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History of Witchcraft in the Middle Ages

History of Witchcraft & Wicca

The Witches of the European Dark Ages come flying towards us out of the past's stygian mire in a wild cavalcade, riding devils and broomsticks, followed by black cats and toads to be consumed in the fires, not of Hell, but of fear and hatred, greed and lust.

Witchcraft in Medieval Europe

Extract from Leo Ruickbie's Witchcraft Out of the Shadows

text / image

3. South of Heaven: Witchcraft in Mediaeval and Early Modern Europe


The Witches of the European Dark Ages come flying towards us out of the past’s Stygian mire in a wild cavalcade, riding devils and broomsticks, followed by black cats and poisonous toads to be consumed in the fires, not of Hell, but of fear and hatred, greed and lust. For all they lived and for all they died, too often too soon and too horribly, they were only part real, part invented. Worshippers of strange gods, healers with strange powers, they come from stranger times when rumour and suspicion were judge and executioner, when fear and loathing were law and order.


We have already seen how what was later called the witch was regarded in earlier times from ancient Greek goddesses and priestesses to Roman hags, and from revered Volvas to despised fomenters of ruin. These complex, diverse, ambiguous and at times confused images from myth and folklore and everyday life formed the blueprint for the construction of the diabolical witch who, in league with the Arch-Fiend, was bent on the destruction of Christendom. At first these figures, both the people themselves, the Hecatean priestesses and far-seeing Volvas, and the beliefs connected to them, formed the front-line in the battle against Christian missionaries and Christianising conquerors. Their practices were outlawed and the beliefs connected to them declared false. However, the persistence of these beliefs and pracctices could, under Christian interpretation, mean only one thing: Satanic rebellion. As the Bible has it: “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Sam. 15:23).


The process did not happen over-night and did not take the same form in every corner of Europe. However, a curve can be drawn from initial Pagan persecution to a high-point of Christian heresy


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