A time when nature shows her bones in the bare trees. The barked skinned ones have done their shedding, letting go and preparing for the darkness of the season. A reminder for us all to delve into our own darkness and consider what needs to be released. What illuminates your darkness? What defines your light?
At Samhain (Sow-win), meaning summer’s end in Gaelic, the circle of the year has come to the final spoke in the witch’s wheel. It is the time of ruler-ship of the Crone, most powerful of the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone. The veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. It is a time for ritual, ceremony and to honor the dead and our ancestors. For me, that means honoring the witches, the wise women and the healers that came before me.
The age of witch-hunting spanned more than four centuries (from the 14th to the 17th century) beginning in Germany and spreading throughout Europe. The witch-hunts took different forms at different times and places, but never lost their essential character: to protect the patriarchy and suppress the divine female. It has been estimated that tens of thousands of people were executed for witchcraft in Europe. Although it is not possible to ascertain the exact number, modern scholars estimate around 40–50,000. Women made up 85 percent of those executed – old women, young women and children.
Witches represented a political, religious and sexual threat to the Protestant and Catholic church. In her community the witch-healer cared for the people who had no doctors but were afflicted with disease, poverty and medical needs. “No one does more harm to the Catholic Church than midwives,” wrote witch-hunters Kramer and Sprenger authors of the book The Malleus Maleficarum. The Malleaus Maleficarum, usually translated as Hammer of Witches, is the best known and the most important exposition on witchcraft. It was written by the Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (under his Latin name Henricus Institoris) and Jacob Sprenger, first published in Speyer, Germany in 1487. It endorses extermination of witches (mid-wives/healers) and provided a detailed legal and theological theory. It was a bestseller, second only to the Bible in terms of sales for almost 200 years.
The book recommended procedures for identifying witches to include torture until confession. The term 3rd degree came from this period, by the time a “witch” was tortured for the 3rd time for not admitting to witchcraft, the torment would be so severe they would most certainly confess. The death penalty was the only sure remedy against the evils of witchcraft most often burning witches alive. To read this book today it seems ridiculous in it’s theories and ideas but at the time it was taken with absolute sincerity. The book had a strong influence on culture for several centuries.
The wise woman, or witch, had a host of remedies which had been tested in years of use and passed down from mother to daughter. Many of the herbal remedies developed by witches are still used today in modern pharmacology. They had digestive aids, pain-killers and anti-inflammatory potions. They used ergot for the pain of labor at a time when the Church believed that pain in labor was the Lord’s just punishment for Eve’s original sin. Since at this time science could not explain how these women healed or cured the sick and injured it was determined that she had made a pact with the devil. The witch used magic.
The witch-healer’s methods were as great a threat to the church as were her results, for she relied on her intuition and her relationship to the Earth and all that it provided. Unlike the church that was strict with faith and doctrine, she believed in communication with nature and using her communion with plants to heal. Her magic was the science of her time. Witch hunts did not eliminate the wise woman healer, but they branded her forever as evil and malevolent.
The figure of the witch is a powerful symbol. Originally the word witch stemming from “wit” was the wise woman. The wise women were important members of the community. They were there during life changing events such as birth, sickness and death. In the patriarchy a wise woman, a woman with power, especially “magical powers” is a threat. The wise women were the healers, the midwives, the loners, the pagans and the wild women not conforming to the ways of society.
The witch performs unfamiliar rituals and represents the mysterious sacred feminine. A witch is a fearsome creature, a force of nature inspiring terror and awe for she channels the primal female energy. She is portrayed as the old hag casting spells to blame for sickness, death and misfortune. She is also the beautiful young seductress men used to blame for their indiscretions. A single witch is a dangerous deviant and a coven (group/gathering of witches) is a force to be reckoned with. To be called a “Witch” was to oppress, suppress and persecute a woman for daring to be unapologetic and unafraid to be different.
“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Aunt Frances
― Alice Hoffman,
Today there is a movement to “Wake the Witches” to honor the women of the past, to smash the patriarchy and to take back the power of the word Witch. If women begin to call themselves witches as a term of strength, empowerment and independence for themselves, using it against us loses it’s ability to damage and wound. We live in a society built by men, for men. There is little place for us to be the intuitive, sensitive, emotional, nurturing and creative beings that we are as women. Power and strength are demonstrated by a show of force, action and assertiveness “like a man” and held in high regard or so society tells us. However, as women, our true power is considered weak or too emotional so we must hide it away. It is time we show society that it needs to be more accepting of the gifts of the feminine, our gifts are just as important and powerful. Especially in the times we live in, where there is so much suffering and injustice. Male and Female energies have been out of balance for far to long and have created the world we live in now. If we can find balance, the pillar of equilibrium, we can ALL live better, healthier & happier lives. Wake the witches for she is a conduit for transformation in service for a better world.
An Invocation to Hecate, Goddess of Witches
Queen of Wisdom,
Queen of Night,
Praise to you, Goddess of all witches for this glorious night of magic.
We honor you and all the wise women who have come before us
May we rise in our strength and power to be of service to this world
Through our acts may the witches of the past at last rest peacefully knowing that we will carry on
The witches have woken