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Friday, July 3, 2009

The Truth About Witches Outside of Urban Fantasies

Writing about witches, like the heroine in my erotic urban fantasy, Being Familiar With Witch can be fun. Especially when she hooks up with the hero, Charun, her demon familiar. But researching about witches, I learned some interesting facts about them and witchcraft.

I knew that male witches were called witches too, and not warlocks. That was added later, with Satanism. As for witches themselves, modern ones are either those who worship the elements of nature or those who worship the Devil--though these are called Satanists. Of course, there are primate tribes with witch doctors, plus beliefs even today of witches.

Tina the witch in my urban fantasy gets her powers when she and Charun make love. Her DNA is coded to his, making it so. In reality, witches in history and even in the world's myths don't get theirs that way. So let's learn a little about witches and witchcraft.

Witchcraft, in various historical, anthropological, religious and mythological contexts, is the use of certain kinds of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft. While mythological witches are often supernatural creatures, historically many people have been accused of witchcraft, or have claimed to be witches. Witches have stereotypically, though not exclusively, been women. If the woman was older, lived alone with maybe a cat for only company, and had extensive knowledge of herbs, then a jealous neighbor could use this to accuse them of witchcraft. There have been men accused in history, too. Witches have had a long history with Halloween. Legends tell of witches gathering twice a year when the seasons changed, on April 30 - the eve of May Day and the other was on the eve of October 31 - All Hallow's Eve. The witches would gather on these nights, arriving on broomsticks, to celebrate a party hosted by the devil. Superstitions told of witches casting spells on unsuspecting people, transform themselves into different forms and causing other magical mischief. It was said that to meet a witch you had to put your clothes on wrong side out and you had to walk backwards on Halloween night. Then at midnight you would see a witch. When the early settlers came to America, they brought along their belief in witches. In American the legends of witches spread and mixed with the beliefs of others, the Native Americans - who also believed in witches, and then later with the black magic beliefs of the African slaves. The black cat has long been associated with witches. Many superstitions have evolved about cats. It was believed that witches could change into cats. Some people also believed that cats were the spirits of the dead. One of the best known superstitions is that of the black cat. If a black cat was to cross your path you would have to turn around and go back because many people believe if you continued bad luck would strike you.

In Europe, the accused were burned at the stake. In America, mainly in Salem, Massachusetts, they were hung by the neck until dead. The events of Massachusetts, which led to the Witch Trials actually occurred in what is now the town of Danvers, then a parish of Salem Town, known as Salem Village. Launching the hysteria was the bizarre, seemingly inexplicable behavior of two young girls; the daughter, Betty, and the niece, Abigail Williams, of the Salem Village minister, Reverend Samuel Parris. By the time the hysteria had spent itself, 24 people had died. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill in Salem Town, but some died in prison.

Protection from Witches

Many ways had been used by people to protect themselves against witches. The first three were a mixture of Celtic and African American lore.

1. Leave a bowl of salt outside your door. It is said that witches love to count the grains. A witch will sit down and count each grain. By the time she/he finishes, it will be morning and you will be safe. (Ditto with a broom, for the witch will count the broom straws.) Strangely enough, this is in myths about vampires too.
2. Hang a used horse shoe above your door. Before a witch enters the house, she must go down every road the horse traveled when he wore that shoe. By the time she finishes, the dawn will be on its way, and you'll be safe.
3. Witches hate the color blue because it is the color of heaven. African Americans, especially in South Carolina and Georgia, painted the trim of their homes blue for protection.



Witch Bottles

A most common counterspell against illness caused by witchcraft was to put the sick person's urine in a bottle with iron nails, brass pins, and piece of lead, cork it tightly, and either set it to heat by the hearth or bury it in the ground. The idea of the witch bottle was to throw the spell back on the witch. The urine and the bulb of the bottle represented the waterworks of the witch, and the theory was that the nails and bent pins would aggravate the witch when she passed water and torment her so badly that she would take the spell back off the person she had put a spell on.

A recipe used to make a witch bottle: Take a stone bottle, make water in it, and fill it with your own toe-nails and finger-nails, iron nails, and anything which belongs to you. Hang the bottle over the fire and keep stirring it. It must be dark in the room and you can't speak or make any noise. Then the witch is supposed to come to your door and beg you to open the door and let her in. If you keep silent and ignore her, the witch will burst. In the folklore it is said that the strain on the mind of the person when the witch begs to be let in is usually so great that the person breaks down and speaks, setting witch free.

