‘Witchcraft is a word that frightens many people and confuses many others. In the popular imagination, Witches are ugly, old hags riding broomsticks, or evil Satanists performing obscene rites. Modern Witches are thought to be members of a kooky cult, primarily concerned with cursing enemies by jabbing wax images with pins, and lacking the depth, the dignity, and seriousness of purpose of a true religion.
But Witchcraft is a religion, perhaps the oldest religion extant in the West. Its origins go back before Christianity, Judaism, Islam — before Buddhism and Hinduism, as well. and it is very different from all the so called great religions. The Old Religion, as we call it, is closer in spirit to Native American traditions or to the Shamanism of the Arctic. It is not based on dogma or a set of beliefs, nor on scriptures or a sacred book revealed by a great man. Witchcraft takes its teachings from nature, and reads inspiration in the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, the flight of birds, the slow growth of trees, and the cycle of the seasons.
According to our legends, Witchcraft began more than thirty-five thousand years ago, when the temperature of Europe began to drop and the great sheets of ice crept slowly south in their last advance. Across the rich tundra, teeming with animal life, small groups of hunters followed the free-running reindeer and the thundering bison. They were armed with mainly the most primitive of weapons, but some among the clans were gifted, could “call” the herds to a cliffside or a pit, where a few beasts, in willing sacrifice, would let themselves be trapped. These gifted shamans could attune themselves to the spirits of the herds, and in so doing they became aware of the pulsating rhythm that infuses all life, the dance of the double spiral, of whirling into being, and whirling out again. They did not phrase this insight intellectually, but in images: the Mother Goddess, the birth-giver, who brings into existence all life; and the Horned God, hunter and hunted, who eternally passes through the gates of death [so] that new life may go on.’
– excerpted from Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess (20th Anniversary Edition; HarperOne, 1999)
*To see more paintings by Freydoon Rassouli, visit www.rassouli.com