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:
Spirits whose identity as magical practitioners is central to their myth
Spirits 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.
Spirits generally considered to be exclusively spiritual entities are included here.
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.
Corn Mothers are found in ERGOT.
Deities exclusively identified as hags are found in HAG.
Deities exclusively identified as horned spirits are found in HORNED ONE.
Deities strongly associated with spinning are found in WOMEN’S MYSTERIES.
Also known as Dame Abundance, Dame Habonde, Habondia.
Abundantia was the ancient Roman spirit of abundance. When Christianity became Rome’s official religion, Abundantia was outlawed with other Pagan spirits. Some devotees were ambivalent about banishing prosperity and so Abundantia went underground, eventually re-emerging in medieval Europe as Dame Abundance.
During the Middle Ages, she was worshipped only in secret and, finally, only by witches. (By definition, if you worshipped her, you were a witch.) The Inquisition accused Dame Abundance, a night-rider, of leading the Wild Hunt and witches’ nocturnal jaunts. According to the testimony of accused witches, Dame Abundance visits the homes of her devotees at night, bringing good luck and prosperity with her.
The Inquisition described Abondia as a Witch Queen. Some Italian women charged with witchcraft during the Burning Times acknowledged venerating Abondia, calling her a Fairy Queen. She entered English folklore in the same capacity. Abondia was described as a beautiful young woman with dark braided her, crowned with a golden tiara on which there was a star.
Also known as Gulveig and Heid.
“East of Midgard, in the Iron Forest, sat the old witch…” (The Voluspa: 40-41).
According to Norse mythology, Loki the Trickster fathered three dangerous children:
The Fenris Wolf, also known as Odin’s Bane, destined to slay Odin
Jormungard, the Midgard Serpent, fated to slay Thor
Hella, Ruler of the Dead, destined to lead an uprising of rebellious spirits and ghosts
Loki’s three children will allegedly be responsible for the apocalyptic twilight of the gods. Ever wondered who their mother was?
Angerboda, Witch of the Iron Wood, Mother of Wolves.
Angerboda manifests as a witch so beautiful she shines, as an iron-gray hag, as a fertility spirit, and as the Mother of Destruction. It is not clear which, if any, of her names is her true one. Angerboda is generally believed to be but one name for the spirit also known as Gulveig. Angerboda and Gulveig feature in myths that, if strung together, form a cohesive narrative.
Among the central themes of Norse mythology is the confrontation and eventual semimerger of two pantheons of spirits, the Aesir and Vanir. Norse mythology is generally told from the perspective of the Aesir or, perhaps more accurately, from the perspective of later Christian chroniclers who identified more closely with the Aesir. Surviving Norse myths, originally part of a vast oral tradition, were written down in the thirteenth century by Christian monks. The monks preserved these ancient sagas but also edited and transformed them in the process.
The Vanir are the indigenous pantheon of spirits. “Aesir” is believed cognate with “Asia”; many scholars believe that they may have originated in what is now Turkey. Important Aesir spirits include Odin and Thor. The Aesir were more aggressive than the Vanir, with a patriarchal orientation, and they were comparatively technologically advanced. Far less is known about the Vanir: theirs was a magical fertility orientation; they seemed to offer women more power. Important Vanir deities include Freya and Freyr.
Angerboda’s name is related to “foreboding” or “premonition of harm.” She may be a giantess, a troll-queen, a witch, a member of the Vanir pantheon, or some or all of the above. She is a shapeshifter, which may account for some of this confusion. Angerboda may be a spirit of fertility and/or Freya’s personal messenger: when a childless king and queen petition Freya for assistance, she sends Angerboda to them in the form of a crow, bearing an apple of fertility. The queen quickly conceives and bears a healthy child.
The Vanir are not confrontational; when the Aesir arrive in their territory, they initially observe them from a distance. The Aesir construct halls, including Valhalla, from such massive quantities of gold that they shimmer and shine. The Vanir lack halls but live in a misty realm woven from magic spells. The gold awakened a longing and so they sent Angerboda, in her guise as “the witch Gulveig,” to see if she could get some. Gulveig means “power of gold.” She is identified as a beautiful witch and also known as Heid, the “shining” or “gleaming” one. Like Freya, she glistens like gold.
Gulveig addresses the Aesir and speaks passionately of gold, gold, and more gold: red gold, white gold, yellow gold, burning gold, shining gold, gleaming gold, gold that reflects the heart’s desires. She requests a gift of gold for the Vanir.
The response? The Aesir identify Gulveig as a witch and condemn her to death. Thor seizes and binds her. A pyre is raised in Valhalla; Gulveig/Angerboda is pierced with spears like a pig on a spit and held over the flames to burn as a punishment for witchcraft.
With her witch’s power, Gulveig walks unscathed from the fire. (Norse deities, notably, are not immortal: she was expected to die.) She burns, her ashes are scattered, and yet miraculously she reappears, good as new. The Aesir recapture her and repeat their actions. Angerboda/Gulveig is burned and resurrected three times.
The obvious question is why, if her witchcraft is so powerful, doesn’t it protect her from the Aesir? No explanation is offered. The story itself is somewhat hazy; it’s unclear exactly what sparked the rage of the Aesir. The story may have been tweaked by later chroniclers to justify witch-burning. There are two ways of understanding Gulveig/Angerboda’s threefold resurrection, depending on perspective: evil is eternal or magic never dies.
The final time she’s burned, her heart remains unconsumed by the flames and Loki swallows it. This heart is blamed for his increasingly bitter, mean-spirited, and dangerous nature. (It’s unclear exactly when Loki’s liaison with Angerboda occurs or precisely when their children were born. Angerboda, like Loki, may be a Jotun or giant.)
Christian commentators blamed Angerboda for fostering Loki’s ambition to be chief of the gods, supplanting his blood-brother Odin. Eventually Loki became identified with Satan, and Angerboda as an ugly, wicked witch.
The third time Angerboda was resurrected, she found herself back in the Iron Wood (Iarnvid), the deep forest at the world’s end, home of witches and wolves. She never re-enters Asgard (the Aesir’s realm) because the Aesir still long to destroy her. Instead, Angerboda returns to the Vanir empty-handed. Appalled at her treatment, they declare war on the Aesir and attack via magic spells, precipitating a brutal war between the pantheons.
In some versions, this war results in stalemate; in others, the Vanir conquer the Aesir and occupy Asgard for nine years, but when both are threatened by Frost Giants they must forge an alliance. Each side gives hostages to the other to ensure preservation of peace and an end to hostilities. Honir and Mimir go to live among the Vanir while Njord and his children Freyr and Freya join the Aesir.
Although physically unscathed, Angerboda did not forgive the Aesir for her treatment. She raised her children in the Iron Wood and taught them to resent the Aesir.
An uneasy Odin consulted a völva (prophetess) who revealed that these children would be ultimately responsible for the destruction of Asgard. This foretold destiny is the rationale for the brutal entrapment of all three although perhaps some of the anxiety toward the mother was transferred to her children.
See also Freya, Hella, Herta, Odin; ANIMALS: Corvids, Wolves and Werewolves; BOTANICALS: Apples; DICTIONARY: Aesir, Heid, Trollkvinna, Vamir, Völva; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Trolls.
The Marsi, an ancient Central Italian tribe, claimed descent from Circe’s son. Their chief deity was his daughter, Angitia, a snake-charming sorceress who learned her craft directly from her grandmother. The Marsi themselves were renowned as magicians and healers. The Romans considered their territory “the home of witchcraft.”
Very little concrete information survives regarding Angitia: a sacred grove was dedicated to her on the shores of Lake Fucinus, as was a temple where the arts of herbalism and snake charming were practiced and taught. Earliest recovered regional inscriptions include votive offerings to Angitia recovered from the lake.
The Marsi made an alliance with the Romans in 304 BCE but revolted two years later. The Romans ultimately reasserted their authority; the Marsi lost political autonomy and were absorbed into the Roman Empire. However, they retained their magical reputation. As late as the second-century CE their presence as fortune-tellers plying their trade on the streets of Rome was noted. The Marsians were also reputedly magical healers, with power over bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.
Some believe that when Medea fled from Jason and Greece, she went to Italy and became Angitia. See HALL OF FAME: Medea.
Angitia’s power was not forgotten post-Christianity but was transferred to San Domenico (951—1031). Much of what is known regarding Angitia is derived from rituals re-dedicated to San Domenico, especially the Festa dei Serpari (The Procession of the Snake Catchers or Snake Charmers) in Cocullo, Italy. The earliest historical evidence of this festival dates from 1392. By the sixteenth century, the festival was held on the first Thursday in May, as it is today.
Snake catchers (serpari) begin capturing local snakes during the Vernal Equinox. A standard Mass is held within the Church on the day of the festival but afterwards a votive image of San Domenico is brought outside so that snake charmers can cover it with live snakes.
The serpari, carrying the serpent-covered statue, lead a processional through Angitia’s old stomping grounds. Roman Catholic priests provide an escort while costumed young women carry snake-shaped cakes. Live snakes are draped around other serpari as well as those wishing to demonstrate their devotion to the saint.
See also Circe; ANIMALS: Snakes; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Processions and Snake Dances; DICTIONARY: Ciaraulo.
In the beginning was Diana, primordial Spirit of Darkness. She divided the world into complementary opposites: yin and yang, male and female, light and darkness.
The light half evolved into her brother Lucifer. Diana desired him and wished to unite and merge with him. Lucifer, on the other hand, wanted light to remain completely distinct from darkness. Proud Lucifer refused to merge. Diana pursued him but he resisted.
Eventually she learned that he had a favorite cat that slept with him. Diana persuaded the cat to switch places with her and so, in the form of a black cat, Diana seduced her brother Lucifer. From this union, the world’s first witch was conceived: Aradia, Messiah of the Witches.
Diana sent her daughter to Earth with the mission of teaching humans witchcraft, the sacred arts of Diana, Queen of Witches.
That’s the first coming of Aradia the Messiah and the history of the world, according to Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches anyway. Aradia returned for a second coming too.
This Aradia was born in Volterra, Italy on August 13, 1313 (August 13th being Diana’s sacred day) and stimulated a revival of Italian witchcraft and pre-Christian traditions that had been driven into hiding by the Church. She herself had learned the Old Ways from her family and proceeded to teach them to others. Aradia was eventually caught by the Inquisition and burned as a witch, but not before she left a manuscript that allegedly serves as the framework for the testament Aradia.
No documentation regarding either Aradia exists prior to C.G. Leland’s 1899 publication of Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches; however in 1508, Italian Inquisitor Bernardo Rategno noted in his Tractatus de Strigibus that a rapid expansion of witchcraft had occurred a hundred and fifty years earlier, which corresponds with the second coming.
The story of Diana as Creator of the World, Mother of Witchcraft corresponds with nothing from classical mythology, although that in itself does not prove anything; many myths—and deities—survive based on only a single source (much of Celtic and Norse mythology, for instance). This could be but another instance of a lone survival of an ancient myth, but it could also be a Christian tale intended to portray Diana and witches in a negative light.
Classical mythology suggests that if one identifies Diana with Artemis, then her brother is Apollo, a god of light. The name Lucifer (“light-bringer”) pre-dates Christianity and was a title given to various Roman deities, female as well as male, and was intended as benevolent, not malefic. However during the medieval period when Aradia was allegedly written, Lucifer had become exclusively identified with Satan, the proud handsome fallen angel. Simultaneously, Inquisitors branded Diana the bride of Lucifer in order to damn and defame her and her devotees.
Thus this legend may be interpreted in various ways. However, no matter how it is interpreted, it is never entirely complimentary. Diana engages in deception, the inference that witches are daughters of Satan…
The name Aradia clearly resembles that of Herodias, another witch-deity of importance in Italy, and perhaps they are one and the same.
Is the fourteenth-century Italian witch a distortion of the biblical legend of Herodias?
Was an actual woman named in Herodias’ honor?
Was the legend of the biblical Herodias superimposed on a pagan Italian spirit?
For his part, Leland believed that his Aradia was really based on a distortion of Lilith as the true first woman, rather than on the Herodias of the New Testament. Italian Jews do identify Lilith with black cats.
See also Artemis, Diana, Herodias, Lilith, Nox; ANIMALS: Cats; BOOKS: Grimoires: Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches.
Artemis is among the most ancient indigenous spirits of Greece. Her earliest incarnation seems to have been as a bear-spirit, perhaps deriving from traditions dating back to the second millennium BCE that involved devotion to a deity in the form of a nursing mother bear.
In the Iliad, Artemis is called “Mistress of the Animals” and may be traced back to the Minoan era in this capacity. By the classical era, she was absorbed into the Olympian pantheon as the spirit most associated with witchcraft, lunar magic, and women’s mysteries.
According to her Olympian myth, Artemis was born on the island of Delos, the daughter of Leto and Zeus. Her very first act upon drawing breath was to assist Leto in the long, difficult delivery of her twin brother, Apollo, spirit of the sun and masculinity to her spirit of the moon and femininity.
Zeus offers to grant Artemis her deepest wish: she requests never to be forced to marry. This may be understood as a demand to maintain female autonomy and independence.
Artemis is Mistress of the Hunt: she protects the wilderness from excessive human encroachment and regulates sacred hunting rituals. She influences and grants fertility to humans, animals, and plants. Through her association with the moon she regulates menstrual cycles.
Artemis is a magician and a shape-shifter who takes many forms. Her most common is as a youthful female athlete, usually accompanied by a stag and/or a pack of hunting hounds, but she also manifests as a doe or female bear.
Artemis’ colors are white and silver. Her metal is silver, too. Her planet is the moon; her earthly domain the forest but she is also associated with natural springs. She is the Lady of the Beasts: all wild animals are sacred to her but especially bees, bears, boars, deer, dogs, dolphins, goats, fish, wolves, and all kinds of cats. Her chariot is drawn by stags.
The moon was perceived as Artemis’ spinning wheel, upon which she spun the fate of human beings; spindle whorls, shuttles, and assorted weaving tools have been found in nearly all her shrines (see WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: Spinning).
Although Artemis is often described as a solitary spirit, she is often found in the company of others. In addition to her animal companions, she has a band of nymphs to serve and accompany her. Among the spirits, her cousin Hecate is her favorite companion.
Artemis is closely identified with Diana and is also sometimes considered part of a trinity of goddesses:
Artemis, Hecate, and Selene represent three aspects of the moon
Artemis, Persephone, and Hecate represent three realms: the living, the dead, and the spirits
The most prominent manifestation of Artemis two thousand years ago was not, however, that classical woodland goddess.
The Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus
Or is that the Many-Breasted Diana of Ephesus? Either way, the image of Artemis (or Diana) celebrated for centuries in this ancient city, doesn’t correspond to the classical image of those deities still so recognizable and familiar: youthful, “virginal” athletes and hunters.
During the Hellenistic period, when Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world, the deity worshipped in Ephesus was commonly called “Artemis”—or at least in surviving writings. As Rome became the dominant power, this deity was familiarly called “Diana.” Significantly, both those deities, whether they are one and the same or not, lingered on the outskirts of official state pantheons—both stubborn reminders of an ancient matrilineal fertility orientation.
Frankly, the famous votive image venerated in Ephesus corresponds more closely to the great Near Eastern Mother Goddesses. This may indicate something about the hidden history of Artemis/Diana, or it is also possible that another deity (Kybele, Asherah or unknown) lurks beneath the Greco-Roman names.
This isn’t obscure history: the Temple of Artemis/Diana in Ephesus, now in modern Turkey, was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although the temple was destroyed (as was the original votive statue), the Shrine of Artemis was a major tourist and pilgrimage site: vendors sold reproductions of the statue in the same manner that modern visitors to any monument favored by tourists will find countless vendors selling countless souvenir replicas.
Reproductions of the statue of Many-Breasted Artemis survive so we know that it depicted a beautiful, regal, crowned woman, her torso completely covered by multiple breasts indicating her capacity to nurture and provide for all, her long tight skirt containing bands of animals and birds in relief.
