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- Witch's Cold: Donal
According to The Scotsman , about 3, to 5, people in Scotland were publicly accused of witchcraft in 16th and 17th centuries, spurred on by the Scottish Witchcraft Act of , which made witchcraft a crime punishable by death. That Act was vague, both in its definition of witchcraft and in how to identify witchcraft. At least 2, people were killed for being witches before the Act was repealed in This might mean charms and spells, or the use of healing herbs and other types of folk medicine, or both.
About 65 percent of the accused were over the age of Contrary to popular legend, the Survey found that folk healers and widows only made up a fraction of the accused witches.
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Nor were they necessarily poor; while nobles only made up about 6 percent of accused witches, about 64 percent of the accused came from what would now be considered the middle class. If they sank, and often subsequently drowned, they were found not guilty. Most witches were tortured into a confession.
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Future of Space Exploration. Human Behavior. Our Planet. Earth Optimism Summit. Ingenuity Ingenuity Awards. The Innovative Spirit. Travel Taiwan. American South. In order, however, to obtain a clearer understanding of the ritual and beliefs I have had recourse to French and Flemish sources, as the cult appears to have been the same throughout Western Europe. The New England records are unfortunately not published in extenso ; this is the more unfortunate as the extracts already given to the public occasionally throw light on some of the English practices.
It is more difficult to trace the English practices than the Scotch or French, for in England the cult was already in a decadent condition when the records were made; therefore records in a purely English colony would probably contain much of interest.
- The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Witch-cult In Western Europe, by Margaret Alice Murray.
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The sources from which the information is taken are the judicial records and contemporary chroniclers. In the case of the chroniclers I have studied their facts and not their opinions. I have also had access to some unpublished trials among the Edinburgh Justiciary Records and also in the Guernsey Greffe. My thanks are due to Georgiana Aitken, W. Bonser, and Mary Slater for much kind help, also to Prof. Seligman for valuable suggestions and advice as to lines of research. University College, London.
The subject of Witches and Witchcraft has always suffered from the biassed opinions of the commentators, both contemporary and of later date. On the one hand are the writers who, having heard the evidence at first hand, believe implicitly in the facts and place upon them the unwarranted construction that those facts were due to supernatural power; on the other hand are the writers who, taking the evidence on hearsay and disbelieving the conclusions drawn by their opponents, deny the facts in toto.
Both parties believed with equal firmness in a personal Devil, and both supported their arguments with quotations from the Bible. But as the believers were able to bring forward more texts than the unbelievers and had in their hands an unanswerable argument in the Witch of Endor, the unbelievers, who dared not contradict the Word of God, were forced to fall back on the theory that the witches suffered from hallucination, hysteria, and, to use the modern word, 'auto-suggestion'.
These two classes still persist, the sceptic predominating. Between the believer who believed everything and the unbeliever who disbelieved everything there has been no critical examination of the evidence, which presents a new and untouched field of research to the student of comparative religion.
Among the believers in witchcraft everything which could not be explained by the knowledge at their disposal was laid to the credit of supernatural powers; and as everything incomprehensible is usually supposed to emanate from evil, the witches were believed to be possessed of devilish arts.
As also every non-Christian God was, in the eyes of the Christian, the opponent of the Christian God, the witches were considered to worship the Enemy of Salvation, in other words, the Devil. The greater number of these writers, however, obtained the evidence at first hand, and it must therefore be accepted although the statements do not bear the construction put upon them. It is only by a careful comparison with the  evidence of anthropology that the facts fall into their proper places and an organized religion stands revealed. The common beliefs as to the powers of the witches are largely due to the credulous contemporary commentators, who misunderstood the evidence and then exaggerated some of the facts to suit their preconceived ideas of the supernatural powers of the witches; thereby laying themselves open to the ridicule of all their opponents, past and present.
Yet the ridicule is not fully deserved, for the facts are there, though the explanation is wrong; for even the two points, which are usually considered the ultimate proof of the absurdity and incredibility of the whole system—the flying on a broomstick through the window or up the chimney, and the transformation into animals—are capable of explanation. The first can be accounted for when the form of early mound-dwellings is taken into consideration, and when it is remembered that among savage tribes there are often taboos connected with the door, the two-faced god being essentially a deity of the door.
