Ask this question of a modern-day witch or Wiccan and you will get several different answers, but rest assured the answers would be positive and in no way like the answers you might receive if you were to pose the same question during the 16th to 18th centuries. In fact, if you were to pose this question during the Burning Times, you’d get what we would consider today as an absolutely ludicrous response. The Burning Times, also called the European Witch-craze or the Great European Witch Hunt, began in the late Middle Ages and continued into the early Modern Era; Burning Times is a reference that cropped up in the 20th century, in the writings of those who were considered an authority on the subject, and those who believed they knew exactly what witches were, (in a sweeping general sense, those thought to be consorts of Devil or those who made a pact with him and were willing to do his bidding through evil or malignant acts). They also wrote of the successful ways to identify them and how to force them to confess to their evil deeds.
Let’s take a look at both the old day views and modern views of how one is identified as a witch or the modern day “signs” that someone might be the ideal candidate for the study of witchcraft and/or Wicca. In doing so it will allow us to identify the roots of many stereotypes and to help in further identifying just how far from the truth such stereotypical understandings fall. Please bear in mind that throughout this writing there is reference to the witch and Wiccans, with the latter, witch, sometimes being absent of religion (not always), and the other, signifying a Witch who is living the Wiccan lifestyle further supplemented by esoteric studies and the magickal practices.
Witch Identification During the Witch Craze
Supporting and perpetuating much of the irrational, illogical, and cruel actions occurring during the Burning Times are some of the bodies of work including writing about witches, witchcraft, and how to identify a witch or perhaps even force them to confess. These same bodies of work were very much responsible for perpetuating the idea that witches were hideous, ugly, old hags, as their external bodies must assuredly prove a reflection of their inward ugliness. Alternatively, women were depicted as evil seducers or mean old child eating women, all who desired nothing more than to harm others and the ruin of man. The signs a person might be a witch during these times ran the gamut from the presence of birthmarks, moles, a bodily anomaly, or to being left-handed or even redheaded. Basically, if you were different in any way, it was a good possibility that your differences would be used against you if you were accused of witchcraft. Even worse is that it was likely you were not a witch at all, just somebody with genetic differences or different likes, dislikes, and behaviors.
Now for a bit of dry but disturbing history…
The understanding of Witchcraft or maleficium (a word stemming from the Latin meaning mischief or wrongdoing, and used to reference malevolent sorcery, evildoing, and the use of the magickal arts to harm others,) evolved over the course of time, and was greatly influenced by the writers between the 16th and 18th centuries, with three influential bodies of work, the Fortalitium fidei (“Fortress of Faith”) by Alphonso de Espina, (Latin for “Fortress of Faith”); the Formicarius (“The Ant-Colony”) by Johannes Nider, and the Malleus malificarium, (“Hammer of the Witches.) by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. Please bear in mind that there were additional writings during this time with similar ideas presented against witches and their “evil works,” but we are mentioning the most prominent three bodies of work here to offer a solid understanding of just where some of the stereotypical imagery of the witch stem; this is not an all-inclusive body of work in terms of the available historical documents and references.