The shrine was ancient and was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The deity herself chose the site by falling there in the form of a meteorite, which landed upon a date palm, and the shrine’s single most sacred object was a meteor contained within her crown, believed to house the very essence of the deity.
Historical records indicate that the earliest temple was built in the eighth century BCE as a simple tree shrine, allegedly by Amazons, passionate devotees of the goddess. The deity was originally not depicted as a woman but in the form of that original date palm hit by the meteorite.
That first simple tree shrine was destroyed by Cimmerians in 650 BCE. The Amazons lost control of the shrine but it survived and the temple was continually rebuilt:
A temple shrine was built in 580 BCE but sacked, rebuilt, and then sacked again.
A fourth temple, crafted from priceless white marble, was sponsored by King Croesus of Lydia.
In October 356 BCE, a man wishing to immortalize his name by committing a crime so tremendous it could never be forgotten, set the temple’s wooden precincts aflame, causing its destruction.
An indignant population joined together to rebuild the shrine, and this temple is the one that was called the greatest of the Seven Wonders. The lintel was so huge that the architect Dinocrates despaired of ever adjusting it correctly; he was on the verge of suicide when Artemis appeared to him in a dream and assured him that the lintel was now perfectly in place, she had taken care of it. When he awoke, it was.
Ephesus was a great city, its economy based on the Temple of Artemis/Diana. Small figurine renditions of Many-Breasted Diana of Ephesus were sold to thousands of annual pilgrims, as documented in the New Testament (Acts 19). Many reproductions are adorned with a necklace of a scorpion-like creature with a half moon or horns pointing down.
St Paul’s criticism of Diana led to rioting and his expulsion from Ephesus. As Christianity gained influence, his expulsion would be revenged:
The statue was destroyed in 400 CE by a Christian zealot who boasted of having overthrown the image of “Demon Artemis.”
In 406 St John Chrysostom preached against the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It was looted and burned soon afterwards.
A fifth-century inscription mentions the replacement of a statue of Artemis with a cross.
See also Aradia, Diana, Hecate, Kybele; BOTANICALS: Mugwort, Saint John’s wort, Trees.
Baba Yaga, the cannibal “wicked witch” of Russian fairy tales, has become a boogie-woman used to threaten children into obedience: “be good or Baba Yaga will get you…” She epitomizes the scary witch but is also grand, transcending the stereotype. Baba Yaga doesn’t just eat children; she sometimes defends them by dispensing justice to evil stepmothers.
Baba Yaga features in many fairy tales; she has a striking personality and appearance. Once familiar, she’s not easily confused with anyone else. It is generally believed that beneath the fairy-tale witch lurks an ancient Slavic deity, perhaps a Corn Mother banished to the woods post-Christianity.
She is an underworld goddess who controls forces of life and death. Baba Yaga may be petitioned for fertility for those who lack it. She performs miracle cures. On the other hand, according to fairy tales, personal encounters with Baba Yaga are often fatal; whether this was meant literally or shamanically is unknown. Either way she is potentially very dangerous.
Baba Yaga forces one to acknowledge the complexity and ambiguity of the witch. She possesses powers of healing and destruction; she may be unspeakably hostile or amazingly generous. She allegedly knows every botanical healing secret in existence; whether she can be persuaded to reveal these secrets is another story.
She is the Mistress of All Witches, the Primal Mother who rescues, nurtures, and destroys. She is a sacred being but she doesn’t live in the Heavens, underground or in an underwater palace. Baba Yaga lives in a house like a human and demonstrates needs and desires like a human: she eats, sleeps, and drinks—and with gusto!
Baba Yaga lives in the heart of a deep, birch forest in a little hut named Izbushka that usually stands on stilt-like chicken’s feet but occasionally on goat’s legs or even on spindle heels. Baba Yaga’s hut obeys orders. Say “Izbushka, Izbushka! Stand with your back to the forest and your front to me” and it does as directed.
The house is formed from bones, personally collected by Baba Yaga herself. The doorposts are leg bones; a mouth with sharp teeth serves as the lock, the bolt is a hand. The fence is formed from bones crowned with skulls whose empty eye-sockets glow in the dark.
In alternative versions, Baba Yaga is a spinner. Her house stands on a spiraling spindle spinning thread from human bones and entrails. Sometimes three Babas exist, similar to the three Fates.
The house is dominated by an oven that symbolizes birth, fertility, creation, nourishment, and death. It is akin to a cauldron of regeneration, and Baba Yaga stories may be understood as tales of initiation, sometimes (but not always) successful.
She is also called “Baba Yaga Bony Leg” which rhymes in Russian and has a resonance that’s lacking in English translation. Her unusual leg indicates her shamanic connection. In some stories the leg is formed from clay, gold, iron or steel. Sometimes her leg is an iron pestle. (In other versions, she is a woman from the waist up, a snake from the waist down.)
Baba Yaga has iron teeth that protrude like boar’s tusks. Her hands are tipped with bear claws. She wears a necklace of human skulls and likes to smoke a pipe. Euphemisms for her include “Iron Nosed Woman” or “Iron Nosed Witch.” She flies through the air in a mortar, steers with a pestle, sweeping away her traces with a broom. Seated in her iron mortar, holding her iron pestle, she grinds out life and death like a Corn Mother. Stories of her cannibalism may be references to ancient blood sacrifices.
Baba Yaga is the protector of wild animals, who serve her. Her flights are accompanied by crows, ravens, and owls: these birds signal her dominion over day and night. They are not normally compatible: crows and ravens are intensely diurnal while owls are identified with night.
Baba in Old Russian may indicate “witch,” “fortune-teller” or “elderly woman.” It may be used affectionately or pejoratively (see DICTIONARY: Baba). Yaga may derive from Slavic words for “horror,” “shudder,” “illness,” “snake,” “wood nymph” or “witch.” Yaga is also sometimes used as a pejorative to indicate an old, argumentative and/or ugly woman.
Baba Yaga is invoked in this Russian love spell. Murmur the following charm:
In the ancient realm, there is an open field In the open field, there is a wizened oak Around the wizened oak dance thrice-nine maidens From beneath the wizened oak emerges Baba Yaga She lights thrice-nine oak-wood fires Burn for me [Name of spell’s target] as fierce, hot and pure as Baba Yaga’s thrice-nine fires!
According to one interpretation, Baba Yaga is the moon. She cannibalistically eats her own body and then regenerates, waning and waxing as she regulates the fertility of women, animals, and Earth. Her hut turns on its chicken’s feet in rhythm with the moon’s phases. When the Moon is full, her door is open and the hut is accessible to the living. Baba is fat, happy, and pregnant. When only the crescent moon is visible watch out! Baba’s womb and belly are empty and she’s hungry…Baba Yaga also has dominion over the sun.
In some legends she is completely solitary, but in others she is a midwife spirit who is the mother of three sons or three dragons. Sometimes there is one Baba, sometimes there are three: three sisters or one mother and two daughters. Sometimes she is married to an eagle who maintains flocks of goats. In other tales she is allied or even married to another beloved villain of Russian folklore—the powerful sorcerer Koschei the Deathless.
Baba Yaga was a popular character in seven-teenth- and early eighteenth-century Russian woodblock prints, where she was often depicted in Finnish national costume. This is believed to be an oblique reference to her shamanic connections and at that time was intended as an insult.
See ANIMALS: Chickens, Corvids, Owls, Pigs, Snakes; BOTANICALS: Birch; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Step of Wu; ERGOT: Corn Mother; TOOLS: Brooms, Mortar and Pestle.
Befana la Strega (Befana the Witch)/Befana la Vecchia (Befana the Aged)
Also known as Befania.
Befana is a benevolent Italian witch who brings gifts to children on the night of January 6th, the Feast of the Magi: she fills children’s stockings with gifts just like Santa Claus elsewhere in the world. This tradition is believed to derive from the pagan practice of leaving woven goods, such as stockings, for the Goddess of Fate on this date.
The name Befana is believed to derive from Epiphany. Befana manifests as an old lady who flies through the air on a broom or goat. She carries a heavy sack on her back filled with gifts, or is a hunchback. She is believed to have originally been an ancient deity of ancestral spirits, forests, and the passage of time.
Befana is invoked in many Italian spells, especially those for good fortune.
According to Christian legend, when the Magi were searching for the Christ Child, they encountered an old lady and invited her to join them. She declined because she was too busy cleaning but later had regrets. She attempted to catch them up but became hopelessly and eternally lost. Still in the process of searching, on encountering homes with children, she leaves treats for good ones and tricks, like coal and rocks, for the disobedient.
Different regions of Italy celebrate Befana in different ways:
The most prevalent method of celebrating Befana throughout Italy involves creating a wooden effigy of the witch holding her distaff and spindle, which is then filled with sweets. The figure is broken open like a piñata to disperse the treats and is eventually burned on a pyre. This may be intended to resemble the Yule Log, although obviously any reference to bashing and burning witches is easily interpreted otherwise.
In Tuscany, images of Befana are carried in street processionals.
In Rome, people assemble to make a noise in her honor with drums, tin horns, and tambourines.
In other areas, rag-doll Befanas are placed in windows.
See also Mana; ANIMALS: Goats; DICTIONARY: Magi; TOOLS: Brooms.
Cerridwen is a shape-shifting lunar deity, master magician, and herbalist. Described as the “Old One,” she can take any form but favors that of a woman or a great white sow. She is described as a witch and Keeper of the Cauldron of Knowledge, Inspiration, and Transformation. Cerridwen’s most famous myth is preserved in the Book of Taliesin, a thirteenth-century manuscript named for the sixth century Welsh poet.
In this myth, Cerridwen is married to a giant, Tegidfoel, by whom she has two children—a daughter Crearwy, whose name means “Beautiful” or “Light,” and a son Afagddu, whose name means “Ugly” or “Dark.” Her children may represent the complementary forces that fuel Creation: yin and yang, female and male, night and day, summer and winter.
Cerridwen wishes the best for her children. She doesn’t worry about her daughter but fears that her son lacks sufficient gifts for success, and she decides to brew a potion for him to compensate.
Once tasted, this potion bestows all knowledge, magic power, oracular and shamanic powers. Only Cerridwen knows the formula: it takes a tremendous variety of botanicals, which must be carefully gathered and then added at just the right moment. In addition, someone must continually stir the brew, which must be kept steadily boiling for a year and a day. Cerridwen finds a poor, ignorant child to watch the pot.
Gwion is an orphan, completely unloved: no one misses him. Cerridwen, a wonderful mother to her own children, abuses the boy, barely feeding him, forcing as much labor out of him as possible, sometimes beating him. Gwion doesn’t understand the contents of the cauldron or its purpose.
The year and a day just about complete, Gwion gets careless (or is blessed by his constant proximity to Cerridwen’s cauldron). A few drops of scalding liquid fall on his hand. In pain he sucks his finger. At that very moment, from those few drops, Gwion knows all: he is instantly transformed into a master shaman, shape-shifter, and seer. He understands everything and knows that Cerridwen is on her way to kill him.
He escapes by shape-shifting. She pursues him similarly. If he becomes a fish, she becomes a bigger one, if he becomes a bird, she becomes a raptor, and so on, until finally Gwion transforms into a grain of wheat, hiding in a bushel. Cerridwen transforms into a hen and eats him. He gestates in her belly (Cerridwen is the Cauldron of Generation) and is re-born as a beautiful, shining child, still in possession of the magical powers attained.
Circe’s very name is synonymous with “sorceress.” Daughter of the Sun and an ocean spirit, Circe’s most famous appearance is in Homer’s Odyssey.
According to Homer, Circe dwells in a marble palazzo on the Isle of Aiaia (also spelled Aeaea), where she was banished after poisoning her husband, the King of the Sarmatians. (She does travel, though: according to other reports, she lives in Lazio, a region of west-central Italy.)
Circe is a witch but she is also clearly divine: Homer calls her “the fair-haired goddess.” Circe spends her days singing and weaving, habits associated with the Fates. (See WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: Spinning.) Her name derives from the same root words as “circle” and “falcon” (falcons notably circle in the sky). Circe’s name also resembles kerkis, which means “weaver’s shuttle.”
Circe is a shape-shifter but is most famous for transforming others. When Odysseus and his crew, trying to return home from the Trojan War, land on Aiaia, they discover an island paradise ruled by the goddess and populated by her beautiful female handmaidens, as well as by strangely human-seeming wild animals.
Circe transforms her male visitors into animals—lions, baboons, and others, but mainly pigs. One might say that the pig is the sacred animal of the goddess. One might also say that Circe reveals the true animal identity hidden within each man. Odysseus alone is saved from this fate when Hermes warns him, offering him an herbal antidote to Circe’s magic—a mysterious plant called moly. Hermes also advises Odysseus not to reject Circe’s advances: ultimately he stays with her for years, fathering her son Telegonus.
Circe initiates Odysseus into shamanism, advising him how to journey to Hades, interview dead souls, and return. She is his primary tutor. Foretelling the future, she offers Odysseus invaluable advice, ultimately enabling him to return home. It is safe to say that without Circe, Odysseus would never have reached his home again.
Circe inspired what is historically considered the first ballet, in 1581. Catherine de Medici, mother of the French king and an alleged sorceress herself, sponsored a dance company, La Ballet Comique de la Reine, whose first production was an over six-hour-long extravaganza featuring dance, songs, and elaborate floats devoted to the saga of Circe.
Although there are relatively few myths involving Circe, she captured the heart of artists from the classical era until today. She is a frequent character in literature, movies, and comic books, as well as perhaps the most popular witch among fine artists. During the nineteenth century in particular, many artists painted portraits of Circe.
Plants associated with Circe include alder, enchanter’s nightshade, juniper and mandrake. Entries for all these are found in BOTANICALS. See also Angitia, Hermes; ANIMALS: Pigs; CREATIVE ARTS: Visual Arts: Nineteenth-century Paintings; HALL OF FAME: Medea.
Breton witch-princess-mermaid-goddess, only one tale about Dahut survives and it derives from Christian sources. The story is hazy and has many gaps.
Dahut was the daughter of Gradlon, King of Cornwall and a Druid. Her mother is Malgven, Queen of the North, a magical character, perhaps another witch-goddess. Her father and mother spend a year at sea, where Dahut is born, but her mother dies.
Dahut loves the sea and is inspired to build a miraculous crystal-walled city in Brittany named Ys, built below sea level so that it seems to emerge from the sea. To prevent flooding, a high dyke is built and locked with a unique brass key. Only one copy of this key exists and King Gradlon has it.
The legend implies that Dahut is a sea spirit or a priestess of the sea. It is not a particularly complimentary tale: Dahut is portrayed as a femme fatale who seduces a different man each night. According to the story, Dahut insists her lovers wear a black silk mask that transforms into deadly metal claws in the morning, killing him so that she can feed his body to the sea.
Ys was fabulously wealthy. Dahut had a sea dragon who did her bidding and brought the treasures of the sea to her. Dahut ruled the city, maintaining Celtic traditions and Pagan deities. Eventually, she had a confrontation with Corentin, Bishop of Quimper, and shortly afterwards disaster struck.
Dahut was always on the lookout for new lovers/sacrificial victims. One day a stranger dressed in red rode up to the palace; she fell madly in love with him and wished to keep him, rather than kill him. Unbeknownst to her, according to the standard version of the story, it was Satan on a mission of punishment from God. Because of the sins of Ys, the magical crystal city was about to be transformed into the equivalent of an underwater Sodom and Gomorrah.
In order to prove her love, the mysterious red stranger demanded the key to the dyke. Dahut stole it from her father and Satan opens the dyke and the sea floods in. St Guenolé, a resident of the area, appears, ordering King Gradlon to repent. Gradlon tries to escape from Ys on horseback, together with Dahut whom he wishes to rescue. Guenolé however strikes him, insisting that he abandons Dahut as the price of survival, which ultimately Gradlon does. Gradlon and Guenolé are the only two survivors.
