Fear and a slight level of intrigue have surrounded the world of the mysterious and unknown throughout history. The word ‘witch’ conjures up an image of an evil woman cloaked in black in our heads but the witches of history adopt quite a different aesthetic. Plenty of them have been branded as witches yet their stories and practices played a role in shaping the modern world and have arguably altered 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 with consequences that 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 accusations 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 allegations of witchcraft have any foundation or not remains unfounded, but what cannot be disputed is the affect that they have had on Boleyn's legacy.
Italian Goddess or witch? The story of Aradia is constantly surrounded by intense heated discussion and has sparked revived interest in the world of paganism. This legendary woman supposedly lived in the fourteenth century and the debate over her life has continued to mould and shape the culture of not only Italian folklore, but has inspired some of the most distinctive works of fiction ever composed on the topic.
Marie Laveau is arguably the most famous voodoo queen of all time and possesses one of the richest histories of any supposed witch on this list. Residing in New Orleans during the 1700s, Laveau quickly established a reputation that would lead hundreds of people from across the country to her front door, hoping to be cured of their ailments. Speculation and gossip were rife in her time and she still conjures up plenty of conversation today. Her grave is 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 pioneered pagan arts like 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 showcasing all things curious and magical on the Isle of Man and 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 had a rich history partaking in some of the most infamous witch hunts during the 1500s -1700s, there was plenty of talk surrounding Leek's link to the pagan world from the moment she began to indulge in a supposed 'eccentric life'. Developing an increasingly global level of fame, Leek took to 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 great work with special needs children, Laurie Cabot's legacy has helped to ensure that witchcraft still has a place 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 for.
One of the most extensive and covered authors in the pagan world of witchcraft and Wicca, Silver RavenWolf is a writer 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 follow the Wicca religion, Silver is perhaps the stella example of just how pagan practices can link in with things such as careerism.
Paranoia surrounding the pagan world reached its peak at the turn of the 1600s and following a treacherous storm that hit King James I' 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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