Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Witches' Ride

Webster's New World Dictionary: Witch n. 1. a woman thought to have supernatural power as by a compact with evil spirits; 2 an ugly, old shrew 3 a fascinating woman or girl

Well, well, well. You know, I've never actually looked up the word before this moment. The picture above was what I grew up with seeing and as a child was exposed to. We didn't really believe that witches could fly on a broomstick. (And then along came "Harry Potter" and blew that out of the water.)

Furthermore, justification of witchcraft on biblical texts, written originally for a religion (Jewish/ Old Testament) which had no devil. We all know there are errors throughout the Bible where translations are changed to suit what they felt they wanted to convey. Many Catholics and Protestants quoted Exodus xxii. 18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But the Hebrew word kaskagh (occurring 12 times in the Old Testament with various meanings) here means, as Reginald Scot pointed out in 1584 "poisoner," and certainly had nothing to do with the Christian concept of "witches". This quote and other texts which some tried to use (or did so), in order to twist the truth in order to torture and put to death hundreds of thousands of people. It turned into a 300 year holocaust in whichever nations observed "witch hunting". I hope the world will never see again, for thousands of innocent people died at the hands of very sick, disturbed people under the guise of religion.

"Europe would not have suffered, for three centuries from 1450 to 1750, the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization, the blackout of everything that homo sapiens, the reasoning man, has ever upheld... The record of witchcraft is horrible and brutal: degradation stifled decency, the filthiest passions masqueraded under the cover of religion and man's intellect was subverted to condone bestialities that even Swifts' Yahoos would blush to commit." from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.
Execution of  alleged witches

And then we have the other side of the coin... Homer speaks of the witch Circe as a "goddess with lovely hair... radiant...beautiful goddess singing in a lovely voice..."  Medea, the witch in the Golden Fleece adventures, is describe as a beautiful young princess. And there are more examples of "beautiful" witches. But you know, as well as I (especially when there's an election), a good smear campaign is the best way to win everyone over to your side--Yay! Of course, if you had enemies, watch out, you'd be in the stocks waiting your fate at the stake.

Burning witches was only the final destination. There were as many devised tortures invented as there were men to use them.

The word witch is derived from wicce or wicca, meaning "wise one,"  witches being both female and male.
Meaning of the word Witch is linked to "wisdom," and is the same root as "to have wit" and "to know." It comes from the Anglo-Saxon.

Also, the word "Witchcraft" has been misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as "witchcraft." It mattered not if it were African witchcraft, Native American witchcraft, or Australian aboriginal witchcraft, none of which have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe. In fact Witchcraft--Wiccacraeft (craft of the wise), dates back from long before Christian times. It is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans.

So, where do we get this "crone" who rides the broomstick idea? Probably pulling from an old religion. The Celts believed in a goddess whose form changed with the seasons. The spring maiden turned into the life-giving mother of summer and then the wizened crone of fall. At Samhain, she would climb upon the tree of life--a broomstick--and ride across the sky to the spirit realm, and there rested for the winter.

And because black cats were believed to see spirits, one was her companion.

And a Greek earth goddess Hecate was associated with night and the moon, ghosts and spirits, magic, witches and sorcery. She was known as Prytania of the Dead, or the Invincible Queen, goddess of enchantments and magical charms.
"Lost Caprichos" by Goya

Transvection or levitation
"Witches" by Hans Baldung
Witches flying on brooms may have come from older religions, and beliefs, because, well, the old ways just would not go away. They could torture, burn, drown, but people would not give up their beliefs. And it's like the more wild the story the more it will be retold and retold again, down through the generations to come.
Did women ride brooms, or certain beasts to get to their Sabbat? Who knows. Possibly this was a combination of heavy drinking and consuming funny mushrooms that had people thinking they did this, when really they didn't. They just had one hell of a party in the woods. And artists certainly loved to portray them, especially when they added an erotic element, or some of the more grisly aspects of their most deranged imaginations. Goya, the Spanish artist, had many such paintings of hags, during his "Black" period.

A number of infamous old women who were considered "old crones", who lived in appauling squalor, were apparently gifted with the art of curing sickness, making prophecies and even raising the dead. One of such was Mother Red Cap, or also called "Mother Damnable."

But funny just how seriously these ideas took hold when something called Cannon Episcopi  of the tenth century defended as heretical superstition the belief in the claims of "wicked women... who profess that in the dead of night they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Dianna, and fly over vast tracts of country." Demonologists flat out denied the possibility of transvection by saying these people were delusional.

But, this is Halloween, and, well, I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fun. The whole idea is to have fun, isn't it? As long as we all understand it's make believe.

Next up, I'll scare up some real ghosts stories! BOO!

Grumpy Has the Floor

This is a picture blog today. I go back to work next Tuesday, and the Grumpster just helps me get through it. Let's see how he reac...