Following the deluge, Gradlon renounces Druidry and Guenolé converts him to Christianity. Gradlon became ruler of the city of Quimper where a statue of him gazing in the direction of Ys still stands at Corentin Cathedral.
Dahut was allegedly transformed into a mermaid, in which guise she survives.
Although the story was told to emphasize the powers of St Guenolé, it may be based on an actual fifth-century disaster. Several Roman roads now leading into the sea, allegedly once led to Ys.
Dahut’s tale is (unsympathetically) retold in Abraham Merritt’s 1934 pulp novel Creep, Shadow, Creep.
See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature: Creep, Shadow, Creep; DICTIONARY: Druid; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Korrigans.
No spirit is more associated with witchcraft than Diana, Mother of the Forest. Indigenous to Italy, preceding the Romans in the region, perhaps an Etruscan spirit, she traveled with the Romans throughout Europe and became well known all over that once heavily wooded continent.
Over the centuries Diana became intensely identified with the Greek goddess Artemis; their names are often used interchangeably and it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, although they apparently began their incarnations as distinct spirits.
Diana was adored throughout Europe. Other versions of her name include:
Jana, Tana (Italian)
Debena, Devana (Czech)
Diana has the same attributes and interests as Artemis although Diana’s associations with night, darkness, and magic are stronger. She is less ambivalent toward men and sex than Artemis too—her myth makes no pretense of virginity. Diana lives in the Forest of Nemi together with her consort Virbius, a male horned spirit.
Sir James Frazer’s epic The Golden Bough took its title and initial inspiration from rituals conducted in Diana’s sacred Forest of Nemi.
Diana also had a Roman temple on the Aventine Hill. In Celtic Europe she was worshipped in the form of a log. Men worshipped Diana as passionately as women: what are described as werewolves may really be male wolf-shamans or lunar priests dedicated to Diana.
Most surviving information regarding her worship and influence comes from her enemies—Paul of Tarsus and other early Christian writers. Although originally a local deity, Diana’s cult became so popular throughout Europe and Asia Minor that the early Christians perceived it as among their major rivals.
Was the subsequent destruction of Europe’s forests and wildlife, especially wolves, a method of eradicating Diana’s power and spiritual traditions?
When Christianity achieved political power, Diana was completely vilified. Associated solely with witchcraft—her name evoked during Europe’s witch-hunts as Queen of the Witches—the Inquisition described her as Satan’s bride. In 1487, Spanish Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada stated: “Diana is the devil.”
Diana’s devotees were particularly persistent:
Gregory of Tours describes a sixth-century Christian hermit destroying a statue of Diana that had been worshipped by peasants near Trier.
Diana’s cult was vigorous until at least as late as the late seventh century in what is now Franconia (northern Bavaria).
British missionary St Kilian (c.640—c.689) was martyred when he tried to convert the Eastern Franks from their devotion to Diana.
In 906, Regino of Prüm noted the worship of Diana in what he called “The Society of Diana.”
“The Society of Diana” was among the Inquisition’s terms for witchcraft. No deity was more associated with witchcraft during the Burning Times than Diana. Each of the four instances above occurred in areas that would suffer particular virulent witchcrazes, however Diana was associated with witchcraft throughout Europe.
Devotion to Diana survived the Burning Times and remains persistent. She is among the most beloved of contemporary deities and is central to the Italian witchcraft tradition, Stregheria.
See also Aradia, Artemis, Hecate, Herodias; ANIMALS: Dogs.
Also called Bacchus.
Popularly called the God of Wine, Dionysus is much more than that: the spirit of vegetation, fertility, and generation, Dionysus presides over the mysteries of life and death. He is the spirit of untamed wilderness and irrepressible male procreative energy, intoxication, shamanism, magic, joy, madness, and sexual healing.
Dionysus is the Green Man. His images are adorned with grapevines and ivy.
Among his epithets is “the night prowler.”
He was the last of the twelve deities incorporated into the Olympian pantheon and is thus usually classified as a “Greek god.” However his original homeland is believed to be Thrace: modern Bulgaria and Romania both claim to be the location of his birthplace.
According to archeologist Marija Gimbutas, Dionysus was the most ancient non-Indo-European god of Old Europe and was initially a botanical spirit.
Dionysus was originally served only by women. His female devotees were known as Maenads (in Greece) or Bacchanals (in Rome). Although men served him too, women were the leaders and initiators in the Dionysian rites, and certain rites were celebrated solely by women. Witch-hunters’ later descriptions of naked, wild-haired women dancing in the forest around the figure of a lone virile, horned man could theoretically describe Dionysian rites.
Dionysus was twice born, first as the child of Zeus and his daughter Persephone (in one version, Zeus in the form of a snake either rapes or seduces Persephone). Zeus named him Zagreus and designated him his heir over all his other children. Jealous Titans kidnapped Zagreus, ripped him to pieces and ate him, except for his heart which Athena rescued.
Livid, Zeus reduced the Titans to ashes and formed humans from these ashes, thus all people share in Dionysus’ (Zagreus’) essence. Zeus then brewed a love potion from Zagreus’ heart and fed it to Princess Semele. She conceived Dionysus once again but died before giving birth.
Zeus rescued the unborn child, removing him from his mother’s body and sewing him up in his own thigh to incubate until ripe and ready to be born. Dionysus was then hidden away for his own safety; he grew up in the wilderness of Thrace where he was nursed by goats.
Always loving toward women, Dionysus’ first act as a full-fledged god was to travel to Hades and bring his mother Semele up to Olympus to share in his glory. Dionysus is also the only Olympian god to be happily married. There are conflicting reports as to whether May Eve or Midsummer’s Eve marks Dionysus and Ariadne’s wedding anniversary.
Reaching maturity, Dionysus led a caravan through the Middle East, North Africa, and India, accompanied by a parade of Maenads, satyrs, and panthers. Wherever Dionysus traveled he taught people assorted agricultural and artisanal arts, especially viniculture—the creation of wine. In addition to wine, Dionysus was also associated with opium and mushrooms. (See BOTANICALS: Amanita muscaria, Opium Poppy.)
Dionysus’ festivals featured nocturnal processions with music and masked, costumed revelers. The floats, masks, clowns, dancing, public drunkenness, and erotic theater that characterize modern Carnivals and parades are descendants of Dionysian festivities.
Dionysus manifests in the form of a man, a bull or a goat. In Dionysiac processions, the deity was represented by a huge phallus. Dionysus is wine; by drinking wine one shares the sacrament of Dionysus’ body.
His was a widespread cult: a fourth-century CE report states that women crowned with leaves danced and performed rites of Bacchus in Britain’s Channel Islands. According to the report, they “shouted even louder than the Thracians.”
Dionysus’ symbols include cymbals, frame drums and other percussion instruments, leopards and panthers, garlands, vines and snakes, mules, donkeys, and lions. His primary attribute was the thyrsus—a wand (often a stalk of fennel) topped with a pinecone. (See DICTIONARY: Benandanti.)
Dionysus is a friendly god who is most frequently surrounded by a retinue including devotees, sacred animals, and other deities. Among the deities closely allied with Dionysus are Pan, Hecate, Kybele, Demeter and Persephone, and Apollo. Dionysus eventually became Apollo’s altar-equal at Delphi, taking over the shrine in winter. He was considered Apollo’s opposite, representing hot ecstatic energy rather than Apollo’s cold rationalism.
Dionysus’ cult survived until well into the Christian era. Outlawed and driven underground, surviving pockets of Dionysian tradition were demonized by the Church. Maenads fled to the forest.
See CALENDAR: February Feasts: Dionysia; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Maenad Dances, Processionals.
The spirit of Feronia allegedly still haunts the traditional marketplaces of Italy, territory she once ruled. Having been banished, post-Christianity, alongside the rest of the Pagan spirits, Feronia apparently refused to abandon her old stomping grounds but transformed from a benevolent spirit of freedom and prosperity into a bad-tempered witch in the guise of a shabby, elderly, muttering beggar-woman.
Don’t let her disguise fool you: she’s still working magic. Those she approaches who behave politely and generously find themselves blessed with good fortune. Those behaving otherwise are treated to very effective (and feared) curses.
Folklorist C. G. Leland reported in his 1892 book Etruscan Roman Remains that nineteenth-century Tuscan peasants classified Feronia as a strega-folletta or “witch-spirit.” He described her as a “wandering witch who exacts offerings.”
Little is now known about this ancient, mysterious deity. Feronia may have originated as an Etruscan or Sabine spirit. Her rites included fire-walking. Devotees walked or danced over glowing coals and burning ploughshares.
Feronia’s sacred animal was the wolf. She is friendly with those other Italian spirits associated with witchcraft, Mania and Proserpina (see pages 401 and 409). Feronia was the protectress of paupers, slaves, and refugees. She had various temples including one in the heart of Rome that contained a sacred stone. If a slave sat on the stone, freedom was instantly granted. (It’s not clear what kind of machinations were necessary in order to reach this stone.)
Freya is the most beautiful of the Norse spirits with dominion over love, sex, fertility, magic, witchcraft, death, pleasure, and glory. “Freya” literally means “Lady” and may be a title, not a name. (Her twin brother is Freyr or “Lord.”) She is simultaneously a spirit of fertility and death, beauty and war.
Freya is the daughter of Njord and Herta (Nerthus), Sea and Earth. She is among the Vanir hostages who joined the Aesir to maintain spiritual peace. Freya, however, is so powerful that she quickly became a dominant force in her new realm.
Freya is clearly identified as a witch. When she first arrives in Asgard (the Aesir’s realm), she teaches the Aesir how to craft charms and potions. It is Freya who introduced Odin to runes and shamanism. Völvas and Valkyries serve as her priestesses.
Golden Freya most often manifests as a woman, although she owns a falcon feather cloak that enables her to fly like a falcon and shape-shift as she pleases (see also Circe, page 378).
Most other surviving Norse goddesses are identified as “wives”; Freya is an independent single woman who answers to no one. She was married, but her husband Od mysteriously disappeared. She weeps golden tears for him that transform into amber, but takes her pleasure as she pleases.
Sacred Creatures: Cats, rabbits, boars Attributes: Gold, amber, honey Plants: Cowslips, flax, hemp
Two large gray cats, possibly lynxes, named Bee-gold (Honey) and Tree-gold (Amber) pull her chariot. They embody Freya’s twin qualities of ferocity and fecundity. She rides a boar into battle (as does her brother Freyr). Her sacred day was Friday; her sacred number 13, the number of months in the lunar calendar. Friday the 13th is thus especially sacred to her, leading to its later malevolent associations under Christianity.
No spirit annoyed Christian authorities more than Freya. Ironically, the result was that Freya survives more vividly than any other female European spirit. Constant condemnation kept Freya from fading into obscurity.
An insult levied at Freya at the Althing (Parliament) of Iceland initiated the final round of a debate over that country’s Christianization: a Christian described Freya as a “bitch goddess.”
Freya was denounced as a Queen of Witches. Women who venerated her were therefore automatically branded “witches.” And of course, Freya’s rites and traditions did encourage magical practice, mediumship, shamanism, and female autonomy, with Freya herself as the role model—behavior the new regime considered abhorrent and sinful.
Freya was not an obscure spirit but was beloved and worshipped over a vast European territory including Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, the Germanic lands, Holland, and Anglo-Saxon Britain.
Thirteenth-century Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturluson recorded and preserved many old sagas and poems. He says Freya was the most renowned of all the goddesses, and was still worshipped in his day.
Freya’s last surviving temple, in Magdeburg, Germany, was destroyed by edict of the Emperor Charlemagne. Devotees refused to surrender their faith, however: in 1668, “the worship of Frau Venus” was allegedly still prevalent among the Saxons of Magdeburg.
Freya was banished to the mountain peaks of Norway, Sweden, and Germany to dance with her devotees, especially in The Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains of central Germany, where she presides over annual Midsummer’s and Walpurgis festivities. Freya remains among the most beloved deities among modern Neo-Pagans.
See also Angerboda, Frigga, Herta, Odin; ANIMALS: Cats, Pigs; DICTIONARY: Aesir, Valkyrie, Vanir, Völva; PLACES: Blokula, The Brocken.
Also called Frigg, Fricka.
Frigga is a spirit of divination, fertility, matrimony, and childbirth. Her husband is Odin the Allfather, Leader of the Aesir. Her father is Fjorgin. The identity of her mother is unclear. It is also not entirely clear to which Norse pantheon Frigga herself belongs: Aesir, Vanir or other.
It can be difficult to distinguish Frigga from Freya. Clearly distinct spirits in Scandinavia, the two may have merged into one spirit in ancient Germany, although as so much information has been lost, suppressed and garbled it’s now impossible to definitively determine.
Frigga is a shadowier spirit than Freya. Ironically, because Christians despised Freya so intensely, more lucid, substantial information regarding her and her traditions survive.
Frigga seems to have been a less overtly sexual spirit, although her name survives as an English obscenity indicating sexual intercourse. Frigga’s sacred bird is the stork, leading to jokes regarding the true origin of infants. Her primary surviving myths involve her identity as wife and mother. She battles Odin’s infidelities and actively attempts to save their doomed son, Baldur.
Frigga knows every person’s destiny but will not reveal it. She is a spinning goddess associated with the Norns (Fates)—she spins the thread they weave and cut. Her sacred emblem is the distaff: “the distaff side” still indicates a wife or maternal descent.
She wears a girdle hung with keys, indicating her ability to unlock all doors and her oracular ability. Frigga has powerful associations with mediumship. A quiet, less flamboyant witch than Freya, Frigga lives in the company of masters (Odin, Freyr) and manages to hold her own.
A thirteenth-century mural in Schleswig Cathedral in Northern Germany depicts Freya and Frigga in the guise of naked witches: Freya rides through the air on a giant cat alongside Frigga astride a distaff.
“…witchcraft celebrates/Pale Hecate’s offerings” (Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II, Scene 1, lines 51—2).
“Hekate, whose name is shrieked at night at the crossroads of cities” (Virgil, The Aeneid 4:609).
Hecate is Queen of the Night, the Spirit World, and Witchcraft. Her epithets include “She Who Works Her Will.” Although today most associated with Greek mythology, her name, meaning “influence from afar,” acknowledges her foreign origins.
Lauded by poets long before Shakespeare, the sixth-century BCE Greek poet Sappho called Hecate “Queen of the Night.”
Generally believed to have first emerged in what is now Turkey, she was not an obscure goddess. Hecate was at one time chief deity of Caria, now western Turkey, and was eventually widely worshipped throughout Europe, Western Asia, and Egypt. Records of formal worship date from the eighth century BCE to the fourth century CE, although as magic fell from grace she became an increasingly disreputable spirit. All Hecate’s myths clearly identify her as a witch and matron of magical arts.
Hecate holds dominion over life, death, regeneration, and magic. She rules wisdom, choices, expiation, victory, vengeance, and travel. Hecate guards the frontier between life and death. She is an intermediary between the spirit world and that of humans. She is the witness to all crimes, especially those against women and children.
Hecate has been known to assume the shape of a black cat, a bear, a pig or a hen but most typically manifests as a mature woman or black dog. She has a particularly strong bond with dogs. Even when manifesting in human form, Hecate is usually accompanied by hounds. Somehow there will be a canine reference. When manifesting as a woman alone, Hecate often circles in the manner of a dog.
Artistic renderings of Hecate usually attempt to capture her spiritual essence. She may be depicted with three bodies, each facing a different direction. One hand holds the knife that is the midwife’s tool, another holds a torch to illuminate the darkness, the last bears a serpent representing medical and magical wisdom. Sometimes Hecate is depicted with a woman’s body but three animal heads—those of a dog, a horse, and a lion.
Hecate’s sacred time is black night. All her festivities and ceremonies are held after dark; the only acceptable illumination is candles or torches. She only accepts offerings and petitions at night. Hecate is identified with the Dark Moon, the time of her optimum power.
