Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sunday October 23rd, 2011 Witches and Families

Why do we celebrate Halloween? One reason is that it’s a Celtic pagan holdover of celebrating the change in seasons. Raymond Buckland (The Witch Book: the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism, 2002) writes, “ the name for the Witchcraft Greater Sabbat that falls on November Eve. It is popularly known by non-Witches as Hallowe’en.” According to Buckland this is “the start of the winter season when, long ago, humankind had to go back to hunting animals for food.”

More importantly, and the reason why we associate ghosts and goblins with Halloween is because “Samhain is a time when Witches believe that the veil between the worlds is thin.” That is, our world and the spirit world drew closer.

To strengthen this connection witchcraft in 17th century Europe involved imps; better known as familiars. The familiar was a link between the witch and the devil after a pact was made. It was a devil in disguise. It could appear in the form of mice, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, snakes, rats, toads, pole-cats or as composite monsters “ a black rat with a swine’s face and a boar’s a mouse with a man’s face and a long beard.” (Witches and Witch-hunts: a History of Persecution by Milton Meltzer, 1999; The Bewitching of Anne Gunter by James Sharpe, 2000).

The suggestion of the mere presence of such an animal could have been enough to start a witch-hunt, and that would likely end badly for the accused witch. Indeed unfair social practices precipitated the need for the belief in a process such as witchcraft to level the playing field.

James Sharpe writes that witchcraft accusations would erupt between feuding people or families, whether over money or unrequited love. As he puts it, “Witchcraft involved power, and one way of understanding it at the level of the local community is to see it as a way in which the relatively powerless were thought to be able to gain access to power.” In other words, instead of revenge or justice through physical violence or litigation, witchcraft could be used to harm others, protect self, or kill crops and livestock.

But is witchcraft even real? Can humans consort with impish familiars to kill livestock and bewitch neighbours to madness or death? Or is belief in magic simply delusional thinking? Such questions were being asked in the mid-1600s, likely even earlier. (Sometimes answers were even given in medical rather than supernatural terms).

Belief in witchcraft has caused its mention in written law since the time of Hammurabi around 3000 B.C. Thousands of years later, in 1604, England passed laws forbidding the use of witchcraft. And even in the modern Canadian Criminal Code, section 365 has provisions against anyone who “fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration”. The key word is fraudulently.

But what if witchcraft is real? When you consider that Sir Isaac Newton, one of the fathers of modern science was himself an alchemist, a practice in which conjuration was not un-common, perhaps there is something to it (Isaac Newton: the Last Sorcerer by Michael White, 1997).

Likewise, modern quantum scientists like Amit Goswami (God is Not Dead, 2008) and Dean Radin (Entangled Minds, 2006) talk extensively about the observer effect and quantum interference devices both of which hint at the possibility of mind over matter. Truly there is something worth investigating.

The question then becomes, are there imps, and how can they make my magic stronger?

Chris Waite

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