Halloween Special: Famous Witches and Warlocks

A photo of a woman casting a spell.

For the month of October, we are switching gears. Instead of visiting haunted travel locations around the world, we are going to explore the subject of witchcraft around the world.

Regarding the subject of witchcraft, Indian Wiccan Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti said it best in an interview with News18 Books:

People are scared of witchcraft because of the way the word and the subject have been distorted through the years. The original witchcraft was a superior form of learning and women’s empowerment.

—Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

Chakraverti goes on to say: “Witchcraft can go back nearly 25,000 years when man first started worshiping the elements. It goes back to the time when man first worshiped the Mother Goddess. But with the coming of organized religion and a patriarchal society, women were given a back seat. Between the 11th and 17th centuries in Europe, the witch trials killed nearly 8 million women. In India today, witch-hunts still continue.”

Photo by JJ Jordan on Pexels.com

Famous Witches

India | Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, Modern Witch

Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (1950-) is a Wiccan priestess based in India. She was born into an elite family. Her father was a diplomat and her mother was of royal lineage. Chakraverti spent her early years in Canada and the US where her father was posted. She was allowed to join a select group of women studying ancient cultures of the world and the old ways. After three years, Chakraverti chose Wicca as her religion.

Chakraverti eventually returned to India, got married and then declared herself a witch in 1986. Even though she was widely criticized, she defended Wicca and Wiccan healing arts.

Chakraverti began using Wiccan ways of healing to treat the people of India, including those in remote villages. She taught the Wiccan way to the female population, several of whom were accused of “witchcraft” by their male counterparts and were murdered.

Chakraverti is now a popular author and speaker.

Unfortunately, witch-hunting is alive and well in India.

United States | Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen

Marie Laveau after portrait painted by George Carlin via Wikipedia.

Marie Laveau (1801-1881) was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo, devout Catholic, herbalist and midwife who was renowned in New Orleans. She was a free woman of color who, ironically enough, owned as many as nine slaves. Marie Laveau has gained quite a following due to the television series American Horror Story.

Marie’s early personal life is a bit cloudy. She married Haitian Jaques Paris in 1819 and— according to baptismal records—had two daughters with him, born before their marriage. The baptismal records (One of her daughters was seven at the time of her baptism.) show the father Jaques Paris as deceased. There is no mention of his death in official records. Neither are there any more records of the daughters, not even of their deaths. They simply disappeared from history. It is unusual for an entire family to drop off the radar like this, so people have always been suspicious of what went on. However, Marie called herself “Widow Paris” for the rest of her life.

In 1826 she met a wealthy white man and became his common-law wife. (Interracial marriages were not allowed.) She lived with him for thirty years until his death and had many children with him, one of which (some speculate) became Marie Laveau II, another voodoo queen. Other researchers say the second witch was no relation at all.

Though little is known about Marie’s life or voodoo practice, there are official records that show she owned an elite hairdressing business. She gained entry into many of the wealthiest homes in New Orleans and heard countless confidences. Carriages rolled up to her house on St. Ann Street late at night and elegant ladies descended to procure what she had to offer: herbal remedies (perhaps contraceptives and abortions?), guidance and voodoo protection—most likely in the form of gris-gris.

Gris-gris was (and still is) a bag of herbs or magical substances that was carried for protection or good luck or delivered with the intent of controlling another human being. This practice comes from the African gregries bags, which were bags filled with blessed objects or substances with magical properties to protect or empower. Marie made a lot of money until the end of her days from the voodoo treatments she provided to wealthy ladies.

Marie also led the infamous St. John celebrations (summer solstice) in Congo Square. There are local legends that say she performed magical ceremonies there,  including singing and raising the Great Serpent Spirit and becoming filled with the spirit of loa while she wore her Queen of Voodoo crown. These gatherings are still held and are presided over by the current Voodoo Queen.

Marie Laveau was one of the lucky witches to escape persecution and execution. Her life is actually a testament to female empowerment and service. Obituaries written about her speak of her service to the community, tireless assistance to victims of Yellow Fever, care for inmates of the Parish Prison and her daily attendance of Catholic mass. She seemed to have successfully integrated Voodoo practice with her religion. Perhaps, if we think of witchcraft as knowledge instead of demonic rituals and spells, one is not exclusive of the other.

Marie died peacefully at eighty years old at her little cottage on St. Ann Street. After her death, her gravesite was often vandalized with graffiti. People believed that if they drew an “X” on her crypt, they would be granted their dearest wish. So many people defaced Marie’s resting place that the cemetery where she is interred is closed to all but those visiting with a licensed tour guide.

Some say that Marie still haunts the site of her cottage (It was demolished in 1907.) and her grave.

