A Brief History of Witchcraft
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.


Witchcraft is generally thought of as a supernatural evil. Legendary witches of literature were:

The word witchcraft means "craft of the wise." The word wicca means "wise one" (Glass, 13). Witchcraft is the oldest of all religions and was alive well before the Druids. The Druids were sun-worshippers who were thought to have built Stonehenge, but this British landmark was built much earlier in 1800 B.C. The Druids were not around until the fifth (5th) century B.C. For a time, Druidism was the official religion of the British Isles. Many witches were Christians. The Christian church taught reincarnation for awhile until the doctrine of original sin was adopted. Witchcraft believes in hereditary. Knowledge is passed on through each generation and those people that keep the traditions alive seem to inherit these traits. Telepathy is a form of magic that is now scientifically respected in today's world. In fact, many of the so-called crafts of the Devil are used in both medicine and criminal law.

The witch was a respected member of the community in more primitive times (to 1000 A.D.), and they were valued, not feared, since they helped ease pain and healed people and their animals. The fear factor came much later. Witches were feared because they could do things that the majority of other people could not do (Glass, 19). For example, witches used hypnosis to make childbirth pain free. The Christian Church taught that such powers could only come from the Devil. Telepathy, faith healing, pre-cognition, clairvoyance, and astral-traveling was all part of witchcraft in the past, as was the knowledge of plants and healing herbs. In primitive times religion and magic were virtually the same. Priests were magicians and magicians were priests.

Those claiming to heal outside the context of the Church (faith healing through prayer) were thought to have obtained their skills from the Devil. In 1563, the Scottish Witchcraft Act said that even people, who consulted witches to cure their various maladies, were as guilty as those who practiced witchcraft. These patients were seen as supporting their cause. The witch was tradtionally old, ugly, and female.


Christianity is a patriarchal religion. No women has ever been a pope, cardinal, or a priest in the Roman Catholic faith. Traditions in other religions were that women were not allowed to enter temples of worship with men, nor were they allowed to dine with their husbands [Islam]. Women could turn men's thoughts from prayer to lust. During meals, the chatter of women similarly swayed men away from discussions of political importance. Christianity tried to do away with the gods and goddesses of the "pagan" religions. Most English witches were said to be old, poor, and female. Quarrels and damaged relationships were nearly always part of the evidence recorded at English trials for witchcraft.

Magic and the worship of nature was frowned upon. Diseases such as the plague, physical deformities, and insanity made people feel that they must have done something to anger God. The same held true as an explanation for why crops and cattle died, why there were severe weather patterns, and why many babies died at birth. People were scared of what was to be their fate. Witches, healers, seers, sorcerers and magicians became the enemy.

Today, it is thought that many "witches" and "the possessed" were merely those with dementia or other diseases. In early times (even since the birth of Christ) there were not the medical means or the psychological sciences to explore causes, other than possession, for the behavior of people. A victim of disseminated sclerosis, as example, was thought to be possessed because of their spastic jerkings and slidings and the shocking agony in the spineal colum and joints. Until recently, people with Tourette's syndrome were targets for the accusations of "possessed." This was because of "the involuntary profanities and obsenities, grunts, barks, curses, yelps, snorts, sniffs, tics, foot stomping, facial contortions, etc. (Martin, 12). Now we have drugs to contrl Tourette's. Those we now know to have paranoia, Huntington's disease, dyslexia, Parkinson's disease, and even some skin diseases (psoriasis, herpes I) were thought to be possessed by the Devil.

Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin is a book about exorcism or the driving out of the devil. This book was published in May 1977 by Bantam Books (Bantam Books, Inc.)


The first "heretic" was burned in France in 1022, and the witch hysteria, of the Middle Ages, had begun. Pope Benedict VIII (980-1024) was consecrated as Pope on May 17, 1012. During Benedict's reign, the German King Henry II took the throne. Henry was crowned in Rome on February 14, 1014. Pope Benedict VIII took part in the campaigns to fight against the Arabs. Pope Benedict was said to have joined the Crusaders and even slain the wife of a Muslim leader. Benedict was close to Henry II and his wife Cunegunda. They were both declared saints, in 1200 (Henry) and 1146 (Cunegunda).

