Witchcraft is a very old system of religious practice which can be traced archeologically to around 7000BC, the paleolithic time sometimes called the "Old" Stone Age. Not to say that the practitioners then were working in the same way as we do now but the rudiments of the system were certainly in place. Witchcraft then was a goddess worshipping religion, Witches seemed to see the world and its inhabitants (plants, stones, animals AND people) as offspring of a feminine goddess whose seed was carried by all. That is still in fact the basis of Witchcraft today, the principle of what we call "immanent" divinity, i.e. that there is a part of god (or goddess) in us all as opposed to a transcendent divinity (like say christianity) which says that God is separate from the world and that we are his creations which has always seemed to me like the difference between a sculptor who sculpts a statue albeit with love and care but who also has a child, the love for the statue is great but different than the love for the child - Christians see themselves as the statues of God, Witches as the children.

The other important aspect of Witchcraft is that it sees divinity as different aspects, the goddess has three forms and this way of thinking began around 5000-3000BC with the "New" Stone Age (Neolithic era). Here three aspects are commonly seen as "virgin", "mother" and "crone", which was linked to the fertility cycles of the earth by neolithic man as he began to discover agriculture - the frutfulness of spring (virgin), the harvest of autumn and the birth of the earth's offspring (mother) and the death and barrenness of winter (the crone).
Further to that the feminine goddess is seen as having a male counterpart called the God (who began to appear around 3000 - 1500BC as a dual aspected character, the lord of light and dark). As Witchcraft developped the relationship between the goddess and the god developped and this harmonising and balancing of male and female principles is central to Witchcraftn philosophy. Many think that Witchcraft is solely goddess worship but it is truly the balancing of the male dominated religions (Jewish & Christian god is male) over the centuries that make Witchcraft appear to have a feminine slant, evening up the equations as it were!

All that said Witchcraft is viewed as polytheistic or Pagan, i.e. it sees many god-forms as opposed to just one but ultimately Witchcraft thinks that divinity has a single origin and that the goddess and her three aspects and the god and his two are ultimately all emanations of one divine force.

As the new Chritianity ripped through Europe in the early centuries AD, Witchcraft, contrary to popular belief, existed happily alongside the new religion, Witchcraft was always the religion of the people wheras Christianity was the religion of the more educated (and, note, wealthy!) and it was these people, the Romano Christian (Catholic) church and the landowners and rulers who saw that religion could be used to wield power over the mass populace who came to realise, by the latter part of the first millenium, that the old and pagan religions were a threat to their authority. Thus began the sytematic suppression of paganism, it was here that the associations were first made between the Witchcraftn god and Satan or lucifer the fallen angel of Jewish mysticism. It was conveniently forgotten that people had worshipped and acknowledged the god long before satan was first written about in the bible!

Witchcraft went underground and there it stayed for most of the second millenium, it hid from the brutality of the inquisition and the witch hunts of medieval England and retains today the legacy of mistrust with which it holds oragised and authoritarian religions who, it has to be said, very much retain their mistrust of Witchcraft.

By victorian times however people were losing their fear of the unknown and the occult (a word which, by the way, only means "hidden") and pseudo-christian societies like the Freemasons were springing up and beginning to take an interest in the supernatural. Witchcraft holds that there is no supernatural, that everything is part of nature and that just because humans can't explain some phenomena it doesn't mean that it is beyond nature.

Modern Witchcraft, although it undoubtedly benefitted from the victorian occult era remained to all intents and purposes in hiding until maybe the 1900's when a number of covens were discovered in the East of England being run by a man called George Pickingill and several covens today trace their roots back to these which are the first recorded practitioners of modern Witchcraft and definitely the first to be systematic about recording their beliefs and ceremonies. In England it was 1954 before the out dated and ridiculous witchcraft laws were repealed and here began properly the revival of modern Witchcraft led by a man called Gerald Gardner who published a book titled "Witchcraft Today" which was a landmark publication in Witchcraftn history. Witchcraft has ostensibly evolved from him and his publications and nearly every coven operating in the world now works pretty closely to Gardner's formalisation of Witchcraft which is why he is often known as "The Father Of Modern Witchcraft".

Witchcraft, although a religious system has another great difference from Christianity and other mass religions in that its practice has a greater emphasis of the use of natural forces to acomplish willed tasks (what the less informed would call "casting spells") and although all religions practice some form of magic (see my other articles) Witchcraft places quite a high emphasis on it.

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