France | La Voisin, Poisoner Extraordinaire

Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin (1640-1680), a.k.a. La Voisin (The Neighbor), lived in France and practiced medicine, including midwifery and abortion. She mixed potions and poisons, told fortunes, and arranged black masses, where clients could commune with Satan.

Her career started out innocently enough. She would tell fortunes and provide guidance. At first, she would council her clients to pray. As time went on, she would tell them to go to a particular church and pray to a particular saint. Soon, she was offering “magical” amulets for a small fee. Then she moved on to concocting powders made of the bones of toads, the teeth of moles, Spanish fly, iron filings, human blood, mummies and the dust of human remains. I could see how iron filings might help a few human maladies, but mummies???

For her most desperate clients, however, La Voisin began to offer (for a hefty sum) a consultation with the devil during a black mass.

Things could only go downhill from there.

La Voisin became an expert poisoner. She had many associates who worked for her and with her. Among them were Adam Lesage, who performed magical tasks, and the priest Etienne Guibourg, and abbe Marriotte who officiated at black masses. 

La Voisin was also one of the head honchos of the affaire des poisons, a cult that poisoned numerous French aristocrats. The cult’s most famous client was beautiful Madame de Montespan. Madame de Montespan first came to La Voisin in 1667 and paid for a black mass that would ensure she would win the heart of King Louis XIV. The mass was successful and de Montespan became Louis’ official mistress. Six years later, however, Louis’ interest faded as a new and younger woman caught his eye. Jealous, de Montespan went back to La Voisin and her cronies. She wanted to poison the king for (ironically enough) infidelity. The assassination plot was unsuccessful. And the act was the death knell of La Voisin’s career as well as her tenure on Earth.

Note to self: never try to kill a king.

Soon after the 1673 foiled assassination, a few poisoners were arrested. It came to light that there existed a network of fortune tellers in Paris who practiced poisoning and allegedly stole children for black masses. A witch hunt ensued. In 1680, La Voisin was arrested and convicted of practicing witchcraft. She was burned at the stake in a very public execution.

La Voisin and her fellows were responsible for ‎1,000 confirmed deaths. She is suspected of many more. Some say she may have killed 2,500 people.

Talk about a serial killer for hire. La Voisin gives a whole new meaning to the ditty, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

United Kingdom | Mother Shipton, Seer

Mother Shipton via Wikipedia.

Ursula Southeil or Southill or Sontheil (c. 1488–1561), also known as Mother Shipton, was a highly regarded and feared English seer. People said she was the daughter of Agatha Southeil (a witch) and the Devil and was born in a cave in Knaresborough, Yorkshire. This cave, now called Mother Shipton’s Cave, is privately operated as a tourist attraction.

Records indicate that Mother Shipton was unusually ugly and disfigured. It appears from the woodcut above that she suffered from kyphosis or hunchback. Locals called her “Hag Face.” Nice.

Regardless of her lack of physical beauty, Ursula married Toby Shipton, a local carpenter, in 1512. Throughout her long life, she told fortunes and made predictions about what was coming in the future, including the Spanish Armada, the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Internet.

Two of Mother Shipton’s predictions were set to verse in a manuscript written by Charles Hindley:

  • A Carriage without a horse shall go;
    Disaster fill the world with woe…
    In water iron then shall float,
    As easy as a wooden boat
  • The world to an end shall come
    In eighteen hundred and eighty one.
    Other sources say the actual prophecy was for 1981 or 1991. Oddly enough, in 1981, programmers Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie were hired by Bill Gates and Paul Allen to create a program which was eventually dubbed “Microsoft Word.” The name they chose—”Word”—has always intrigued me, in light of how that program transformed the business world and began a significant shift in the way humans worked and lived. Think back to the first line of the King James Bible: “In the beginning, there was the Word.” Is the product name mere coincidence or named that for a reason? Is my paranormal suspense brain taking too big a leap? Or was Mother Shipton on to something? Perhaps. But I digress…
The Mother Shipton moth via Wikipedia.

In her time, Mother Shipton was as famous as Nostradamus. She was so famous that English pubs were named after her. Two of them survive, one near Knaresborough and one in Portsmouth. The Portsmouth pub has a statue of Mary Shipton above the door. Even a moth (Callistege ml) was named after her, due to the hag-like profile markings on either wing.

Similar to Marie Leveau, Mother Shipton escaped execution. She died a natural death and was buried on the outskirts of York, England in 1561. 

Warlocks and Witchcraft

Chile: The Warlocks of Chiloé Island

Chiloe Island via Wikipedia

Off the coast of Chile lies an island that was isolated from the rest of the world until the 16th century, when it was “discovered” by Europeans in 1567. About the size of Puerto Rico, Chiloé Island was called “the place of seagulls” by the Incas and was thought to be a den of warlocks, darkness and evil.