In London, England, 17th-century pottery jugs of the kind called 'greybeards' or 'bellarmines' had been discovered buried in ditches or streams, containing bent nails and felt hearts stuck with pins. Later on, people used cheap glass bottles in the same way. One such bottle was unearthed under the hearth of a Sussex cottage in the 1860s, two hundred bent pins inside it. An example that dated from the early years of the 20th century turned up in a shop at Padstow, Cornwall. Urine was put in a cod-liver-oil bottle which had its cork pierced with eight pins and one needle, and then bricked up in a chimney. In Cambridgeshire, a three-sided iron bottle held hen's blood and feathers mingled with the usual human urine, salt, hair, and nail-clippings; also (for protection rather than cure) small bottles of greenish or bluish glass filled with colored silk threads. These had been displayed beside doors or windows, to divert the witch's power by confusing her gaze.

Witch Balls

Back in Scotland's past, people wore them around their necks to ward off witches. It was also believed that if a witch touched one, her/his soul would be caught within the ball forever.

A witch ball is a hollow sphere of plain or stained glass hung in cottage windows in 18th century England to ward off evil spirits, witch's spells, or ill fortune. Though, the witch's ball did originate from cultures where witches were considered a blessing. Witches "enchanted" the balls to enhance their potency against evils. Later, they were often stuck on top of a vase or suspended by a cord for a decorative effect. Witch balls appeared in America in the 19th century and were often found in gardens under the name "gazing ball.” However, "gazing balls" contain no strands within their interior. According to folk tales, witch balls would entice evil spirits with their bright colors; the strands inside the ball capturing the spirit and preventing it from escaping.

Witch balls sometimes measure as large as 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter. By tradition, but not always, the witch ball is green or blue in color and made from glass. There have been others made of wood, grass, or twigs. Some are decorated in enameled swirls and brilliant stripes of various colors. The gazing balls found in many of today's gardens are derived from silvered witch balls that acted as convex mirrors, warding off evil by reflecting it away. Because they look similar to the glass balls used on fishing nets, witch balls are often associated with sea superstitions and legends. The modern Christmas ornament ball is descended from the witch ball. According to an ancient tale, the ornament was originally placed on the tree to dispel a visitor's envy at the presents beneath the tree.

Some Witch Stories

In the second half of the 17th century, one detected a witch by finding a witch's mark on the accused, thought to be an extra “teat,” generally below the left breast. With this teat the Devil could suck his victims and collaborators, like some monstrous child. There are documented cases of searches for this mark in witchcraft trials. One happened in Norfolk County in Virginia in 1679. Charges had been brought against Mrs. Alice Cartwrite, saying she had “bewitched” her child and caused its death. She was acquitted though, when a search of her person found no such extra teat.

In the Virginian book, History of the Valley, written by Samuel Kercheval in the 1830s, he stated: “The belief in Witchcraft was prevalent among the early settlers of the western portion of Virginia.

Not only women as witches, but men considered as wizards or witch doctors. Wizards were men possessed of the same malevolent powers as the witch, except they seldom exercised them for bad purposes. They used their power for the purpose of counteracting the influence of the witches of the opposite sex.

One way people in western part of Virginia broke a witch's spell, they drew a picture of the witch on a stump or piece of bread and shot at it with a silver bullet. Another method, they would take the urine of a person who'd been cursed, corked it up in a vial and hang it up in a chimney. This gave the witch a strangury, which lasted as long as the vial remained in the chimney. The only way a witch could relieve herself was to borrow something from the family she had placed the spell on.

To rid a spell cast on cattle or dogs, people would brand the animal in the forehead with a branding iron. And if the animal was dead, the corpse was burned until nothing remained of it but ashes. This inflicted a spell upon the witch and the only way she could remove it was again by borrowing something belonging to the accursed.

When witches wanted to milk a cow of a neighbor, the witch placed a new pin in a new towel, then fixed the towel over the doorway. Speaking incantations, she extracted the milk from the towel just like milking a cow, without actually doing it. This was the reason used when cows were too poor to give milk.

Though these stories came from Virginia, there are stories all over the world about witches. Even those that are still happening today. Like the article on Newspost Online about some witch doctor offering his services to Nobel prize winner, VS Naipaul for a chance to put a curse on his biographers because they wrote about him in an unflattering light. So the next time you snub someone, beware, they just might have a voodoo hex put on you.