The Suggestive Nature of Early Writings
The Fortalitium fidei is cited as the first printed body of work referring to the practice of witchcraft. Written by a Franciscan friar who considered the Devil as being one of several existing threats to Christianity, he writes about demons, categorizes them, and even describes some demonic beings who specifically target older women and he even makes note of the actual burning of witches. He wrote of witches who drank potions to put them into a “stupor” so the devil could transport them to wherever they wanted to go all while they remained “invisible and insensible.” (1) He also explains how witches would go to Sabbath, and work through and with demons. So far, we’re off to strong start in demonizing the image of the practitioner of witchcraft …
The Formicarius was created by Johannes Nider circa 1436 B.C.E, with its first printing occurring four decades later in 1475 B.C.E., followed in the footsteps of the writings of Alphonso de Espina. In Formicarius, the fifth chapter in the work is dedicated to the subject of witches of which are immediately identified as wrongdoers, evil; haters of humankind with capabilities of shapeshifting into any animal they desire, especially if the beast is one that would readily consume a child. Nider also puts to print the notion of witches consuming their own children; of meeting with demons who appear to them in a secret place in the form of a man wherein the said witches took an oath swearing off any practices related to Christianity, adoration of the Eucharist, and to further promise a willingness to “trample” all over the crucifix. Nadir continues to document more arguments about witches and puts to print the notion of witches killing off unbaptized children, stealing the same children from their graves, and boiling them up for use in magical works as they so desire. So, just a bit of what Nider puts forth in his body of work establishes an image of the witch as a person who hates all other people and much prefers making pacts with the demonic in some clandestine place; a child killer, a baby eater, hater of Christianity, and a grave robber. But does he stop there? No, instead the work continues to blame witches for everything, from hailstorms to impotency, and from “poison winds and lightning,” and the ability to “make powders” capable of killing another …
But of all the works produced, the treatise entitled the Malleus malificarium most likely had the most far-reaching implications, because it was the first treatise to be put to print and widely spread, and the inclusion of papal bull at the beginning of the work only lent credence to the work’s “validity,” resulting in the writing as being more easily digested by its readers as both truthful and correct (1). The Malleus malificarium supported the notion of torture to get witches to confess as well as the use of deception. The same work suggested the most hideous of notions that women, of the weaker sex, were more likely to succumb to demonic influences. The work put to writing the notion of women having lustful attitudes, more so than males; were incapable of holding their tongue, and were far easier to tempt into doing evil workings, plus, the body of work also accused women who were thought to practice witchcraft as being cannibals, child killers, performers of curses and hexes, and for whatever reason, they seemed to have had an ever so interesting power of the male genitals, being able to render the man both impotent and infertile …
Anyone with sound reason could exam such texts today and fully understand that the writings have no basis in fact and that the victims of such writings were likely not practitioners of witchcraft at all. Rather the victims were outspoken women, or those who did not conform to what society expected, or victims of revenge, and so and so forth.
Thanks to the increased focus on reason and perhaps a blessing from the Gods themselves, today’s notion of what a witch is and the signs one might be suited to the pursuit, study, undertaking and use of magick or living the Wiccan lifestyle are far more positive in comparison!
Discrepancies in Death Counts
Some people identify the Burning Times as the Women’s Holocaust and suggest the baneful period spanned three centuries, with a death count reaching nine million estimated deaths. Alternative estimates suggested by various scholars give a death toll of 60,000 to 100,000 deaths, with the majority of victims being women. Gottfried Christian Voigt, a 18th-century German author and scholar, suggested the nine million death toll figure in the mid-1780s who wrote Geschichte des Stifts Quedlinburg or the History of Quedlinburg Abbey. François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) a philosopher, historian, and Enlightenment writer suggested estimates of the number of deaths occurring during this time before Voigt, but the German writer strongly disagreed with the Voltaire proposed and overly conservative estimate of “several hundred thousand” deaths.
In the Shadow of Negative Stereotypes: The Modern Image of the Witch and Witchcraft
It should probably be noted that even today there are people who carry a false understanding of what it is to be a witch. The notions are likely handed down from one person to another or implied through exposure to inaccurate non-fictional or fictional media, or the idea that the reference to “witch” implies the kind one finds in fairy tales. The modern-day practitioner of the craft is a far cry from anything similar to some of the stereotypes that still exist even in the 21st century.
So now, enough of the dry history already!!!!
Let’s take a far more positive angle on what witchcraft really is and the signs that might point to someone being an ideal candidate for its study and practices. Okay, so something tells you that you are quite different than your peers (at least those who are not pursuing a Wiccan path or studying witchcraft and the occult), and you may even stand out as extremely different from the rest of your family (again, unless you are a hereditary witch or you have a few pagans in your family tree). So, do you fancy yourself as a witch and maybe wonder if it is somehow your destiny? Now, keep in mind, you don’t have to experience one, some, or even all of the experiences or “signs” listed herein to qualify as a Wiccan or Witch: After all, there is no written examination or educational degree you need to enroll in a lifelong pursuit of the Craft or Wicca! However, some of the things discussed herein have been experienced or reflected on by those who transitioned into a Wiccan lifestyle or the study of witchcraft and the occult only to realize that there were clear mile markers “or signs” that they were already heading for the left-handed path long before they came out of the broom closet booming with Pagan Pride!
