While television and movie witches are bathed in special effects, real life is much different. Seasonal gatherings and community celebrations mark events connected to fertile crops, fertile stock animals, fertile humans and human survival. Since most witches no longer live in farming communities, and we have enough people on earth, the focus has shifted to fertile minds, instead of fertile bodies. These celebrations now reflect our mental and emotional progress from one season to another, with our capacity to learn and understand being paramount.
If you know any witches, you may hear them mention the wheel of the year. It is a simplified circular calendar , read counter clockwise, illustrating the major and minor holidays. Celtic versions of the wheel are most common, but each tradition may have its own version featuring holiday names and dates specific to each. Since these holidays reflect planting, harvesting and fallow, witches can also use The Farmers’ Almanac to schedule holiday celebrations.
As every coven and community is different, their celebrations may feature different highlights, but most celebrations consist of a meal, with participants contributing a dish, followed by the appropriate ritual. Rituals can present concepts as metaphor and/or act out myths that are handed down or reconstructed. You may have witnessed rituals without knowing it. There are places where people, who are not witches, still dance the Maypole around May first. The participants dance, unaware that they are performing part of a Beltaine fertility ritual.
The average person sees at least 3 witches a day, but remains clueless. Witches, on the other hand, tend to see only those who fit their own version of a “witch”. Some say that only caucasian people with red, curly hair can inherit witchy tendencies while others say that witchcraft is a European practice. Unfortunately, regardless of position all of these people are missing something important. Since you can’t point to a distinct ethnic group and label them “witches”, the only way to discover who today’s witches are by examining practices.
Witches use herbs to ease ailments, as has been common among African Tribes. African witches are considered healers and are persecuted, as they have been in other cultures. They observe nature, then use those observations to affect change. They provide comfort and create seasonal rituals. Obviously, these practices are not limited to Europe. In fact, you’ll find that every civilization thriving in today’s world, began with a cluster of primitives struggling to survive. In other words, there are witches in every culture, and anyone can claim their life is that of an hereditary witch. However, you also see these practices in scientific research.
That’s right, science. In fact, we may have had communities on the moon and Mars if human-kind had not suffered the plague, then the dark ages. Without the mass, forced conversions of that time the human race – as a whole- might be living in distant galaxies by now. Many of the lingering prejudices against women and different skin tones may have never developed without the inquisition’s aftermath that triggered all of the colonizing, and took monotheism out of Europe to other lands.
Who is a witch? Anyone you speak with, see or hear about might be casting a circle, and settling into meditation, at this very moment.
I enjoy fictional witches, but I try to remember that there are real people reconstructing and practicing many of these “old ways”. With Christmas approaching, I grew curious about the winter holidays celebrated by modern witches and Wiccan. Their holidays are based on the seasons, not famous people or infamous events.
Yule is the most popular winter holiday, and its festivities are often combined with winter solstice revelry. Some groups meet for potluck feasts where coven members exchange handmade gifts, give handmade ritual tools, or give fellow practitioner a prized book from the giver’s own bookshelves. Beverages can include home-brewed mead and traditional or non-alcoholic Wassail. A formal ritual often follows, at midnight. While the preferred ritual setting is outdoors, cold weather means casting the circle inside, where the chances for frostbite are much lower.
Apparently Wicca, like Christianity, is divided into different sects or traditions. Someone following a Celtic tradition will have different ritual tools and practices from someone following a Norse tradition. Each pantheon has different names for their gods and goddesses, with each deity having his or her own characteristics and skills, but the seasonal celebrations are common to all.
What is your image of a witch? Is she a crone with a big nose and warts or pretty and sparkly? The cinema has a lot to answer for in terms of how we visualize witches. Ok most are for children and clear definitions of good and evil are characterized by how they look or are dressed. Simplistic but true. It will be interesting next year to see how they are depicted in the new film for grown ups, The Last Witch Hunter – already know they are evil! Mind you books use the same interpretation! I have been reading a Roald Dahl classic to the library’s Saturday children’s club, no matter your age you can always enjoy a Roald Dahl book. I know I do The Witches is a tale, where a boy and his grandmother are attempting to find the Grand High Witch; now these witches look normal until they take off their masks and become the ugly warty stereotypes of an evil witch, which is what they are after all in the book. Thank goodness for Harry potter books and a slightly different perspective on witches. How do you imagine them? All said witches get a pretty raw deal, hunted and immolated from the first law passed in 1541 to 1951; the practice of witchcraft illegal in Britain. After the repeal of the law witches and wiccans became more open. What is the difference between the two? Simple, Wiccan is a belief system and witchcraft is a practice. I thought it might be interesting to know more about this so look out for my next post…
This posts book recommendation:, The Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchet another perspective on witches. Disc World books are a passion with me so watch for more recommendations from this excellent author