The following information was taken from an in-depth article found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/into-the-cave-of-chiles-witches-20138093. We are just touching on this subject. You may wish to delve deeper.

An imbunche via Wikipedia.
  • Chiloé became part of Chile around 1830, and in 1880 was the site of one of the last witch trials in the world.
  • The coven on the island was similar to the Mafia, in that the male witches ran a protection racket. They would kill enemies with poison and sajaduras (magical slashes).
  • Coven headquarters was a large cave outside Quicavi, lit by torches fueled with human fat.
  • The cave was guarded by two “monsters”, a chivato and imbunche or imvunche, who also protected the coven’s ancient book of magic and scrying bowl.
    • Chilean historian Benjamín Vicuña McKenna recorded the testimony of one of the accused witches, Jose Coñuecar, as he described the monsters – “One looked like a goat, for it dragged itself along on four legs, and the other was a naked man, with a completely white beard and hair down to his waist.
    • 70s traveler Bruce Chatwin wrote – “When the Sect needs a new Invunche, the Council of the Cave orders a member to steal a boy child from six months to a year old. The Deformer, a permanent resident of the Cave, starts work at once. He disjoints the arms and legs and the hands and feet. Then begins the delicate task of altering the position of the head. Day after day, and for hours at a stretch, he twists the head with a tourniquet until it has rotated through an angle of 180 degrees, that is until the child can look straight down the line of its own vertebrae. There remains one last operation, for which another specialist is needed. At full moon, the child is laid on a work-bench, lashed down with its head covered in a bag. The specialist cuts a deep incision under the right shoulder blade. Into the hole he inserts the right arm and sews up the wound with thread taken from the neck of a ewe. When it has healed the Invunche is complete.
    • Wikipedia states that the imbunche is formed like this (seems more plausible):
      “The brujo chilote (warlock) transforms the child into a deformed hairy monster by breaking his right leg and twisting it over his back. When the boy is three months old his tongue is forked and the warlock applies a magic cream over the boy’s back to cause thick hairs. During its first months the invunche is fed on black cat’s milk and goat flesh, and then with human flesh from cemeteries. Besides guarding the entrance to the warlock’s cave, the invunche is used by warlocks as an instrument for revenge or curses.”
  • Members also claimed to be able to fly, using a cape made out of human skin.
  • Legend also says the members used seahorses that transformed into a brightly lit ghost ship that traveled underwater to move contraband cargo.
  • When the witches needed spies and messengers, they drew on still other resources. The society was widely believed to use adolescent girls, who were stripped naked and forcibly fed a drink made of wolf-oil and the juice of the natri, a fruit found only on Chiloé. This potion was, supposedly, so noxious that it made them vomit up their own intestines. Thus lightened, the girls turned into large, long-legged birds, resembling rooks. When their mission was completed, the birds returned at daybreak to the spot where the potion had been drunk to re-ingest their entrails, and once again become human.

Indonesia: Witchcraft is Alive and Abused

A dukun exorcising evil spirits from children, 1920, via Wikipedia.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, and surprisingly enough, sixty-nine percent of the people there believe in witchcraft, even though Islam doesn’t condone the practice. To this day there are witch-hunts, with people being accused of dukun santet (shaman curses).

La Trobe University anthropologist Nicholas Herriman wrote in his 2016 book, Witch-hunt and Conspiracy that the killings of sorcerers, as well as the subsequent ninja killings of 1998 in Indonesia, far eclipsed the number of victims in the Salem witch trials.

Indonesians suffering an illness often attribute their malaise to a curse from a local dukun. This occurs so often that police have adopted an emergency response for it. Three people respond: a policeman, a religious scholar and a doctor from the health department. All three units try to persuade the distressed person that their illness stems from a physical cause and not a magical one.

If the official response does not convince the ill person, they can resort to calling for a sumpah pocong (shrouded oath). In this ritual, the alleged sorcerer is wrapped in a white cloth, usually within a mosque. Then a Quran is raised above their head while the sorcerer proclaims their innocence.

This ritual is not often taken to completion, however, for if the sorcerer is innocent, it is widely believed the ritual will backfire. If that occurs, the accused will suffer the same significant spiritual repercussions a guilty shaman would suffer if he lied under oath during the ritual. Most people don’t want to take that chance.

Santet accusations are often used as a ploy to get rid of unpopular neighbors or buy property far below market value. Even the former president of Indonesia claimed that black magic was used against him during the 2009 election.

Published by Patricia Simpson

Patricia Simpson is an award-winning author of paranormal and fantasy fiction.

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