Wicca, like any other religion, has myth and folklore galore. For centuries, the gods and goddesses of witchcraft have had their tales spread far and wide by their worshipers. Some of these deities are benevolentothers, not so much.
Abonde (also known as Perchta) is not just a Wiccan goddessshes one of the main archetypes for many of our favorite fairy tales. She inspired fairy godmothers, wicked stepmothers, Snow White, and even Tinkerbell.
Abonde is the Winter Goddessone of the most important figures in all of Wicca in Europe. Some believe that she arose from the earliest divine female guardian figures that came down from ancient hunting cultures. Her association with witchcraft and witches may well have originated before the medieval witch trialsthis provides evidence that witches existed long before people grew frightened of them.
Like many goddess figures, her appearance changes depending on her story and temperament. She can appear as a beautiful young maid in a flowing white dress, or a wizened and shriveled old crone with wolf fangs and glowing red eyes. As the young lady in white, she brings fertility and prosperityif crossed, however, the crone will bring forth misery, illness, and death.
Today, many Wiccans revere her as one who leads nocturnal hordes of merry witches through the air, stopping at households to eat and drink of the feasts set out for them. She and her fellow witches bestow prosperity to the generous, and deny their blessings to the miserly who left nothing.
According to tradition, Aradia is either an Italian witch or a goddess come down to Earth. She was born in 1313 in Volterra, a town in northern Italy. There, she lived and taught throughout the latter half of the 14th century, speaking of an Age of Reason that would soon replace the Age of the Son.
In 1890, author and folklorist Charles LeLand published Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, based around a document he called the Vangel, which was supposedly given to him by a woman named Maddalena. Its authenticity was in dispute right from the beginning, but it has since become a wildly popular foundational Wiccan document.
Lelands account described an Italian legendthat may be partially trueof a woman who, traveled far and wide, teaching and preaching the religion of old times, the religion of Diana, the Queen of the Fairies and of the Moon, the goddess of the poor and the oppressed. And the fame of her wisdom and beauty went forth over all the land, and people worshiped her, calling her La Bella Pellegrina (the beautiful pilgrim).
This narrative may refer to a sect called the Guglielmites who believed in a Guglielma of Milanthe daughter of the king of Bohemia and the female incarnation of the Christian Holy Spirit. The sect itself was characterized by social and gender equalitythey even elected their chief, a woman named Maifreda da Pirovano, as their female pope. This theme of a female messiah (and of female empowerment in general) and enlightened equality may well have inspired the Aradia legends.
Nicneven was a Scottish goddess who led the Wild Hunt mounted on an eldritch steed while wielding a wand of power. When the lore of Gaelic Scotland mixed with the Norse, Danish, and Anglo-Saxon lore of lowland Scotland, northern England, and the Orkneys, she became alternately known as the Gyre-Carling or the Queen of Elphame.
In Scotland, witch hunts became increasingly entangled with traditional Wiccan worship, as Christianity struggled to end paganism. Because of this, Nicneven played a significant role in the ensuing witch trialssuspects would often name her as the entity that induced them to witchcraft. An edition of Chambers Edinburgh Journal describes a trial in which the defendant claimed that the Devil appeared to her in the likeness of a woman, whom thou callest the Queen of Elphen. The queen and her companions rode white horses and looked human, yet they also had the substance of shadows that played and danced as they pleased. The witness affirmed that the queen had a grip of all of the craft.
Writer Lizanne Henderson notes how both church and state, fearful of nonconformity, aligned to combat any source of unofficial empowerment possessed by the common people. This eagerness to go after folk beliefs under the cover of the destructive threats of deviance and evil led to five separate waves of witch persecution from 1590 to 1662.
Today, Nicneven is revered as the crone goddess of Samhain. Her themes are protection, ghosts, divination, peace, and winter, and she is represented by the pumpkin, gourds, and other traditional Halloween fare. She governs the realms of magic and witchcraft, and represents the onset of winter.
