Fear and a slight level of intrigue have surrounded the world of the mysterious and unknown throughout history, with the word ‘witch’ conjuring up an image in everyone’s head and engraving itself in the records of history. Plenty have been quite literally branded with the word ‘witch’ in their time, with their stories and practices playing a role in shaping the modern world even today and arguably altering our perception of the dark world of paganism.
Steeped deep in the legends of Old Britain during the reign of the legendary King Arthur, Morgan Le Fay has garnered a reputation as a scheming and malevolent witch eager to rid the country of their leader and take over for herself. Training under the magical wizard Merlin, Morgan Le Fay's allegiance against Arthur often leads her to the side of the dreaded Mordred against the kingdom of Camelot. Morgan's story however does often leave her resolving her differences with Arthur after he is fatally wounded and leading him to the heavenly world of Avalon.
Arguably the most important and influential queen in history, Anne Boleyn's power and control over King Henry VIII would eventually lead to a constitutional, social and religious crisis whose consequences would rock the country for hundreds of years afterwards. However, such power usually attracts enemies and Boleyn certainly possessed plenty of those. Facing accusations of high treason against the country, Boleyn's fate was sealed when the rumblings of witchcraft were brought against her. It was said that she had six fingers on her left hand and could be heard uttering spells set to doom the country. Whether these accusations of witchcraft have any foundation or not remains to be seen, but what cannot be disputed is the effect they have had on Boleyn's legacy.
With roots in Tuscan Italy and constantly surrounded by intense heated discussion about the validity covering the story of Aradia, very few individuals have sparked so much revived interest in the world of paganism as this legendary woman. Supposedly living in the fourteenth century, the debate over Aradia's life has continued to mold and shape the culture of not only Italian folklore, but has bred some of the most distinctive works of fiction ever composed on the topic.
Arguably the most famous voodoo queen of all time and lending her name and iconic look to several media and cultural features, Marie Laveau has one of the richest histories of any supposed witch on this list. Residing in New Orleans in the 1700s, Laveau quickly established a reputation that would lead hundreds of people from across the country to her door, hoping to be cured of all forms of ailments. Speculation and gossip was rife in her day and still conjures up plenty of conversation even today, with her grave being one of the most visited sites in the entire country on Halloween.
Seen by many as being the father of modern Wicca religions and overall paganism in the twentieth century, very few individuals in history wrote and attempted to bring as much coverage as possible to pagan arts than Gerald Gardner. With an extensive background in exotic and native arts and traditions, Gardner's supposed integration into the world of witchcraft was years in the making and instantly sparked conversation and intrigue when he returned to his native home of Great Britain. Gardner would spend the remainder of his days running his museum of the curious and magical on the Isle of Man, continuing to write extensively on the reality of paganism.
Renowned in the world of witchcraft as being a skilled witch and a brilliant psychic, Sybil Leek was known to the outside world as being 'Britain's most famous witch' in the mid to late twentieth century. With a family that has a rich history in some of the most infamous witch hunts of the 1500-1700s, there was plenty of talk surrounding Leek's link to the pagan world from the moment she began to indulge in the 'eccentric life'. Developing an increasingly global level of fame, Leek took the United States where she would give extensive interviews and stories on her witchcraft, psychic abilities and love for astrology.
Granted the title of the official 'witch of Salem' in response to her good work with special needs children, Laurie Cabot's title has come to represent the extensive work she has done in ensuring that witchcraft now has a degree of standing within modern society. Easily one of the most well known witches in the world, Laurie Cabot's career is long and fairly impressive when you take into account the sheer amount of obstacles stacked in her path. Opening one of the very first shops dedicated to witchcraft, Cabot's relationship with the media has given a burst of popularity to the world of paganism that she advocates.
One of the most extensive and covered authors in the pagan world of witchcraft and Wicca, Raven SilverWolf is an author who has arguably shed more light on the ins and outs of contemporary paganism than anyone else has. Attempting to normalise the practices of those who following the Wicca religion, SilverWolf is perhaps the stella example of just how pagan practices can link in with things such as careerism.
King James I of England and VI of Scotland, along with his wife Anne of Denmark, is known for his extensive works on witchcraft and his subsequent loathing and distrust of it. Paranoia surrounding the pagan world reached its peak in the turn of the 1600s and, following a treacherous storm that hit James' ship on its way back to Scotland, an inquest was carried in North Berwick to root out those who were believed to be involved in witchcraft. Agnes Sampson was a renowned and famous healer in the region at the time and was the biggest prize of the seventy or so women hunted out by the inquest. Despite her probable innocence, the days of harsh torturing led to Sampson's 'confession' and she was burned at the stake for her crimes.
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