Making magic potions, casting spells, acting out healing rituals, or possessing supernatural abilities, witches and wizards have been associated with them all. Witchcraft has been a part of human history since ancient times. Mysticurious throws light on some of the famous witches and wizards of all time who may have been misinterpreted or misjudged because of their beliefs.
Did You Know?
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone mentions alchemist/wizard Nicholas Flamel a real historical figure who lived from 1330 – 1418, he claimed to have dreamed of a magical book which he found to create a substance called the philosopher’s stone that had the power to make miraculous transformations. Legend says that the substance could change lead to gold, and mortals into immortals. Sir Isaac Newton is also said to have spent years finding ways to make this substance, but later either abandoned alchemy because it did not work, or kept his findings secret.
Witches and wizards have been very intriguing and mysterious figures from time immemorial. They have been famous and notorious for their beliefs and practices, but in order to understand them, a foreknowledge of witchcraft is necessary. Given below is a brief description on the subject and the famous witches and wizards throughout the generation.
‘Witch’ means ‘wise one’, the exact origin of the word is unknown, but sources say that it is derived from the old English words wicca and wicce, symbolizing the female and male forms. But with time, wicce was replaced with ‘wizard’, ‘sorcerer’, and ‘warlock’ for males, and wicca with ‘witch’ for females. However, in Wiccan religion, the term witch refers to both male and female who is an ardent follower of Wicca.
Who is a Wizard?
‘Wizard’ simply means a wise or learned man. During ancient times, wizards had earned respect and recognition for their knowledge, astrology, philosophy, alchemy and healing powers, for which some of the wizards were elevated to the position of God in ancient religion. Their mastery in alchemy made them contemporaries of ancient scientists, they made great discoveries in metallurgy and chemistry. The magical feats of the ancient wizards are legendary. For example, it is a legend that the ancient poet Virgil escaped a prison by sailing on a boat, which he simply drew on the prison wall. He is later credited to have founded a sorcery school in Naples.
Some of the wizards were known as Magi, possessors of magical powers that could control the weather elements. The word Magic is derived from the word Magi. In ancient Egypt, Thoth was considered to be the God of Magic and Writing, who is equivalent to the Greek deity Hermes Trismegistus. The writings of Hermes are known as Hermetica, and it has been an inspiration for ancient and modern wizards alike, due to its deep knowledge of philosophy, alchemy, astrology, and magic.
Who is a Witch?
A witch is popularly associated with the worship of Mother Earth or Nature. Ancient cultures revered women as the creators of new life, and hence, the practice of making home medicines, herbs, potions, oils, massages, and home remedies, fell in the hands of women who were termed as witches. They had deep knowledge of trees, plants, and herbs, and so witchcraft was passed forward from generation to generation by the womenfolk. Since witches provided vital health and home remedies, they were highly respected and revered in ancient society.
From the 14th to 18th centuries, witches were termed as a bad omen to society, and the harbinger of evil. Due to the oppression from the church, witch and witchcraft were the source of devil and occult worship, which lead to the famous witch hunts in history. Fear and paranoia took over the newer generation who refused to accept it, in modern times with the advent of New Age, witchcraft has regained its old respect.
Understanding the Terms Wicca and Witchcraft
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a pagan religion, the followers of Wicca believe in gods from any pantheon (Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse etc). It was founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, he incorporated ancient eastern mysticism, Kabballah and British legend into the original Nature worship rituals. The Wiccans acknowledge the polarity of the divine, and worship both male and female deities.
In the Wiccan covens, there is an initiation system, which is a symbolic rebirth during which the initiator embraces the traditional gods of the coven. For e.g., in the Gardnerian Wicca, only the initiated members are revealed the true names of the gods that are worshiped. An individual who attains the rank of third degree Dedicant only can become the High Priest or Priestess. Some witches who are not part of any coven or Wicca perform a self-dedication ritual to pledge themselves to the path of the traditional gods.
