9 Famous Witches in History
What Is a Witch?
Before we take a look at some of the most well-known witches, let's examine the real definition of a witch.
According to dictionary.com, the general and misleading definition of "witch" is:
- A person, now especially a woman, who professes or is supposed to practice magic or sorcery; a sorceress.
- A woman who is supposed to have evil or wicked powers.
- An ugly or mean old woman; hag.
Though this is the general perception of witch, it is incorrect and utterly misconstrued. While the true translation of the word "witch" varies and has been debated by many, it can be simply translated to "wise woman."
Here, witches won't be introduced as women who fly on broomsticks and consort with the devil. Instead, this article will cover historical and modern-day accounts of wise women who have been called witches.
9 Famous Witches in History
- Morgan le Fay
- Anne Boleyn
- Marie Laveau
- Gerald Gardner
- Sybil Leek
- Laurie Cabot
- Scott Cunningham
- Silver RavenWolf
Continue reading for more on each of these famous witches.
1. Morgan le Fay (6th century)
Morgan le Fay has been depicted as the evil nemesis of King Arthur of Camelot. However, like many other famous witches' stories, this depiction has been wildy misconstrued. While Morgan le Fay's existence cannot be proven, those who believe in King Arthur's legend believe in her and Merlin's (a wizard) existence.
Who Was Morgan le Fay?
Morgan le Fay, also called Morgaine by modern-day novelists like Marion Zimmer Bradley, was said to be King Arthur's half-sister, and would eventually and unknowingly bear King Arthur a son. She is famous because of her direct association with the Isle of Avalon and with England's ancient Pagans: the Druids.
Much of le Fay's stories denounce her allegiance to her brother and her people, casting her as an evil, vengeful witch who wants nothing more than to destroy or rule her brother's kingdom of Camelot. However, the true legend is that she actually aided King Arthur in his dying hour by leading him through the mists to the Isle of Avalon to be healed.
We will probably never know the real story, or if it truly happened, but witches, to this day, do believe in Morgan le Fay and that she was, indeed, a famous witch in history who should not be feared but studied and revered.
2. Anne Boleyn (1501–1536)
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of the infamous King Henry VIII of England during the 16th century. There are many scholars and non-believers who say that Anne Boleyn was not a witch, but if we are talking about whether Anne Boleyn was a witch because of her wisdom—well, then, I have to disagree with the non-believers.
What Was Anne Boleyn Famous For?
Throughout her years as Queen of England, Anne Boleyn became a very educated and extremely intelligent woman. Despite the rumors and later accusations of treason, adultery, incest, and, eventually, witchcraft, which led to her beheading, Anne Boleyn is now considered one of the most influential queens in English history.
Was Anne Boleyn a witch or wasn't she? That is the question. I label her a famous witch because of her incredible strength and wisdom during her life, and her desire to appease her husband and her country. Others may call her a witch because they focus on the lies and accusations. Either way, Anne Boleyn is another witch worthy of respect and study.
How Old Was Anne Boleyn at Her Death?
Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536. She would have been between 28 and 35 years old.
Aradia is a witch whose story originates in the country of Italy. She is the main character in Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, a book written by Charles Leland in the late 19th century considered by many to be an early and reputable source on the subject of witchcraft. The authenticity of this book is still debated, but it has aided the resurgence of Paganism in the 20th century. Supposedly, Charles Leland was handed a book by a woman who lived in the Tuscany region of Italy named Maddelena, and it was with the help of this book that Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches was composed.
If one is to look at Aradia as she is presented in Leland's Gospel of the Witches, one would believe in Aradia as a sort of goddess of witches. The actual basis of Aradia's story in Leland's book is her birth from the goddess Diana and the god Lucifer. Her followers were supposedly a group of witches that had survived since the 12th century using Aradia's knowledge of witchcraft to fend off the Roman Catholic church's attempt to wipe out Paganism from Tuscany.
Was Aradia a goddess of Italian witches, or merely a powerful witch from the 14th century? I believe she was a witch who has had a strong following since the 14th century, but others still believe Aradia was more of a goddess and much more than a mere witch.
4. Marie Laveau (1801–1881)
Marie Laveau is the most famous Voodoo practitioner of all time. She was born a free black woman in New Orleans in the mid-1700s and became the most well-known voodoo priestess in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Louisiana. She is often referred to as the "Voodoo Queen."
What Is Marie Laveau Famous for?
White and black folks, alike, would come to Laveau seeking treatment for ailments in the areas of health and love.
Was Marie Laveau Catholic?
It has been said that Laveau was a devout Catholic and would attend mass religiously. However, she was also an advocate for the Voodoo religion, believing and practicing Voodoo with the aid of the loas (Voodoo gods) and being well-versed in the arts of intuition and seership. All three classes of New Orleans society would call on Laveau in order to acquire unknown information, or to will into being some desire such as health or beauty.
Where Is the Voodoo Queen Buried?
