African witchcraft is not easy to define when you consider there are more than 50 different nations currently making up the diverse population of the continent. Not to mention the thousands of years of history on top of that. Basically, its not really one single topic.
Many traditional African belief systems included different types of witchcraft and shamanism, but the influx of Christian missionaries have wiped out countless indigenous religions. Admittedly, some traditional beliefs considered witches to be evil in the first place but the addition of Christianity has added more negative associations even where there were none originally.
People are still burned for practicing witchcraft in some countries, not because of official law but rather by cultural practice. Aside from these issues, there are two forms of magickal practice that people associate with African witchcraft: Santeria and Vodou.
Most people associate Santeria with the Caribbean, Witch accurate but it does also have deep roots in Western Africa. It is a blending of the original Yoruba religion from Africa, with many aspects of Roman Catholicism. This combination of beliefs arose from the slave trade, where Africans were taken to the various Caribbean islands to work. They adapted many Catholic beliefs, particularly the host of saints and created a unique religion that is still practiced there today.
In Santeria, there is a great Creator Deity but it is the Orishas that are directly worshiped. The Orishas are comparable to the Catholic saints, and they often have similar traits and characteristics. For example, Elegba and St. Anthony are closely connected as patrons over roads, transportation and gateways.
Though the saints are similar, the practices are very different from Catholicism. Santeria rituals often involve animal sacrifice along with vibrant dancing and drums. Offerings of food and alcohol are commonly associated with most Orisha.
Though many people call it Voodoo, the more accurate name is Vodun or Vodou. It's a religion similar to Santeria as a mixture of Christian and African beliefs but it has gotten a lot more negative exposure from TV and movies. Vodou came from African with slaves and is primarily practiced in Haiti as well as some African nations.
There is one unknowable Deity figure, Olorun and the lesser spirits who are worshiped and prayed to are called the Loa (or the Lwa). Again, they are similar to many saints but the connection is not as strong as in Santeria.
Rituals in Vodou involve dancing and drumming and there is also sometimes animal sacrifice. Symbols called veves, drawn in various powders are used to call the Loa to the ritual.
These are both examples of African witchcraft, though they do not resemble the Wiccan form of witchcraft very much.
Scottish witchcraft refers to the practice of magick in Scotland, which is the northern part of the United Kingdom. At least it is today. The region we currently identify as Scotland has had various peoples and cultures arise there over the centuries. In particular, the area saw the Druids, the Celts and the Picts (among others). These are the groups of most interest to anyone looking into Scottish witchcraft.
The Druids were actually a priestly class of Celts, so both cultures existed in the area at the same time. Information on the Druids is sketchy at best because they didn't keep written records. What we know today is mainly based on other writings about them. The Picts lived in the region later in history after the Druids and the Celts.
Though many have resurrected the Druid path (usually called neo-Druidry), most people are referring to the Celtic culture when talking about Scottish witchcraft. At least, that's the approach I am going to take for this article. Just remember that the Celts didn't live only in Scotland, so some things that are attributed to their culture could also be considered Irish.
Like with many ancient cultures, not that much accurate information has been passed down with regards to witchcraft. Many people have tried to tie modern Wiccan practices to Celtic origins, but that is a little questionable. Do not confuse true Celtic paganism with Celtic Wicca, which is a variation of Wicca that has adopted some Celtic leanings.
People who attempt to follow a true Celtic Pagan path would be Celtic Reconstructionist, who really represent a truer form of Scottish witchcraft though they include a complete religious path along with any magickal practices. They did not practice witchcraft as we consider it today, but had a very nature-based form of shamanism as a magickal practice.
Celtic Gods and Goddesses
The various people who lived in the Scotland area had their own pantheon's of Gods and Goddesses that they worshiped. Here are some of the better known Deities in the Celtic pantheon.
- Danu - the great Earth mother of fertility, prosperity and cattle
- Dagda - Father god who ruled over life and death, who was particularly worshiped by warriors
- Morrigan - a triple crone Goddess who embodies battle, death and magick
- Lugh - a Sun god of courage, youth and all craftspeople. His son was the great Irish folk hero Cuchulainn
- Cerridwen - a fertility Goddess who also represented knowledge and wisdom
Italian witchcraft is often called stregheria, and has its roots in old folk traditions of Italy. Like many other kinds of witchcraft that are tied to old cultures, much information has been lost over the years. This is the case with many forms of Scottish witchcraft as well.