In Wicca, anyone can cast a spell or use magic with a bit of practice, they believe in magic as a skill set or tool. The witches use specific tools like wand, herbs, crystals, and candles as a spell craft tool. As the concept of afterlife is widely believed in Wicca, they conjure spirits during seances and talk with the dead. Divination through runes, tarots, and astrology is also used.
What Wicca Does Not Symbolize?
Wicca does not symbolize satanism, nudity, sin, heaven, hell, sex culture, animal sacrifice, or inferiority of women. It is not a fashion statement either, where one has to dress in a certain way to be a part of Wicca.
What is Witchcraft?
The reason its called Witchcraft is because it is practiced mainly by women. Also known as ‘Craft of the Wise’ witches practicing it live close to nature, and provide healing abilities through herbs and plants. Witches either craft in covens or alone.
Famous Ancient Witches and Wizards
Witch Of Endor
Also known as the medium of Endor, she was sought by biblical King Saul, who ruled around 1047-1007 BCE. in Israel, to learn his fate in a battle against the Philistines. King Saul had earlier banned all magicians and witches from his kingdom and sought advice only from the prophet of God―Samuel. After the death of Samuel, the king was left with no choice, and hence, disguised himself and went to the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of Samuel to know his future. It is often argued that it wasn’t the spirit of Samuel that was conjured but a demon in his shape.
Also known as Simon the Sorcerer or Simon of Gitta, he was a biblical wizard who had the power to levitate and travel. He lived in Sebaste in Samaria, and practiced magic, but later got converted to Christianity by Philip the Evangelist. It is believed that he tried to bribe the Apostles in order to take their healing powers from them. There are various accounts of his death, most popular being, he levitated himself in the air in the church forum, and when Apostle Peter prayed to God to stop him from flying, he fell from mid-air and broke his legs. He died of his injuries in spite of being taken care by fellow outcast sorcerer named Castor.
The biblical King Solomon ruled over Israel in the 10th century BCE., and is attributed to have power over the demons through his magic ring, which is known as The ‘Seal of Solomon’. It is also said that he had supernatural powers and abilities.
Known as ‘Goddess of Sorcery’, ‘Queen of Ghosts’, ‘Goddess of Witches’ in mythology, Hecate was originally the goddess of wilderness and fertility in Greek and Egyptian culture. Later, she was associated with sorcery, because it is believed that she was a mortal priestess who committed suicide and was raised from the dead by Artemis. She is often associated with herbology and sacred plants that are poisonous and hallucinogens. It is stated in the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ of 1468, that she was revered by witches who took to her teachings.
A red-haired nymph or witch, Circe is attributed in mythology as the one who had the power to transform her enemies into animals with her magic potions. In some mythological legends, she is also known as the ‘Goddess of the Crossroads’.
A witch from the Greek mythology, Medea is described as the priestess and devotee of witch Goddess Hecate who had a vast knowledge of clairvoyance, prophesy, and magic potions.
Known as a witch, a soothsayer, and a bearer of bad omens in Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. It is believed that Apollo greatly impressed by her beauty gave her the blessing of clairvoyance, but later turned it into curse that no one would believe her predictions, as she had rejected his advances. In the story of the Trojan War, she foresaw the destruction but couldn’t do anything about it as nobody believed her.
Abaris the Hyperborean
Known as a mythological sage, magician, and priest of Apollo, Abaris was born in Scythia, and his mystical powers can be attributed to Hyperborea. It is said that he traveled the world on a golden arrow gifted to him by Apollo.
The witch of Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is believed to be the benefactor of death, an old hag who is believed to kidnap and eat children. In Russian folklore, she is lives in an old log cabin with no doors and windows. Also known as the guardian spirit of the fountains of water of Life and Death.
Morgan le Fay
Known as Morgana, Morgan le Fay is depicted as the evil witch student of Merlin, in Welsh mythology and literature. Famous with the legend of King Arthur, she is said to be his half-sister, and plots his downfall with her magic and dark art.
Known as a wizard, warlock, prophet, and magician of Arthur’s court, he is believed to have served the king. He is greatly attributed on his abilities to shape shift, and his connection with the Holy Grail and the Stonehenges. There are various legends and folklore associated with his birth, a popular one being that he was begotten by a demon on a virgin. His death is also a mystery having no written records about it.
