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Witchcraft Essay, Research Paper
Many religions have been misunderstood by people. Sometimes their ignorance and beliefs cannot be opened up to the truth. Witchcraft is one of those religions. The majority of people have sometimes compared Witchcraft to Satanism or any religion dealing with the occult. In fact, Witchcraft is sometimes referred to as the “Old Religion”, and is completely different from the misconceptions of people. It is certainly one of the most misunderstood religions. It will continue to remain to be misunderstood if people insist on keeping a closed mind on the subject and believe the stories and rumors that have been misconstrued over the years.
Witchcraft is considered to be one of the oldest religions dating back to Pre-historic times. Its practices were found painted on the walls of caves long before Christianity was established. Witchcraft had all but disappeared until an Englishman by the name of Gerald Gardner revived it in the 1940’s. While on a trip to Asia he became overwhelmed by magic and the worship of the Mother Goddess. In 1939 he was initiated into witchcraft by a woman named Old Dorothy Clutterbuck, the heir to the ancient tradition. When he returned to England he began a coven, and from this coven he wrote rituals and published books on Witchcraft, his grimoire, or bible, is still in existence and is located in the Ripley’s collection in Toronto.
Gardner soon became a part of many covens and spiritualist organizations. He was influenced by a man named Aleister Crowley, an earlier occultist who styled himself as “The Great Beast”. Crowley was a part of an occultist group named the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult that Gardner would later join. Gardner took the complicated rituals of Witchcraft and made them simpler so that ordinary people could perform them. By the 1950’s people were flocking to Mr. Gardner. In the mid-1960’s several Americans went to England and brought back the teachings of Gerald Gardner thereby forming the modern Witchcraft of today.
“The word ‘witch’ is derived from the Old English meaning wicca, it is pronounced ‘witcha’ meaning male witch , and wicce, pronounced ‘witcheh’ meaning female witch” (Russell 12). Witches believe in the Goddess and the God. They are believed to be the sole creator of the universe. The Goddess represents Mother Nature or Mother Earth. She is associated with the moon, fertility, the hunt, and Modern Witchcraft. She has many names but is commonly known as Diana. She has many names and many shapes, but over all, the Goddess is anything a witch wants her to be. The God is named “The Horned God”. He represents the sun, grain, and is seen in the woodlands. The witches associate The God with Pan, the Greek god of fertility. This is one of the reasons that many Christians believe Witchcraft to be evil. During the time of the persecution of witches, the Christians mistook the worshipping of the fertility god, Pan, as the worshipping of Satan, who the Christians believed to be horned, have a tail, hairy legs, and hooves.
The misconceptions of Witchcraft have been inaccurate and misleading. The biggest misunderstanding about Witchcraft is its affiliation with Satanism. Satan is a demonic figure from the Christian belief, not from Witchcraft. In Witchcraft there is no deity that is evil. Witchcraft is thought by many to be an evil religion when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. It deals with nature and everything in the world that surrounds us. Witches believe that anything ritual or spells cast, whether it be good or bad, will come back to you three times over. They refer to this as the “Three Folds Law” making witches reconsider carrying out evil actions. Another misconception about Witchcraft is the name a male witch is called. Many people believe that a male witch is called a “warlock” when in fact, according to the Witchcraft religion, he is called a witch like everyone else. The term warlock comes from the Scottish language meaning traitor, but is still used in Witchcraft today to label those who have gone against the rules of their coven and are thereby expelled.
The pentagram is a symbol in Witchcraft that has been given an evil meaning. According to the Witchcraft religion, the pentagram is a sign of life or of good luck. Its top point represents the Creator and the four lower points are the four elements; air, water, earth, and fire, while the circle surrounding the star represents being without beginning or end. Pentagrams are used to cast spells during rituals. Spells cast by witches are not meant for evil purposes but are prayers meant as a way of expressing feelings, emotions, or relieving stress and anxieties. The spells are performed within a circle to prevent evil spirits from interfering in the ritual. Witches also use brooms, but not as a means of transportation, but instead as magic wands for healing and directing their power. In books and in television witches are not portrayed using brooms to cast spells but instead to fly around on.
