The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

How’s this for a notion? Although witches have been diabolized and accused of being in league with Satan, throughout history witches have also been worshipped: divinity envisioned in the form of a witch, shaman or sorceress.

If one defines witches as stubborn devotees of forbidden spiritual traditions, then any deity belonging to those traditions could be associated with witchcraft. The reality is that many magical practitioners work with a multitude of spirits, different ones for different needs. In financial distress? Consult a spirit of prosperity. Need help getting pregnant? Find a fertility spirit (or saint or angel).

The list of potential spirits is endless, therefore included here are only the following:

ImageSpirits whose identity as magical practitioners is central to their myth

ImageSpirits identified in witch-trial testimony as significant to witchcraft traditions

Witch-goddesses (and a few gods, too!) do more than cackle and play trick or treat. Among our company are several Supreme Creators, a few first women in existence, and spirits who once had national cults and were venerated by the masses. (A few, like the orishas and India’s Kali and Shiva, still are.)

All too often, very little information regarding these spirits exists. Sometimes little more than a name is known, thus some entries are more complete than others. This section is based on available information: we don’t know the identity of Herta’s sacred number, or even if she had one.

Many spirits are hazy: it’s not always even clear whether they are distinct spirits or just different names for the same one. This is particularly true in Northern Europe—it is unclear whether Hella, Hulda, Herta, and Perchta are distinct spirits or whether they are one and the same. So much information has been lost or distorted that it may now be impossible to ever conclusively determine. Similarly, there is often confusion between Frigga and Freya, although in this case enough mythological information survives to determine that two distinct spirits exist.

Surviving information regarding Pagan spirits almost invariably derives from texts written by outsiders—most typically Church chroniclers who disapproved of Paganism in general. By definition, spirits in the form of deified magical practitioners were vilified, especially when simultaneously manifesting as sexually assertive females.

Thus in order to receive an unbiased picture one must read between a lot of lines and connect a lot of dots. (The sole exception is those spirits deriving from African Diaspora traditions: information regarding lwa and orishas deriving directly from devotees is available.)

Ironically, the Pagan deities we know the most about are those the Church particularly despised: Freya, Hecate, Holle, and Kybele. Because they evoked such passions they were written about frequently. Although they were condemned and vilified, the ultimate effect is that these spirits survive with greater clarity than do so many others.

During the witch-trial era, certain deities were labeled Queens of Witches by the Inquisition: the implication being that if the deity was the Queen, her devotees were, by definition, “witches” and thus subject to prosecution. Among these Queens of Witches are Diana, Freya, Herodias, Herta, and Hulda.

Are there countless individual, independent, autonomous spirits or are these spirits all aspects of the greater divine? Are all goddesses manifestations of one Great Goddess? This is an ancient debate subject to personal interpretation. All spirits are discussed as if they are individuals here: further conjecture is up to you.

Magic, spirituality, and witchcraft are unruly, fluid, boundary-defying topics: spirits can be difficult to categorize neatly.

Image Spirits generally considered to be exclusively spiritual entities are included here.

Image Spirits generally considered to have begun their incarnations as humans are found in HALL OF FAME, even though they may have since proved immortal.

Thus Morgan le Fay is categorized here among Divine Witches, while her old compatriot Merlin is found in HALL OF FAME. This is somewhat arbitrary: Circe is clearly a goddess and so is found here; her niece Medea is generally (but not always) considered human and so is in HALL OF FAME instead.

Image Corn Mothers are found in ERGOT.

Image Deities exclusively identified as hags are found in HAG.

Image Deities exclusively identified as horned spirits are found in HORNED ONE.

Image Deities strongly associated with spinning are found in WOMEN’S MYSTERIES.