Known as the matron of the domestic chores, especially spinning, Holda is a witch of German and Scandinavian folklore. Her association with the spirit world is attributed to her spinning a way into the other world. She is also believed to be the guardian of small children, and the keeper of the sacred pool through which the souls of newborn babies come out. She is also the leader of the female nocturnal spirits who travel the sky on broomsticks to wage wars or attend feasts.
Known as the ‘Queen of Witches’, Aradia is mythological witch, said to be the daughter of Diana and Lucifer, and was sent down to the earth to teach witchcraft. She is known as the first witch of humanity. Some Italian folklore claim that she was Aradia of Tuscany, and that she learned witchcraft from her aunt. The first reference of her name is in the book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, by Leland, in 1899. She is attributed to be the source of revival and restoration of the Age of Witchcraft in many Italian legends.
Famous Medieval Witches and Wizards
Angéle de la Barthe
She was born in Toulouse, France, around 1230 CE. A noble woman by birth, she was later accused of practicing witchcraft and associated with the disappearance of many infants. She was put on trial and later found guilty and burned alive. She is highly popularized as the first witch to be put to death.
She was born in Ireland in 1280 CE, a beautiful and wealthy Irish noble woman, she was married four times. When her last husband, Sir John le Poers, became ill, his children accused Alice of witchcraft and other bizarre rituals. The case was bought before the then Bishop of Ossory, but through Alice’s influential rankings, the accusations were proved false and even had the Bishop arrested. In 1325, she was convicted but again escaped to England and was never heard of. During investigation various charms, potions, and incantations were found at her home. This was one of the first recorded witchcraft trials that was followed closely by Pope John XXII, and he added witchcraft to the list of heresies in 1320.
Abramelin the Mage
He is known to be a semi-mythical sage/magician from Egypt. He has written the book ‘The Book Of Abramelin’, which contains powerful Kabbalistic magical rituals that he has passed on to his son. His magical tools contained a set of talismans composed of magical words in squares, an anointing oil, a holy lamp, a wand made of an almond branch, a recipe of various incenses, a square or seven-sided plate of silver, and bee-wax.
Very little is known of this outcast witch, the only details that are available is that she got pregnant out-of-wedlock and was treated as an outcast by the villagers. In order to save herself from persecution, she fled to the caves and gave birth to a deformed child who would later become the well-known witch Mother Shipton. It is said that she practiced witchcraft and had the devil as her aid. The cave she stayed in is now known as ‘Mother Shipton’s Cave’.
Known as England’s Great Prophetess, Mother Shipton was born in Knaresborough, a deformed personality who was subjected to humiliation and persecution, but later honored because of her accurate predictions of lifetime events. She was a gifted clairvoyance, and it is said that she predicted the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the accession of Lady Jane Grey, Drake’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Great Plague of 1665 and, perhaps most famously, the Great Fire of London of 1666. She died in 1561 and is buried in an unconsecrated grave near York.
He is known as an occult writer, alchemist, astrologer, and theologian, Cornelius was born in 1486, in Cologne, Germany. During his tenure as a spy for the holy Roman Emperor, he got the opportunity to study in Paris, which got him hooked on to occult studies. He studied with famous occultist Johannes Trithemius, and wrote the famous draft De Occulta Philosophia. He is popularly known to defend other witches. After his death, his book ‘Fourth Book Of Agrippa’ became very famous on how to avoid witch hunters.
Well-known physician, occultist, and demonolgist, Johann was born in Grave, a small town in Dutchy of Brabant, around 1515. In 1529, he became the live-in student of the German occultist Cornelius Agrippa and mastered the study of occult from him. He bravely criticized the witch hunts and the executions of that time. He died in the year 1588.
Dr. John Dee
Known as an astronomer, astrologer, occultist, mathematician, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, Dr. John Dee was born in London. He devoted much of his life to alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy. It is said that he communicated with angels through a crystal gazer in order to learn the universal language of creation. At a later stage in his life, he had to sell off various precious possessions in order to support himself for survival, as the new King James wasn’t as sympathetic as Queen Elizabeth in the matters of supernatural.
