Skip to Main Content

The occult: Witchcraft and voudoo

The Occult Day, November 18.

Witchcraft and Voodoo

I'm looking at witchcraft and voudoo from a historical perspective, involving their relationships with the Catholic Church. I do not define Wicca or current magic belief practices as Occult. 

Witchcraft and the Catholic Church: A war on women or traditional local practices?

Demonology, Malleus  Malefiicarum ,"The Hammer of the Witches" and quotes like "Don't suffer a witch to live" and local traditional beliefs are black or Pagen arts and King James knowing witches tried to sink the ship containing his wife who was coming to marry him, these are all citations of books and statements that permitted men to kill so-called witches.  Well, witches indeed confessed they did these things, and some men were identified and killed as witches, but the majority of those tortured and killed were women.

Let's start with the King James translation of the bible quote "Don't suffer a witch to live." The thing about this translation is that the ancient Roman world had no concept of witches as they existed in the Middle Ages. There was a goddess called Hecate that were invoked in curse tablets, but all the gods could be called on to do harm. The translators of the King James Bible were approved by King James and in his native Scotland believed in witches and they translated that passage to support his book Demonology, in which he wrote about witchcraft practices.

The Hammer of the Witches was also based on the Misogyny that stemmed from the Catholic Church's belief that women were responsible for original sin and, with the exception of nuns and wives (and you had to keep a close eye on them) women were week tools of the devil ready to infect men with evil. This is the era of the scold's bridle, which is a helmet and mask designed to torture women who scorned their husbands and nagged them. The power of the Middle Ages was held by men, and there was always a suspicion that women were the embodiment of evil and tempted men to sin. This is an era before rape and spousal abuse in which raped women tempted men to stray and would be punished.

Later in history, the comments on the ending of the Salem Witch Trials were on account too many men were being accused of witchcraft. There was a belief that uteruses moved throughout a woman's body during the month's cycle. Midwives were held in suspicion because they often proscribed natural treatments and may kill children when they were born. Plus, any independent woman with power made them uncomfortable. The confessions of witchcraft exacted by torture, were prewritten by the torturers and the women confessed to anything they suggested. In a world full of fear and suspicion, older ladies who lived on the outskirts of town seemed like easy scapegoats.

It has also been proved that the Salem Witch Trials were actually perpetrated to take a specific area of town's land and the accusations all resulted in their property being taken by people from the other side of town. The Inquisition was looking at Jews and so called local Pagan beliefs, but much of the witchcraft confessions in the British Isles were more like male fantasies of a orgies. Either way, very little witchcraft went on outside the minds of the accusers.



Voudoo's place within the Catholic Church and ancestry practices.

Brought by slaves from West Africa and the Congo, native African beliefs had a creator God with many spirits or intercessors and acted as intermediaries between humans and the highest God, and this combined with Catholicism's beliefs of saints and the Christian God. They carried a bag of magical substances to control other people or for personal protection, success, and good luck. They have Voudoo temples with alters of these gods, represented by a Catholic saint, and special symbolic gifts are left on the altar to appease and request help from these beings. They also have animal sacrifice. People came to Voudoo priests and priestesses to gain protection or assist in hurting someone who wronged them. A lot of historical fear was wrapped up in the slaves because the slaves could be very dangerous and rise. It was believed that taking the paraphernalia, a bag of magical substances (gris-gris) would help them to be created into good, obedient, and less threatening people. What they did not understand was that the Catholic religion and its saints mirrored their beliefs and strengthened their belief in Voudoo. I suspect that the fact all the fathers of the generations of Voudoo priestesses were white (French) and their mothers were African, reinforced the connection.


Anderson, J. E. (2008). Hoodoo, voodoo, and conjure : a handbook. Greenwood Press.

Dell, C. (2016). The occult, witchcraft & magic : an illustrated history. Thames & Hudson.

Drury, N. (2003). Magic and witchcraft : from shamanism to the technopagans. Thames & Hudson.

Heyward, L. M. (Louis M., Waddilove, Philip., Miller, Arnold., Reeves, M., Baker, T., Price, V., Ogilvy, I., Davies, R., Brambell, W., Dwyer, Hilary., Poe, E. A., & Bassett, Ronald. (2007). Witchfinder general (Widescreen presentation.). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Hutton, R. (2017). The witch : a history of fear, from ancient times to the present. Yale University Press.

Jaher, D. (2015). The witch of Lime Street : séance, seduction, and Houdini in the spirit world (First Edition.). Crown Publishers.

James I, & Carmichael, J. (2011). The demonology of King James I : [includes the original text of Daemonologie and News from Scotland] (D. Tyson, Ed.). Llewellyn.

Long, C. Morrow. (2006). A New Orleans voudou priestess : the legend and reality of Marie Laveau. University Press of Florida.

Mignola, M., Arcudi, J., Newman, K., McHugh, M., Allie, S., Roberson, C., Stenbeck, B., Severin, J., Crook, T., Reynolds, P., D\’Israeli, Mitten, C. (Christopher J. ), Stewart, D., Madsen, M., Robins, C., & Tedesco, J. T. (2019). Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder omnibus (First edition.). Dark Horse Books.

Ward, M. Coonfield. (2004). Voodoo queen : the spirited lives of Marie Laveau. University Press of Mississippi.