When people think about witches and witchcraft nowadays, they often think of figures like Harry Potter. One of Harry’s most memorable traits is having messy hair. J.K. Rowling’s depiction of Harry Potter’s unruly, defiant hair is more than just descriptive; it’s a significant hint to his identity based on decades of custom and actual practices, like rituals and the use of talismans.
The witch is almost always depicted with wild hair, maybe as a visual message that she refuses to be subjugated. Having “disheveled hair” is a dead giveaway in many cultures that a woman is a witch, whether human, demonic, or divine. This is true in Jewish and Slavic folklore, among others.
A case in point for witches and witchcraft: the Inuit sea god Sedna, who is also associated with hair. Sedna is relaxing on the ocean floor with her trusty puppy as her leading company. See something resembling an Alaskan malamute. She maintains a delicate equilibrium between the marine life, which wants to live, and the land dwellers, who must kill, capture, and consume marine life to sustain themselves. In the same way that the ocean can turn on a dime, so can Sedna’s moods: when angry or sad, she’ll withhold the ocean’s riches.
Achieving equilibrium when food is scarce requires appeasing, comforting, and reassuring Sedna, which may be one of the primary roots of practicing witches and witchcraft in the first place. There are many possible reasons why witches and witchcraft emerged from all cultures from the beginning of human civilization.
To remove the agonizing knots and tangles from Sedna’s long, thick, matted hair, an adventurous shaman must undertake a soul-journey to her watery abode, approach her, and comb out the knots and tangles with calm, kind care.
Once this is done, Sedna’s wrath, frustration, and lethal agitation will subside. It’s possible that, like Sedna’s locks, witchcraft, shamanism, magic, conjuring, herbalism, “traditional” healing, “traditional” spirituality, and religion are permanently intertwined.
But efforts to sort them out will hopefully reduce tension and anxiety and will undoubtedly unearth secrets and liberate treasures. Let’s look at where witchcraft came from and how different historical factors have molded it and changed how people view it.
The Magical World, Where Witches and Witchcraft Began
If we go back far enough, we might uncover that ancient witch as the mother of witches and witchcraft. How far back in time can we go, then? So said, magical customs are waiting for us wherever we go.
From the beginning of time, there has been an understanding of the potential of magic and a desire to exert control over it, giving rise to the countless practices of witches and witchcraft.
Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist and a witch who practices hoodoo, referred to God as “the original hoodoo doctor” because of how he whispered the universe into being.
The ancient Egyptians would have been familiar with that idea. In one of their myths, Ptah, the craftsman god, the original mason, uses magic words to speak the universe into being. Many different cultures around the world have comparable miraculous creation myths. Through magic, song (charm), visualization, spellcasting, or image-magic, the world and its inhabitants (including humans) are brought into existence; they are sculpted from the ground and given life through a process of magical enchantment.
Other genesis tales also emphasize the supernatural link between witches and witchcraft. Finally, having given creation some thought, the Egyptian Creator in another myth understands that things won’t turn out well and that humanity may face a lot of suffering.
For this reason, the Creator feels regret and rapidly invents magic power (heka to the ancient Egyptians) for humanity to utilize in protecting themselves from the cruel hands of fate.
Therefore, magic must have a divine source. However, regarding primordial witchcraft, another origin myth is equally open and equivocal.
According to Zuni cosmology, a sacred pair, male and female, generally recognized as “witches” in English translation, appeared shortly after Earth was populated, delivering gifts. This duo of witches while exploring and investigating Earth, this duo of witches comes across a group of young women and inquires about their identities. Girls call themselves Corn Maidens, but there’s one catch: corn doesn’t exist.
The witches quickly put a stop to this by dispersing seven different kinds of corn, together with squash and melon seeds, the mainstay of the diet of the indigenous farmers of the American southwest.
The Corn Maidens, inspired by the witches’ generosity, form two lines toward the sun and begin a dance in its honor, marking the beginning of religion and agriculture. An entertaining tale of witchcraft.
However, the witches and witchcraft also bring another gift: death. They say death is inevitable if we’re to keep the planet from becoming swamped with people.
However, following this, people start to fear and distrust witches and witchcraft, who are held accountable for providing life-sustaining food and introducing death. Early recognition of the duality inherent in witchcraft’s power: it can be used for good but also evil.
You don’t believe in ancient creation myths, do you?
Okay, so let’s see what the anthropologists and archaeologists say about it. First, material evidence attests to the antiquity of witchcraft and the magical worldview.
Magical Ideas That Have Come to Fruition
Funerary site excavations have provided much of our knowledge about Paleolithic and Neolithic (New Stone Age) societies.
Those who made it through treated their fallen comrades with respect, often going to great lengths and expenses to ensure they were ready for whatever was thought to be ahead. They gave the bodies a good bath, combed their hair, and clothed them in nice clothes before decorating them with flowers, jewelry, seashells, and amulets.
Whatever would have brought them happiness, sustenance, and protection in the next world and on the way, there was left as burial goods. As a bonus, guardians were sometimes provided for whatever was thought to be left behind, along with cash and guidance for the voyage.
Death wasn’t the end of “life” for these ancient people as if that were the equivalent of pulling the plug. In their vast and mystical view, a person’s “life” wasn’t over when their heart stopped beating or their breath stopped. Instead, one world gave way to another, and one existence gave way to another. However, the present phenomena of the one-way street did not exist then. And if it hadn’t been, we probably wouldn’t be talking about shamans or necromancers these days. It was possible to travel in either direction on any given road. Nevertheless, death and the afterlife play a central role in witchcraft.