During the Middle Ages:

The first witch trials, in England, were during the reign of King John, who reigned from 1199-1216. John was born on Christmas Eve in 1167. His parents were Henry II, of England, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. As the fourth (4th) son, he became known as John Lackland, since his elder brother inherited all his father's wealth and properties. He married first Isabelle de Clare (d. 1217) and they were divorced. His second wife was Isabelle of Angouleme, and King John of England boosted that he took a bath every three weeks.

During John's reign, a man named Gideon was subjected to an ordeal with a red hot poker, but proved his innocence. A Hubert de Burgh, an Irishman was accused of using charms to gain favors from the King. [Crow, 232]. In the early days witches were tortured in many barbarous ways, and cats were killed as witches' familiars. Cats were thought to be able to spy on neighbors and report back to their owners. Many think that the killing of cats allowed rats and mice to multiply leading to more plagues and other illnesses. Wolves were hated too and they were hanged with their owners. They were called "Black Dogs." Witches were thought to mount these supernatural "Black Dogs," and ride them to Sabbats.

The Wolf Clan through Native American Eyes.

Remember too that this was the time of the Crusades and Christianity was fighting against the Muslim invaders. Many religious orders had "warrior monks" who protected pilgrims that traveled to the Holy Lands: The Knights Templar, The Teutonic Knights, and the Knights Hospitalers were three such orders. They were pious men who had strrict rules of prayer and devotions.


In 1308, Guichard, Bishop of Troyes, was accused of killing the Queen of France by sorcery.

On June 5, 1305, during the reign of Pope Clement V (1260-1314), Philip IV of France began to make steps to dissolve the military Order of the Knights Templar, in order to acquire their wealth. By 1307, Philip had the Templars arrested, and their false confessions of blasphemy, idolatry, and sodomy were given as a result of their hours and days of torture. By 1312, the Order was dissolved and their properties went to the Hospitallers. The Templars had been fighting for Christianity for 183 years in the Crusades against the Muslims. However, even though Pope Clement never officially condemned the Templars, he did act on Philip's concerns. The Templars were set up by the Catholic Church, and in particular, by St. Bernard de Clairvaux of France, who founded the Order of the Templars in 1128. To discredit the Templars was like saying the Church was in error.

In 1217, Eustace the Monk was drowned in Sandwich for his magical powers.

Jacques de Molay (c. 1243-1314), last Grand Master of the Knights Templars, was burned at the stake for "Devil worship" despite the Knights Templar's good service to the cause of Christianity during the Holy Wars.

Pope Clement V, the French Pope, founded the Universities of Perugia and Orleans. He died on April 20, 1314.

In 1317, the Bishop of Cahors was found guilty of plotting to kill the Pope via image magic. Image magic is seeing in your own mind how you would wish to have a death carried out, with the use of a crystal ball, scrying, and other means.

Not even royalty was safe from witchcraft accusations. In 1419, King Henry V of England, who reigned from 1413 until his death in 1422, denounced his stepmother Joan of Navarre for attempting to kill him by means of spells and incantations, in 1418, she was imprisoned. Joan was released in 1422, and lived until 1437.

In 1440, Gilles de Rais was hanged on October 26th for practicing human sacrifices. He was said to have sacrificed 150 victims in homage to Satan. Gilles de Rais was a Breton noble, in France.

In 1459, Robinet de Vaulx of Arras confessed to Inquisitors that he once attended a Witches' Sabbat and named those who accompanied him. Those named were tortured, brought to trial, found guilty, and condemned to death.


The phrase "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is attributed to John Wesley, an 18th century evangelist who founded the Methodist branch of Christianity. That thought began with ancient civilizations. Egyptian priests washed four times a day. To them cleanliness symbolized piety and was a part of their religion. The ancient Greeks took showers by 550 B.C., and bathtubs were used since 1000 B.C. We know that dirt and filth begets disease. However, in early Christian times this was not true. The Early Christian thought that: "Dirt is holy, cleanliness is of the witch and the Devil" (Glass, 37). This idea stemmed from the fact that the Druids and other early pagans washed and used steam baths. Christianity tried to evict every thought of pagan beliefs from the minds of their early converts. Medieval doctors warned that immersing your body in water was dangerous. To wash was thought to be vain or a way to catch a draft and get sick. Many also believed that public bathhouses were used as brothels, and were "haunts of sin." Many people only washed at birth, at marriage, and at death. Many early monks never washed, and they wore rough cloth, and practiced self-punishments thinking this was the only way to rid their mind of evil thoughts of lust (they were to be celibate), etc. A rich man, it was thought, could not enter heaven. So the monks took vows of poverty.