The last day of each month is dedicated to Hecate. She also shared a festival with Diana on August 13th in Italy. Modern Wiccans, for whom Hecate is an important deity, celebrate November 16th as Hecate Night.
Her sacred place is the crossroads, specifically three-way crossroads. Among her names is Hecate Trivia. That doesn’t indicate that Hecate is trivial or that worshipping her was a trivial pursuit: Trivia literally means “three roads.” Hecate is Spirit of the Crossroads: her power emanates from their point of intersection. Hecate’s image was once placed in Greek towns wherever three roads met.
Sacred Creatures: Dogs, toads, snakes, dragons
Attributes: Key, Cauldron, Broom, Torch
Plants: Garlic, lavender, mandrake.
Trees: Black poplar, yew, date palm, willow
Planets: Moon and Sirius, the Dog Star
Hecate is most prominent in Greek myth-ology for being the sole deity to voluntarily assist Demeter in her search for her abducted daughter, Persephone. Later, after Persephone eats Death’s six pomegranate seeds and is condemned to spend half the year in Hades, it is Hecate who accompanies her as Lady-in-Waiting. In some legends, she even becomes Hades’ co-wife. Cerberus, three-headed hound of Hades, may be Hecate in disguise.
Hecate becomes Persephone’s link to her mother and the land of the living. She guarantees that Death cannot break the bond between mother and daughter. Hecate is the Matron of Necromancy.
Hecate, daughter of the Titans Perses and Asteria, is older than the Olympian spirits. The eighth-century BCE Greek poet Hesiod writes that Hecate’s power dates “from the beginning.” Zeus was crazy about her: he eliminated all other pre-Hellenic deities (the Titans) but, having fallen madly in love with Hecate, he let her be.
Hecate is understood to be a triple goddess by herself, appearing as maiden, mother, and crone. She is also part of a lunar triplicity with Artemis and Selene, and also with Demeter and Persephone. Hecate dances in Dionysus’ retinue and is a close ally of Kybele.
Alongside her intense lunar identification, Hecate is also associated with the element of water: her first love affairs were with sea gods including Triton. Her great-grandfather was Pontus the Sea. Her maternal great-aunt was the sea monster Keto. Hecate is also related to the Gorgons and Sirens and may be the mother of Scylla, who was transformed into a sea monster by another relative, Circe. Prior to her transformation Scylla was a beautiful woman from head to waist, with canine hips terminating in a fish tail.
In Philopseudes (“Lovers of Lies”) by the Greco-Syrian author Lucian of Samosata (c.120—c.180), a sorcerer invokes Hecate. She manifests in female form, albeit snake-footed with snakes in her hair, carrying a torch in her left hand and a sword in her right.
Hecate led a host of shape-shifting female spirits known as Empusas, whose usual manifestation was as a beautiful woman with one brass leg and one donkey’s leg; Hecate herself sometimes takes this form. The Empusas patrolled roads and apparently sometimes had fun terrorizing travelers. If one invoked Hecate, however, they left you alone.
Devotees feted the goddess by holding rituals known as Hecate’s Suppers at the end of each month at a crossroads. (The end of the month in lunar calendars corresponds to the Dark Moon; the new month begins with the first sighting of the new moon.) A typical menu is found in FOOD AND DRINK. The Church was still trying to eradicate Hecate’s Suppers in the eleventh century.
Post-Christianity, Hecate became among the most intensely demonized spirits, her very name synonymous with “witch.” Her symbols (toad, cauldron, broom) are inextricably linked with stereotypes of witchcraft. What were symbols of fertility became symbols of evil. Her sacred dogs were converted into the Hounds of Hell. This denigration served to camouflage Hecate’s origins as a deity of healing and protection.
Further Reading: Jacob Rabinowitz’s The Rotting Goddess (Autonomedia, 1998).
See also Artemis, Baba Yaga, Circe, Dionysus, Kybele, Proserpina; ANIMALS: Cats, Chickens, Dogs, Pigs; CALENDAR: Hecate Night; MAGICAL ARTS: Necromancy; HALL OF FAME: Medea.
Hella or Hel
Once upon a time, being sent to Hel (or Hella as she is also known) may have been inevitable but it wasn’t perceived as punishment: Hella, daughter of Angerboda and Loki, rules the Norse realm of the dead. She is the keeper of the souls of the departed and determines the fate of the deceased. Those who died at sea or in battle had other destinations; everyone else went to Hella who welcomed them into her home, Helhaim, regardless of whether they were good, bad, sinful or saintly. It’s just the realm of the dead.
Hella’s realm was not envisioned as a sulfurous fiery torture chamber but as a kind of inn or waystation for the dead, although once checked in, one could never check out. It was a bleak, gray, damp, foggy, misty realm: the concept of heat as punishment was imported from hotter, southern climes alongside Christianity. “Lack of warmth with no hope of Spring” was the Norse equivalent of desolation.
Hella rides a black mare and has a pack of dogs, the original Hell Hounds. She is attended by two servants, named Delay (male) and Slowness (female). Her name derives from the Old German halja, “covering.” Her sacred creatures are horses, dogs, and wolves.
Hella and her brothers, a wolf and a snake, were raised by their mother, the witch Angerboda, in the Iron Wood. Prophecy suggested that the siblings would someday lead a Host of Destruction against the ruling Aesir pantheon of gods, and so Odin had them “brought” to the Aesir’s territory of Asgard, where each would ultimately be entrapped. Odin personally seized Hella and flung her as far as he could: she landed in the Realm of Death and became its Queen.
Unlike Persephone who lives in the Realm of Death, Hella is simultaneously half-dead and half-alive. The upper half of her body is that of a fair, beautiful woman; the other half is necrotized flesh—hence her sacred colors are black and white.
Christianity would borrow Hella’s name for its realm of eternal punishment, although she would be demoted and the male Satan placed in charge. Her associations with death remained: she was re-envisioned as a feared witch/angel of death:
The Black Death was particularly devastating in Norway and throughout Scandinavia. Allegedly Hella traveled the land armed with a rake and a broom. Villages totally wiped out by the plague had been swept with her broom; where some survived, Hella had raked instead.
Hella or a pale, red-headed vampire-witch named in her honor, appears in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature.)
See Angerboda, Freya, Hulda, Mania, Odin; ANIMALS: Dogs, Wolves and Werewolves; DICTIONARY: Aesir.
Hermes began his incarnation as a fertility spirit in Arcadia. The son of Zeus and Maia (whose name is recalled by the month of May and therefore May Eve), Hermes was born in “Poppytown” and has powerful associations with opium, shamanism, and botanical magic.
His sacred animals include horned livestock: cows, goats, and sheep. Hermes occasionally takes the form of a horned deity but by the classical Greek era he was most commonly depicted in the guise in which he is most familiar today—as messenger of the gods in winged cap and sandals, bearing the caduceus, a magic wand entwined by two snakes, his other sacred animal. Snakes symbolize Hermes’ mastery of the healing and magical arts. The caduceus remains the emblem of the modern medical profession.
Hermes is able to travel between the realms of the living, the dead, and spirits because he is a master shaman. He is also a psychopomp: a spirit who escorts the newly dead to their next realm:
Hermes served as guide when Orpheus traveled to Hades to rescue Eurydice
He is Persephone’s escort as she travels between Life and Death
He is a spell master, providing Odysseus with the antidote against Circe’s magic
Hermes is Patron of Thieves and Tricksters but he also protects devotees against tricks and theft. He famously enjoys cleverness and despises violence, only protecting non-violent criminals—those using wit, not brawn.
In addition to shamanism and botanical spells, Hermes sponsors other aspects of magic:
As Hermes Trismegistus he was identified with alchemy and ceremonial magic
He is the model for the mountebank, the traveling conjurer who may be a true magus, a master illusionist, a charlatan, or all or any of the above
Hermes, dressed in his traveler’s cap, formed the prototype for the Tarot card, The Magician.
See also Circe, Dionysus, Hecate, Proserpina, Thoth; ANIMALS: Goats, Snakes; BOTANICALS: Opium Poppy; CALENDAR: May Eve; DICTIONARY: Mountebank; MAGICAL ARTS: Alchemy, Cards; HALL OF FAME: Hermes Trismegistus.
The historical Herodias, granddaughter of Herod the Great, was the wife of King Herod Antipas of Judea. He was her second husband; her first was Philip, the brother of Herod Antipas. (This is according to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew; some historians suggest that her first husband was yet another Herod, her paternal half-uncle.) Philip and Herodias had a daughter named Salome. During a trip to Rome, Herod Antipas and Herodias fell in love; she abandoned his brother, he divorced his royal Nabatean wife and they married. Due to the technicalities of Jewish law, this might be construed as incest. Herod, Rome’s puppet ruler in Judea, was already widely unpopular among the masses: the marriage was a major public scandal, earning the condemnation of John the Baptist (see CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Dance of the Seven Veils).
Herodias didn’t take this criticism lightly: according to the New Testament, she was the actual instigator of the murder of John the Baptist. She instructed her dancing daughter Salome to request the prophet’s head served to her on a plate as a reward.
In real life, the Roman emperor Caligula banished Herod to Gaul in 39 CE. Herodias accompanied him, dying there in c.47. To early Christians, Herodias epitomized the Wicked Woman; she emerged as the New Testament’s primary female villain and was even reputed to be a demon.
Her name was used by Christians to rail against Pagan goddesses. At some point she evolved into one herself, although it is unclear whether Herodias herself emerged as a witch-goddess or whether her name was used to mask or camouflage another.
The spirit called Herodias bears little or no relationship to the historical Herodias but was worshipped alongside Diana in Italy. Herodias and Diana are the deities most mentioned in Italian witch-trial transcripts. This pairing clearly corresponds to Diana and Aradia in the grimoire, Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches. Together they lead the Wild Hunt and night parades of witches.
Herodias may be any of the following:
The biblical Herodias, re-emerged as a spirit
A Pagan spirit also named Herodias, or perhaps renamed after the biblical queen
Lilith, in disguise
She was perceived as a figure of power: Ratherius, Bishop of Verona (c.887—April 25, 974), complained that many saw Herodias as a queen, even a goddess (as though, he remarked, this was her reward for killing John the Baptist.) In 936 a movement, outlawed by Ratherius, arose in Italy claiming that Herodias ruled one third of the world and was thus worthy of petition and devotion. By this time she was also identified with Hecate.
During the Medieval Era, Herodias and Salome were conflated and confused. (And of course, Salome plays the more dramatic role in the legend, even if Herodias was the brains behind the operation.) In some versions both mother and daughter are called Herodias; in others, the emphasis is on a daughter called Herodias. In one legend, Herodias is doomed to ride with the Wild Hunt until Judgment Day, carrying the head of the Baptist.
In Romania, Herodias manifests as the spirit Irodeasa. Her sacred number is nine. Masked dancers riding hobby-horses and carrying clubs and swords undertook nine-day rituals in her honor. They visited nine boundary points and filled ritual vessels with water from nine springs. At the end of the ninth day, a sacred pole was cast into the river.
In Russia, there isn’t one solitary Herodias; instead the troop of female fever demons called Herod’s Daughters number either nine, twelve, forty or seventy-seven spirits, the youngest named Salome. (Sometimes these spirits are Herod’s Sisters instead.) They are either conflated with Lilith’s Daughters or are amazingly similar: several myths are virtually identical.
See also Aradia, Diana, Hecate, Lilith, Odin; BOOKS: Grimoires: Aradia or The Gospel of the Witches; DICTIONARY: Wild Hunt; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Keshalyi.
Also known as Hertha, Eartha, Erda, Nerthus.
Herta is a mysterious Germanic goddess, eventually demonized as a Queen of Witches. In that guise, she leads the Wild Hunt. Although little information regarding Herta survives, her name remains sacred and familiar as it is the one given our planet, Earth.
Tacitus called her Mater Terra, “Mother Earth.” Archeological evidence suggests that Denmark was the epicenter of her cult. She had a sanctuary amidst the groves on the Baltic Isle of Rügen, now German territory but once part of Pomerania and once ruled by Danes. The highest point on Rügen is still known as the Hertaburg. Ruins of Hertha Castle near deep Hertha Lake on Rügen are believed to be the remnants of her shrine.
She appears in Norse mythology as Nerthus (Earth), sister-wife of Njord (Sea) the father of Freya and Freyr, primary deities of the Vanir. Njord and his children went to live in Asgard, Aesir territory, as Vanir representatives/hostages. In some versions, Nerthus is Njord’s first wife and Freya and Freyr’s mother, but because the Aesir disapprove of marriage between siblings, she remains behind on her island sanctuary. Eventually, however, Odin comes calling; the Valkyries, lead by their half-sister, are the daughters of Nerthus and Odin, representing the true union of Aesir and Vanir.
Herta, alongside Hulda and Freya, was among those witch-goddesses Germanic women charged with witchcraft were accused of worshipping. She appears under the name Erda in Das Rheingold, the first part of Richard Wagner’s cycle of operas The Ring of the Nibelungs, loosely based on the Volsung Saga and the Nibelungenlied. In Wagner’s cycle, Erda is identified as the mother of the Norns (the Fates) as well as the Valkyries.
She is sometimes identified as swan or goose-footed, which may link her to shamanism or to Mother Goose. In 1867, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837—1909) included “Hertha” in his collection Songs Before Sunrise. In this poem she is identified as the origin of all Creation: Hertha the eternal Gaia.
See also Freya, Hulda, Odin; DICTIONARY: Aesir, Valkyries, Vanir; FAIRY-TALE WITCHES.
Also known as Holda, Holle, Frau Holle, Hulle, Mother Holle, Frau Wode.
Hulda, Queen of Witches, the Elven-Queen, was once a hearth deity who, through demonization, became associated with the fires of Hell. She eventually diminished into a figure used to scare children into good behavior although devotion to her never entirely disappeared. A revival of her worship is currently underway.
Familiarly known as Mother Holle, she is the leader of a band of spirits, the Hulden (Hill Fairies), who may be friendly or punitive. Mother Holle receives the souls of the dead and releases newborns from the underworld.
She is a weather spirit. When she shakes her featherbed, it snows on earth. Rain falls from her laundry rinse water. She may be a solstice goddess who births the New Year.
Hulda may or may not be identical with Hella, Perchta, Herta or Frigga. Her associations with rabbits also link her with Ostara. There are tremendous gaps in the surviving information and so this is subject to interpretation.
Hulda may appear in any of the three manifestations of women’s power: maiden, mother or crone. Sometimes she appears as a woman when seen from the front and a tree from the back. She guards and nurtures all the growing things of the forest. Mother Holle is followed by a retinue of torch-bearing rabbits.
In Lower Saxony, Mother Holle is known as the Waldmichen, the wood nymph. She lives in a grotto where the souls of unborn babies frolic, and she owns a mill where she grinds old men and women into new souls again. She has a retinue of rabbits: two hold up her train while two hold candles to light her way.
Hulda was known throughout Northern Europe. Holland is her namesake. She lives in mountain caves and inside wells, believed to be a source of children. She bathes at midday in a fountain from which babies emerge—a well of life.
Sacred Creatures: Wolves, rabbits
Plants: Holly, elder, juniper, flax. According to legend, Frau Hulda first introduced flax and taught women how to create linen.
Sacred Time: The winter solstice is Mother Holle’s feast day. The twelve days between December 25th and January 6th are also sacred to her.
Hulda is involved with spinning, weaving, ploughing, childbirth, and the planting and gathering of botanicals. She guards and releases unborn souls. One of her feet is reportedly deformed because of excessive treading of her spinning wheel. The deformed foot may also be an allusion to shamanism. She is “the white lady,” a snow queen who wears a mantle of frost while she spins destiny.
The mysterious Norse deity Holler (Uller, Wulder) seems to derive from the Vanir pantheon of spirits. He is the Frost King: when Odin leads his Host during Yuletide, Holler rules Asgard in his place. Holler may or may not be Hulda’s twin brother; in one myth he becomes her husband but before he’ll marry Hulda, he tests her with a riddle: she must come to him not dressed and not naked, not riding or walking, not alone or with company, not in light or in darkness. Hulda arrives at twilight, wrapped in a fishing net, perched on a donkey with one foot dragging on the ground, and accompanied by 24 wolves.