Though what I wrote is just a drop in the bucket about witches, I hoped you go away with some knowledge about them in myths and history that goes beyond urban fantasies and paranormal romances. That my own character, Tina Epson, comes from a legacy of interesting beings and historical figures.

Sapphire Phelan

http://FantasticDreams.50megs.com
www.myspace.com/SapphirePhelan
http://SapphirePhelansPassionCorner.blogspot.com
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Go beyond the usual, instead take the unusual that stretches the boundaries and find romance with Sapphire Phelan's aliens, werewolves, vampires, fairies, and other supernatural/otherworldly heroes and heroines.



Sapphire Phelan's Bio

Sapphire Phelan is an author of erotic and sweet paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction romance, like Being Familiar With a Witch, along with a couple of erotic horror stories. She also writes as Pamela K. Kinney, for horror, fantasy, science fiction, and a nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Richmond, Virginia and the upcoming Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two cats, Ripley and Bast. You can find out more about her and what she has or will be coming out at her website: http://FantasticDreams.50megs.com Check out her MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/SapphirePhelan , her blog at http://SapphirePhelansPassionCorner.blogspot.com, and subscribe to her newsletter at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SapphirePhelansParanormalNewsletter .

She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house and husband sometimes suffers for it!


Being Familiar With a Witch Blurb

Tina doesn't know she's a witch. It will take Charun, her demon Familiar, to convince her to make love with him and let loose her witch powers.
For if she doesn't, then with the demon army about to bring Armageddon to the Mortal Realm on Halloween, she won't stand a chance in Hell.

BUY LINK for Being Familiar With a Witch:

Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook82204.htm

Also on Kindle HERE

Go beyond the usual, instead take the unusual that stretches the boundaries and find romance with Sapphire Phelan's aliens, werewolves, vampires, fairies, and other supernatural/otherworldly heroes and heroines.

5 comments:

Glynis said...

That was fascinating.My father always said, if I had been born 200yrs earlier, he would have had to drown me,I was born on halloween.Before I emigrated I lived in Manningtree, Essex UK, the home of Matthew Hopkins, The Witch Finder General. http://www.headgatetheatre.co.uk/witchfinder/pdf/witchfinder_a4_2p.pdf

Denise said...

Lots of interesting research, though, I would point out that modern day witches would be the first ones to tell you that Satan does not exist in their belief system. Satan is part of the Christian mythos. People who worship Satan are not witches, but Satanists, as you do point out. Witches are workers of magic and energy. Often healers, they believe in the powers of the body and nature. In The Burning Times, frightened people would fixate on anything to try and save themselves from the perceived evil. Sadly, the village healer, the recluse, the widow were easy targets. Harm None is one of the primary caveats of the Wiccan community. The Rule of Three - that everything you do for good or bad is returned to you threefold - is yet another. Sounds suspiciously like the Do Unto Others instruction given in more traditional Western beliefs or Karma from the east. Granted there are bad apples in every bushel and undoubtedly people who twist the beliefs of Wicca into something dark and evil, but please understand that Wicca is truly a life-affirming belief system. Wiccans and witches seek unity with the world around them, seen and unseen.

Sapphire Phelan said...

Another thing that is said nowadays is that Wiccan was started in 20th Century and not as long span ning in witchcraft, too. So what witcheds believed in days before the 20th Century is totally different than modern witches. Many of "withces" accused in Withccraft trials if not someone a friend or relative or neighbor jealous of, were herbalists, people skilled in herb lore or women ahead of their time, like Virginia Beach's own Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo.
This woman was ahead of her time.

meggins said...

I would echo a lot of what Denise said. I was so distressed when I read that bit about witches worshipping the devil. No, no, no. Granted, someone somewhere in time may have identified him/herself as a witch AND a devil worshipper, but it is definitely not true of modern Wicca.

And, yes, you're right: most witches today belong to modern traditions which, while they may try to recreate a past belief system, are undoubtedly something not quite the same. On the other hand, i know "hereditary witches," people whose families are, and have always been, pagan. None of them are devil worshippers either.

So, plese, keep the witches and the Satanists separate. (Oh, yes, Satanists might dabble with "black magic," but that is because they don't understand or just don't care what magic really is. Like technology, it's just a tool, neither "black" nor "white" nor good or bad in itself but only in the purposes to which it is put.)

Sapphire Phelan said...

So you all understand, what I put up here was myths and legends of some witch stories from the past, plus one account in an online newspaper of a witch doctor I found--nothing about devil worship per say.