After a lovely conversation with a very Christian woman on whether or not essential oils were witchcraft I came to the realization that most people don’t know how to define witchcraft, let alone know how they feel about it. We have a culture in which the witch is always bad, evil, and out to get the good guys (unless it’s Glenda, the exception that proves the rule). Our culture doesn’t actually tell anyone what witchcraft actually is let alone why they should or should not be afraid of it. How are you supposed to avoid involvement in something if you don’t know what it is? When someone asks me about something being or not being witchcraft, I generally ask them a few questions. These questions are below for your consideration, so that you can better define what witchcraft means to you. Each person will find different parameters for what they consider to be witchcraft; some of you will think all of this is craft. Keep in mind the purpose of this article is not to persuade you to believe anything, simply to share some things to consider so you can clarify this issue for yourself.
Is medication witchcraft?
Most medications currently in use came from witches, cunning folk, or other people of the woods. For instance, foxglove, also called digitalis, is a heart medication. It’s documented in use for things like dropsy (edema) as early as 1250 when the Physicians of Myddvai, a family of Welsh healers who traced their healing gifts back to the gods, wrote of its uses (though the Romans also used this plant as part of a healing cult). The plant was used erratically until William Withering, a physician, wrote about it and published a monograph of the foxglove plant. According to his own writings (An Account of the Foxglove and Some of Its Medical Uses: With Practical Remarks on Dropsy, and Other Diseases published 1785), he took the remedy from a “goodwife,” that is a healing witch, from Shropshire. She used a formula that combined more than 20 herbs, but he found the most active ingredient in the foxglove plant, distilled an extract, and the drug was born. It’s worth noting that his writings show the side effects of the extract and that her formula prevented those side effects. The genus name of the plant, Digitalis, comes from the German botanist Leonhardt Fuchs, who used the Doctrine of Signatures to note that the flowers resembled a digit (finger) of a glove.
The Doctrine of Signatures is the belief that energy which creates the physical world manifests in shapes both in plants and in people. Therefore, a kidney bean will help the kidneys because they look the same, and plants with leaves shaped like livers are good for the liver. This is the foundation of much of our medicine, all of which developed from witchcraft, cunning tradition or alchemy.
Considering its roots in witchcraft and the survival of witchcraft teachings due to its existence, is medication witchcraft?
Is herbalism witchcraft?
The next question is obviously whether using herbs is witchcraft. After all, essential oils were what spurred the post (developed by alchemists). As an herbalist, I can tell you that many of us actually get our instructions on how to use plants from the plants themselves. Some of us experience this partnership in sound, some see it in flashes of images, others see where to find plants to make medicines in our dreams. Most of the mainstream herbalists I know have these experiences, though they don’t talk about them. Herbalism is a very spiritual practice that helps thousands of people every year and is used by an estimated 93% of Americans annually (http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=210301). Most of what I do which people call “witchcraft” is making tinctures, teas and other remedies from plants. Old anecdotes like “rosemary for remembrance” are taken from craft traditions, though many of them have been scientifically proven (all parts of rosemary improve brain function and memory, even if you just smell the plant). Does using herbs mean you’re partaking in witchcraft?
This issue extends into the ideas of farming, growing plants, and working with energy. Farming practices that were once ritualized (such as spreading blood from sacrifices on the ground to fertilize it) have now been adapted into modern, more scientific practices (in this case, putting fertilizer on the ground). Science shows that talking to plants actually does help them grow better, as does the energy fields of major megalithic structures around the world built by our pagan ancestors. As witchcraft can be used as a blanket term, does this mean that working with energy, following the seasons, or growing crops is witchcraft?
Is surgery witchcraft?
Much of medical science originates with ‘witchdoctors.’ Neurosurgery is included in this. Trepannation, that is to drill or saw a hole in the skull to expose the brain in order to remove something from the brain, has been being performed since the stone age. It’s still performed in some parts of the world with success by shamans and craft practitioners. We know ancient people were successful with their witchcraft surgeries because the skull tissue grew back around the openings. I could go surgery by surgery, and show how much of modern day surgery is a sterilized variant of witchcraft forerunners, but the point is made. What do you think- is surgery wrong because it’s witchcraft?
