While doing research for this paper I decided to talk to some modern witches. When I informed some of my friends of this the most common remark was “Be careful!.” From these conversations it quickly became evident that most people have no idea what witches believe or even if they exist. However, almost everyone has an image of an ugly witch on a broom, who kidnaps and eats little children. Kids dress up like her during Halloween, and books like Hansel and Gretel introduce her to each new generation of children. I became interested in where all these stereotypes about witches come from and how they differ from the reality about witches and Wicca. It seems that most of the stereotypes can be traced to the Middle Ages and the time of the witch craze and the inquisition.
1. The stereotype of witches and where it comes from
a. Pre-Christian Witches
Although most of the stereotypes of witches can be traced to the Middle Ages, it does not mean that people during this time came up with the description of a witch without prior historical influence. In order to understand what happened during the Middle Ages to create the images of a witch that we know today, it is necessary to go back to pre-Christian times.
European witchcraft during the Middle Ages was strongly influenced by beliefs in magic and sorcery from the Greco-Roman as well as Hebrew times. The Greeks had a sophisticated system of magic that was combined with witchcraft and religion. The highest level of magic was that dealing with the gods. This was the one acceptable form. The two lower levels both deal with individuals who claim to brew potions, recite incantations, or give people magical objects. These people usually sold their...
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...with all the other groups that fall under the name of witchcraft.
1. Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981
2. Ankarloo, Bengt and Henningsen, Gustav. Early Modern European Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
3. Barry, Jonathan and Hester, Marianne and Roberts, Gareth. Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
4. Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
5. Farrar, Stewart. What Witches Do. Blaine: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1991
6. Russell, Jeffrey. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans. New York: Themes and Hudson Inc. 1983.
7. Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 1989
8. Interview with Seamus McKeon and Sandy Herrera both practicing Wiccans.
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