Along with the broom, witches use a number of tools. The most important tool is the athame, a black handled , double edged dagger used to cast spells and consecrate the circle of worship. It is a phallic symbol that also represents the power of the will. A white handled blade may be used for carving other tools or to inscribe runes. The next in importance is the chalice. It represents the feminine symbol of receptivity. The athame used with the chalice depict sexual union bringing forth fertility. The cauldron is another feminine symbol. The fire is usually lit inside rather than underneath the cauldron. A wand, staff, or sword may be used as phallic symbols of power and control. Candles, may be used as images in the shape of man, woman or animal. The tools are charged with power and inscribed with a runic alphabet. One of the most important possessions a witch could own is the Book of Shadows. The book contains records of what the witch has learned from spells, rituals, songs, and the Craft. When a witch dies the book is destroyed.
Witches celebrate eight major festivals or sabbats each year. The sabbats are “a religious ceremony deriving from ancient European festivals celebrating seasonal or pastoral changes” (Russell 167). The first is the Yule. It celebrates the winter solstice and the festival is held either on the 20 or 21 of December. The next is Oimelc, Imbolc, or Candlemas. It is the 1 or 2 in February. This is the festival where initiations take place. The third is on the 20 or 21 of March, the festival of Eostre, the vernal equinox, is a fertility festival. The fourth is Beltane or May Day Eve. It is held on the 30 of April. At this festival, witches celebrate the memory of certain Scottish and northern English villages. On June 21 the festival of Midsummer is held. August 1 is the celebration of Lughnasad or Lammas. Either the 20 or 21 of September, is the festival of the Harvestide. Finally, the 31 of October is Sahain or Halloween. Halloween, along with Beltane, have a long and celebrated history.
The sabbats are open to prospective new members and also for worship, celebration, and socializing. Their meetings may be held in private areas but when sabbats or major festivals come around, they are usually held outdoors. A typical witches meeting will begin with a gathering, or informal reception. Some of these meetings are held “skyclad’ or nude, some are held robed. Some reasons for being naked are that witches feel that being nude increases their contact with the powers of nature, while others believe that it erases class distinction and want to appear before their gods as they were born.
The rituals are begun with a circle being drawn. The circle has four cardinal points, north, south, east, west. The cardinal point north represents earth, south represents fire, east is air, and west is water. A athame or sword is used to measure and cast the nine-foot magical circle, sometimes a pentagram is drawn within the circle. Witches use circles to concentrate the cosmic powers within it. The witches circle is a sacred place between the world of humans and the world of the gods. The circle is viewed as a place of contact between two realities, where humans may unite with the gods, becoming cosmic. Circles are also reservoirs that hold the energy produced during the ritual until the time comes for the energy to be released which will invoke the Goddess and the God.
The Goddess and God are invoked through rituals and poetry. The High Priestess, the highest ranking witch, then ‘draw down the moon’; meaning she dances, sings meditates or whatever she can do to open herself up to the divine power. The coven then raises the cone of power. Once this is done the coven then joins hands, sings and dances. When the energy is at its peak, the coven releases the power from the cone and focuses on its speed toward its destination. The raising and releasing of the cone requires a great outpouring of energy. Once the ritual is completed a period of meditation and centering follows. Next, consecrated cake and wine are passed around, man to woman, women to man, until all have received some. Once this has ended, the witches share poetry, discuss minor magic, sing, or play games, whatever is felt appropriate. The ritual is almost over when the last remaining thing to do is to break the circle. The athame is used again to cut across the circle’s circumference. Once this is done, the witches are allowed to leave and resume their normal lives.
Today modern Witchcraft “is a variety of paganism” (Russell 157). Most witches now worship pagan deities, but this does not make all pagans witches. The term witch has changed meaning also. Now a witch is a pagan who worships gods, and practices a variety of magic. All witches worship nature and feel that their deity is a part of nature. They reject the beliefs of Judaeo-Christians but are not anti- Christian. Today’s witches believe that a closer return to the identification with humanity and nature will be better for the earth and our spirits.
Green, William Scott, and Jacob Neusner, eds. The Religion Factor: An Introduction to How Religion Matters. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Lehmann, Arthur C., and James E. Myers. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. Chico, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997.
Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
“A Real Witch…” http://www.oro.net/~remmus/modern.html (18 Nov. 1998).
“The Do’s and Don’ts of Witches.” The Witches’ League for Public Awareness 1997. http://www.celticcrow.com/basics/doos.html (12 Oct. 1998).
“One Witch’s View. The Witches’ League for Public Awareness 1997. http://www.celticcrow.com/basics/witchview.html (12 Oct. 1998).
“Witchcraft: Crash Course.” http://www.eccentrica.org/untouched/witchcraft101.html (18 Nov. 1998).
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