Concerning Witchcraft

The etymology of the word ‘witch’ = [from Middle English wicche, from Old English wicca, masculine, wizard & wicce, feminine, witch; akin to Middle High German wicken to bewitch, Old English wigle divination, and to Old High German wÄ«h holy].

Concerning witchcraft, where it is mentioned in the Old Testament that witches are evil, it is referring to what is correctly traced translationally back into the original language (Hebrew) as “a person who wishes harm on others”. The English translation of the Bible unassuredly and thus incorrectly included the word “witch” because of the medieval popular perception (which was perpetuated by the clergy and those close to the clergy) that individuals who had nature wisdom and herbal understanding were also believed to have “powers” to cause famine, illness, etc. Since the wisdom of witches monetarily competed with the church’s influence, it was not given the approval of the church; it was simply politically correct of the clergy to perpetuate that witchcraft must naturally come from demons and devils and therefore it was concluded that witches could only ultimately do harm. Another reason for the misapplied use of the word “witch” in the English translation of the Old Testament was because wishing harm onto another person was and still is a very common thing. The clergy needed to be well received among the masses. How would it come across to the populace you are trying to convert and control if the Holy Scripture you offered them told them they should be killed every time they wished their neighbor would stub his toe over a boundary dispute; that you should be beaten to death by all your friends and family with rocks if you ever wished that your enemy would get kicked by his horse? Not well… thus the deliberate mistranslation; and yet, this sort of everyday occurrence is exactly what the Old Testament is referring to. “What do you mean I should be killed for wishing the guy who stole my hat gets lice, clergy? You are crazy!” “No, it’s not really you who must be repentant, my brethren… *gulp*… in fact, in our misunderstanding of the New Testament, let’s not consider what it says about repentance and only look at the Old Testament… *gulp*… it’s …the witches! Witches think herbs have healing powers! Absurd! Get them!” It was of course much subtler than this, at least just prior to the clergy witch hunts and their systematic tortures and murders of witches that followed, and these atrocities were not at all exclusive to people who worked with herbs… all it took was for someone to make the accusation and to be backed by almost anyone. It was even the kind of thing where many accused others of witchcraft that they thought might otherwise accuse them.

Many churches have the same sort of ignorant and indignant attitude today; they rebuke science and insist on relying solely on prayer; for them, modern doctors are “witches” even with all the false connotations that have sadly been appropriated to the word throughout the ages. The basis for these false beliefs were easily perpetuated because the witches were herbalists and relied on medicines that were not yet fully substantiated scientifically. Also, the clergy back then did attribute certain demons and devils with most uncultivated herb plants, as a way of explaining their poisonous, misunderstood, or unknown properties; a belief which is mostly thought of as absurd by today’s standards of understanding.

The reason for perpetuating the false beliefs against witches was so that the church could have someone to blame for the failure of prayer. Explaining to the populace that their prayers were not sincere or performed correctly enough quickly lost its appeal to the cowardly clergy. Wisewomen were typically the only ones in small villages who knew anything at all about medicine and thus some of their methods were experimental or had uncertain effects (herbs oft have different effects on different people; some people are allergic to certain plant families, etc.). It is easy for an ignorant person to blame the only person in a village who has any idea of what to do to induce abortion if the herb used would also sometimes result in illness or death of the pregnant woman. There were many more questions than answers back then when it came to medicine, farming, etc., and the clergy would simply like for everyone to rely on prayer rather than science. That way, only God could be… responsible? But now what? A populace that blames God for every ill? I believe this is the reason the anti-witch craze was not pursued to the point of eliminating all people practicing herbalism for wages… so that there would be plenty of witches to blame! The idea of good witches and bad witches… perfect!

In the dark ages, same as today, when prayer for God to remove the headache didn’t produce desired results, the people would go to the village witch to get some of that mysterious white powder (willow bark) that took the pain of headaches away; but the church would rather they merely contribute to the cash box and pray. When a witch’s herbal remedy failed, the witch was often blamed out of sheer ignorance concerning the situation. This is why witchcraft was kept secret and healing was such a dangerous business to be in. These witches were brave people who cared about others and are the basis for modern medicine despite the constant threat of death rallied by the clergy. Witches were put to death because not only was 99% of the population illiterate, the people also didn’t have the resources to compare the English translation to the original Hebrew and thus the trust in whatever the clergy told them about the nature of evil was secured. If the Bible had been and were today taught correctly (what it actually is culturally and contextually, and not some mistranslation or attempt at interpretation), we would have a much more evolved society than we do. Unfortunately, as a result of inaccurate translations, hypocrisy was and still is rampant. Is it strange how today it seems people’s understandings of the Bible are not so different than when people were illiterate? How many of you Bible readers can read the original Hebrew and Greek? Well, you might want to start thinking again about how well you really know the Bible. The belief that these wisecrafters fit the Hebrew mold for “someone who wished harm onto somebody else” was of course incorrect, and that they exclusively fit the mold is totally absurd. We have the germ theory now, etc. And yet, despite knowing this, even in this age of information, there are those as deceived concerning the Bible as there were in the dark ages, running on about how it is evil to be a healer… I mean a WITCH!

Witchunts in Europe and North America occurred between 1480 to 1750, resulting in an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 executions. We have come a long way as a society… but do you think the witch hunt craze is over? It isn’t. Case in point… the war on drugs… I mean, err… marijuana!

Recommended Additional Reading:

Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, by Stuart Clark ~ “This major work offers a new interpretation of the witchcraft beliefs of European intellectuals between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, showing how these beliefs fitted rationally with other beliefs of the period and how far the nature of rationality is dependent on its historical context.”

Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas ~ “Witchcraft, astrology, divination and every kind of popular magic flourished in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from the belief that a blessed amulet could prevent the assaults of the Devil to the use of the same charms to recover stolen goods. At the same time the Protestant Reformation attempted to take the magic out of religion, and scientists were developing new explanations of the universe. Keith Thomas’s classic analysis of beliefs held on every level of English society begins with the collapse of the medieval Church and ends with the changing intellectual atmosphere around 1700, when science and rationalism began to challenge the older systems of belief.”

The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, translated by Christopher S. Mackay ~ “The Malleus Maleficarum, first published in 1486-7, is the standard medieval text on witchcraft and it remained in print throughout the early modern period. Its descriptions of the evil acts of witches and the ways to exterminate them continue to contribute to our knowledge of early modern law, religion and society. Mackay’s highly acclaimed translation, based on his extensive research and detailed analysis of the Latin text, is the only complete English version available, and the most reliable. Now available in a single volume, this key text is at last accessible to students and scholars of medieval history and literature. With detailed explanatory notes and a guide to further reading, this volume offers a unique insight into the fifteenth-century mind and its sense of sin, punishment and retribution.”

Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine, by Lester Grinspoon ~ “In this important and timely book, two eminent researchers describe the medical benefits of marihuana, explain why its use has been forbidden, and argue for its full legalization to make it available to all patients who need it. Highly praised when it was first published in 1993, the book has been expanded to include new examples of the ways that marihuana alleviates symptoms of cancer chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, glaucoma, AIDS, and depression, as well as symptoms of such less common disorders as Crohn’s disease, diabetic gastroparesis, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

About Troy Boylan

Ecoculture Village Founder & President; Anthropology BA, Interdisciplinary Studies: Ethnobotany BS. Two things I think are worth anything at all... all things wilderness and ecoculture. Find me on , LinkedIn, and Twitter.


  1. Mind Place says:

    Thanks for your works Troy! 🙂

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