Mother Holle, once the provider of children, was transformed, post-Christianity, into a Teutonic demon-witch with disheveled hair and a propensity for attacking infants. The Hulden, once dancing hill-fairies, turned into a band of malevolent female spirits. Women suspected of witchcraft were said to ride with Hulde. Souls of unbaptized babies were condemned to her realm in the sky.
Mother Holle, a supreme and benevolent spirit, was transformed into the female equivalent of the boogieman. Country people warned their children that if they weren’t obedient, Hulde would “get” them.
Frau Holle was identified as “the devil’s grandmother”—the one who taught him everything he knows.
In Wurzburg, Frau Holle travels the streets on Christmas Eve in a hooded white cloak carrying a rod and sack with which to beat and carry off “bad” children, similar to Santa’s European helpers, Krampus and Black Peter.
Some see Santa as Odin in disguise; by the Middle Ages, Hulda was frequently identified as Odin’s consort and female ally. Sometimes she leads the Wild Hunt as his partner; other times she leads her own nocturnal host, accompanied by a host of dead souls including those who have died without being baptized. Her associations with Odin may go back further; in one legend, she was the one who first gave him his ravens.
While some feared Hulda, others, identified as “witches,” still adored her: she travels during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany bringing gifts of fruitfulness, fertility, and abundance to people. Some fled from her but devotees of her cult wished to join her night train: the terms “Holle-riding” or “Holda-riding” were synonymous with witches’ flight in Germany as late as the nineteenth century.
Jakob Grimm reported that Hulda and her train of “elves” openly wended their way through Germany in processionals as late as the fourteenth century. She led a ring of dancers in what Grimm called “witch dances.”
See also Freya, Frigga, Hella, Herta, Lilith, Odin, Perchta; CALENDAR: Saint Lucy’s Day, Ostara, Yule; DICTIONARY: Elf; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Elf.
Isis (Au Set)
The Egyptian deity Isis has countless epithets: “Mistress of Magic,” “She Who is Rich in Spells,” “Great of Sorcery,” “Speaker of Spells,” “The Great Witch,” and “The Many Named” are just a few.
Magic and witchcraft are central to her myth and identity: Isis casts spells and utters incantations. According to the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge, in his book Legends of the Egyptian Gods, her “mouth was trained to perfection and she made no mistake in pronouncing her spells.”
Isis was not an obscure goddess but was worshipped as a primary deity for thousands of years. Originating in Egypt, her worship eventually stretched from East Africa throughout Western Asia and Europe as far as England’s Thames River.
Magic enters Isis’ life even before her first breath. Because her mother’s pregnancy breaks a spiritual injunction, she is cursed and unable to give birth. Lord Thoth, Egypt’s baboon-headed inventor of magic, secretly loves Isis’ mother. He creates the magical device of dice and gambles with the moon god, who controls the calendar. Thoth wins and is able to magically reconfigure the calendar, enabling his beloved to deliver quadruplets: Isis, her sister Nephthys, and brothers Set and Osiris.
Osiris and Isis fell in love in the womb; their love will transcend death. The two epitomize soulmates, albeit star-crossed ones. Thoth adores Isis and serves as her godfather, instructing her in the magical arts until her powers outshine his. Isis repeatedly proves herself to be the Mistress of Magic:
She learns Ra’s true name, the ineffable name of power, with which she can stop the sun in the sky.
She resurrects her brother-lover Osiris from the dead to magically conceive their son, Horus.
She performs miraculous acts of healing magic.
Isis is associated with snakes, crocodiles, cows, scorpions, and kites (a type of raptor). Her sacred mineral is bloodstone; her botanicals include vervain and myrrh.
Isis is also associated with water and the moon. She protects travelers at sea and is identified with the constellation Virgo. She is a grain spirit, too—a Corn Mother. No blood sacrifice existed among Isis’ rites. She accepts offerings of milk, honey, flowers, herbs, and incense.
The cult of Isis was officially introduced to Rome in 86 BCE and became very popular because, unlike other cults, hers was open to all: not only free men but women and slaves. The tradition developed a bad reputation in conservative Rome because of the alleged licentiousness of its rites and it was suppressed at least five times between 59 and 48 BCE.
The last official temple of Isis stood on the southern Egyptian island of Philae. In 537 CE Narses, Commander of Emperor Justinian’s Egyptian troops, ordered the temple closed.
Isis went underground. Devotees refused to abandon her but found masks with which to camouflage their rituals, including those of Kwan Yin and the Virgin Mary. Statues of the Madonna and Child are identical in form to those of Isis and baby Horus. One interpretation of Europe’s Black Madonnas is that they represent Isis. Images of Isis, Horus, and his elder half-brother Anubis (the “fore-runner”) may be understood to survive in images of the Madonna, Baby Jesus, and his elder cousin, John the Baptist (the “fore-runner”).
See also Thoth; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Isis.
Jezibaba seems to be Baba Yaga’s Czech sister. A forest goddess, the name “Jezibaba” literally means “Granny Witch.” Like Baba Yaga, Jezibaba lives in the forest in a little hut, although hers is on the shores of a lake. Her personality is somewhat milder than Baba’s: she’s not quite as scary. Less emphasis is placed on cannibalism or initiation; devotees request her assistance with love and fertility.
Jezibaba may be an incarnation of the ancient Semitic deity Yahu or Yahi, female ruler of menstrual power. Jezibaba’s children are the Jezinky—sometimes hostile cave-dwelling spirits. Some scholars think the Jezinky are really Djinn.
See also Baba Yaga; DICTIONARY: Djinn.
Kali is such a crucially significant, transcendent goddess that, as with Isis, reducing her to just one aspect, witchcraft, is unfair. Kali Ma, “Mother Kali,” is India’s Great Mother; a pre-Aryan deity, she remains venerated by millions.
Her name means “black” and also derives from the root word for “time.” She is reputedly the most difficult of all spirits to understand. Her devotees claim that the attempt to comprehend her ultimately frees them from all fear. She is the Mother in her destructive aspect—the Corn Mother who simultaneously grinds out life and death. Her stereotype depicts her as a scary, blood-thirsty, out-of-control demon but this ignores her tremendous gift-giving and fear-allaying aspects.
Fiercest of the fierce, Kali backs away from nothing. To fully appreciate joy and life, suffering and death must be faced. Kali is responsible for life from conception to the grave. She maintains the world order. Kali protects the helpless, particularly women and children. She is also the Matron of Witches. Her attending spirits are the Dakini, whose name is synonymous with “witch” in modern India. Kali is the chief Dakini and sometimes is called by the name Dakini.
Her appearance is meant to terrify. Kali is garlanded with severed heads and wears a girdle of severed hands. Her earrings are children’s corpses. She wears cobras as garlands and bracelets. Her mouth is smeared with blood. Her tongue sticks out. Her hair is disheveled. She is adorned with gems possessing the brilliance of the sun and the moon and is usually depicted with four hands, demonstrating her contradictions: two are actively involved in destruction while the other two confer benefits:
Her upper left hand wields a bloody sword
Her lower left hand holds a demon’s severed head
Her upper right hand forms the gesture of fearlessness
Her lower right hand bestows blessings and protections
When depicted by herself Kali is usually shown dancing, but she is often shown together with her beloved Lord Shiva. Typically she stands upon his prone body or they are shown in sexual union with each other. One famous image shows Kali squatting over Shiva’s prone body devouring his entrails while simultaneously offering him her breast. She also manifests as a jackalheaded woman.
Sacred Creatures: Crow, Snake
Colors: Black, red
Attributes: A black cauldron, a mirror, a cup containing blood of a head she has severed (sometimes this cup is a skull)
Planet: The moon, especially in the dark and waning phases
The deities closest in nature to Kali are Baba Yaga, La Santisima Muerte, and the Corn Mothers, especially Anat. Lilith claims that one of her alternative names is Kali.
See also Baba Yaga, Lilith, Santisima Muerte, Shiva; ANIMALS: Corvids, Dogs, Snakes; DICTIONARY: Dakini; ERGOT: Corn Mothers: Anat; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Dakini.
Kamrusepas, Hittite Spirit of Healing and Magic, represents the goddess as a powerful and talented practitioner of witchcraft. The Hittites were an ancient people who at the peak of their power in the second millennium BCE controlled much of Anatolia and the Middle East. Comparatively little is known about Hittite mythology: only fragments survive and have been translated. Kamrusepas plays a pivotal role in one though: in a flood myth, reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, Earth is saved by a witch.
Telepinu, the Divine Farmer, grew so disgusted with Earth and her inhabitants that he decided to leave, which leads to spiraling disaster. As a result of his departure:
logs won’t burn
burnt offerings can’t be made
prayers fail to reach the deities
deities and people alike begin to starve.
Hannahanna, Supreme Mother Goddess, goes to Telepinu’s father, Spirit of Weather, and demands that he bring his son back. He searches for him in the guise of an eagle but can’t find Telepinu.
Exasperated, Hannahanna decides to send her own sacred creature, the bee, after him, although the Weather Spirit scoffs: if an eagle can’t find Telepinu, how can a humble bee? The bee, in fact, locates Telepinu asleep in the wilderness. She stings Telepinu’s hands and feet and smears beeswax over his eyes.
Hannahanna thinks this will do the trick and bring him back, but it only further enrages Telepinu, causing a flood: houses, people, and animals are swept away. Finally Kamrusepas, Spirit of Witchcraft is called. She arranges a ritual and stands atop a mountain with twelve rams as a sacrifice. She hangs a ram’s fleece on a wooden cross and surrounds it with grain, wine, and cattle, and then cries out to the Gatekeeper of the Spirit Realm:
Draw back the seven bolts! Open the seven doors! Into your seven bronze cauldrons receive all Telepinu’s fury and anger and keep them! Never let them out!
Telepinu emerges riding on an eagle, sees the offerings, and is appeased.
Hawaiian spirit Kapo’s fame derives mainly from her reputation as a witch and sorceress possessing oracular powers. Traditionally Kapo was considered the deity of choice for occult practitioners wishing to use their knowledge to further their personal aims. She is the matron of the legendary powerful sorcerers of Molokai. Kapo is also famed for being able to reverse any curse or malevolent spell. She is feared, respected, and admired.
Kapo is powerful and unpredictable. She is a spirit of fertility and childbirth; also under her domain are miscarriage, abortion, and death. She is among the pre-eminent spirits of hula dancing, which originally derived from sacred ritual. Some legends credit her with the invention of hula although others suggest that the primary sacred matron of hula is Laka, the Hawaiian Spirit of Beauty.
The exact relationship between Kapo and Laka is unclear. Some legends describe them as sisters. Another tradition considers Kapo to be Laka’s mother. The most generally accepted theory is that they are aspects of one another—two sides of one coin—with Laka being the consistent, life-affirming aspect and Kapo the unpredictable, shadow side.
Kapo’s mother is the lunar spirit Haumea; her more famous younger sister and sometime traveling companion is the volcano spirit, Pele. Kapo was born in Tahiti but was already in Hawaii when Pele arrived. Upon her own arrival, Kapo is rumored to have established a hula school on each Hawaiian island.
Like the other Hawaiian deities, Kapo manifests in any form she chooses—human, animal, botanical or mineral. She can be stormy and fearsome or alluringly beautiful. In addition to beauty, Kapo possesses a magical detachable flying vagina that she flings and retrieves at will. Her sacred plant is the pandanus.
Kapo was once widely adored throughout Hawaii. The imprint of her detachable vagina can still be seen on the eastern side of the hill Kohelepelepe (literally “detached vagina”) at Koko Head in Oahu.
Also known as Kubaba, Kuba, Cybele.
Ancient Anatolians called Kybele the Mountain Mother; the Romans called her Magna Mater or Great Mother. She seems to have originated in what is now Turkey and then traveled to the Middle East. The Hittites called her Kubaba, which evolved into the Phrygian Kybele and eventually the Roman Cybele. Some associate Siduri, the sacred harlot-barmaid at the world’s end in the story of Gilgamesh, with Kybele. “Baba,” as in Baba Yaga or babushka, may also derive from Kubaba.
Kybele is usually translated as “Place of Caves” or “Cave Dweller.” Kybele and the Sibyls are both associated with caves and prophesy, and it’s believed that the original Sibyls were Kybele’s priestesses although eventually at least some became independent practitioners.
Legend has it that Kybele was an unwanted child, left exposed to die in the wilderness. Instead of consuming her, the leopards and lions who discovered her raised and nurtured her, a leopard serving as her wet-nurse. Living alone with animals in the woods, Kybele became a witch so powerful she evolved into an immortal goddess.
In her oldest manifestations, Kybele is a deity of healing, witchcraft, fertility, women, and children. Rites were held in forests and caves and included ritual possession, ecstatic dancing, intoxication, music, and sacred sex. She is closely identified with Dionysus and Hecate.
Before her arrival in Rome, Kybele was associated with women, slaves, and the poor, not with the elite, and already bore a somewhat dangerous reputation.
In Christa Wolf ’s novel Cassandra (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984), when the Olympian gods fail them, royal Trojan women turn to the forbidden goddess, Kybele.
Kybele manifests in various ways: her typical human manifestation is as a mature, beautiful woman wearing a crown and carrying keys. She also frequently manifests in the form of rocks and as Earth herself. To enter a cave is to enter Kybele. Her most sacred manifestation, however, was as a meteorite.
In 204 BCE, on the advice of the Oracle of Delphi, the Romans fetched Kybele in the form of a meteor from her shrine at Pessinus, near modern Sivrihisar in central Turkey. Delphi had predicted that Rome would never defeat Hannibal of Carthage unless Kybele was brought to Rome. The Romans traced their descent from Trojan refugees and so basically the Oracle was instructing them to go fetch Mom to get them out of trouble. The prophecy proved correct: Kybele was brought to Rome in a triumphant procession and, in 202 BCE, Rome defeated Hannibal’s forces.
The black, fist-sized meteorite had been set on the face of a silver statue. The Romans built her a temple where St Peter’s Basilica now stands. It was the center of her veneration until the fourth century CE when the site was taken over by Christians.
In Rome, Kybele’s rites evolved: she became a feared, scandalous, notorious goddess. Secret rituals that had once occurred in hidden caves and forests now occurred in public streets during processionals attended by thousands.
Under Roman law, women could not be chief officiators of official state cults and so men assumed positions of authority in Kybele’s Roman cult. Kybele’s response to this led to further notoriety, scandal, and controversy.
Still strongly associated with illiterate women, in Rome Kybele was served by priestesses and transgendered clergy known as galli (literally “hens” or “roosters”). In order to become galli, self-castration was required; the galli dressed and lived as women. Many were not mere eunuchs. Kybele’s clergy were also skilled medical practitioners: through surgery, replica vaginas (caves) were crafted through which the galli could engage in sacred sex rituals.
Sacred Creatures: Bees, bulls, big cats especially leopards and lions, vultures
Attributes: Cymbals, a frame drum painted red or decorated with a rosette
Trees: Pine, Pomegranate
Day: The Vernal Equinox
Kybele’s festivals became notorious: men suddenly seized by the spirit of the goddess would feel compelled to castrate themselves on the spot using potsherds (terracotta, Earth, so Kybele is the knife herself, metaphorically or literally depending how you understand the goddess). The detached organ was flung aside; the house that it hit was considered blessed—its owner was expected to purchase the ritual wardrobe for the new galla.
Kybele’s primary myths (or at least those that survive) also involve castration, death, and resurrection. It became a scandalous faith and was periodically suppressed for fear that it was damaging Rome’s “moral fiber.”
Kybele’s shrines were temples of healing; her priestesses were skilled healers and midwives. In her role as Rome’s Great Mother, Kybele is depicted seated upon her throne surrounded by lions. She sometimes holds a lion cub in her lap. She wears a crown in the form of crenellated towers or a city gate.