However, William Wykeham, a 14th century scholar, taught his students that "manners makyeth the man." The upper ranks of Medieval society could afford baths, either in their own homes and in local bathhouses. Mohammed (d. 632) said: "Cleanliness is half the faith." Crusaders admired Muslim cleanliness and public baths.

Thomas a Becket (c. 1118-1170), was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Upon his death his body linens could hardly be removed, because it was so caked with filth and lice that fell into pieces. Judging by the condition of Thomas one could say that England lost one of its.

Canon law stated that after the death of a witch, that the accuser and judge might divide his/her property between them.

Europe had witchcraft trials for 150 years and the death toll ran into the millions:

Malleus Meleficarum [The Hammer of Witches) was written in 1486 by two German Dominican Inquisitors named Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer. Sprender and Kramer concocted strategies for the use of torture and lies. They planned to torture and then offer freedom to those that would help in the discovery and conviction of other witches. They searched for a "Witches' Mark" on the body of their suspects. A birthmark, wart, or mole might be seen as a "Witches' Mark." After the first witch betrayed other "witches," they were killed. The thought being that they cunningly turned on thier own kind, simply to save themselves, thus were wicked and deceptive.


When Pope Innocent VIII (1432-1492) took the papal crown in 1484, he started a major campaign against witches, by writing a Papal Bull that basically began the European Witchcraft craze. Innocent's Bull was called Summis desiderantibus. It stated that "....[witches] do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses" (Marshall). Innocent urged all clery to assist inquisitors in finding witches. He used this passage from Exodus 12:18: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Pope Innocent III was born Giovanni Battista Cibo, the son of a Roman senator in Genoa, Italy. He was brought up in the Neopolitan Court and had several illegitimate children. These children were said to have been provided for and he helped them make good marriages. By the time Giovanni was made pope, he was sickly and vacillating and he indulged in nepotism and extravagance. His bad habits reduced Rome to anarchy. His court was kept in princely magnificence and he made unnessary positions of office for his family and friends. For example, the traditional six posts of "Apostolic Secretary" became thirty.

One of Pope Innocent VIII's son was married to the daughter of Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Florence (1537-1574), Italy. In turn, Lorenzo the Magnificent's thirteen-year-old son was made Cardinal.

Innocent was always hostile to Naples and sided against Ferdinand of Naples with other barons. In 1489, when Ferdinand refused to pay papal dues, Innocent excommunicated and deposed him. They had a reconcilation in 1492.

When Innocent's health failed in his old age, he was rumored to have caused the death of three boys whose blood was used for transfusions to improve his health. He took sustenance by sucking milk from a woman's breast. Even today there are men who have this perversion.

One can not help but think that Innocent could have been classed as the same as one of those he thought to eliminate, with his own foul abominations.

Money began to run out in Innocent's court and, in 1489, Innocent agreed to keep the Ottoman sultan's fugitive son and his potential rival in close captivity, in the Vatican, for 40,000 ducats a year, and the gift of the lance that pierced the side of Jesus. The Sultan's brother had fled to Rhodes, and the Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John handed him over, to the pope, in return for his own elevation to Cardinal. Innocent's death on July 25, 1492, left Rome and the Papal State in chaos.

The next Pope, Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503), was elected on August 11, 1492. This was Roderigo Borgia. We all know that Roderigo had a corrupt court as well. Rodrigo was the nephew of Callistus III (1378-1458) who was Pope earlier, in 1455. It was Callistus that made his own nephew a cardinal (more nepotism). Pope Alexander, much like his predecesor, led a scandalous life. He fathered seven children. Four of his children were born to Vannozza de Cattaneis. Vannozza was the mother to Cesare and Lucretia Borgia. After Pope Alexander VI took office, he had two more children by the sister of the future Paul III. Pope Alexander VI died August 18, 1503. As you can see it is not what you know, but who you know, even within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. No wonder these were troubled times.


