a shadow side of the occult and the dark underbelly of human nature. In another respect, it opens into a realm of spiritual light.
The church may never officially apologize for the Inquisition, which destroyed many people other than accused witches. Perhaps the success of Witchcraft the religion is karmic payback for a campaign of terror in the name of religion.
—Rosemary Ellen Guiley
abracadabra A magical spell consisting of a single word, which was popular in medieval times to get rid of illness, misfortune or demons. The word is inscribed on an amulet (see amulets) or written out on paper in a magical inverted triangle, in which one letter of the word is dropped in each succeeding line, until nothing is left. The evil is supposed to fade away just as the word does. The diminishing word technique is used in many other spells for the same purposes.
In medieval times, abracadabra was believed to ward off the plague. The triangle was written on a piece of paper, which was tied around the neck with flax and worn for nine days, then tossed backwards over the shoulder into a stream of water running toward the east.
The word's origin is unknown. It is said by some to have been invented around 208 by Quintus Serenus Sam-monicus, physician to the Roman emperor Severus, as a cure for fever. Some hold that Sammonicus merely borrowed a formula that was much older.
According to others, the word comes from the old Aramaic phrase, abhadda kedhabhra, "disappear like this word," or the Hebrew phrase abreq ad habra, "hurl your thunderbolt even unto death." It is also said to be derived from the name Abraxas, the Gnostic god who appears on charms against the evil eye dating from the second century. Another possibility is that it is the name of some long-forgotten demon. Increase MATHER dismissed it as a "hobgoblin word" that had no power at all. ALEIsTER Crowley, on the other hand, said it is a magical word of great power and that its true form is abrahadabra.
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