Despite his plain-sounding name and lack of divinity, Leonard is the demon inspector-general of sorcery, black magic, and witchcraft. Sometimes called le Grand Negre (the Black Man) due to his face being black as night, Leonards duties make him the grand master of the witches Sabbaths.
Collin de Plancys 1863 Infernal Dictionary describes him as having a goats body from the waist up, three horns on his head, a goats beard, ears like a fox, and inflamed eyes. He also has a face on his posterior, which witch hunters claimed existed so witches could kiss it in adoration during their evil gatherings. Leonard can also take on the forms of a bloodhound, a black bird, or a tree trunk with a gloomy face.
The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) writes that Leonard is also grandmaster of the nocturnal orgies of demons and that he marks initiates with one of his horns. So if you hear howling in the woods at night, dont go investigating.
Cernunnos (which is Celtic for Horned One) is the male aspect of nature. He is known as the lord of wild thingsassociated with animals, good fortune, abundance, material wealth (as symbolized by a coin purse that he carries), and virility.
Hes usually depicted as wearing antlers and being accompanied by a stag or an antlered serpent. The earliest depictions of him were found in northern Italy, but he was primarily worshiped throughout Gaul by names now lost, spreading throughout Celtic Britain and into Ireland.
Worship of Cernunnos goes way backit is believed that cults devoted to him existed in prehistory along with the earliest goddess figures in Celtic mythology. His name comes from a stone carving in Paris dating back to the Gallo-Roman period. In very early Irish literature, he was called Uindos.
In their efforts to stamp out paganism, the Romans first associated him with their god Mercury. Later, they attached him to Herne, a trickster from medieval legends. When that didnt work, they turned his appearance into a symbol of pure evilsome contend that his look was the inspiration behind the Christian devil, Satan.
New pagan and Wiccan beliefs contend that he is continuously born at the winter solstice, marries the moon-goddess Beltane, and dies again at the summer solstice in an endless cycle of death and renewal. Because of that, he is considered an important part of modern witchcraft, with many male Wiccans adopting him as their own.
While many African tribal men are highly respected as practitioners of medicine-related magic, women who do so are more often viewed with suspicion, if not considered downright malevolent. The Yoruba, for example, believed that some witches (called aje) would transform themselves into birds and fly by night to practice magic far from prying eyes. These witches were granted these powers by the great feminine spirits known as the Orisha.
One of the most powerful Orisha was Oyathe goddess of storms, winds, rainbows, and thunder, as well as a water goddess of the Niger River. She is a fierce warrior who protects women and is associated with change. Oya is especially known for using charms and magic, and is known as the Great Mother of the Elders of the Night.
Oya is the oldest sister to the goddesses Yemaya and Oshun, and she is considered the crone figure in this trilogy of feminine goddesses. Under the name of Yansa, she also figures in Haitian Voodoo as one of over 400 Orisha spirits.
In early Welsh tradition, Cerridwen was the goddess of inspiration and the mistress of the cauldrona dark prophetess associated with inspiration and poetry. She was considered both a mother and crone figure.
The cauldronhers of which could raise the deadwas an important aspect of Celtic life, serving as both a household hub and as a tool for divination and sacrificial rituals. This would explain the common connection between cauldrons and witchcraft. In addition to Cerridwen, the ancient Gauls linked cauldrons to the god Taranis, and one of Irelands four revered magical artifacts was the Great Cauldron of Plentya cauldron which gave everlasting food and drink to those worthy of it.
Cerridwen gave birth to two children: a beautiful daughter and a hideous son named Afagddu. To compensate for her sons ugliness, she used her cauldron to brew a potion. The first three drops would confer great wisdom, while the rest would be a deadly poison. As the time drew near to make use of it, a servant named Gwion Bach was stirring the pot when three drops fell upon his thumb. Without thinking, he put his thumb to his mouth in order to cool and clean it.
