Characteristics of the Modern Witch

Despite the persecution associated with witchcraft, the practice has continued for centuries, although the majority was taken underground. With modern society becoming more open-minded and accepting of different beliefs and practices, many witches are choosing to share their craft with others. In previous centuries, rituals, spells and other information was passed on by word of mouth, but this has recently changed. Many witches are now keeping written records, which they share with others. Wicca has been officially recognised as a religion in the United States since 1985, and is the current foundation for other forms of witchcraft. Even so, there are many misconceptions about the practice. Some truths about modern witchcraft include:

  1. Witches can be either gender.

As a result of some forms of Wicca basing their practice around goddess worship, witchcraft tends to be dominated by women. There are, however, a large number of male witches. There is also the incorrect belief that they are called warlocks. Many of them find this offensive, as a warlock is a witch that has been exiled from their coven.

  1. Most witches do not believe in Satan.

Most witches believe in supernatural entities, and often evoke them in rituals to affect the outcome. These forces can either be good or bad, based on the individual and their objective. Many witches are often accused of practising Satanism but, because Satan is based on Christian beliefs, most of them do not even believe in him.

  1. The older a witch becomes, the more respect they receive.

As a witch ages, it is believed that their powers increase, often due to their experience and the passing down of knowledge. Other important aspects of being a witch are: accepting self, acknowledging ‘oneness’ with source and others, and tolerance.

  1. Witches have familiars.

Movies and books often suggest that witches work spells alongside their ‘familiar,’ which is often portrayed as a black cat. Most witches have beliefs that are based on their connection with nature, and feel that a special bond with an animal is essential. A ‘familiar’ is a witch’s companion and counsel, and can take the form of many different species.

  1. Witchcraft is diverse.

Unlike many other religions, or practices, witchcraft does not require recruiting believers. Witches will initiate anybody that is interested, but do not actively search for followers. There are also no requirements, such as being born a witch, to become one. One of the most fundamental beliefs of witchcraft is that each person’s beliefs and practices should be respected, and allowed. There are also many other religious groups, including Christians, Jews and Buddhists, that have practising witches within them.


Blood Sacrifice – Giving Up the Source of Life

History shows us where many ancient cultures would perform blood sacrifices, often to gain the favour of the gods, as a means of getting rid of prisoners of war, or even cannibalistic practices. Sacrificing the blood of another living being has been associated with power, and these inhumane practices are still being performed.

  1. The sacrificing of albinos to gain good fortune.
Image: Dietmar Temps /

Albinism is a condition which impairs a person’s ability to produce melanin, resulting in an extremely fair complexion. A number of African communities believe that the parts of albinos hold magical powers, including medicinal uses or to make someone else ‘invisible’ to the naked eye. They are hunted down and killed for the benefit of others. The removal of the body parts is called ‘muti’ (potion) and the magical properties are believed to be enhanced by decapitating the albino while they are alive, because of the pain they have to endure. They are then sold as talismans to bring wealth, luck or health, with an entire body being worth up to US$75000.

In Tanzania, albinos are also killed, or buried alive, with tribal chiefs. They are called ‘zeru zeru,’ meaning ghost, and will help the chief navigate the afterlife.

  1. Human sacrifice in Liberia for political gain.

A former rebel commander during the Liberian civil war, Milton Blahyi, had been initiated as a tribal priest, and participated in his first human sacrifice at the age of 11. During the ritual, Blahyi claims the Devil told him to continue making regular sacrifices to ensure a lifetime of great power and influence. He was later appointed as a high priest and became the advisor to the Liberian President, Samuel Doe. In 1996, Blahyi had a change of heart after he heard God condemn him for doing the work of Satan, and became an Evangelical preacher. Despite the reports of numerous human sacrifices performed between 1979 – 1993, Blahyi has never been prosecuted for his crimes.

  1. The sacrifice of one child for another.

In Indian culture, a family often requires a son to become the provider for the family as the parents age. For this reason, many couples will go to great lengths to produce a male heir. Despite giving birth to a daughter, Madan and Murti Simaru could not have a boy, and visited a tantrik guru for advice. The guru told them to sacrifice a boy on the banks of the river, and chanted mantras while the family murdered a six-year-old they had kidnapped. After the death Mr. Simaru completed the ritual by bathing in the youngster’s blood. The couple, along with Simaru’s brother, were arrested and charged for the heinous act.

Modern Cases of Witchcraft – A Ritual to Influence Politics

Witchcraft is an art form that is practised in different ways, and can be used to accomplish a large variety of things. Many people perform it for religious reasons and, throughout the years, rituals have been kept secret. We are now living in an age where most things are influenced by technology and witchcraft is no exception. Wicca, a religion which is based on a connection with nature and incorporates rituals, can now be learnt online. The Wiccan community continues to expand on the internet, and many witches connect with others to perform rituals together over long distances.

Image: BuzzFeed reporter Julia Reinstein

Included in these long distance rituals, is one that the Wiccan community considers very important. Once a month, during the waning moon, a group of hedge witches meet online and perform a spell to ‘bind’ one of the world’s currently most influential leaders, Donald Trump. Consisting of at least 13,000 people, which include those dedicated to quasi-religious rituals and other activists, the group is collectively known as #MagicResistance. The members all perform the ritual in a way that is meaningful to them, which includes: casting the spell solo and sharing pictures of private altars through social media, performing the ritual with a coven and even chanting at Trump’s public events.


A traditional ‘binding’ spell is meant to restrict another’s actions, by channeling energy. The group’s aim is for Trump to be ‘unable to do harm/fail utterly.’ Casting a spell as a form of political protest is unusual, but many people are supportive of the way it encourages religious expression. It also allows those who desire to remain anonymous, as many Wiccan practitioners are still ‘in the broom closet,’ because of discrimination. The originators of the ritual believe in its capability to change both politics, and the negative association many people have with witchcraft.

The spell requires a few basic items such as: a black candle, a white candle and a shorter orange candle (to represent Trump), which many people replace with baby carrots or even Cheetos. Modifications are encouraged as it is important to ensure that the spell’s ‘ingredients’ have meaning to the person casting it. Many of the spell casters add personal concerns to their requests, such as protection for the ‘wild places,’ which many feel may be affected by the president’s environmental policies. Even though most people will question how effective the spell may be, the sense of community it creates and the power of the positive energy associated with it is always a beacon of hope for the monthly performers.

The Wiccan Rede – Witchcraft Words to Live By

Most religions provide their followers with guidelines to the ways in which their morality should be displayed. The Wiccan Rede is used as a guide for Wiccans, and other witchcraft practitioners, that uphold the same moral code. ‘Rede’ is derived from roedan, an Old English word meaning ‘to guide or direct.’ The short eight line version of the Rede, ‘An Ye Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt,’ (If it harms none, do what you want to), was first spoken by Doreen Valiente in a 1964 speech, but its exact origin is uncertain. The Rede encourages each person to take responsibility for their own lives and actions, as well as acknowledges the right that everybody has to embrace their own spiritual path.

Unlike other religions, which have Golden Rules that specify the actions that should not be taken, the Wiccan Rede is open for personal interpretation. ‘Harm’ can be seen differently by each practitioner, but is normally referring to manipulation, domination, anything else that takes away another’s free will, or any form of harassment. It can also take many forms, such as: emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, psychic and others. Living by the Wiccan Rede stimulates a person to think about how each action that they take affects them, those around them and even the society they live in. Many Wiccans also take into consideration animals, plants and other aspects of the environment.

The Wiccan Rede works alongside The Threefold Law, which is the belief that whatever action is committed, whether it is good or bad, returns to an individual with three times the power. This combination binds many Wiccans into doing the right thing at all times, and taking complete responsibility for their actions. It also thwarts a popular belief that witchcraft involves committing evil or immoral acts, including doing spells to hurt others, since this would go against the teachings of the religion.

The complete Wiccan Rede is a 26 line poem which ends with, ‘These Eight words the Rede fulfil: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Wilt.’ Although the origin of the words have been mistakenly attributed to the founder of the Thelema religion, Aleister Crowley, who repeatedly professed ‘Do what thou wilt…’ the phrase has been said in different ways throughout history. Crowley’s influence is deemed as Francois Rabelais, who wrote in 1534, ‘Do as thou wilt because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred, and at home in civilised company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice.’ Despite its origin the Wiccan Rede continues to be an inspiration to the followers of the religion, and help to form the image of witchcraft as a pure, uplifting practice to connect with oneself.

Modern Day Cases of Witchcraft – The Persecution Continues

The majority of people believe that witchcraft ended because of the persecution of witches, during the Middle Ages. Although the practice decreased, a few brave spell casters continued to pass down the traditions and many modern day witches in Europe can trace their origins back several centuries. The repealing of the Witchcraft Act in England, in the 1950s, paved the way for these witches to begin their practice openly. Many people associate witchcraft with dark magic, consisting mainly of curses and hexes, but most modern spell casters evoke deities and the power of nature for peaceful rituals.

