In the Beginning.....
Man is a curious creature. And creative. Early man some 25,000 years ago, this would be paleolithic man, looked into the sky and saw something that was greater than himself, and witnessed the changes in the earth, the passing of seasons. Creation. There had to be something behind it to make it all work, thus the pantheon of Gods were born.
The Mother Earth Religions, as they came to be known, where the first at trying to explain, or at least, understand the world. Wicca has its very roots in this religion. It was slow in coming and centuries were to pass before it grew into anything that was recognizable as being wicca as we know it.
It is easy to understand the reasoning. If there were Gods that made the universe go around, and control the sky and the weather, then certainly there were others that looked after the every day affairs of man. Societies began to form, and the first signs of towns, villages slowly began to take shape. Life become a little more complex, thus someone had to look after all this choas and confusion. The pantheon of gods were coming into their own. In Ur alone, there were more than 1000 gods and goddess', and in time, even this number was surpassed with some socities having more than two-three thousand dieties to watch over them and their daily affairs. From the God of War all the way to the God of clay tablets. Something had to be done. And, something was done, but not in the way most intended. The change came in the form of one word. And that word was Charlemagne.
Charlemagne (Charles the Great), King of the Franks and founder of the Holy Roman Empire, was already christian. An enlightened ruler who did a great deal of good, both administratively, militarily and economically. He had only one problem, he was intolerant of other religions. From 772-804, he fought in some 18 campaigns, usually in the frontier trying to put down revolts. When he conquered the Saxons, gave them the choice of baptism or death. 4,500 (est) pagans were beheaded in one day, after which he proceeded to Thionville to celebrate the Nativity of Christ. Charlemagne demanded that all his subjects convert to christianity. They complied after hearing about the Saxons. Outwardly, anyway.
In those days, it was not known as the Craft or even Wicca. Those terms are relatively new, but more about those later. It was the religious aspect of it, the living with the natural world, celebrating the God and Goddess, the ritual that was part of the religion, all these were the basis of the Old Religion, the Mother Earth Religion. Herbals were a part of it also, the natural remedies found in nature to aliviate pain and suffering and these were past down within the family, usually from mother to daughter. The intolerance of the Old Religion was based on what the belief was. There was no heresy, that was to come later. Either you were converted or believed in Christianity or were killed. But, it is interesting to note that almost all of the icons found in the churches, both Western and Eastern were pagan in origin and almost all Christian holidays fall on Pagan Festival days, but more on that later as well.
The term Kitchen Witch could at this time be used to describe the extent of 'witchcfaft' during this period. Consisting mainly of using herbals, or giving them out to help their neighbors troubles or ills, the spells had not yet come into their own, although the ritual was still practiced, albeit in secret. The church began to grow and also grew in power. It is interesting to note that along with the ordinary folk using herbals, or giving them away (many were abjectly poor and couldn't afford to buy much of anything), the local priests were doing the same thing, and selling them out of the back of the church. Over a period of time, they began to complain to the Church of this matter. Obediance to the church was of utmost importance at this time. This was the time when superstition and beleif in the unknown was accepted and was something to be afraid of. Demons were real and hell was just a sin away, and the Devil and all his dominions were all to eager to help the transgressor. The church fostered these ideas, mainly to make them more compliant to what the Church wanted and to keep them within the Church, the only source of their salvation (and sad to say, to keep the money rolling). However, trouble was coming. Big trouble.
The clergy, at the local level were still complaining about some of thier congragation giving away the same herbals that they themselves were selling. There are some interesting accounts that are still extant about the misfortune of a farmer whose new calf was born with an extra leg or had two heads (see link), or sudden storms, or fresh milk suddenly curdling and upon investigation it was found that the poor unfortunate had recived some herbals from so and so, and that they had supplied others that had had some misfortune (never mind that almost all used herbals in their lives. It was the only thing that all could use that was free). Thus it became apparent that something else was afoot. Generally, if you look at the accounts of these things, you will find that most persons back then that were ostricized, and later condemned as witches, were basically a pain in the ass to most. They were hateful or quarrelsome or was owed money to, and what better way to rid yourself of someone who is nasty or that you owed money to?. It became very evident to the clergy that they had the means at their disposal to get rid of the 'competition' as it were, and it was the Church who first used the term 'witch' in the literal sense, however the link to heresy had not yet been linked to witches. That would fall to Pope Innocent VIII (see link for the Papal Bull). The phrase in Exodus, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was dusted off and presented anew. When the Bible was being translated from Hebrew, the word for witch has several meanings, one of them being 'poisoner'. In Hebrew, as in other languages, when one word has several meanings, it is distingable by the accent on the sylabble, how it's said, and where it is in context with the sentence. In the translation to Latin, the word was taken literally, witch. So, if the phrase, "thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live", were rendered, then it would make more sense in the context of the chapter in Exodus. Such minor things does history revolve around.
