The history of witchcraft, at least as it evolved throughout Europe in tandem with the Catholic Church, seems to have begun simply enough. Medicine wasn’t looked at as a science as it is now. It was the dark ages and people relied on faith and believed in superstitions in order to heal themselves. When a person got sick, people did the best they could to help them get better. There were possibly some old remedies handed down. Some people went to the Church for faith promoted assistance. Here some cures were a combination of strange scriptural interpretation that didn’t necessarily translate well into common usage.
Church Cures Ineffective
After a while leaders of the church, trying to affect faith promoted cures must have come up with some strange solutions to illnesses. Feeling they were inspired, they experimented with poultices and other remedies that were a combination of strange ingredients, from animal entrails, bile, urine, and other organic fluids, all thought to have curative effects. In many cases, of course, these cures caused infection or in some other way exacerbated the original health problem.
Wicca or Wise Women
Not all “medical” research at that time went in the wrong direction. Those who got sick but were too far from the influence of the Church began to experiment with herbs and plants that had curative properties. They used these on the sick that lived around them. Over time women who had time and the compassion to help the sick discovered remedies for certain illnesses. These women became wicca or wise women.
Discovering Drugs and Their Effects
As these women herbalists started to have positive results, undoubtedly the male hierarchy of the Church felt threatened. In order to preserve their reputations they branded these women as working in league with the devil. With scriptural support they were able to make the case that their ability to heal the sick came from Satan. What’s more, it is possible that these women herbalists also discovered powerful drugs along the way, plants or other organic matter that could ease pain, or cause someone to get high or take a trip. Hallucinogenic drugs would have appeared to have demonic origins. And those who viewed others experiencing hallucinations would have concluded they were possessed by evil spirits.
How the Concept of Witches Evolved
The Greek pharmakeia literally means "herbalist" or one who uses or administers drugs, but it was used virtually synonymously with mageia and goeteia as a term for a sorcerer. The concept of an herbalist and sorcerer grew up together in the minds (and language) of the people. From that point on, the wild imaginations of the people linked these women who worked with Satan as being
against the Church. From there came the Black Sabbaths, and other bizarre beliefs attributed to witches. These wise women would clean the area prior to enacting their cures and thus the broom got attached to them as a symbol of their power. As they mixed and brewed their concoctions the pots they brewed them in became cauldrons in which they created their magic potions. Undoubtedly
these wise women were older and passed their craft on to their daughters. Witches are generally envisioned as old and ugly women. Ugly, you must remember, was always associated with evil.
The Results of this Conflict Between Truth and Superstition
Interesting how superstition, at attempt to discover truth, and jealousy and fear led to incredible myths about a group of people. These myths had the power that lead to the hanging and burning of hundreds of people, men and women (though primarily women) through the ages.