Ghosts - research, evidence, and discussion.
Newsletter Subscription:
Subscribe to our free monthly email newsletter:

Features Archive:

2003 Archive:
Ley Lines, Old Straight Tracks, and Earth Energies by Jeff Belanger
December 13, 2003

Dybbuk - Spiritual Possession and Jewish Folklore by Jeff Belanger
November 29, 2003

What to Look For in a Paranormal Group by Andrew D. Laird
November 24, 2003

Reincarnation: Thoughts, Aspects, and Musings by Lee Prosser
November 17, 2003

Inside the Psychic Mind of James Van Praagh by Jeff Belanger
November 15, 2003

Exploring Our Dreams by Jeff Belanger
November 1, 2003

Halloween 2003 - What Scares Us by Jeff Belanger
October 18, 2003

Supernatural Glossary by Brian Leffler, with contributions by the staff
October 13, 2003

L'Empire de la Morte by Jeff Belanger
October 4, 2003

Spell Casting and Green Witchcraft by Jeff Belanger
September 20, 2003

To Light a Candle by Lee Prosser
September 18, 2003

The Ghosts and Legends of Juneau's Alaskan Hotel by Jeff Belanger
September 6, 2003

A Glimpse of the Afterlife: Near-Death Experiences by Jeff Belanger
August 23, 2003

Gargoyles: Sacred Scarecrows by Jeff Belanger
August 9, 2003

Astral Travel Agents by Jeff Belanger
July 26, 2003

What's Your Sign? by Jeff Belanger
July 12, 2003

The Skeptic's View by Jeff Belanger
June 28, 2003

Mercy Brown, the Rhode Island Vampire by Jeff Belanger
June 16, 2003

It's in the Cards by Jeff Belanger
May 31, 2003

Exploring Satanism by Jeff Belanger
May 17, 2003

My First Ghost Hunt by Jeff Belanger
May 3, 2003

Leaps of Faith by Jeff Belanger
April 19, 2003

Sance - A Round Table Discussion by Jeff Belanger
April 5, 2003

Exorcism: Vanquishing Demons by Jeff Belanger
March 22, 2003

Do All Dogs Go to Heaven? by Jeff Belanger
March 8, 2003

Which Witch is Which? by Jeff Belanger
February 22, 2003

Being Psychic With Peter James by Jeff Belanger
February 8, 2003

Funeral Practices and the Afterlife by Jeff Belanger
January 25, 2003

Lawrenceville Library's Most Famous Headstone by Jeff Belanger
January 11, 2003

February 22, 2003

Which Witch is Which?

By Jeff Belanger

Ill get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too! was my first introduction to a witch. The Wicked Witch of the West to be specific, and the movie was The Wizard of Oz. When people think of witches, a few things may come to mind: the green-faced, long-nosed, black hat-wearing witch from the Wizard of Oz, or possibly some New Ager who burns incense and boils mandrake root, and, thanks to the success of J. K. Rowlings Harry Potter, pre-teen kids studying sorcery and hiding their magic from Muggles.

In Isaac Bonewitss essay, A Very Brief History of Witchcraft 1.0, he explores the foundation of the word witch: The development of primary interest for the origin of witch was that of the Anglo-Saxon wic-, meaning to turn, twist or bend. This root also later grew into weak, wicker and wicked, all based on the idea of something bendable or twisted. In Old English wicca/wicce, this concept was extended in a specifically magical direction.

My own research into Witchcraft has shown me that defining a witch is nearly impossible. There are almost as many definitions of a witch as there are witches themselves. To help clarify exactly which witch is which, I contacted Gerina Dunwich, the author of more than twenty books on Wicca and Witchcraft, and a practicing Witch currently residing in Southern California.

The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft defines Witchcraft as the magical manipulation of supernormal forces through the casting of spells and the conjuring or invoking of spirits. According to Dunwich, It is an art that pre-dates Christianity and has been practiced in various forms throughout the world by different cultures and religions.

This is an extremely broad definition that could include an incredibly large number of people who practice Witchcraft and may not even know it. Dunwich said, Catholics and other Christians are working magick on a daily basis, whether or not they are aware of it, or choose to call it by another name. For example, prayers that request something, whether it be guidance, healing, or vengeance for an injustice, are a form of spellcasting. The wearing of a cross -- originally a Pagan symbol used in magick -- for protection against evil equates to amuletic magick. In the Middle Ages it was very common for Christians to work spells and charms in the name of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, or God. Numerous magickal workings and divinations have long been associated with the Bible and holy water, and psalms and masses continue to be used as verbal charms for protection, fertility, exorcism, healing, etc.