Such was the state of 'witchcraft' at that time, until 1484. Pope Innocent VIII took his place at the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Shortly thereafter, in 1486, he issued his famous Papal Bull linking heresy with witchcraft and this was done at the behest of most of clery at the time who were still complaining about people, usually and most times, women, giving away herbals and rumors of an underground religion that was against the edicts of the Church. In their writings to the Mother Church, they often embellished the tales with lurid depictions of what was going on. Their imaginations were, if nothing else, creative. If they weren't bringing in the money, then the church was not making their share. It was politics and economics that dictated the Papal Bull. The linking of heresy to witchcraft went thusly: the rituals of this 'religion' were not sanctified by God, and since it wasn't, was in opposition to God, and in being in opposition to God's teachings, was heretical, and if it was in opposition to God's teachings, then also, it was inspired by God's enemy; Satan or the Devil. The link had been made. Witchcraft now, and for the next 500 years or so, would be linked to Satanism and doing the work of the devil. In the church's view at that time, heresy was to be stamped out wherever it was found and by whatever means was at its disposal. Enter Sprenger and Kramer, with blessings by the Church.
Jospeph Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer were monks of the Augustinian order. When Pope Innocent VIII took the Papacy, Sprenger and Kramer were right behind him with a little book, actually a manuel, for the Pope to give his blessings to. And of course it was in Latin titled the "Malleus Maleficarum", the Witches Hammer, or alternately, the Hammer of the Witches. This upheld the thought by the See that witchcraft was heresy, independently of the Pope mind you, and gave specific instructions on how to extract confessions from accused 'withes'. While the two were from thereafter labeled Papal Inquisitors, they had nothing to do with the actual torture of said accused, they just wrote how to do it, and do it the Inquistion did. From thumbscrews to the rack to the squashsation to the strappado, nothing was left to chance. The thought here was twofold. First to get the 'witch' to confess her crimes (almost all cases were against women) and secondly, so that the aforesaid witch would have a chance to have their 'soul' saved. The body was corrupted but the soul had to be saved before it too became corrupted. It is interesting to note that most people charged with witchcraft, and thus heresy, were women and again their were two main reasons for it. One, to punish women for the sin of Eve since all women were descended from her (they thought) and secondly that all women were sexually ravenous and could not be satisfied and this was a blow to the male ego. Since a man could not satisfy a woman, only something other than a man could and again the link was made to the Devil since they were guilty of heresy to begin with. For women back then, it was a no win situation. An interesting note here, Joan of Arc was condemned and burned because of her crime, she was ajudged a 'relapsed heretic'.
For the Church it was a battle royal against the forces of Satan and his dominions. What makes all of this really sad and unfortunate is that they firmly believed in demons and witches riding brooms and other things that went bump in the night, with all their hearts, minds, bodies and souls. The Inquistion spread. If you do your own research, you will find many tales of convents mysteriously inhabited by the Devil, and tales of wholesale possessions, again in the convents. A good research book on this is the "Enclyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology". Do not let the title fool you. The two are treated differently and have no relation to one another, this is simple historically accurate items, and the people, who actually went through the witchcraft mania and the Inquisition.
It soon became apparent, as the Inquisition spread, that Sprenger and Kramer's little handbook was much needed indeed. Recently the question has been raised that the papers from the Pope to Sprenger and Kramer were forged, the two themselves, but that has yet to be proven. The Malleus Malificarum even suggested the best tortures to use to extract confessions. I have provided a link to a site that contains the complete book, translated from middle english so you can read it better. For some 300 years, this book was the final authority on everything dealing with witches. In fact, in the 17 century, another Papal Inquisitor, Italian Friar by the name of Guazzo, wrote the "Compendium Maleficarum". This book just reinforced what Sprenger and Kramer had written two centuries before, only his was more of the "spiritual" questions dealing with the soul and how the Devil operated by confusing and then tricking the poor unfortunate individual. In Guazzo's eyes, it was a battle to be joined and any means was permissable.