Witchcraft and the Ancestors

Imagine a world in which spirits haunted your dreams. In that world, dreams have meaning, and special men and women—shamans—have the ability to interpret them. When you woke up in the morning in your hut, you felt the dream spirits draining away. As you went through your day, you encountered spirits everywhere. In your stroll to the fields, you offered kind world to the spirits you may encounter in the path. If you found a bush, you made sure to be careful—spirits love vegetation, everybody knows. Some places are just filled with spirits; forests, caves, bodies of water. Spirits love those places, and it would a foolish man who didn’t offer respect when traveling through such places. You may not be able to see them, but spirits are as real as a lover or a child.

And of course, you would want to communicate with the spirits; perhaps even bringing them into your very being. In this imaginary world of ours, religious ceremonies would revolve around emotional drum beats, with men and women chanting for hours, until the spirits too over their bodies. When the spirits took over, the body would convulse, in an immensely powerful physical and spiritual experience. The spirits were real; everybody knew. Being possessed by the spirits in this World, is the highest of spiritual experiences. It puts a man or a woman in communion with the higher spirits, the gods.

The World of the Ancestors

This World I’ve been describing is not imaginary at all—this is the spiritual world of the ancestors. For most of human history, just about everybody have believed in the pervasive presence of spirits. Witchcraft has been real, and much feared and much admired, for the vast majority of human existence. I’m writing this blog post for men and women of the Western World, to whom I say this: even to this day, the majority of fellow humans believe in the pervasive, clear existence of spirits.
Once you realize that, for the vast majority of the human experience, the pervasive, invasive existence of a spiritual World was taken for granted, a lot of so-called mysteries fall into place.

Understanding the Past

Immediately, the mystery of the European witch scare melts away. First, I’ll give you a timeline to explain why things happened when they happened. Sometimes in the late 8th or early 9th century, pagan Vikings sailed forth from the Baltic Sea to plunder Christian lands. The Christian World, under considerable pressure from Islamic expansionism, struggled to deal with the threat. But slowly, through much suffering and many compromises, Christianity gained the upper hand. Eventually, the Vikings accepted Christianity.

But Christianity, through the process of syncretism, accepted Viking paganism too. This is not a knock on Christianity—absorbing competing religious traditions is a normal process all religions involve themselves into. The immense emotional power of Nordic belief made it into Christian belief. The belief in the power of witchcraft was renewed among the Christian nations.

Crucially, let me emphasize this, the belief in witchcraft was always there. Just about every man, woman and child in the 13th century believed in the power of witchcraft. To this day, the majority of people living on this Earth of ours believes in witchcraft. When it comes to this belief, those of you reading these words, Christians or unbelievers, we are the strange ones—the vast majority of human history has lived under a different psychological reality than we do.

There is nothing odd about the behavior of the ancestors. The oddness lies within us.

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