Not to mention that most forms of Italian witchcraft were a personal family tradition, and passed on within a family line rather than practiced widely by many people.
Much of the information known today about Italian witchcraft comes from a book published in 1890 titled "Aradia: Gospel of the WitchesItalian witchcraft" written by Charles Leland.
Traditional Italian beliefs are duo-theistic, meaning there is primarily one Goddess and one God rather than a whole pantheon. The Goddess is Diana and the God is Lucifer. Now don't be alarmed at the Lucifer mention. There is no relation to the Satanic version from Christianity. In this context, Lucifer is a sun God similar in characteristics to Apollo. And speaking of Greek Gods, Diana is the counterpart to Greek Artemis.
Diana and Lucifer had a child, and her name was Aradia. She came to earth to teach humans the art of witchcraft at her mother's request.
Since authentic Italian spirituality was handed down through families, there is not much known to outsiders. Their beliefs and practices were heavily influenced by their connections to their ancestor's spirits
The ankh is an important symbol of life in Egyptian witchcraft
Egyptian witchcraft isn't the most common combination but many people who follow a magickal path will be drawn to the pantheon of Egypt in their studies.
A lot of spells and rituals in Egyptian witchcraft centered on the afterlife, and ensure the safety and success of the soul after death. The well-known Egyptian Book of the Dead is filled with such spells. Healing magick was also common, and it was just as important as more scientific medical practices.
Magick performed during the time of ancient Egypt was usually performed by priests or magicians, and it wasn't something that people would have done for themselves as part of a spiritual or cultural practice.
Today, many people who practice "Egyptian witchcraft" are really following a variation of Wicca that includes the involvement of Egyptian Deities. In other words, its not the same type of practice that ancient Egyptians would have followed. Circles, altars, spells are all Wiccan-based but using terminology and Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. The actual spiritual path from Egypt is called Kemeticism which is a closer idea to true Egyptian witchcraft and religion.
Egyptian Gods & Goddesses
- Ra - One of the early sun Gods, the great creator
- Osiris - God of the people, who brought agriculture and civilization to Egypt
- Thoth - Ruler of knowledge, mathematics and language
- Anubis - God of the underworld
- Bast - Goddess of cats, the moon and mystery
- Isis - The main female Egyptian Goddess, who ruled over many skills and the home
- Hathor - A mother Goddess in the image of a cow, who ruled motherhood and childbirth
Though we are generally familiar with this pantheon of Egyptian Deities, the reality is that they are all considered aspects or facets of the larger spirit known as Netjer
American witchcraft is what most people on this site are generally familiar with, though it is a more "modern" type of magickal practice. It doesn't have the same long history as some of the other types of witchcraft, and is really just an immigrated mix of other branches of the craft.
American Witchcraft and Wicca
Find out more about American witchcraft
Just as the population of the USA is a varied combination, so is the form of magick we would call "American witchcraft". The biggest influence by far has been British Traditional Wicca, begun by Gerald Gardner more than 50 years ago. So much so that many people in America aren't that clear on the differences between Wicca and witchcraft to begin with, but that's another story.
The British form of Wicca and witchcraft came to America in 1962 with Raymond Buckland brought it across the ocean from his own Gardnerian coven studies. He founded his own covens, and wrote several influential books that introduced America to Wicca and witchcraft.
Ok, enough about the history of witchcraft in America, what *is* American witchcraft in terms of what the practice actually means.
Like I said, American witchcraft is heavily influenced by British Wicca to the point where many people don't know the difference. So the majority of people who practice witchcraft follow the 8 Sabbats of the year, cast a circle before performing spells, worship 2 or more Deities (Gods or Goddesses) and often have close ties to nature and the elements.
One unique aspect of American witchcraft is the rise of the solitary practitioner. Original British witchcraft is often performed in groups or covens. America's large Christian and Bible-oriented culture has made it difficult for many witches, Wiccans or Pagans to be open about their practices. And so, that means more people who are going it solo. With the growing number of books on the subject, you can learn quite a lot without a teacher or coven to guide you.
You can also find a wider range of mixed practices, as the multi-cultural population of America influences so many witches. Mixes of Wicca can be found with elements of Santeria, Kemetic (Egyptian faith), Celtic, Norse and many other paths. It's a fascinating melting pot of witchery in America.