In 1640, a man names Matthew Hopkins toured Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Huntingdonshire, England, purging villages and towns of witches for twenty shillings, plus expenses. So you see that witchcraft made some people wealthier. Hopkins carried out his early work in Coggeshall, Essex, England. His victims were hanged on Market Hill. Legends say Coggeshall is a cursed place because so many men, women, and children died there as a result of Hopkins' work. Later on, even Mr. Hopkins was to be named as a suspected witch. He came to the New World to begin anew.


Witchcraft was punishable by death from 1563-1735 in Scotland. James I reigned from 1566-1625. James both feared and was the enemy of witches. Daemonologia was published in Edinburgh, in 1567, in the middle of a severe witch-hunt even though it was probably written earlier. From 1590-1591 James VI conducted investigations into treasonable sorcery. His book Daemonologie, was a manual telling his subjects how to detect a witch. His writings included:

.....(1) How how to make a witch weep, since according to James, a witch could not shed a tear.

.....(2)He told of the "Devil's Mark" as a place that could NOT feel pain, and because of this suggestion, accused witches were pricked with needles, like a pin cushion, to find this spot.

.....(3)There was also his test by water. The accused hands and feet were bound and then they were thrown or dunked into a river or lake. Water was a holy fluid thus it was thought to throw out witches since they were unclean. If the victim was truly a witch they would float. If they were innocent, they would drown. So either way they were dead, whether it be by drowning or by fire.

Trials in Scotland were mainly in Fife, Aberdeen, and the Lothians from 1561-1597. Some famous Scottish "witch hunters" were:

Scottish witches caught and tried by the Earl of Haddinton, in 1669, were:

From April 1661 through autumn 1662, there were six hundred witched found. 100 were executed.

King James I (1566-1624)became King of Scotland, as James VI from 1567-1625 and then King of Great Britain and Ireland (1603-1625). James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the first king of England from the house of Stuart. James was a reputed homosexual, but he marrried Anne of Denmark and had three children, to further his line:

(1) Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, who was born in 1594 and died in 1612, at age 18.
(2)Charles I (1600-1649), King of Engloand and Ireland from 1625. Charles was executed in 1649.
(3)Elizabeth (1596-1662)

In 1576, Bessie Dunlop was accused of witchcraft, in Ayshire, Scotland. T. Reid, a friend of Bessie's was convicted and burned at the stake.

In 1597, there was a big witch trial in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Mother Samuel was from Huntingdonshire and in 1590, she was tortured into confessing to the death of Lady Cromwell. Mother Samuel, her daughter, and her husband were all hanged and their naked bodies were left there for onlookers to see.

In 1616, nine witches were hanged at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, England, for causing epilepsy in a boy.

From 1613-1619, a number of villagers from Pendlebury Forest [near Mancester] were charged and jailed in Lancaster Castle. One died in prison and eighteen others were executed.

In 1664, in Somerset, England, a number of witches were executed.

Major Thomas Weir was strangled and burnt for witchcraft in 1670 [at age 70] for incest and bestiality. His sister, Jean, was hanged for similar crimes.

In 1682, three women from Devon were killed.

John Reid died in prison, in 1696, while awaiting his trial for witchcraft.

Margaret Aikens, a 16th century Scottish woman was known as "The Great Witch of Balver." She said she could detect other witched, and under supervision, she was taken around the world for that purpose.

In 1749, a nun named Maria Renata was burned for witchcraft in Wurtzburg, Germany.

When James died in 1625, his son Charles I took the throne, and reigned from 1625-1649. During Charles' reign the persecution of witches increased in England. Charles would carry on his father's work, but he would by executed outside Whitehall Palace and his body was secretly buried in Windsor Castle. Charles had fallen into the hands of Oliver Cromwell. He was first captured and housed in Hampton Court, then fled to the Isle of Wright after his escape. Cromwell said Charles started a Civil War between Scotland and England. He was charged with waging war with his own people.

James I was still on the throne when the English Colonists were trying to make their way in the New World. New England was to follow in the footsteps of Mother England.

Jane Wenham was the last person in England to ne convicted of witchcraft. This was in 1712.

Go to the SALEM, MA. WITCH TRIALS by clicking on this link.


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