Witches have been around for ages, but today we mostly think of them as cartoonish antagonists with green skin, pointy hats and evil laughter. Numerous fairy tales have been written about witches, but as we all very well know, all fairy tales have at least some truth to them as they were often based on real events. So what do we know about witches, really? Apart from the ‘facts’ that they use dark forces to perform equally dark spells and were once burned at the stake during the witch hunts. Here are 10 facts you probably didn’t know about witches.
Wicca originated from witchcraft
While witchcraft has nothing to do with religion – it actually inspired one. Founded by Gerald Gardner, Wicca is a religion that combines ancient pagan rituals and worshipping of the Moon Goddess and the Horned God, although some lineages worship a number of other deities as well. Wiccans believe in the power of Mother Earth, reincarnation, and the importance of maintaining balance in everything. They also believe in the spiritual realm and often deal with creatures inhabiting it.
Some witches do ‘black’ magic
Witchcraft has nothing to do with Satan, although Christianity has spent a few centuries trying to convince everyone otherwise. Most witches are good and practice spells that will only benefit others, but there are also those who practice black magic. Such spells don’t involve bloody sacrifices or summoning evil spirits, but they can harm other people. Free will is very important to Wiccans, so most of them don’t even think about doing black magic or magic of any kind really. According to the Wiccan Rede, everything you do comes right back at you, that’s why you won’t find many practitioners of the dark arts.
Fairy tales are wrong
At least those created by the mighty powerful Disney and brothers Grimm. We’ve grown up believing that witches are evil and fairies are those amazing light-bearers that always come to the rescue. The reality of Irish, Scottish, and English folklore states otherwise. Fairies are the mischievous folk that live under the hills and have a history of abducting children. On May, 4th they come to the realm of men to kidnap children and leave evil doppelgängers instead. Some travellers also get quite unlucky and can wander into the realm of fairies. Time goes differently there, so when they come back they find out hundreds of years have passed since the day of their disappearance.
Wiccans don’t get married
Instead, Wiccan witches have a hand fasting ceremony, during which their hands are being symbolically joined together in a kind of short-term marriage. The hand fasting ceremony binds two people together for no more than a year (and a day!), after which they can part ways, or tie the knot for real. It’s much like moving in with someone before getting into the whole building a family deal. This ceremony is popular among witches, but you don’t have to be a witch or a Wiccan to participate in one.
It’s quite sunny in the Wiccan heaven
Also referred to as Summerland, Wiccan heaven seems quite a nice place to be. There’s no hell in Wiccan religion, so all souls go straight to heaven where they get to decide whether they get back and live another life as part of their reincarnation cycle, or stay and help with guiding new souls. Some believe that Summerland is more of a ghost-realm, but either way Wiccans aren’t afraid of death and see it more as a crossing over to the other side and not the end of everything.
Men can also be witches
Women have always been considered as more vulnerable to ‘dark forces’, so historically they were the ones that were often considered witches. Medieval witch persecutions were more ‘open-minded’ and hunted everyone, including men and children. Around 157 people were burned at the stake in 1626–1631 during the Würzburg Witch Trial! In the past men who practiced magic were referred to as warlocks, sorcerers, or wizards. Warlock means an ‘oath breaker’ so it’s best to avoid using this word.
No one burned at the stake in Salem
It may come as a surprise to most of you, with Salem, Massachusetts being one of the most notorious witch hunt settings in history (between February 1692 and May 1693). Nobody was actually burned in the good town of Salem. As in all American colonies, burning people alive was prohibited by English law, so they had to make do with what they had. Most of the accused witches were hanged, apart from those that were stoned to death. This is kinda like the old thing about “Let he who is free of sin cast the first stone”, but that’s for a future article. Suffice to say these Salem folk were pretty full of themselves with a big dose of hysteria thrown in! Around 200 people, both men and women, were accused of witchcraft in Salem, and at least 20 were executed.
The Book of Shadows does exist
We’ve all watched the Charmed TV show and know exactly what the Book of Shadows is like – it’s packed with rituals, spells, potion recipes, and magic 101 for all kinds of accidents. In real life, all witches have their own ‘book of shadows’ which is kind of a magic diary where they keep all their research, spells, incantations, and whatnot. Such diaries were usually written in coded language to avoid persecution. They are usually burned after the witch dies. In modern days witches can keep all their secrets in a cloud stored away somewhere safe in the realm of Internet. It’s like magic, too!
Witches can make people confess
It can be done using a pretty rare object named a quirin stone. If you put this stone under a person’s pillow while he or she sleeps – you’ll get them to tell you all their secrets! Or at least some truth that you really want to know. Most people (not even witches themselves) know whether this stone works or not as they are pretty hard to come by. You can find these quirin stones in the nests of only two birds that reside in Asia, Africa, and Europe – the hoopoe and the lapwing. This means you won’t find these stones in a shop and that’s probably a good thing. Just imagine if they got into wrong hands!
Witches actually use knives for rituals, but it’s not what you think
It is true that almost all Wiccan rituals include knives, but they are not used to perform blood sacrifices or something of that sort. In fact, witches are all against harming living beings, and that includes both humans and animals. What they do with the knife, though, is cut away negative energy in a form of cleansing. Ritual knives are also used to make carvings on candles and for cutting herbs.