History of Witchcraft:

European Witchcraft


Evidence of European witchcraft can be found as early as the Bronze Age. In early modern European tradition, most witches were stereotypically but not exclusively women. Witchcraft was practiced in a variety of countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Russia. The Celts of Northern Europe and the British Isles were deeply spiritual people, who worshipped both a god and goddess. They worshipped many aspects of the “One Creative Life Sources” and honored the presence of the “Divine Creator” in all nature. They also believed in reincarnation. By around 350 BCE, Druids had developed as a priestly class and became priests of the Celtic religion, as well as teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, midwives and bards. 

The tradition and practices of the Celts change into what later became known as Paganism. Over several centuries the beliefs and rituals became blended with practices of other Indo-European groups and spawned practices such as potion making, spell casting and performing magic. All of which along with many of the nature-based beliefs held by the Celts and other groups became collectively known as European witchcraft.

Greek Witchcraft

Greece has a rich and ancient magical history. They used magical practices, spells and incantations that had been used by the Egyptians from around 4th and 3rd century BC as a base to create their own traditions and beliefs. Many witches openly practiced spells, curses, potions, and the creation of amulets and talismans. Not only did they practice witchcraft, they divided the practice into different areas such as general magical practice, religion and science. Witches were high figures of society, viewed as some of the wisest and most intelligent people you could find. They were masters of the arts, mathematics, science and chemistry. They were not only feared but respected. 

Witches would use magic for protection, love, good luck and more. They would often use amulets to cast their spells and set their intentions, giving them to patrons of their business to be used as a personal talisman or to protect a physical location such as a home. They would use objects such as bones, wood and crystals for their amulets. Upon receiving this amulet or talisman, the spell would not work until they invoked a god or goddess. 

Greek witches were also known for using black magic to curse individuals, whether for personal gain or for those who would pay for it. They would used inscriptions on katares (or curses) to cast the curse and bring death closer to the targets doorstep. They also practiced necromancy and summoning spirits of the dead. This practice was illegal and was done in secrecy to avoid being imprisoned. There was a location used specifically for this practice called the Necromanteion. It was an ancient temple dedicated to the god of the Underworld, Hades and his wife, Persephone. The ancient Greeks believed that even though bodies decayed, that their souls were never gone and were available to access via the underworld. Contact with the underworld was often used to receive prophecies and foretell the future.

Hecate (or Hekate), the goddess of witchcraft, magic, the night, moon, ghosts and necromancy was one of the most common goddesses worshipped by witches and the general public in regards to witchcraft and magical usage. Alongside Hecate, there were the Oracles of Delphi. They were priests and priestesses who were very important in magical rituals. They were believed to be able to communicate with the gods and receive prophecies. 

Witchcraft in ancient Greece was prominent and vast, and there were many sects, traditions and cults that practiced magic and other forms of witchcraft. Much is still unknown, and only time will reveal more details about their rich and vast practices.

Emerging Traditions

barbara zandunk being burned

Anglo-Saxon magic started being practiced during this period. They practiced spells and used other mechanical remedies and were sometimes mixed with Christian religious elements. Potential Christians in the early days of Christianity were comfortable with the use of magic in their daily lives. Prior to the 13th or 14th century, witchcraft in Europe had come to mean a collection of beliefs and practices including healing, herbalism, divining and clairvoyance. Eventually, the interpretation of what a witch changed and became feared by those in the Christian community and lead to “The Burning Times”. The last execution for witchcraft in Europe took place in Poland in 1793, and many who practiced witchcraft stayed hidden in the shadows to avoid persecution. English Parliament repealed its surviving laws against witchcraft in 1951 and practitioners became more public about their beliefs and practices. 

Around this time is when many famous works regarding European witchcraft and Wiccan traditions were published, such as Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Robert Graves, The White Goddess, and Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner.