Archaeological evidence suggests that the invoking of spirits or deities extends as far back as the Palaeolithic period, 30,000 years ago. In many ancient civilisations, witches (like priests) were believed to be the mediators between man and the gods. The word witch is derived from the Old English word wicce meaning wise one. The practice of spell casting was also called the ‘craft of the wise,’ in earlier times, because of the knowledge that witches acquired about nature, herbs and medicines. They were also wise enough to become the balance between us taking what we needed from the earth and restoring it, to maintain the power and abundance of nature.
Even though the existence of witchcraft cannot be scientifically proven many ancient cultures, including Kemet (Ancient Egypt), Greece and Rome revered witches, believing that those with special abilities had been chosen by the gods. They were normally accredited with the abilities to cast spells, write powerful runes, speak with the dead (necromancy), shapeshift and possess an extensive knowledge of alchemy.
The Sumerians believed that the world was full of demons, which sometimes became a personal threat in spite of the protective spirit that travelled with each individual. The society’s witches were able to communicate with these spirits and prevent them from harming others, by performing rituals or providing the threatened with amulets to discourage their evil deeds.
The Greeks had a form of magic known as Theurgy, which was the practice of rituals in order to contact the gods. One of the most well-known witches in Greek mythology was Circe who was able to turn her enemies into swine. Even in the bible witches were consulted with the most well-known example of King Saul contacting the witch of Endor, who was a necromancer, to locate the prophet Samuel.
The Celts magic has probably been the most influential in Europe, where their society flourished between 100 and 700 AD. They were a deeply spiritual people and their prowess in performing spells and making amulets and potions evolved along with their civilisation. Their witchcraft was based on their religious beliefs in more than one deity, as wells as their connection to the earth.
Many artists began portraying witches in their paintings, mainly due to the fact that they were very popular. This art was the beginning of witches being seen as either ugly, old hags or beautiful, young women who were also able to conquer men using their looks. These images were used to represent unwelcome desires such as greed and envy, showing that they lost their outward beauty due to their inner turmoil. This stereotype extended into the Middle Ages when many women were accused of being witches based on their appearance, when the negativity associated with witchcraft began to take hold in western cultures.