Besides this the fertility rites connected with the broom should be taken into account. The second should be compared with similar accounts of transformation into animals among the cults of other nations. Cook's comment on the Greek ritual applies quite as well to Western as to Eastern Europe: 'We may venture on the general statement that within the bounds of Hellenic mythology animal-metamorphosis commonly points to a preceding animal cult.
It is interesting to note the class of mind among those contemporary writers who believed in the reality of the facts confessed at the trials as compared with those who disbelieved. It will be seen that the most brilliant minds, the keenest intellects, the greatest investigators, were among the believers: Bodin, Lord Bacon, Raleigh, Boyle, Cudworth, Selden, Henry More, Sir Thomas Browne, Matthew Hale, Sir George Mackenzie, and many others, most of whom had heard the evidence at first hand.
The sceptics were Weyer, pupil of the occultist Cornelius Agrippa; Reginald Scot, a Kentish country squire;  Filmer, whose name was a byword for political bigotry; Wagstaffe, who went mad from drink; and Webster, a fanatical preacher. They could not disprove the statements; they could not explain them without opposing the accepted religious beliefs of their time, and so weakening their cause by exposing themselves to the serious charge of atheism; therefore they denied evidence which in the case of any other accusation would have been accepted as proof.
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The evidence which I now bring forward is taken entirely from contemporary sources, i. I have omitted the opinions of the authors, and have examined only the recorded facts, without however including the stories of ghosts and other 'occult' phenomena with which all the commentators confuse the subject. I have also, for the reason given below, omitted all reference to charms and spells when performed by one witch alone, and have confined myself to those statements only which show the beliefs, organization, and ritual of a hitherto unrecognized cult.
In order to clear the ground I make a sharp distinction between Operative Witchcraft and Ritual Witchcraft. Under Operative Witchcraft I class all charms and spells, whether used by a professed witch or by a professed Christian, whether intended for good or for evil, for killing or for curing. Such charms and spells are common to every nation and country, and are practised by the priests and people of every religion.
They are part of the common heritage of the human race and are therefore of no practical value in the study of any one particular cult.
Witch's Cold: Donal
Ritual Witchcraft—or, as I propose to call it, the Dianic  cult—embraces the religious beliefs and ritual of the people known in late mediaeval times as 'Witches'. The evidence proves that underlying the Christian religion was a cult practised by many classes of the community, chiefly, however, by the more ignorant or those in the less thickly inhabited parts of the country. It can be traced back to pre-Christian times, and appears to be the ancient religion of Western Europe. The god, anthropomorphic or theriomorphic, was worshipped in well-defined rites; the organization was highly developed; and the ritual is analogous to many other ancient rituals.
The dates of the chief festivals suggest that the religion belonged to a race which had not reached the agricultural stage; and the evidence shows that various modifications were introduced, probably by invading peoples who brought in their own beliefs. I have not attempted to disentangle the various cults; I am content merely to point out that it was a definite religion with beliefs, ritual, and organization as highly developed as that of any other cult in the world. The deity of this cult was incarnate in a man, a woman, or an animal; the animal form being apparently earlier than the human, for the god was often spoken of as wearing the skin or attributes of an animal.
At the same time, however, there was another form of the god in the shape of a man with two faces. The feminine form of the name, Diana, is found throughout Western Europe as the name of the female deity or leader of the so-called Witches, and it is for this reason that I have called this ancient religion the Dianic cult. The geographical distribution of the two-faced god suggests that the race or races, who carried the cult, either did not remain in every country which they entered, or that in many places they and their religion were overwhelmed by subsequent invaders.
The dates of the two chief festivals, May Eve and November Eve, indicate the use of a calendar which is generally acknowledged to be pre-agricultural and earlier than the solstitial division of the year. The fertility rites of the cult bear out this indication, as they were for promoting the increase of  animals and only rarely for the benefit of the crops.
The cross-quarter-days, February 2 and August 1, which were also kept as festivals, were probably of later date, as, though classed among the great festivals, they were not of so high an importance as the May and November Eves. To February 2, Candlemas Day, probably belongs the sun-charm of the burning wheel, formed by the whirling dancers, each carrying a blazing torch; but no special ceremony seems to be assigned to August 1, Lammas Day, a fact suggestive of a later introduction of this festival.