Witchcraft For nearly two centuries, witchcraft seemed to have disappeared. Although it was driven underground for a time, it is now the fastest growing religion in the United States. There are several reasons for its disappearance and now, for its return. Until the fifteenth century, witchcraft was not considered an evil practice. It was about that time that the Catholic church started labeling witches as heretics and sinners because of their belief in social rebellion.
The idea of social rebellion was also a rebellion against the church, which taught that It was the duty of the common people to endure the tyranny of authority, no matter how oppressive. (Donovan 118) There were also the other acts in the rituals of witchcraft which included feasting and dancing, both of which the church considered rebellious. But, it was not until the end of the fifteenth century that witchcraft got the reputation of being a satanic religion. The idea of a purely diabolical witchcraft was said to have been invented by the Roman Catholics to supply a way to destroy the threat of the heretic Germans. The idea of satan as an evil figure in religion was not even in the Old Testament, it was put there for an easy way to accuse people. Witches were seen worshipping a horned God, so the church created a horned figure that they related to evil, they called this figure satan.
But the creation of this figure did much more than kill just Germans. The theory that witches were devil worshippers gave the church license to begin persecuting them as heretics, and they did. It was the beginning of two hundred years of torture and execution. In those two hundred years it has been estimated that anywhere from 200,000 to 9,000,000 people were executed or met their death. These people were cruelly tortured, tormented, and harassed until they confessed, and then they were tortured again to be sure that they had given a full confession and that they had been properly purified. Some tortures included strapping the accused’s feet in a pair of metal boots and then filling the boots with boiling hot oil.
The accused were often whipped for their purification, sometimes they were left out in the open for hours after having been whipped while the torturers went out to lunch. They had to hang there and wait until they returned and often they received additional torture after their wait just to be certain they had been purified. Tortures were so extreme that many people took their practices underground to avoid the Inquisition. Tyagi stated on his website on witchcraft that up to 90% of the people executed probably were not witches. They were innocents who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or have some abnormal traits or habits, or even just being the wrong person could be a sufficient reason.
It was not until after the Salem witch trials that people really started to see how foolish the entire witch-hunt was. By then, the entire witchcraft population had been either killed or scared off by the hunters. But, even after the trials, people still practiced the rituals and beliefs. It became a family religion, passed down from generation to generation. It also stayed alive in small isolated areas where it was practiced in folk customs and in their celebrations and festivals.
It just proves the incredible integrity of those involved. Those who still secretly practiced witchcraft kept their secret for many years. It was not until after World War I that witchcraft started to make a comeback. Even then it was still kept underground for fear of it losing its spiritual inspiration if it was practiced publicly and for an audience. By the 1960’s witches began to feel free enough to practice the Craft openly, and by the 1970’s there were many public groups.
Quite a few of these groups were feminists who had adopted witchcraft as a feminist movement. Witchcraft started to return at this time because of a general change in the people of the United States as Scott Moreau said in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. He says that a large reason for its return is because people started thinking magically again, rather than scientifically. It was also inviting to those who did not fit in and wanted a place to go where they would feel wanted, or for those who did not want to fit in. Now, close to a hundred years after it began its comeback, it is the fastest growing religion in the United States.
Although it is mostly middle class, people from all walks of life are members; doctors, scientists, farmers, even people living on the streets. The religion’s beliefs cater mostly to those who are not happy with their present lives and wish to have a retreat, somewhere that they can go and feel important and accepted, which is something that many people today want. There were several people who were large factors in the resurrection of the Craft. In the 20th century, Aleister Crowly renounced his background and began to write down new rituals and beliefs. His thoughts and ideas laid the path for future writers and thinkers like Gerald Gardner and Margaret Murray.
Gerald Gardner was a retired British civil servant whose writings had a profound influence on modern witchcraft practices. He wrote down many other people’s ideas along with ancient practices of pagan religions, possibly with some of his own ideas added in. Many of his ideas may possibly have come from the writings of Margaret Murray, another very influential writer. Their ideas and writings were the foundation of a religio Witchcraft was driven underground by fear of death, and the fear of pain. But, even though witches were not allowed to openly practice their beliefs, their beliefs still lived on in secret gatherings and local customs. And it is our modern ideas and attitudes, and people like Gerald Gardner and Margaret Murray who brought about the revival of witchcraft.