There is another definition of witch that is just as broad in scope but rather opposite of the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcrafts definition. It comes from the Roman Catholic Churchs Canon Episcopi and is dated from roughly 906 C.E.: It is also not to be admitted that certain abandoned women perverted by Satan, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and openly profess that, in the dead of night, they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana, with a countless horde of women, and in the silence of the dead of night fly over vast tracts of country, and obey her commands as their mistress, while they are summoned to her service on other nights.

The Churchs definition over the next few centuries would grow to include more or less anyone who didnt believe in one Christian god -- Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. could all be found guilty of Witchcraft. Certainly the darkest times for witches came to a climax during Pope Gregory IXs papal inquisition beginning in 1231. An estimated 50,000 to 250,000 men, women, and children were accused of being witches. These people were tortured until they confessed, then they were finally executed to end their suffering. 

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, became the theme of the day. We need to remember that killing witches was not only seen as a holy crusade, but it was also financially lucrative as well. The crusaders were killing heretics and then taking all of the victims possessions, their land, and their livestock.

If we accept the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcrafts definition, Witchcraft has been practiced for thousands of years by all religions. Even during the early centuries of Christianity, it was acceptable to be a healer, shaman, psychic, or potion mixer. Only during a corruptive rise to power did the Church outlaw behaviors it saw as heretic or competing.

Witch persecution would continue for centuries after the inquisition, driving the practice deeper and deeper underground. The relentless torture eased up after people realized the practice of Witchcraft could cost them their lives, and they either kept their Witchcraft activities very secretive, or they stopped practicing altogether.

Society also evolved in the second millennia C.E., and many fled to the United States to escape religious persecution in Europe. America offered the promise of religious freedom and a melting pot of peoples. But this dream would have its setbacks. Most of us have heard about the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of 1692, where more than twenty people, and even a dog, were executed for being witches. 

Witchcraft got a bit of a renaissance in the twentieth century. In 1939, an English author named Gerald B. Gardner created a new religion based on a secret society he belonged to. He was sworn to secrecy, but he did take some of the ideas and practices of his society public to form Wicca. Gerina Dunwich explains that Wicca is different from Witchcraft in that Wicca is a blend of old Pagan elements, mythology, occultism, ceremonial magick, New Age, Hinduism, and Freemasonry.

To add to the confusion of what exactly a witch is, some Wiccans also refer to themselves as witches. This is true if we take the broad definition. I asked Ms. Dunwich what it means to be a witch. To be a Witch is to live ones life in tune with the earth and the cycles of nature. It is reclaiming the old ways, viewing the world and everything in it as magickal, and working with the mystical energies of plants and stones and animals to create positive changes within and without. To some people, Witchcraft is a religion. But for me, it is simply a way of life and just one small facet of who I am.

Certainly our culture is becoming more accepting of different practices and religions, and that has aided greatly to the growth of religions such as Wicca. Dunwich explained, Wicca is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world today; however, different individuals are drawn to it for different reasons. I believe many embrace it because they find it to be a non-restrictive religion that celebrates diversity and encourages an individual path within the faith. It also promotes personal responsibility, free thought, creativity, and sensual pleasures. Many individuals who also feel a strong need to spiritually connect with the energies of the earth find that Wicca fills their spiritual needs. Some people are attracted to its magickal elements, although most Wiccans place more emphasis on deity worship and spiritual development than the casting of spells. And many women who feel left out of the mainstream religions turn to the Wiccan path because they find the concept and worship of the Feminine Divine to be both appealing and empowering.

Witches and Wiccans are growing in numbers, rediscovering ancient ways of interacting with our planet and all of its inhabitants, and taking a very physical/tangible approach to spirituality. Though we cant put a very clear label on just who is and who is not a witch, I think that just adds to the charm. 

Gerina Dunwich's Web site:

2014 Haunted New England Wall Calendar by Jeff Belanger photography by Frank Grace
Check out the 2014 Haunted New England wall calendar by Jeff Belanger and photography by Frank Grace!

Paranormal Conferences and Lectures
Don't miss the following events and lectures:

Jeff Belanger and “The Bridgewater Triangle” at Dedham Community Theatre - April 6, 2014 9:00PM

The Spirits of the Mark Twain House - Hartford, Connecticut - April 12, 2014

Paracon Australia - East Maitland, New South Wales, Australia - May 10-12, 2014