Known as a self-proclaimed occultist and alchemist, Edward was born in Worcester, England in 1555. He worked with Dr. John Dee in summoning spirits and angles through a crystal gazer and communicating with them. The two devoted a huge amount of time on ‘spiritual conferences’. In 1590, unable to meet his tall claims of producing alchemy gold, the Emperor of Bohemia had him imprisoned where he died trying to escape in 1597.
Known as an Austrian midwife, she was tried and executed for witchcraft, vampirism, and child murder in 1587. It is believed that she confessed to have killed forty infants before their baptism, and drank their blood like a vampire. She described, elaborately, black masses and meetings with the Devil for which she was tried by the local authorities and the church. He body was mutilated and burned at the stake.
Known to have been tried and executed for witchcraft, Isobel was born in Scotland. She claimed to have met the Devil and renounced her Christian faith with the new name Janet. In her six-week statement which was recorded, she said that she had the ability to fly in the air and attend the coven meetings, she also claimed to have meetings with the fairy queen and king. Although there is no official record when she was executed, it is said that she was hanged and then burnt at the stake.
Known as a French sorceress, La Voisin took to divination, face reading and occult when her jeweler husband lost his fortunes. She is said to have made love potions, poisons, and incantations for the benefit of her high profile clients. She eventually was involved in a high profile murder scandal known as the ‘Poison Affair’, under the reign of King Louis XIV during which a number of prominent figures in the aristocracy were tried and executed for witchcraft and poisoning. She was burned in public on the Place de Greve, in the center of Paris, in 1680.
Known as a 17th century witch, Moll was an Irish woman by birth, but shifted to Maryland to escape her mysterious past. There is no evidence or record of her real existence, but it is said that soon after she shifted to the outskirts of the town, the town was struck with influenza and harsh conditions. People of the town suspected her involvement, and in the dead of the night, one winter, set her house on fire which forced her to flee into the woods. There she died due to the extreme cold and hunger, it is said her body was found frozen with one hand and knee on the rock leaving a permanent impression. From then on, there have been many folk tales regarding her ghost sightings on a cold winter night, and she was also the inspiration behind the movie ‘The Blair Witch Project’.
Famous Modern Era Witches & Wizards
Known as ‘Fighting Fairy Woman’ or ‘Wytte’ white witch, Joan was born in Cornwall, 1775. She was a soothsayer, an expert clairvoyance and healer. Later in life due to an afflicted tooth abscess, she is said to have developed a bad temper and fell into brawls and fights with people. She was imprisoned in Bodmin Jail due to her bad behavior, and died of pneumonia. Her bones were placed in the Witchcraft Museum in Cornwall but due to disturbances occurring around the museum, the museum authorities sort the advise
of a witch who said that Joan’s spirit is displeased and wishes a proper burial. Hence, she was buried in a peaceful wooded area in Boscastle.
Know as ‘White Witch of Helstone’, and one of the greatest hedgewitches and conjurors of Britain, Tamsin was born in Cornwall, England, in the early 18th century. She is said to possess the ability to cast spells and remove spells and curses. She engaged in shamanic practices of summoning and talking with the spirits. She also helped the farmers by providing healing herbs and plants for the cattle. She died in 1856.
Known as the ‘Queen of Voodoo’, Marie was born in Louisiana in 1801. Very little is known about her life except for the fact that she was termed as a ‘Voodoo Queen’ for her knowledge in voodoo and ritualistic practices. She mixed African spirits and religious concepts with Roman Catholic beliefs. She is believed to have healing powers as she visited the sick in the New Orleans prison. She died in the year 1881.
Known as a magician and occultist, Eliphas was born in the early 1800s. In the 1830s, he became interested in animal magnetism and occult. He studied magic and occult under the guidance of an old couple. He later published books on magic, which became successful. He is also associated with the Knight of the Templar deity Baphomet. It was he who described it absolutely in a symbolic form. His teachings in magic were free from fanaticism, he also included tarot cards into his teachings. During his death, it is said, he reconciled with the Catholic Church, he died in 1875.