Her chariot is pulled by lions. She holds a pan of water in which to scry, representing her prophetic ability and her willingness to bestow this skill upon others. Kybele is credited with inventing drums, pipes, and percussion instruments. Her sacred animal, the leopard or panther, was closely identified with the Maenads, as were cymbals and tambourines.
Among other reasons, the early Church despised Kybele for the prominence of women and the presence of homosexuals, lesbians, and the transgendered in prominent cult positions. In Rome her cult had a higher percentage of men, intellectuals, and the elite as followers, but still remained extremely popular among the poorer classes and so was perceived as strong competition for Christianity and was thus particularly brutally suppressed.
St John Chrysostom (c.347—September 14, 407) led what would today be described as a “death squad” through Phrygia (located in the mountains of what is now Western Turkey) in 397 CE, targeting devotees of Kybele.
In 405, Serena, wife of the Christian general and acting regent Flavius Stilicho, personally entered the Roman shrine of Kybele, removed the precious necklace that hung around the neck of the votive image, and left wearing it around her own. The Emperor Justinian (c.483—565) particularly despised Kybele. He ordered her remaining temples torn down and the murder of her priestesses and galli. Her sacred texts were burned.
Although her veneration was widespread, none of Kybele’s temples remain. Various ruins may be visited in Turkey, in Sardis and Prienne. St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was built directly over her temple—parts are believed to survive under the foundations. Some believe that her meteorite is buried there as well.
Kybele retreated to her strongholds: devotion survived in mountain caves. Surviving galli are believed to have taken refuge in the Anatolian mountains. Kybele allegedly still haunts the mountains and forests of Anatolia accompanied by trains of wild torch-bearing attendants banging percussion instruments, blowing on flutes, and dancing.
See also Artemis, Dionysus, Hecate, Kamrusepas; BOOKS: Library of the Lost: Sibylline Books; DICTIONARY: Sibyl; HORNED ONE: Attis; PLACES: Forest.
Earth’s first woman was a witch. And no, we’re not talking about Eve, although the Inquisition laid some aspersions at her door, too. According to Jewish mystical traditions, another woman existed prior to Eve; her name is Lilith and she initiated Earth’s first divorce, preferring to run away and dance all night with demons in the most desolate regions of Earth to living in Para-dise with someone who wished to dominate her.
No spirit possesses a more fabulous history than Lilith. She remains very vital and alive, feared and adored. Spirit of darkness, night, and feminine independence, Lilith is associated with witches, angels, Djinn, demons, and vampires.
Lilith is a bird woman with powerful associations with cats. Her Hebrew name means “screech owl,” which is cognate with strix or strega. “Lilith” is also related to the Semitic root word for “night.”
Lilith’s earliest incarnation seems to have been as a wind spirit from Mesopotamia associated with childbirth. The Burney Plaque, dating from a late period of Sumerian art (c.2300 BCE) is believed to portray Lilith: it depicts a beautiful winged woman, flanked by large owls, naked but for her horned cap. She stands atop two lions on her bird’s feet. She holds the ring and rod of power in her hands. The plaque was discovered in what appeared to be a personal shrine.
According to her numerous legends, Lilith possesses many forms, appearing as an old hag or a beautiful young woman. Sometimes she is a beautiful woman from head to waist, pure flame underneath. Sometimes she is a snake from the waist down. Often dressed in red, Lilith’s long hair is alternately described as black or red. It tends to be distinctive, either because it is beautiful, or because it is wildly disheveled, or both. In cultures where women bind or hide their hair, Lilith’s is defiantly loose.
She manifests in animal form too, usually as a large black cat, an owl or snake. Even when in apparently human form, Lilith often displays aspects of a bird: feet, claws or wings. Helen of Troy and the Queen of Sheba are reputedly among her avatars.
Lilith may also have early roots as a tree spirit. In any form, she cannot be tamed. In the Sumerian myth The Huluppu Tree, “Dark Maid Lilith” lives in the sacred tree together with a snake and a sacred bird. When the formerly wild goddess Inanna makes the transition to an urban, settled, agricultural environment, she chops down the sacred tree Lilith calls home. Lilith flees, remaining a spirit of the wilderness.
Traveling westward, Jewish legend identifies Lilith as Adam’s first wife, the true first female, created not later from Adam’s rib but from Earth simultaneously with him. (And Genesis does contain two versions of human creation.)
Adam and Lilith’s relationship quickly became contentious. She refused to be subordinate—specifically refusing to always lie beneath him during sex. Lilith demanded to be treated as an equal, basing her claim on their common origin.
When Adam attempted to force her, Lilith uttered the secret, ineffable name of the Creator, giving her the ability to fly away. (In myth, only Isis also knows this Name of Power.) Adam appealed to YHWH to send his woman back. Three angels were dispatched to fetch her but through the power acquired from knowledge of the Creator’s name, Lilith was able to defy them.
The angels threatened her but Lilith threatened them right back, warning that she intended to spend eternity killing human babies and striking adults infertile. Instead of dragging her back to Eden, the angels end up negotiating with Lilith: she agrees not to harm babies in homes where her name is posted. Significantly her name does not appear in the Bible (the one possible reference to her in the Book of Isaiah is encoded; it may refer literally to screech owls); however, its presence is ubiquitous in Jewish amulets.
According to some legends, Lilith is infertile herself and burns with rage, hence her resentment of human mothers. In other legends, Lilith is the mother of a host of demons, the Lilin or Daughters of Lilith. Their father may be the fallen angel Samael or the dangerous spirit Asmodeus, both eventually identified with the devil. On the other hand, their father may be Adam, who allegedly reunited with Lilith after his expulsion from Eden. Another legend suggests that Lilith is the original succubus: she secretly seduces men while they sleep, their nocturnal secretions become her children.
Christian legend would ultimately claim that the snake in the Garden of Eden was Lilith in disguise, spitefully returning to take revenge upon Adam and her replacement. Some now feel that perhaps she was attempting to share her knowledge with her sister.
Sacred Creatures: All wild animals but especially jackals, hyenas, wild cats, ostriches, snakes, and unicorns. The owl is her sacred bird and messenger
Element: Lilith has all the bases covered, having associations with air, water, earth, and fire
Planet: The Moon. Her strength increases with the waning of the moon
Time: Solstices, equinoxes, and during the astrological sign of Scorpio
Although she is known throughout Semitic areas, it is in Jewish folklore that Lilith survives strongest. Lilith is a major player in Jewish fairy tales where, just as in Sumeria, she is still found living within trees. She retains her goddess-like features although whether she is a dangerous benefactor or a sometimes-benevolent demon is subject to interpretation.
Among Sephardic Jews, La Broosha (“the witch”) is a euphemism for Lilith. Here she usually manifests as a large, black cat, which may account for the irrational fear that cats will suck a baby’s breath out of its body.
Lilith continues to weave her spell: she is invoked in modern works of fiction more than any other witch-spirit, from the Victorian novels of Marie Corelli to comic books like Vampirella. Feminists have adopted her as a role model, as have witches, Neo-Pagans and Jewish-Pagans.
See also Aradia, Herodias; ANIMALS: Cats, Owls, Snakes; CREATIVE ARTS: Comics: Vampirella; DICTIONARY: Bruja; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Keshalyi.
Louhi, Mistress of the North Country, appears in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. She is a Finnmark (Finno-Ugric) witch who protects the Pohjola, the back country. Louhi controls winds, fog, illness, and wild creatures. She is a master spell-caster and the mother of the beautiful and charming Maid of the North.
Female characters are given little emphasis in the heroic epic, the Kalevala; most interpretations of Louhi are somewhat negative. An exception is a retelling of the portion of the saga devoted to Louhi and her daughter in Ethel Johnston Phelps’ The Maid of the North (Henry Holt & Company, 1982).
Louhi features prominently in the myth of the Magic Sampo, an enchanted device that grinds out salt, flour, and gold from thin air.
See also MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Millers.
Also known as Mania, Manuana.
This is where the term “mania” comes from. Mana or Mania began her incarnation as the Italian deity who supervised the Manes, Spirits of the Dead. Mania is the Mother Superior of the Manes, their leader and overseer, Goddess of the Dead. Her “mania” (lunacy, moon-illness, lunar-inspired madness) was perceived as a conduit to the divine.
The Manes were originally envisioned as the “benevolent dead” who must, however, be consistently propitiated to stop them from becoming the threatening dead, like the Lemures. Manes eventually became a looser term and incorporated assorted spirits of the dead in addition to dead souls, such as guardians of tombs and burial grounds. Mana supervises them all.
Mania governs the subterranean Land of the Dead. This wasn’t just some abstract realm someplace underground. An entrance to the realm could be located in the pit beneath the lapis manalis in the Roman Forum. This stone was lifted three times a year in order to release the Manes who emerged to accept offerings from the living. Mania leads them wearing a mask; her face is never revealed.
Although the Manes were sometimes described as the “benevolent dead” they weren’t always that benevolent, and neither was Mania. At the New Moon near November 1st, windows were shuttered, houses sealed up, and mirrors turned to face the wall: the Manes were loose. It was feared that these wandering spirits of the dead would steal children.
Speculation exists that in ancient days, young boys were sacrificed to Mania at the Festival of the Crossroads (Compitalia) in exchange for her protection of the remaining family. The custom was allegedly abolished by Lucius Junius Brutus following the expulsion of the Etruscan kings in 510 BCE and the establishment of the Roman Republic. Garlic and poppies were then substituted for human sacrifice. At the Feralia festival, corresponding to February 13th, the Manes were offered beans, bread, eggs, honey, milk, oil, wine, and roses.
One version of her myth suggests that Mana began her incarnation as a naiad (water spirit) using the name Lara or Larunda. She had a liaison with Mercury (Teramo, Hermes), which produced the guardian spirits, the Lares. Lara/Mana was perhaps not as discreet as she could have been: overheard criticizing Jupiter’s infidelities, the chief deity punished her by cutting her tongue out. She evolved into Muta, a fierce, frightening spirit, used to frighten Italian children ever since.
Post-Christianity, Mana would lose her goddess status but would survive in Italy as a feared night-witch who haunts people’s dreams.
Mari, eldest of the Basque deities, is a Basque mountain goddess, the very beautiful Queen of Witches. She rides through the air encompassed by flames. No need for a broom, Mari rides a bolt of lightning.
Mari’s veneration survived Christianity; she was (and remains) a very popular goddess. The Inquisition would brand her devotees as witches.
Mari rules Earth and her elements. Her husband Maju, also known as Sugaar, is the Dragon Lord of Thunder. Mari brings and ends storms.
She is depicted as a woman with the Full Moon behind her head. She lives in deep caverns within the Earth filled with gold and precious stones. (Should these gems be stolen from her, they transform into coal.)
Mari is also venerated in stone circles and atop mountain peaks. She is believed to inhabit the highest peaks of mountains like Aizkorri, Amboto, and Muru.
Morgan le Fay
Also known as Morgana le Fay, Fata Morgana.
Morgan le Fay literally means Morgan the Fairy. Morgan probably derives from the Welsh word for sea “mor”; Celtic mermaids are known as morgans or merrow in Ireland, from the Gaelic “muir.” Most famous today as King Arthur’s half-sister, she is probably more ancient than the Arthurian Saga. One theory suggests that Morgan was originally a Celtic death goddess, similar to an angel of death or psychopomp.
Morgan is no simple woodland spirit but has substantial real estate holdings:
She rules an underwater kingdom possibly near Brittany
She rules a fairy paradise near Mount Aetna called Mongibello (or Mongibel)
She has a castle near Edinburgh staffed with beautiful fairies
She lives on the magical Isle of Avalon, which she may or may not rule
In Arthur’s saga, the fairy-princess became a witch-princess, a wealthy, skilled sorceress and the primary villain of most versions. From a dualist perspective, this may be necessary: once Merlin was permitted to be a “good” wizard, someone had to be the evil witch. Depending on the version, Morgan is Merlin’s teacher, student, lover, and/or rival.
Even in the King Arthur stories however, Morgan was not always wicked. She first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century Life of Merlin as a healer and leader of the Nine Holy Women from Avalon who tend Arthur’s wounds following the final Battle of Camlan.
In this version, she’s not identified as Arthur’s sister: she falls in love with him and he promises to stay with her in Avalon. By end of the twelfth century she was portrayed as Arthur’s sister but was still benevolent. By the thirteenth century, however, a different story emerged.
Cistercian monks composed the Prose Lancelot (also known as the Vulgate Cycle) between 1230 and 1250, which describes the adventures of Lancelot of the Lake and the Quest for the Holy Grail.
Frustrated by the popularity of romances with not-so-hidden pagan sympathies, the Cistercian scribes determined to remake these romances into religious allegories and, in so doing, demonstrate the superiority of spirit over flesh, male over female, Christian over Pagan. They believed it was blasphemous to attribute powers of healing and prophecy to women who were unaffiliated with religious orders. (Some Cistercians also openly debated the existence of the female soul.) New elements were added to the story: incest and demonic possession, with Morgan as the villain witch.
Morgan is the sorceress supreme, an expert in botanical magic, especially poisons, a skilled shape-shifter; she was consistently portrayed as a heartless, plotting but beautiful monster. This has only changed recently, most notably in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1982 novel The Mists of Avalon, which re-envisioned Morgan as a Pagan priestess and heroine. Morgan’s status as goddess has been reaffirmed by modern Pagans, amongst whom she is very beloved.
Morgan also has strong, ancient roots in Italy where she is known as Fata Morgana. Fata is Italian for “fairy.” She has a home in Calabria as well as a palace near or on Mount Aetna. Fata Morgana is also the name of a fatal mirage, an optical illusion that lured sailors to their deaths in the Straits of Messina. Morgan was held responsible.
See also ANIMALS: Corvids; FAIRIES; HALL OF FAME: Merlin.
Muso Koroni, leopard-goddess of Mali, is a deity shared between Bamana (Bambara) and Mande traditions. According to legend, she is the world’s first female—Mother of Chaos, Creation, and Witchcraft. The first male was a blacksmith: Muso Koroni is among those spirits involved with the magical traditions of smithcraft.
Muso Koroni’s name is usually translated as “the pure woman with the primeval soul.” She is also known as “the knowledgeable one.”
She manifests as a black leopard or panther; her black color is associated with fertility and black fertile soil. Smiths create metal images of her in the form of candelabra: her spirit is invoked when the lamp’s cups, filled with shea butter, are lit.
Muso Koroni is also invoked in love spells, however she is now considered a dangerous spirit who must be carefully controlled. She is the epitome of primal womanhood, which is perceived as chaotic and unruly: every human being is believed to possess a fragment of her wild primeval nature. This wild part is called wanzo and, in Mande tradition, is the feminine force of chaos and disorder which is excised from men through circumcision, in order for them to be entirely, wholly masculine.
See above Lilith; ANIMALS: Leopards.
Nicnevin, the “Bone Mother,” is a Scottish witchcraft goddess. Her name is believed to be an Anglicized version of Nic an Neamhain, or “Daughter of Frenzy.” Like the Nixies, Nicnevin is a water spirit. She can transform water into rocks, and sea into dry land. She wears a long gray mantle and carries a magic wand.
Nicnevin flies through the night; although she is usually invisible, her presence is announced by a cacophony of geese, her sacred birds. Nicnevin is among the spirits associated with the Wild Hunt and was reclassified, post-Christianity, as both a demon and a fairy.
Samhain is Nicnevin’s sacred night. She is traditionally honored with celebratory feasts and toasting; some Neo-Pagans hold rituals in Nicnevin’s honor on November 1st.
Nicnevin traditionally answers petitions and grants wishes on Samhain. At that time she makes herself visible as she flies through the air, accompanied by a retinue of witches and honking geese. Once upon a time, women of Fife took care to spin off all the flax on their distaffs before Samhain commenced otherwise, allegedly, Nicnevin would claim it.