Bach fled the instant that he realized his mistake, but he was pursued by an enraged Cerridwen. Using powers conveyed by the potion, the servant attempted to escape by changing into a variety of forms (each one symbolizing the changing seasons). Cerridwen thwarted his escape plans each time, until finally he changed into a grain of wheat and was eaten by the goddess (who had conveniently transformed into a black hen). However, this didnt kill Bachamazingly, Cerridwen became pregnant with him and rebirthed him as the great bard, Taliesin.
Cerridwen and Taliesin are linked to Arthurian legend, with the latter thought by some to be Merlin. Cerridwen, meanwhile, is linked to Bran the Warrior through the cauldron that she gifts to him. Some even think that her cauldronsymbolizing knowledge and rebirthwas the original Holy Grail.
Circe was the Greek goddess of metamorphosis and illusion. She was also a goddess of necromancy, skilled in the use of potions and drugs in her many spells. It is this connection to magic that keeps her relevant among todays witches.
In some traditions, Circe is regarded as the goddess who invented magic, with Homers Epigrams XIV calling her the daimona (spirit) of magic. Even her name is derived from the Greek word kirko (meaning to secure with rings or hoop around)a reference to her association with binding magic.
While not wholly evil, Circe certainly wasnt a good witch either. She was known to turn the men she came across into animals, with their minds intact so as to fully appreciate their predicament. When a woman named Scylla unknowingly invited Circes jealousy, the goddess used a potion to change her into a hideous sea monster. And perhaps most famously, Circe was the goddess who fell in love with Odysseus after he and his crew landed on her island home of Aeaea. She turned all but one of Odysseus crewmen into animals and forced him to live with her for an entire year. It took the help of the god Hermes to defeat her spells and free Odysseus from her grasp.
Diana is the Roman goddess of woodlands, wild animals, and hunting. She was often depicted as a virgin, carrying a bow and quiver and accompanied by either a deer or hunting dogs. The spread of her cult probably influenced some myths of The Great Hunt found throughout pagan religions.
She was also a fertility goddess who assisted in childbirth, nursing, and healing. As the goddess of light, she represented the Moon, supplanting the goddess Luna in that role. She later became associated with Hekate and was known as a goddess of the dead.
She was originally worshiped on the Tifata Mountain and in sacred forests. Due to her affinity with the lower classes, escaped slaves could seek asylum in her templesmany of her priests were said to be former slaves. Eventually, her followers branched out from Greece and Rome and began to encompass much of the Old World. Her cult, along with that of the pagan goddesses inspired by her, was so widespread that early Christians considered her to be one of their chief obstacles.
Despite Christianitys best efforts, Diana worship is still alive and well today, with a entire branch of Wicca named after her (Dianism). Shes also one of the chief figures of various neo-pagan and Wiccan traditions. One such modern group is the Temple of Diana, a feminist group of Dianic witches with branches in Los Angeles, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Hekate, above perhaps all others, is the original and official goddess of witchcraft. The goddess of the crossroads is also the goddess of night, magic, necromancy, the Moon, and ghosts.
According to the most common traditions, Hekate was originally a Thracian deity whoas both a Titan and the daughter of Zeus, had power over the heavens and Earth. She was originally considered a nature and lunar goddess (on par with Demeter and Artemis) and either granted or withheld blessings of abundance, victory, wisdom, and luckdepending on how her worshipers treated her.
It wasnt until the time of the Greek tragedians that she became associated with witchcraft and death. A legend arose that she journeyed to the underworld after witnessing the abduction of Persephone by Hadesthere, she became her companion. After that, she began to be regarded as a spectral being, who at night sent from the lower world all kinds of demons and terrible phantoms, who taught sorcery and witchcraft, who dwelt at places where two roads crossed each other, on tombs, and near the blood of murdered persons. She herself too wanders about with the souls of the dead, and her approach is announced by the whining and howling of dogs.
Is it any wonder that, even today, Hekate is considered to be the undisputed goddess of witchcraft?
Lance LeClaire is a freelance artist and writer. Look him up on Facebook and keep an eye out for his articles on Listverse.