The majority of the witchcraft performed in the western world is done by Pagans or Wiccans, and is usually associated with spiritual beliefs. Ceremonies are normally held outdoors and begin with the formation of a ritual circle, which is a sacred space that symbolises equality and eternity. Most Wiccan ceremonies are done during the night, as their magick coordinates with the moon phases. The ritual circle is cleansed using a besom, a traditional broom made from a bundle of sticks tied to a stout pole. This sweeping is done by the High Priest/Priestess, of the coven, and symbolises the removal of negative energies and astral build-up.

Although freedom of religion is encouraged in western society, many Pagans still suffer from frequent discrimination. A common misconception is that witchcraft is associated with Satanic practices, such as animal sacrifices. As a Christian entity, Satan plays no role in most Pagan spell casting. Throughout most of history, rituals and spells have played a big part of many eastern cultures. In recent times, accusations of witchcraft have become more widespread, in many African nations, Indian society and other parts of the world. The accused are often tortured, or killed, and this increased fear of witches seems to be a result of current poverty and religious influence. Some of these incidents include:

Papua, New Guinea

20 year-old Kepari Leniata was accused of sorcery and burned alive by a mob, in 2013.


After a popular Nigerian Pentecostal preacher stated ‘children under 2 that scream in the night, cry or are frequently feverish are servants of Satan,’ many young children were abandoned to fend for themselves. The streets have become home to thousands of the nation’s youth, many of whom die shortly after being cast out.

Saudi Arabia

The persecution of modern day witches is not limited to mobs or religious leaders. The justice system in several countries still give harsh penalties to those accused of witchcraft. Saudi Arabia formed a branch of their police known as the Anti-Witchcraft Unit in 2009. Within three years over 215 ‘conjurers’ had been arrested. In addition, a man and a woman were convicted of practising sorcery and sentenced to death by beheading, in 2011. Two housemaids were also found guilty of working spells against their employers, in 2013, and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment each. 

Gerald Gardner – The Father of Modern Witchcraft

Gerald Gardner is most well known for increasing public knowledge of the Wiccan religion, through his writing and the founding of the branch known as Gardnerian Wicca. Gardner was born in England in 1884, but spent much of his childhood and youth travelling in warmer climates to alleviate his severe asthma symptoms. He returned to England in 1927, after his father became very ill. During this time, Gardner began showing an interest in spiritualism and mediumship. He would attend seances and had several encounters in which the spirits of his deceased family members communicated with him. This was the beginning of Gardner’s lifelong interest and experimentation with the supernatural and magic.

While in England Gardner had gotten married, and soon moved to Malaya with his wife, and learnt a great deal about the folk magic that they practiced. After his father’s death, they returned to England and settled down in Highcliffe where he joined the Rosicrucian Order. A group of friends from the Order initiated him into the New Forest Coven, in January 1939. Gardner had previously believed that witchcraft had ended many centuries earlier ago, but wrote about the coven being a hidden witchcraft cult that had survived the persecution. Research shows, however, that the coven had been formed in the 1930s.

Gardner became a noted member of several occult and religious groups, but remained devoted to Wicca. He aimed to spread knowledge about the religion, and increase its practise. His fictional novel, High Magic’s Aid, contained descriptions of the details of the practice. The book was set in the 12th century, and included scenes from The Key of Solomon. In addition to spreading knowledge publicly, Gardner recorded his private rituals in his ‘Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical.’ This was the beginning of Wicca record keeping in The Book of Shadows.

Gardner’s first initiates were Gilbert and Barbara Vickers, who joined him between 1949 and 1950.

In 1952, he initiated Doreen Valiente who went on to join the Brick Wood Coven where she rose to High Priestess. Valiente helped Gardner revise his Book of Shadows, removing all the content that had been influenced by Aleister Crowley. In 1954, he published a non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today, in which he proposed the continuation of the witch-cult, accused The Knights Templar of being witches and stated that faeries lived in England. Gardner invited journalists to record, and publish, details of his life and the Wiccan religion. The reports were met negatively, but he continued undeterred, determined to prevent the ‘Old Religion’ from dying out.

In 1960, Gerald Gardner’s biography, Gerald Gardner: Witch, was written and published by the Sufi Mystic Idries Shah. After his wife died, Gardner’s asthma got worse and he began to travel more frequently. On February 12, 1964, while returning home from Lebanon aboard The Scottish Prince,  Gardner died and was buried at the next stop in Tunisia. Several years after his death, High Priestess, Eleanor Bone located his remains and moved them to Tunis. In 2007, a plaque was attached to Gardner’s grave, pronouncing him ‘Father of Modern Wicca. Beloved by the Great Goddess.’