Throughout history, witches have not enjoyed a good reputation. Even today, those who follow pagan religions are often considered to be eccentric or even mad. However, a growing number of people in the UK are seeing modern-day witches in a new light. They understand that witchcraft and black magic are two very different things.
persecution and execution
Fear and hatred of witches grew during the religious tensions in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Henry VIII’s Witchcraft Act of 1542 made witchcraft punishable by death, and a series of subsequent acts led to the persecution, torture and execution of many women and some men.
Over time, people more or less stopped believing in witches. However, attitudes towards witchcraft remained negative, and in the 18th century those claiming to cast spells were considered con artists and fined or imprisoned. In reality, many of those who were called witches were likely to be wise, older people with a knowledge of herbs, healing and the ways of the earth. It is this interpretation of witchcraft that thrives today.
The New Forest in the south of England has long been associated with witches. One of the reasons for this is its connection with Gerald Brosseau Gardner, a civil servant, writer, anthropologist and amateur archaeologist. Gardner is famous for being the father of Wicca, a modern religious movement also known as ‘pagan witchcraft’.
When Gardner retired in 1936, he settled down in Highcliffe-on-Sea near the New Forest. There he claimed to have come into contact with a group of witches who initiated him into the New Forest Coven. This, he believed, was a witch-cult of pre-Christian origins that had been present in the forest for generations. Gardner quickly established himself as their leader, supplementing their rituals with ideas borrowed from Freemasonry, ceremonial magic and the writings of the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.
Wicca successfully spread to other parts of the UK as Gardner initiated a number of high priestesses who then initiated new members. Gardner even claimed that the New Forest witches had helped prevent the Nazis occupying Britain during World War Two by holding a ritual that directed the words “You cannot cross the sea” at Adolf Hitler’s brain.
Perhaps more important to the authentic work of New Forest witches was Sybil Leek, a famous white witch who lived in the village of Burley. Sybil was a life-long advocate of altruistic witchcraft, writing many books on the occult, palmistry and astrology. According to Sybil, white witches believe there is magic all around us and seek knowledge beyond the range of ordinary perceptions.
There are now thought to be around a hundred covens in the New Forest. Their members believe in the healing powers of nature, our connection with Mother Earth and the principle that we should harm nothing and no-one. Far from being considered frightening or eccentric, the beliefs of these witches are gaining ground for the respect they show for our planet, its inhabitants and the preservation of its resources.
Da che si ha memoria, la stregoneria è stata perseguitata in quanto considerata maligna e quindi da sradicare. Tuttavia, esistono dei collettivi che sono riusciti a mantenere alcune tradizioni di queste arti spirituali ancestrali strettamente legate alla natura.