The original witches in the English speaking cultures came from the old religion of the British Isles. They were part of what is called the Druid religion. If you have seen the latest TV show called “Merlin,” they do not portray the Druids for who they actually were. I have read the original stories of King Arthur and researched who the Druids actually were. People say there isn’t much they really know about the Druid religion. First, I will tell you what I know about the Druids, and then I will explain more about the witches.
The Druid priests ruled the people with fear. They made up stories about things that go bump in the night to get people to do what they wanted them to do. When you hear a story about fairies, trolls, goblins, or witches, they were from stories the Druids made up to scare the people into doing what they wanted. However, there were old women who actually called themselves witches. When I read the original stories of King Arthur, the Druids would do things like break into the castle at night and stab people while they slept. They were wicked.
The witches were old women who sat around the big bonfires and told stories. The whole village of people came when they saw those bonfires. The women they called witches also did voodoo. If you read “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy, you can read about the bonfires, the witches, and the voodoo. We all hear about the voodoo dolls, how they were supposed to find something that belonged to the person they wanted to control or hurt and used it to make a doll. In the book “Return of the Native” there was a witch doing just that. The English still have bonfires today on certain holidays.
When Christianity came, the idea of witches was not accepted by Christianity, and the Christians tried to get rid of the witches. We all know about the Salem trials in the U. S. They were scared to death of witches, and if they thought someone was a witch, they were killed. One way they tried to find out was with a thing called a dunking stool. It was a seat on a long stick. The person accused of being a witch would sit in the chair, and the people would dunk them again and again. If they survived the dunking, they were considered a witch. If they died, they knew they were innocent. If they were a witch, they killed them. It seems that if you were accused of being a witch, whether you were guilty or not, you were killed.
If you read “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grandfather was one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. He tried hard to show the world the injustice of those trials. In the story, “Young Goodman Brown,” Young Goodman Brown actually goes for a walk in the forest at the close of day, and he learns that all these people he thought were good were actually witches, and he reluctantly attends a big witch meeting in the woods.
When I was teaching at Ohio University, I met a girl who claimed to be a witch, and she said there were big witch meetings in the woods around Ohio University. She handed me a book she had used as a reference for one of the papers she wrote me, and it was written by a woman who claimed to actually have magic. The author of the book claimed that there were people who were genetically witches. She said they had gone into hiding when Christianity came in because they were persecuted by Christians, but they were coming out now in America because America was becoming more accepting of witches. The author of the book also claimed that just because you didn’t genetically have magic didn’t mean that you couldn’t learn to do it. The student didn’t know I was a Christian when she handed me the book, but when she found out I was a Christian, it scared her. She thought I would persecute her which is the furthest from what a real Christian would do. God is love. He may not accept sin, and the Bible may teach that witchcraft is a sin, but it doesn’t mean it is my job to treat people badly who believe differently than I do. I actually believe the woman who wrote the book and claimed to have magic didn’t have magic, but she said what she did to sell her books, and the young Americans were falling for it because they hadn’t been taught anything better.
How do I know that witches don’t have magic? I have studied this idea also both in reading and traveling. I am part American Indian, and it causes me to want to read about the Indians and understand who they were and what they did. I read a set of historical novels called the Spanish Trail Saga. The author of the books had done a lot of historical research, then wrote the novels without actually putting the actual names of the tribes to his novels since he told stories that didn’t actually happen, but that gave you the idea of who the Indians were. One of the novels was especially about the Indian witch doctors.
If you wanted to be a witch doctor, you were chosen by the proceeding witch doctor because he could see you had talent. The witch doctors knew they didn’t actually have any magic powers, but they knew the power of belief. They made the people think they had those powers. It is like what doctors do with placebo medicines today. The patient may not actually need medicine, but they they think they do, so there are doctors who will prescribe sugar pills letting the patient think they are taking real medicine, and the patient gets better because he believes he is better. The witch doctors kept secrets, and the person being trained as a witch doctor was taught to keep the secrets. That doesn’t mean the witch doctors didn’t actually help people. They knew every tree and plant in the woods. They knew if they had medicinal powers or not, and they used that knowledge for the people, but they were not allowed to let the people know it was a kind of Science, but they were supposed to keep the people believing in the witch doctor’s powers.
The author told a story about a witch doctor being called because someone was very sick. After the witch doctor examined the man, he could see that he had a tick, and he was sure the tick was making the man sick. However, he didn’t do what the modern doctors would do and just take the tick off. He had to do a ceremony, and during the ceremony, he threw a puff of smoke, and in that puff of smoke when no one could see, he reached down and pulled the tick off the man. After the ceremony, he told everyone the man would get better now, and they believed him, and the man got better. In that case, he actually did something for the man medically, but he also did something for everyone psychologically. He kept the belief going because he understood the power of belief. He let the man getting better reinforce the people’s belief in the witch doctor.
This lady who wrote the book claiming she was genetically a witch is like the witch doctor. She is trying to keep the belief going. She knows her power is in the belief of the people. Witches can control people because the people believe. The woman is doing the same kind of thing the Druid priests used to do when they ruled the people through fear before Christianity came to England.
When I was in Nigeria, I saw the same kind of thing. In Nigeria, they have what they call Juju men who are basically Nigerian witch doctors. They say there are good Juju men and bad Juju men. I was sick once, and the boys from the high school came to visit me and wanted to ask if I had found a dead chicken at my front door, but there had been no dead chicken at my front door. The boys were relieved because they said if there had been a dead chicken there, it would mean a Juju man had put a curse on my house.
We saw a Juju man at the open market place. He was wearing a leather loin cloth and a crazy wig. He was throwing puffs of smoke. He had the people scared to death. If he pointed at them, the group of people would all walk backwards in fear. In Nigeria, they believe in the Juju men and never want one to point at them because it means the Juju man has put a curse on them. I knew a missionary who said he saw a Juju man point at a man on a Friday, and that man turned white as a sheet out of fear. By Monday, the man was dead. The doctor’s diagnosis was that the man had died from fright. The Juju men rule with fear just like the old Druid priests and witches did in old England. They understand the power of belief just like the Indian witch doctors did. They throw those puffs of smoke to scare the people and keep them believing. The Juju man at the market place saw my husband with a camera, and he didn’t want his picture taken. He pointed right at my husband and began yelling, “Don’t snap! Don’t snap!” However, my husband didn’t believe in the Juju man, and he took a picture. It scared the people around him to see him do it, but he was fine. If you don’t believe in them, they can’t hurt you.
The only power that witches, witch doctors, and Juju men have is the power that people give them. They are not magical. They just outsmart naive people.