Signs or Indications Witchcraft and/or Wicca May Prove an Interest to You
Caveat: The act of becoming Wiccan or just being a traditional witch is a deeply personal decision and one that needs to be well-thought out and considered! Again, you do not have to have any, some, or all of these beliefs, desires, penchants, or behaviors to be considered “witch material.” Ultimately, to take up the study of Wicca OR witchcraft absent of the religious element is a personal choice: One only you can decide and determine. The list here simply points out some of what many Wiccan Witches and some witches feel or experience on the journey to discovering who they are, what they believe, and a desire to pursue and live a magical life.
You have a strong sense or belief in personal responsibility for your actions and/or karmic consequences.
It makes no difference what your religious orientation is, you still have a serious belief that the universe is a great power indeed, or that there is something much larger than ourselves governing, overseeing, observing, interacting, and existing through each and every one of us. You somehow sense that there is a unique balance in life, in all things, and you feel in your heart that we are all connected in some way or that we are part of a much larger universal tapestry. Some may still consider the divine “unknowable” for a time, but many of you will find comfort in the belief of an all-powerful being/consciousness that has greater plans for us than we might otherwise realize. As the universe and/or Divine courses through us, it is not only enhancing the life of the host in which it harbors itself, but it is existing through each of us like a vessel: In this way, it can thrive on multiple realities: Millions and billions of realities since every person’s reality is different than the next. (Don’t panic, nothing negative here we are talking about – this is not all about possession or some darker force, but it is to demonstrate that we are all in cocreation mode with the universe, God, the Higher self, or Consciousness, whatever you want to identify with), with universe working through us, not using us in a negative sense (therein of itself is a huge difference in perspective!) All the while we maintain free will, for which we are entirely responsible for as well as the outcome of our actions, but in our hear we know the Universe is a balancing force.
You feel most at home when in nature or when bringing a bit of nature into the home environment.
The natural world couldn’t feel more “natural” to you, and you’re quite at home when you are in the woodlands, or near rivers and oceans as you feel you could just revel in the natural landscape. Allergies??? What is that you say, as you happily endure all the mild sniffling and sneezing your body can deliver just to enjoy where you feel most comfortable. Besides, if you’re allergies are too bad, you’ll either look for a nice natural remedy for your symptoms or you’ll take advantage of a bit of Western medicine by taking a decent allergy pill before you head outdoors where your heart seems to always long to be. Same goes with animals … a witch is highly unlikely to let an allergy or two hold her back from having a cat, dog, or other domestic magickal partner or familiar in her midst! The bottom line, you love nature and nothing will stop you from being a part of it: The bird song calls you, the wind whispers through the trees, and the sun slips through the tree tops down onto the forest floor: This is where you feel is your most sacred of worldly temples.
You can sense the energies of others (while a talent innate to all) your abilities often tend to be on high alert.
You can “sense” the energies of people and immediately get a “vibe” about who they are, whether good or bad, and your gut instinct is on high alert. If your instinct says “get out of here and quick,” never question it as it is your natural abilities warning you of potential dangers – as a witch these senses are often heightened and on full force without you ever having to do anything to trigger the ability. If not, there are means for training the talent and increasing the ability to sense someone’s energies, see auras, or both: A subject that more than piques your interest no doubt.
You may have a desire to heal or you enjoy healing others.
You are interested in helping others but also interested in herbal remedies, holistic treatment modalities, and the use of both for life enhancement and healing. You may find you like to garden, grow herbals, and sometimes natural herbalists are also someone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen making up concoctions for the purposes of healing or nourishing/nurturing the family. Here, you might even be drawn to the practice of kitchen witchery in the future.
You just feel very different from your peers and you may have considerable difficulty fitting into clicks or “in groups” because you are so different. This difference is a lifelong experience (often, but not always), and you have felt it for as far back as you can possibly remember.
You are different! As far as you remember you always considered yourself as an outsider, sometimes you even felt a bit alone. The difference you feel is not in the egocentric sense, but that you prefer to either be alone or with people who are older, wiser, and more mature than your existing age group. You prefer solitary work versus group work because you are so self-reliant and sufficient, that to do anything else is to feel dependent and a bit awkward or seriously out of place. You have no desire to strive to conform or to fit in anywhere, you find you much rather be alone than to follow the lifestyle or demands and expectations of others.