However, our forebears of witches and witchcraft weren’t solely preoccupied with death riddles; witchcraft isn’t primarily concerned with them. The mysteries of conception and embryonic development were, essentially, the other side of the coin.
In 1908, archeologist Josef Szombathy found a tiny figurine representing a plump female near Willendorf, Austria. The “Venus of Willendorf,” the most well-known of several similar figurines, can be shown now in Vienna’s natural history museum.
Venus and The Sacred Feminine
The irony of her nick was not lost on anyone. When people today hear the word “Venus,” they automatically think of a woman who is slim, sleek, firm, and young-looking. The archaeologists who found the Willendorf Venus found her amusing.
Like many others from her time, the figurine is overweight and flaunts rolls of flesh and huge, sagging breasts. However, it never intended to make her a comical or hideous creature.
You can see a lot of time and effort went into making her. Beautifully, she has seven concentric rings of braids on her hair, as if the number seven were known to be auspicious even before now. She is a sight to behold.
The Venus of Willendorf was made how many years ago? If we try to look at her, whose perspective should we use?
Time and again, her age has been changed backward as the technology for determining chronology has improved. Dates between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE have been proposed for her, a significant jump from the previous 15,000 to 10,000 BCE estimate. In our modern era of oversized portions and desk jobs, the Venus of Willendorf’s body type is not unusual.
People go to extremes, including surgery and dieting, to avoid achieving her figure. However, try to envision life some 20,000 years ago, when resources were scarce. The Venus of Willendorf must have appeared royal, queenly, independent, and divine to the people of her time.
She represents the idealized conception of a woman as a wellspring of all that is good in the world. The ideal woman of today fits into as little room as feasible. This is not Venus from Willendorf. She is roomy, self-assured, and uses as much room as she desires.
There are innumerable additional ancient depictions of the sacred feminine (even expressed in the moon’s phases) that have survived throughout history, with the Venus of Willendorf being only the most well-known.
Some of them are slimmer than she is. However, the female-specific anatomical features (breasts, vulva, pregnant belly) are almost always highlighted and exaggerated. Whoever made these images (and there are numerous of them, crafted over millennia) made sure that the fact that they are unmistakably and emphatically feminine was not lost on anyone viewing them.
These images show that the people who made them did not shun or feel disgusted by strong, sexual, or huge women.
There are several of these that look far away. Almost everyone has vaginas that are so prominent that you can’t overlook them, even if they hide their identities behind masks or don’t have any facial characteristics. Some of them hold their breasts out to the audience as a nursing mother would.
Some of them make knowing gestures toward their genitalia or their potbelly. They have a maternal and sexual nature at the same time. Those who carved and beheld these sculptures did not see a contradiction between motherhood and a vibrant feminine libido. Many are stunningly attractive by today’s standards, with expressive eyes and strange expressions. Our forebears undeniably saw the mystical potential and incredible power in the female body.
Many anthropologists and religious academics believe that mothers play a significant role in creating the universe in the earliest mythologies. Thus, the first deity was a mother.
And who else can compare to a mother in divine status? It’s hard to imagine now, in an age with infant formula, 24-hour medical care, and paid caregivers, but back in the day, a mother was a child’s only hope for a healthy life. The future looked brighter for children whose mothers were strong, loyal, healthy, and concerned about their development. It was pretty precarious if your mother was weak and either unable or unable to care for you.
A person’s mother may be their own goddess, but in ancient societies, goddesses also nurtured communities, tribes, and even nations. Examples of such beautiful and horrible goddesses are India’s Kali and Russia’s Baba Yaga, both of whom are still widely celebrated today. But, of course, let’s not forget the Greek Venus de Milo, either.
Mother Kali, or Kali Mata, is still widely worshiped as a Hindu deity, and her many facets and apparent dichotomies are much praised and pondered. In contrast, Grandma (or Baba) Yaga was ostracized and forced to live in the woods after being labeled a witch.
A depiction of the sacred female is not isolated. The “Dancing Sorcerer” is one of several dancers depicted in the cave of Les Trois Frères in Ariège, France. This two-and-a-half-foot tall figure is a chimera of several different animals and dates back to around 10,000 BCE. He has a wolf’s tail, his antlers, and a stag’s body.
They can’t agree on whether his bear or lion paws and phallus are meant to represent a bear or lion. However, there is something human about the whole dancing figure, from the beard to the dancing legs. Therefore, many have hypothesized that the figure pictured is wearing a costume and mask.
Depending on the context, this horned individual could be a shaman, a sorcerer, or both. He could be the ultimate animal tamer.
He could represent an early portrayal of any number of horned male deities, including Cernunos, Herne, Faunus, and Pan. During the Witch Trials, he will emerge from his cave of concealment to terrorize us.
The ancient city of atal Hüyük in what is now modern Turkey has yielded some of the most illuminating archaeological findings. Over thousands of years, the city underwent numerous reconstructions. As a result, the site consists of 12 strata, the earliest of which cannot be confidently dated, while the most recent dates back to around 5600 BCE.
Around 4900 BCE, the entire region was abandoned for reasons that haven’t been determined. However, at its peak, this city may have housed as many as 6,000 people, which would have been relatively high for the period, and it was home to some religious buildings.
Numerous bull horns, depictions of women giving birth close to these horns, and a sizeable enthroned woman seated between two lions or leopards are all objects that would be immediately identifiable and meaningful to modern witches and goddesses worshipers (animals which both once inhabited Europe).
The Great Goddess Kybele, also known as the Magna Mater or Mountain Mother, has been identified as a deified witch in at least one version of her sacred narrative.