Nicnevin manifests as both a beautiful woman and an old hag. In her Hag aspect, Nicnevin is known as Gyre Carlin. She may be the Cailleach of Lothian and the Border counties; some believe that Nicnevin is but another name for Cailleach Bheara. The Romans identified Nicnevin with Diana. Nicnevin is also considered the Queen of Fairies of Fife, Scotland.
See also Diana; CALENDAR: Samhain; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Nixies; FAIRYTALE WITCHES: Mother Goose; HAG: Cailleach, Cailleach Bheara; WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: Spinning.
A primeval Greek goddess, during the medieval age Nyx evolved into a witch who haunted the night. Goddess of Night, Nyx is the second being in one all-female Greek creation saga: first there was Chaos or the Void. Nyx was her daughter, her eldest child. Chaos had more children including a son, Erebus, with whom Nyx united and conceived a daughter Hemera (Day). Nyx shares a house with daughter Hemera although they never see each other: when one comes home through the back door, the other leaves through the front.
Nyx is also the mother of the Fates, the Hesperides, Hypnos (Sleep), Morpheus (Dream), Eris (Discord), Thanatos (Death), and Momus (Ridicule). She is the mother of all things mortal and immortal. Even Zeus feared her.
In an Orphic myth, Nyx existed from the beginning; no creation was necessary. She was a great black-winged bird hovering in endless darkness. This solitary bird laid an egg, which cracked in half: Eros, the beautiful gold-winged Spirit of Love emerged. One half of the eggshell became Gaia, the Earth, while the other half became Uranus, the Sky and Celestial Realm.
Nyx is attended by an owl and wears a black veil studded with stars.
See also ANIMALS: Owls; CREATIVE ARTS: Comics: The Sandman.
An increasingly prominent orisha, Ochossi is most famous as the Orisha of the Hunt, although like Artemis, he is so much more. His ability to “hunt” may be interpreted metaphorically.
Ochossi’s name derives from a root word for “secret.” Some translate his name as “Left Handed Sorcerer.” Ochossi is a great magician. He knows everything about the powers of the forest, and about botanical power in general. Ochossi makes deadly arrow poison but also knows the rare antidotes. He is a master healer when he chooses. However, Ochossi’s arrows never miss their mark.
Ochossi lives in the forest with his brothers Elegba, the trickster spirit and Ogun, the divine ironworker who forges and blesses Ochossi’s tools. Together they are the hard-working magician-spirits classified as Santeria’s Warriors.
Ochossi is especially popular in the African-Diaspora traditions of Brazil and Cuba. Most of the orishas are envisioned as Africans; Ochossi, however, often manifests as a long-haired Native American hunter. Because anthropologists were unable to locate branches of his tradition in Nigeria, many assumed that Ochossi was an Indian addition to the African pantheon.
Further research however indicated that Ketu, the Yoruba kingdom where Ochossi was originally venerated, was utterly decimated by the slave trade from 1789 onwards. The majority of Ochossi’s priests were enslaved and transported to the West. His tradition ultimately only survived in the West, where he became an important, significant orisha. Ochossi is Patron of the Maroons, escaped communities of slaves living in remote, heavily wooded areas who appealed to him for protection.
Ochossi’s shrines are decorated with antlers, animal horns, and feathers although he has transitioned from forest-spirit to urban deity. In this guise his popularity has increased exponentially.
Ochossi has simple tastes, favoring offerings like a dish of honey, trail mix or roasted peanuts. He accepts a glass of milk with cornmeal and honey added, although he likes alcoholic beverages, too. His colors are lavender and brown; his sacred number is two. Ochossi is syncretized to Saint Sebastian, whose votive image always depicts him pierced by arrows.
See also Artemis; DICTIONARY: Orisha, Santeria; PLACES: Forest.
Also known as Odhinn, Wotan, Woden.
Odin, the All-Father, is the leader of the Aesir spirits, Lord of Asgard. Devotion to Odin once spread across the entire Germanic and Norse world. One-eyed Spirit of War, Wisdom, and Death, he is married to Frigga, a birth goddess: theirs is a marriage of complementary forces. Odin is Lord of ecstasy, shamanism, and occult wisdom. He is a patriarch, occult master, wandering wizard, trickster, and shaman.
Odin loves women, knowledge, and hospitality. He is a spiritual seeker himself. His thirst and quest for occult wisdom is endless. He willingly paid the price of an eye in order to drink from the Well of Knowledge.
Freya was his first teacher: she taught him charms and spell-casting and introduced him to the runes. Ultimately his quest for occult wisdom is a solitary pursuit: Odin famously pierced himself and hung for nine days and nights in shamanic ritual from the World Tree (Yggdrasil), dying a shamanic death in order to become a rune-master. The Tarot card The Hanged One may be understood to depict this ritual rather than a literal hanging.
Odin’s curiosity has no bounds; he refuses to be limited by boundaries of tradition or by restrictions of gender. Odin is curious and respectful toward what was traditionally “women’s magic.” His myth demonstrates that he is not ashamed to learn from women.
Freya taught seiòr to Odin, although men historically did not practice this style of prophecy; it was considered a woman’s art.
When Odin gathers herbs and roots for healing, he dresses as a woman.
In the Eddas, Odin is accused thus: “They say you have practiced magic…that you have cast spells like any Vala: you have wandered through the country disguised as a witch.” (See DICTIONARY: Völva.)
Odin wanders Earth dressed as a shabby, dusty traveler with a black hooded cloak, learning everything he can incognito. Those who are gracious to him in this guise are rewarded. Odin traditionally appears with a wide-brimmed hat sloping over his face to hide his missing eye. Similar images frequently appear on the tarot card, The Magician. Some historians believe that the traditional stage magician’s uniform is based on that of Odin, although others feel it honors Hermes, another wandering magician.
Odin has two ravens, Hugin and Munin—Thought and Memory. Every morning they fly all over Earth, then return full of news, gossip, and secrets to whisper in his ear.
Odin’s familiars are two wolves. He rides a magical eight-legged stallion, Sleipneir, whose teeth are engraved with runes. Odin rides where he will, all over the Earth but also over the Milky Way and through the sky. He is a restless spirit, traveling and riding; post-Christianity, Odin continues to ride.
Post-Christianity, Odin’s martyred son Baldur remained an appealing deity who was identified with the second coming of Christ. Odin was resolutely pagan. Odin became the Wild Hunter himself, leading the Wild Hunt, which was now understood as a parade of the damned rather than of Odin’s favorites. Sometimes Odin heads the Wild Hunt alone, at other times with a female co-leader—Freya, Hella, Hulda (Frau Wode), Perchta or Herta. In the guise of Chief Hunter, Odin was sometimes identified with the devil in medieval Europe.
Wednesday is literally “Woden’s Day” and is the best day to petition his help and make offerings for him. His numbers are three and nine. His sacred animals include wolves, ravens, snakes, bears, and horses. His attributes include a magical wand and spear. The ansuz rune may be used to request Odin’s protection.
Vestiges of Odin linger in Santa Claus (Odin as gift-giving traveler). Odin too is a bearded, white-haired man, dressed in a hat and cloak with a magic staff. Santa Claus’ Dutch sidekick, Black Peter, may be Odin’s old friend Loki in disguise. A kinder, gentler Odin, complete with ravens and wolves, appears in the guise of the king in the 1994 Swedish fairy-tale film The Polar Bear King.
See also Herta; ANIMALS: Bears, Wolves and Werewolves; DICTIONARY: Seidh; ERGOT: The Rye Wolf.
Also known as Ogou, Gu.
Ogun is the West African Spirit of Iron and Patron of Metalworkers who, in many traditional communities, also serve as shamans, sorcerers, healers, and ritual leaders. Ogun has various aspects or “paths”: he is a sweaty, laboring blacksmith, a sharply dressed politician, a solder, a surgeon, and also a magician.
Ogun epitomizes the solitary forest-dwelling witch-doctor. He knows all the magical secrets of metalworking but also lives in close proximity with hunters and herbalists, so he has access to all branches of occult wisdom. In modern Vodou, Ogou is among the spirits most closely identified with transformational magic and loups-garoux—werewolves. In his guise as magician, Ogou is often paired with the female lwa Ezili Dantor.
Ogun remains popular throughout West Africa as well as in virtually all African-Diaspora traditions. (He is called Zarabanda in Palo.) His colors are red and black; his numbers are three and seven.
See also ANIMALS: Snakes, Wolves and Werewolves; DICTIONARY: Lwa, Orisha, Palo, Vodou; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Ezili Dantor; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers.
In standard descriptions of the orishas, Orisha Oko is usually described as the judge who settles disputes, especially among women. Those aren’t just any disputes: they are usually accusations of witchcraft.
It takes one to know one: Orisha Oko is the wise sorcerer of Earth magic who protects against witchcraft and heals its effects. Orisha Oko’s main cult center, Irawo in the far northwest of Yorubaland, was an important shrine for the settlement of witchcraft accusations.
Disputes regarding accusations or suspicions of witchcraft were traditionally resolved by ritual in his shrines. His devotees are largely female; devotion to Orisha Oko is hereditary. Accusations of witchcraft forge links to this orisha. Once accused (and presumably if one survives the accusation) then one is expected to form a relationship with Orisha Oko that will continue through generations.
Orisha Oko is variously described as female or male. He is most commonly represented in myths as a hunter who has decided to farm instead. He is closely associated with rituals of agricultural magic. His attribute is an iron stave made from a hoe blade. He works closely with Ogun who forges his tools.
Orisha Oko manifests his anger through unyielding, infertile Earth and barren, infertile women. His colors are red and white. He accepts yams as an offering.
See also Ogun, Oshun; DICTIONARY: Àjé, Orisha; ERGOT: Corn Mother; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers.
Also known as Ochun, Oxun.
The sweetest, youngest, most beautiful of the orishas, Oshun is the spirit of sweet water, beauty, women, and witchcraft. Her epithet “The Source” indicates that she is the source of rivers, oceans, and children.
Oshun is the embodiment of love and romance, the Yoruba spirit most associated with providing and healing fertility. She has tremendous magical knowledge. Oshun’s power extends over various parts of the human anatomy, particularly the reproductive organs. Without her blessing (or at least her sanction) there is no healing, no rain, no growth, no prosperity, no babies, no joy.
She is the orisha of luxury and wealth. Countless money spells incorporate petitions to Oshun. She is particularly sympathetic as, unlike many other spirits, Oshun too has been utterly desolate and poverty-stricken and so understands hardship and crisis.
Oshun may manifest in the form of her sacred birds: peacocks, parrots or vultures.
Oshun is the leader of the Àjé. The importance of this female power is suggested in the birds that top beautiful Yoruba crowns. (See DICTIONARY: Àjé.)
Her most common manifestation is as a breath-takingly beautiful woman, usually dressed in yellow or gold. She wears five brass bracelets and a mirror at her belt, the better to be able to stop and admire herself whenever she wishes. Oshun bears a pot of river water, her gift of healing magic. She removes malevolent spells from her devotees, especially those cast using the power of botanicals.
That’s the standard, most typical vision of Oshun. The orishas, however, possess multiple paths (manifestations) simultaneously. Thus there is Oshun the Goddess of Love and Fertility, her most familiar manifestation, but there are also other specialized visions of Oshun. Oshun also has paths identified with witchcraft.
As Oshun Ololodi she is the Mother of Divination. She is wed to Orunmila, Spirit of the Oracle, and is intensely involved in the process of divination. Oshun Ololodi manifests as a waterfall.
Swamps are fresh water too: as Oshun Ibu Kolé she is the Buzzard Mother, a powerful swamp witch.
Oshun Ibu Kolé is Oshun down on her luck. She is dressed in rags and has ragged, disheveled hair. She lives in marshes, swamps or muddy waters. Her sacred creatures include vultures, alligators, and crocodiles. Buzzards share their carrion with her so that she doesn’t starve.
Also known as Berchta, Frau Berta, Eisen Berta, Berchtli.
A Pre-Christian German divinity, Perchta manifests as a beautiful woman with pearls braided into her golden hair. A white veil obscures her face. She carries the keys to happiness in one hand and a spray of mayflowers in the other. Perchta lives in a subterranean palace, which has a fabulous garden where she welcomes the souls of children who died in infancy.
She has another face, too, also manifesting as an old decrepit hag with long, unkempt, gray hair and disheveled clothes. In this guise, she carries a distaff. It’s unknown now whether she always had these two aspects (and it’s very possible) or whether she was transformed into a hag following the arrival of Christianity.
Perchta had many devotees and so post-Christianity was aggressively denigrated. She was demonized as a Queen of Witches and is among the leaders of the Wild Hunt, where she usually leads a parade of unbaptized babies.
Perchta travels with a retinue of spirits known as the Perchten. According to Christian legend, the devil rides in their midst, although this may merely indicate the existence of a male deity who once accompanied her.
Perchta is used as a threat to make children behave before Yule. She allegedly personally punishes “bad children,” although she gives gifts to good ones.
With the coming of Christianity she became the personification of the night preceding Epiphany (January 6th). In German tradition, this is known as Perchtennacht. (Epiphany is also called Perchtentag—Perchta’s Day.) Modern Perchten processions are characterized by grotesque masks.
Perchta possesses various paths:
As Butzenbercht she comes bearing gifts
As Spinn Stubenfrau (“Spinning Room Woman”) she visits homes at night
As Stomach Slasher she inflicts severe punishment on women who do not leave her traditional Yule offerings of pancakes, dumplings, and herring. She rips open their stomachs, removes what she wants, and roughly sews them up again
Vestiges of devotion to Perchta survive. In some Alpine villages it is still customary to place offerings of food for her on rooftops.
See also Befana, Herta, Hulda; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Perchtentanz; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Perchta; TOOLS: Masks; WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: Spinning.
Persephone is the young Greek spirit, kidnapped and raped by Hades and forced to become Queen of the Realm of Death for half of each year. During the other half of the year, Persephone is permitted to live with her mother Demeter on Earth. Persephone and Demeter were the central figures in various spiritual rituals and traditions, most notably the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Whether Persephone was invoked by individual witches is unknown. According to Horace’s Epodes (30 BCE), witches worshipped Proserpina. Proserpina is the Roman name given to Persephone.
Are Proserpina and Persephone one and the same? It’s no longer entirely clear. In Rome, Demeter was identified with the Italian Corn Mother Ceres and their myths merged, although in this case they clearly were once distinct independent deities. Ceres is the mother of Roman Proserpina. One version of Persephone’s abduction suggests that it occurred on Sicily, once a thriving Greek colony.
Whether they are identical spirits or whether two distinct spirits have merged, Proserpina manifested somewhat differently in Italy, in particular in regards to her close identification with witchcraft.
Proserpina is the spirit who goes to Hades and back, traveling back and forth like a shaman. She is a liminal figure who survives in both realms. Persephone is the Matron of Necromancers. She presides over death: she is the Queen of the Dead but she herself is not dead.
The name Proserpina derives from the Latin serpere, “to creep” or “to crawl” like a serpent. Proserpere means to crawl forward. (Persephone, on the other hand, is frequently translated as “destroying face” or “light-bearing face.”)
Sacred Creatures: Snakes and fish
Attributes: Keys and a torch, emblems she shares with Hecate
Plants: Rue and parsley
Proserpina is often depicted holding a fish and a key. A fish containing a key is a secret reference to Proserpina. Proserpina is the secret deity at the heart of April Fool’s Day. References to “All Fools Day” first appeared in Europe during medieval times but may be traced back to Roman rituals involving the myth of Proserpina and her mother.
When Pluto, Lord of the Dead, abducted Proserpina she called out to her mother for help. Ceres, who could only hear the echo of her daughter’s voice, searched in vain for Proserpina. The fruitless search of Ceres for her daughter (commemorated during the Roman festival of Cerealia) is believed to be the mythological antecedent of the fool’s errands popular on April 1st.