Known as a significant figure in modern Paganism and Wicca, George was born in the Essex village. He is said to be the founder of nine covens and a modern hereditary witch who reformed the witchcraft. He is also associated with the Rosicrucians and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, though later the groups disowned him due to his increasing proximity with Satanism and black magic.
Known as a traveler, folklorist, researcher of witchcraft, and writer, Charles was born in Philadelphia, in 1824. Although not a wizard himself, he is still considered an important person with his extensive research in ancient witchcraft and folklore. His book ‘Aradia, or the ‘Gospel of the Witches’ is considered as his best work. Some experts argue that he might have adopted himself into Stregheria―Italian witchcraft. He died in 1903 due to heart problems and pneumonia.
A. E. Waite
Known as a scholarly American mystic, writer of occult and esoteric symbols, and creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, Waite was born in Brooklyn in 1857. His interest in Hermeticism made him join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1891. Then, he went on to become a Freemason in 1901. He was convinced that the symbolism in these groups had a common path and that would lead to illumination. Later, he formed the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, an off shoot of the Golden Dawn. He was a trademark writer of topics such as divination, esotericism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, black and ceremonial magic, Kabbalism, and alchemy. Waite died in 1943 and is buried in Kent.
Known as an expert anthropologist and Egyptologist, Margaret was born in Calcutta, India, in 1863. She accompanied the famous Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie on several archeological excavations in Egypt and Palestine in the late 1890s. Her excellent knowledge in pagan culture, folklore and ancient mysticism led her to write books like ‘The God of Witches’ and ‘The Witch-Cult in Western Europe’. But her claims that there was a secret conspiracy of the elite pagans to conquer the world was not supported even by her staunchest supporters. Her works have strongly influenced the Wiccan pioneers. She died in 1963.
Known as an occultist, writer, and an influential member in several occult organizations, dubbed as the ‘Wickedest Man in The World’ and ‘The Beast’ by the media, Aleister was born in Warwickshire in 1875. Born into a family of fanatic Christian evangelists, he broke away from the Christian Church after the death of his father and got interested in alchemy, magic, and occult. After breaking away from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he went to Mexico to pursue his magic practices and rituals alone, where he got familiar with Raja Yoga and Buddhism. He established the Thelemic magical fraternity called A.A., meaning Arcanum Arcanorum (Secret of Secrets). He authored many occult and magic books, famous one being ‘The Book Of Law’. He died in 1947 due to respiratory failure.
Known as the founder of Wicca and Neopaganism, writer, and occultist, ‘Father of Modern Wicca’, Gerald was born in Liverpool in 1884. It was only in 1936 that he got attracted to occult, he became a member of the Folklore Society in 1939. It was through the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship that he found The New Forest coven and initiated himself as a member. He authored two books under the craft name Scire―’A Goddess Arrives’,’Witchcraft Today’ and ‘High Magic’s Aid’. In 1951, after the repel of the last witchcraft law, Gardner discussed the craft more openly in public making him an instant celebrity. He died in 1964 due to heart attack.
Known as a psychiatrist, author, and occultist, Dion was born in Wales in 1890. She developed her own practice of occult and hermetic tradition from the psychological perspective of Carl Jung. She became drawn to occult after she came across the work of Freemason, Dr. Theodore Moriarty, who became her spiritual and magical guide. In 1919, she initiated herself to Hermeticism at the London Temple of Alpha and Omega. She adopted the craft name Dion Fortune, and authored books on magic and mysticism ‘The Demon Lover’, ‘The Winged Bull’, ‘The Goat- Foot-God’, ‘The Sea Priestess’ and ‘Moon Magic’. Her nonfictional work ‘The Mystical Qabalah’ is considered as one of the best books in magic. She died in 1946 due to leukemia.
Although shrouded in deep mystery and in a veil of secrecy, witches and wizards form an interesting part of society. Sometimes revered and sometimes shunned, one cannot ignore their works in promotion of magic and occultism.