You are unusually kind-hearted despite being repeatedly mistreated or taken advantage of, and you continue to maintain a desire to help others or to open your heart to the world.
You have hope and faith in humanity. No matter how many people pull you down, hurt you, break your heart, or deal you dirt. You still have hope for all of humankind because you believe there are still plenty of good people in the world who, if pulled together, could change the entire world and how people interact for the better. You somehow know that the positivity you carry within can be projected into the world and the world will begin to reflect that positivity back to you in kind.
You feel a deep connection to the divine, whereas the idea of God might be one being in your mind, really you feel it is better described as a masculine and feminine force running through and around all things.
To understand the concept of the creator more easily, you might feel that looking at the creator through the lens of personification as a male and feminine aspect of a single godhead is the best method for trying to understand the Divine and its interrelations with everything. The notion of a masculine God only might seem out of balance to you as you see nature as a reflection of the Divine and a balance between the masculine and feminine in nature.
You want to follow a path of continued learning and enlightenment.
Becoming a witch or a Wiccan Witch doesn’t mean you decree it true and stop there. It is a lifelong learning endeavor; if you wish to strive for enlightenment you know this too is a lifelong process, one you are more than willing to embrace so you can gain wisdom which you can later apply in your life for the improvement of your life and the life of others.
You have a powerful and undying respect for animals and all of nature.
You see animals as more than mere pets but as living creatures requiring our love, devotion, attention, and care, but moreover you might even consider them old souls here to teach humans through messages, spiritual guidance, and love. You might also find yourself an ecological friendly person who recycles, cares for the Earth, and you might even be an activist who seeks to protect the environment and the habitat of wild animals. There’s no doubt your affinity for animals runs deep. Likewise, you might find that animals have a natural affinity for you too, as they seem to approach you with ease, even in situations where they do not approach others so easily – of course, this is no cue to head off to the neighbor’s dog and expect him to not bite you because you love animals, and of course, you have the common sense to know that your affinity for animals does not immune you to animal bites!
You find yourself attuning to the cycles of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.
You find yourself most comfortable timing things around specific aspects of the moon, and you deep connection to each season of the year. You are extra sensitive to seasonal shifts and changes, and the movement of the seasons goes well beyond the concept of time or the cold scientific facts relating to the earth’s tilt on its axis and orbiting around the Sun as being the cause for each seasonal change. To you, there is something far more meaningful going on here with the beautifully balanced, organized universe just too perfect to exist without some Divine hand being at the heart of its creation.
You find you have a particular fancy for the trappings of the Craft.
The trappings of the craft are all the tools a Witch has at her disposal, although none of these tools are at all necessary for the practice of magick, they are appealing and therefore called trappings. Such tools include things like wands, crystals, crystal balls, candles, athames, cauldrons, and the list goes on. These items might have a special appeal for you as you are either intrigued by them or you may even own a few items already that you use for sheer decorative purposes at the moment.
You believe in psychic powers like clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, ESP, and/or you believe in the validity of aura readings, psychometry, divination, and other “preternatural” or “supernatural” abilities or practices.
Despite science sometimes trying to argue to the contrary, (and sometimes actually offering findings that support such abilities and practices), you still hold a firm belief in the validity of some or even all the above-mentioned skills or practices. In fact, you may feel you have one or more of such abilities already active within yourself. Whether you have dreams that later come true or you seem to know things you have no logical way of knowing, the idea of psychic abilities and the validity of what others might call “supernatural” is entirely natural and true in your belief system.
You believe magick is a real power, one that can be used for good or bane, depending upon how the practitioner so chooses to define the magick through action.
We are taught at an early age to disbelieve in the power of magick as to belief in it suggests we lack common sense and intelligence and that only the concrete reality and what can be seen is really all there is – yet, a person who is ideal in pursuing the Craft or a Wiccan lifestyle is one who cares a strong belief in the validity of magick, despite being taught otherwise. You also maintain an understanding that the one who wields magick is responsible for the type of magick used and the outcome of its use – thus, you demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility for your inner and outer worlds and how you interact with the world around you.
Works Cited and Recommend Reading
- The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America edited by Brian P. Levack