Is chemistry witchcraft?
Chemistry is also a helpful offshoot of witchcraft. After the Apostle Paul wrote that women should not instruct men or hold leadership positions in the congregation, women were suppressed. Women practicing herbalism, medicine, surgery, or spiritual practices, all of which we’ve established are witchcraft, were executed. Such incidences as the Salem Witch Trials demonstrate that simply being accused of such practices could lead to death, as Tituba’s ability to use herbs was part of the beginning of the whole fiasco. Men were allowed to be ‘physicians.’ Working with the esoteric and occult arts was often a part of this, and alchemy was part of this development. Alchemy, which attempted to refine both the inner and outer world by creating and observing changes in natural substances both within and without, gave rise to chemistry. Alchemy was a deeply spiritual practice no matter what part of the world we look at; it’s very name, taken from “al khemet,” refers to its origins in the black soil of Egyptian mysticism. Egyptian mystery cults have existed all over the world, and even Jesus performed some of the traditional works of these people (such as turning water into wine). Other holy people of the bible also participated in some of these practices, such as Moses’ staff turning into a snake and healing the people with a staff with a snake on it, both of which are traditional alchemical practices. Alchemy is also part of where our ideas of psychology come from.
Is psychology witchcraft?
Naturally, our next stop is psychology. Jung is the best example of the roots of psychology being in witchcraft, as his theories about archetypes and teachings about consciousness and dreamwork all originate in his study of myth and existed prior in both witchcraft and other pagan teachings. The Romans had many ‘dream temples’ where a person could use plant substances and incubate dreams. Some of these, such as the Temple of Nodens in England, are still used for this purpose.
You may have noticed a trend. In many ancient cultures healing and the ‘craft’ were the same thing. Nodens, the deity for which the mentioned temple is for, was a god of healing, dreams and sleep. Witchcraft in general is based strongly on understanding and working with correspondences, one of which is how dreaming, sleep and healing all come together.
In fact, there are witchcraft and Wiccan groups that only teach psychology and neurology. My first year of training in Stone Circle Wicca was a whole year dedicated to understanding the brain, history, and psychology behind symbols such as the knife, the chalice, and others. The point was so we could have events which created psycho-emotive triggers for change in the participants. Working with deities or spirits isn’t even a part of their training in that form of Wicca; it’s all psychology, the brain and other organ systems, symbols and correspondences.
Is Christian ritual witchcraft?
Speaking of correspondences, we should take a look at some of the things Christians do and their origins. You probably know that the Christian holidays are taken from pagan traditions, especially witchcraft. Other practices were being used long before Christ. Prayer, or communing with an energy in a way that feeds the energetic being (whether that is a spirit, God, ancestor or other being) exists in literally every culture. In my shamanic training, I was actually taught a form of prayer that can clear spirits and the dead from an area. It survived Christianizing of the area it came from because prayer was adapted to Christianity. Baptism is also practiced in shamanic traditions that use death rituals, which symbolize the ending of the life one had to formally begin life anew.
Other rituals, such as Catholic mass, take elements directly from witchcraft. Sandra Miesel, the Catholic journalist, once referred to witchcraft as “Catholicism without Christ” (“The Witches Next Door,” Crisis, June 2002). The altar used in Catholicism is literally a Christianized copy of a witch’s altar, and symbols such as the chalice are taken directly from the witchcraft traditions Catholicism conquered and incorporated. Things like colored candles and their correspondences, the way bells are used, and many other aspects of Catholicism are taken directly from craft traditions.
My goal with this piece has been to help you understand the various usages of the word ‘witchcraft,’ and to make you think about what your beliefs are. The word is widely used for many things. There are dangers in all practices, including both Christianity and Witchcraft, but an honest examination shows that things considered ‘witchcraft’ often are part of being alive as a human being, some of which it is literally impossible not to take part in. It is my hope that this document has given you some things to think about. Blessings and love on your way.