In France and Italy, April Fool’s Day is known as April Fish Day. People once played tricks by pinning paper fish to other’s backs. Old French April Fool’s postcards often depict a beautiful woman holding a big, floppy fish.
See also Dionysus; ANIMALS: Snakes; DICTIONARY: Necromancy; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Ceres, Demeter; MAGICAL ARTS: Necromancy.
The name of this Baltic deity from Latvia and Lithuania derives from the root verb “to see” but is now synonymous with “witch.” Ragana is a powerful prophetess who reveals the future. Post-Christianity she became demoted to a witch who allegedly brings misfortune to humans and animals.
See FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Lauma.
Rübezahl, a male dwarf, is the most famous of the German mountain spirits. He dwells in Riesengebirge, between Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and Silesia and in the caves of The Brocken, where he allegedly enjoys leading travelers astray although he welcomes respectful witches.
Rübezahl wraps himself in a large cloak to mask his face, reminiscent of Odin. He has the power to manipulate weather. He is the Lord of Magical and Medicinal Plants and Patron of Root-workers.
As late as 1814, inhabitants of the Silesian mountains still made pilgrimages to a mountain summit near the source of the Elbe River, where they sacrificed black hens and roosters to Rübezahl to keep him pacified and prevent flood waters from rising, even though a chapel built at this spot in 1681 was dedicated to Mary in an attempt to divert worshippers. Rübezahl’s devotees returned home with water, herbs, and roots, which were used in cleansing and protective rituals.
Rübezahl carries a trident. His bird is the raven. The Church identified him as a demon or even as Satan himself.
According to a German fairy tale, Rübezahl kidnapped a princess and, to please her, planted a huge field of turnips (rüben). She asked him to count (zahlen) them. While he was doing so, she escaped. This tale is featured in Andrew Lang’s Brown Fairy Book, as well as in a German silent movie Rübezahl’s Wedding starring Paul Wegener and Lydia Salmonova.
See also ANIMALS: Corvids; BOTANICALS: Roots; DICTIONARY: Root Doctor; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Elf; PLACES: The Brocken.
La Santisima Muerte
La Santisima Muerte, Blessed Death, is an unofficial saint increasingly popular in Mexico. Santisima Muerte is the goddess in the form of a skeleton. She is robed and sometimes carries a scythe like the Grim Reaper. She is reminiscent of other goddesses identified with Death such as Kali or Baba Yaga. Like Kali and Baba Yaga, La Santisima Muerte is both fear and loved.
She traditionally helps women get errant husbands and lovers back, although you have to be reasonably desperate to petition her as by doing so you are literally conjuring death. It is dangerous to invoke her but she can do everything, has access to all knowledge, and fears nothing. (After all, she is Death.) Because she is hard to handle, it’s traditional to invoke her simultaneously with powerful but more benevolent spirits like saints Anthony or Elena or Archangel Michael, so that they’ll keep her in line if necessary.
La Santisima Muerte is believed to be a modern manifestation of the Aztec deity Mictlancihuatl, “Lady of Death.”
La Santisima Muerte is particularly popular amongst prostitutes and magical practitioners, who must both often tread in dangerous territory and encounter dangerous characters. Once obscure and outlawed by the Roman Catholic Church, La Santisima Muerte is growing in popularity; her images are now found frequently in botanicas, Latin American shops selling magical and herbal supplies.
See DICTIONARY: Curandera.
Set is the Egyptian Lord of the Desert and Lord of Chaos and Disorder. He is among the set of quadruplets born to the Earth and Sky; his siblings are Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys.
Both Osiris and Set love their sister Isis but she chooses Osiris. Set marries Nephthys but she also loves Osiris, and so theirs is not a happy marriage.
Osiris is initially Ruler of the Black Land, the fertile belt of civilization around the Nile River. Set is the Lord of the Red Land as the Egyptians characterized the harsh, barren desert. It, too, however, is a place of power.
Set was a powerful magician, second only to Isis. Appeals are made to Set to keep bad weather far away; he has dominion over rainstorms, sandstorms and windstorms.
He is the master of love and sex magic and is petitioned for assistance with contraception and abortion. Set appears on many ancient uterine amulets. Some of these amulets were employed to “open” the womb, requesting assistance with menstruation, conception or birth. Set is also featured on amulets to “close” the womb. These amulets were used to procure contraception or abortion.
Sometimes a hero, sometimes a controversial figure, he is most famous for his rivalry with Horus, his nephew. In modern retellings of the saga, Set is usually presented as the villain, however it may be more complex than that: the myth may be a metaphor for the historic rivalry between Upper and Lower Egypt, which Lower Egypt (Horus’ territory) ultimately won.
Set’s main cult centers were at Tanis, Ombos, and Naqada. His color is red. His sacred creatures include crocodiles, hippopotami, and pigs, as well as something called the “Set beast” which has never been conclusively identified. The Set beast may be an extinct creature, a creature that only exists in the spirit realm, or an anteater.
See also Isis ANIMALS: Pigs; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Isis.
Lord of the Moon, Storms, and the Himalayas, Shiva is the Lord of Death for the sake of Rebirth. He is a great healer, described as the greatest of physicians. Deity of the forest, hunting, and fishing, he is Patron and Ruler of Untouchables and Demons.
Shiva is often portrayed with blue skin, four arms, and four faces—with three eyes each. His third eye, located in the center of his forehead, possesses the powers of creation and destruction.
Shiva, also known as “the howler” is described as the “destroyer of rites and social barriers.” He was a knowledge sharer, accused of teaching sacred texts to the low-born who previously had been denied access to such secrets. He haunts cemeteries in the company of ghosts and less reputable spirits.
Shiva is accompanied by a retinue of witches, ghosts, spirits, and gnomes (Earth spirits). He is naked but adorned with snakes and scorpions, and he wears a necklace of skulls. His hair is hopelessly tangled and matted. His face is covered with ashes from cremations.
Shiva is an indigenous, pre-Aryan deity of India. The Aryan invaders initially disliked Shiva but were eventually forced to integrate him into their pantheon, although he is still considered chaotic, dangerous, and unpredictable.
He is the protector of those who do not fit easily into conventional society or who do not fit at all. Shiva presides over the realm of the dead. His statues are erected near funeral pyres or in cemeteries. Shiva is often found wandering in cemeteries. He also lives within mountain caves.
Shiva’s sacred creatures include bulls, snakes, and tigers. He is the protector of trees, animals, and wild nature. He has compassion for the demons he rules despite their wicked dispositions. His colors are blue, red ochre, and saffron.
Many consider Shiva to have originally been identical with Dionysus, who once traveled through India. Like Dionysus, he is identified with intoxicating substances and sex magic. He is often portrayed in the form of a phallus (the “Shiva lingam”), as is Dionysus. Both lead parades of dancing witches and spirits. Like Dionysus, Shiva is happily wed: Shiva and his consort Parvati symbolize the perfect union of complementary powers.
According to Italian legend, the Cumaean Sibyl took refuge in a cavern in the Apennines. Her underground paradise was reached through a grotto filled with snakes in the mountains of Norcia, a region renowned for its witches and mushrooms. In this cavern, Sibilla teaches the magical arts to those who wish to learn them.
Sounds like a fairy tale? A real-life shrine, the Ridge of the Sibillini, once existed below Mount Vettore. During the fifteenth century visitors from throughout Europe traveled to Norcia to see the cave, some bringing grimoires to consecrate at Sibilla’s lake.
By the Middle Ages, the ancient prophetess had emerged as a goddess of witches. In Ferrara, Italy, Sibilla, in the guise of La Signora del Corso, presided over the witches’ flight and witches’ ball. At the end of the feast, she touched all bottles and platters with her golden wand; they immediately replenished. In re-enactments of ancient shamanic rituals, the witches gathered up all the bones from the meal they had completed. These were placed within animal skins. Sibilla touched the rolled-up skins with her wand and hey presto! The animals returned to life.
Sibilla is a hospitable spirit: according to legend, Diana and Fata Morgana frequently live with her. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Church had a standing order to excommunicate anyone who made the pilgrimage to the shrine at Norcia. (Of course, on the other hand, those who defied the decree and visited the shrine were allegedly blessed by Sibilla with a lifetime of joy.) Should you stay in Sibilla’s cavern for over a year, you would never be able to leave but would remain ageless and alive, living amidst abundance and revelry in a witches’ paradise.
Of course those are the positive legends: witch-goddesses usually weren’t permitted such good press and so other stories exist too, although even these may be interpreted in various ways:
Sibilla sprouts a snake’s tail every Saturday.
The legendary Wandering Jew allegedly finally stopped wandering, transformed into a snake, and serves as Sibilla’s door guardian.
According to another legend, at night, all the inhabitants of Sibilla’s paradise turn into snakes.
In another legend, in order to gain admittance to Sibilla’s Cave, one must have sex with snakes.
See also Kybele; ANIMALS: Snakes; BOOKS: Library of the Lost: Sibylline Books; DICTIONARY: Sibyl.
Who says magicians need to be human? This most powerful of magical practitioners manifests in the form of a great snake.
Simbi names a family of Congolese water spirits who have gained prominence among the lwa of Vodoun. The various Simbis may also be understood as different aspects or “paths” of one spirit.
Simbi rules all aspects of magic. In the guise of Simbi Makaya, he is a powerful botanical magician. Simbi protects magical practitioners and offers them his tutelage. Legends describe children who go missing, stolen by Simbi, only to return to their homes years later, masters of magic.
In addition to magic and witchcraft, Simbi has dominion over communications, crossroads, and currents. As the ruler of currents, Simbi has dominion over the flow of information and energy: this ancient magician has become Patron of Computers and the Internet. Placing images of a snake on your computer (or as a screen-saver) allegedly protects it and reinforces its power.
Simbi accepts offerings of milk and water (especially rainwater), as well as alcoholic beverages such as whiskey or rum.
Milo Rigaud, a scholar of Vodou, identifies Simbi with Hermes. In the Vodou tradition, Simbi is also syncretized with Moses. Simbi represents The Magician in The New Orleans Tarot Deck.
New Orleans Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau danced with a serpent known as “The Grand Zombi.” “Zombi” may be understood as a corruption of “Simbi,” not as a reference to the living dead.
See FAIRIES: Changelings, Fairy Doctors, Fairy Magicians.
Tante Arie (“Aunt Arie”)
Also known as Tantairie.
It’s unclear whether Tante Arie, from the Jura canton of Switzerland and Montbéliard in France, is a witch or a fairy or both. She manifests in the form of a snake or giant and lives in a cave filled with treasure chests brimming with gold. She wears a diamond crown, has iron teeth and goose’s feet, like a combination of Baba Yaga and Mother Goose.
Tante Arie has dominion over spinning and spinners. She rides through the region on Christmas Eve on her donkey, distributing gifts to those deemed deserving but punishing disobedient children.
See also Befana, Perchta; ANIMALS: Snakes; FAIRY-TALE WITCHES.
The Aztec Lord of Night, Tezcatlipoca means “Smoking Mirror.” He is the Patron of Sorcerers, Shamans, and Witches.
Tezcatlipoca is an omniscient, all-knowing, all-powerful, somewhat dangerous figure who sees everything in his obsidian mirror. He is most famous as the rival of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, whose fall from grace is maneuvered by Tezcatlipoca’s smoke and mirrors.
Because post-Christianity, Quetzalcoatl became identified as a Christ-figure, Tezcatlipoca, the unrepentant sorcerer, became identified with Satan. In many of his existing myths he appears threatening and malevolent; it is unclear whether this was always the case or whether his malevolence has increased with time and distortion.
He is a shape-shifter: his traditional forms include coyote, jaguar, monkey, owl, and skunk. His sacred bird is the turkey. Tezcatlipoca’s sacred animal and nahual is the jaguar. He manifests in jaguars and in obsidian. He lives in the core of the Earth in a mirrored realm filled with jaguars.
See ANIMALS: Jaguars, Nahual.
Lord Thoth is such an ancient deity that, according to Egyptian myth, he existed prior to creation. In some versions, he is the supreme creator. Even when this is not so, Thoth did his share of creating. Among his inventions are writing and magic spells, inextricably linked in Egyptian witchcraft as well as in many other traditions.
In his guise as Patron of Scribes, Thoth has an ibis’ head. As a master magician, he manifests as a baboon. Thoth is Ra, the Creator’s, right-hand man; without Thoth, Isis and her siblings would never have been born. He taught Isis everything he knew; she is perhaps the only one who surpasses his magical knowledge although, according to myth, even Isis still needs his assistance and advice once in a while.
He is what is considered a “cool” deity; he calms and relaxes impassioned situations. In one legend, only Thoth can safely subdue a rampaging goddess threatening to destroy Earth.
As befitting a shaman, Thoth lives in many realms at once: he journeys among the land of the living, teaching his magical skills. He serves in the Hall of the Dead as the scribe who records the accomplishments and sins of the deceased. He also rides in the solar barq beside Ra and thus lives in the realm of the spirits.
Thoth was the prototype for Egyptian priests and magicians. After Egypt came under Greek rule in 332 BCE Thoth was identified with Hermes and his cult city Khmun was renamed Hermopolis. Because the legendary magician Hermes Trismegistus came from Egypt, where he composed the books known as The Hermetica, many believe he is either Thoth or one of his particularly accomplished priests in disguise.
See also Isis; HALL OF FAME: Hermes Trismegistus, Moses.
Tlazolteotl’s most famous manifestation is as a statue of a naked, grimacing, squatting, laboring woman: this statue appears as the stolen idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tlazolteotl has other images too: she is again depicted naked but for a peaked barked hat, riding on a broomstick in the company of owls, ravens, and bats.
The Spanish Conquistadors were shocked and perplexed when they first saw these images of the Aztec goddess—they thought they left images like these back in Europe with the witch trials. Witchcraft is international.
Tlazolteotl is the spirit of magic, healing, love, sex, desire, cleansing, and garbage.
Her name means “Eater of Filth.” In her capacity as the Spirit of Filth, Tlazolteotl cleanses individuals and Earth of spiritual debris, sin, and shame. Not surprisingly, Tlazolteotl is credited with invention of the Aztec sweat bathhouse, the temescal.
She is the Matron of Female Healers, Midwives, and Weavers.
The White Women
The White Women are spirits who live in German forests where they assist travelers, practice divination, and dance fertility dances. Their exact identity and nature is unclear: they have been variously identified as spirits, lingering ghosts of witches, or goddess-worshipping witches.
Various forest-dwelling female Slavic spirits including the Rusalki and Vila are described as being dressed in white.
See also Hulda; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Rusalka, Vila.
Yemaya is the Great Mother of Yoruba tradition, the ultimate expression of female power. The translation of her name, “The Mother Whose Children are Fish,” indicates that Yemaya’s children are innumerable. She is the mother of most of the Yoruba spirits, the orishas. She represents the epitome of motherhood and manifests all aspects of maternity to their fullest degree. Yemaya is among the most beloved of the orishas.
Yemaya is associated with the sea and salt water. She resides in the sea, she is the spirit of the sea, and she is the sea, specifically the upper portion of the ocean, all simultaneously. (Another orisha, Olokun, rules the oceans depths and floor.)
Her name also indicates that all humans begin their life in their mother’s amniotic sea. Although most typically manifesting as benevolent and nurturing, Yemaya also has a destructive aspect: oceans have riptides, tidal waves, and whirlpools.
Despite her modern associations, in Yemaya’s earliest incarnation, she was the spirit of Nigeria’s Ogun River. According to one legend, Yemaya was once the Queen of the Cemetery until she tricked the orisha Oya into taking her place.
Yemaya wears seven skirts. Her attributes include a silver mask and a snake. Amongst her various “paths” or manifestations is Yemaya Mayalewo (also Mayaleo). In this path she is identified as a witch who lives a solitary existence in wooded lagoons, such as mangrove swamps where salt water merges with fresh. In her witch path, Yemaya works closely with Ogun and is powerfully associated with the production and magic powers of indigo, her sacred color and substance.
See MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers; PLACES: Swamps.