Laveau lived well into her nineties, though some claim she died earlier than that. Her supposed grave in New Orleans' Saint Louis Cemetery #1 gets more visitors on Halloween than Elvis Presley's grave. This famous witch may have been a Voodoo queen or priestess, but she was also a wise woman and knew her craft well.
5. Gerald Gardner (1884–1964)
Since the likes of witches such as Anne Boleyn and Aradia, many witches have emerged from the shadows (or have "come out of the broom closet") in the 20th and 21st centuries because of a man named Gerald Gardner.
Gerald Gardner is called the father of modern witchcraft as the founder of the Wiccan religion. The story goes that he was shown an old way of beliefs, known as witchcraft, and then decided to try to keep the religion and beliefs alive by making them public knowledge.
Thanks to Gerald Gardner, many Wiccans and Pagans, alike, are able to come out of the broom closet today without the fear of being hanged from the nearest tree or being punished for their beliefs (though, there is still much mental and emotional persecution for those who consider themselves witches or Pagans).
6. Sybil Leek (1917–1982)
Sybil Leek was taught the ways of witchcraft from a young age and was around during Gerald Gardner's time. She is one of the most famous witches in modern history and has written nearly sixty well-known Pagan and occult books, such as Diary of a Witch, Sybil Leek's Book of Herbs, and Star Speak: Your Body Language from the Stars.
Sybil claims Aleister Crowley, an English occultist, taught her about witchcraft and that she was supposed to be his successor. Sybil Leek died in the 1980s as "Britain's most famous witch."
7. Laurie Cabot (1933–Present)
Laurie Cabot is an American witchcraft high priestess and the "official witch of Salem." She is the most famous witch alive today in many respects.
Cabot is also an author and a wise woman who owns her own witchcraft shop in Salem. You can listen to Laurie talk about witchcraft on her YouTube channel, LauriaCabotOfficial.
8. Scott Cunningham (1956–1993)
Scott Cunningham preferred to call himself a Wiccan above a "witch" for personal, spiritual reasons. He wrote many books that are read all over the world on various topics of Wicca, such as kitchen witchcraft, magical herbs, magical stones, Earth power, and the practice of solitary Wicca.
Unfortunately, there will be no more wonderful Wiccan books published by Scott Cunningham. He passed away in 1993 from a long-term illness. He continues to be one of the most famous witches and one of the most beloved Wiccan authors in the Wiccan and witchcraft world today.
Witchcraft ... is a spiritual path. You walk it for nourishment of the soul, to commune with the life force of the universe, and to thereby better know your own life.— Christopher Penczak, The Inner Temple of Witchcraft
9. Silver RavenWolf (1956–Present)
Another famous witch alive today is Silver RavenWolf, born Jennie E. Trayer. She is an American New Age, Magic, and witchcraft author and lecturer who focuses on Wicca.
RavenWolf's name is very well-known among Wiccans and witches all over the world. She has a background in PowWow magic, from an ancestral lineage, and is also is well-versed in different traditions of Wicca. You can find her books on Amazon, or read more about her on the internet.
FAQs About Witches
What Is Wicca?
Wicca is another word for witchcraft or witchery and broadly means the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities. Wicca is practiced by both solitary practitioners and groups. Wicca, or witchcraft, is considered to be a religious divinatory or medicinal field. Because of this, it is often a facet of societies that incorporate magic into their worldview.
It is important to note that witchcraft is defined differently depending on cultural and societal standards, thus cross-cultural assumptions should be avoided.
What Are Wiccan Beliefs?
Wiccans do not follow any single tradition, practice, or belief. Witches usually create their own unique spiritual paths by adopting and reinventing the beliefs and rituals of a variety of religions, especially those connected to witchcraft, Paganism, or voodoo.
What Is the Difference Between Wicca and Witchcraft?
Wicca is a belief system, whereas witchcraft is a practice. Those who practice witchcraft believe in the Wicca religion, though this is not always true.
What Is the Wiccan Religion Based on?
The Wiccan religion is a diverse and decentralized religion built on the foundations of Paganism and Nature Spirituality.
What Are the Wiccan Holidays?
Wiccan holidays, or Sabbats, occur with the Earth's natural rhythms, and celebrate the Earth's journey around the sun (called the "Wheel of the Year"). Wiccans refer to the commemoration of the Sabbats as "Turning the Wheel."
Most Wiccans celebrate eight Sabbats, or holidays, annually. These are listed below:
The Eight Wiccan Sabbats
Yule (Winter Solstice)
December 20, 21, 22, or 23
On the shortest day and the longest night of the year, Wiccans celebrate the return of the light and the changing of the tide.
February 1 or 2
In preparation for spring, Wiccans clean and organize their living environment as well as their minds and hearts.
Eostar (Spring Equinox)
March 20, 21, 22, or 23
Marking the end of winter, Eostar is a day to celebrate fertility, birth, and renewal.
Beltane (May Eve)
April 30 or May 1
Beltane marks the beginning of the planting cycle. It is a light-hearted and joyful day usually celebrated with a festival.
Litha (Summer Solstice)
June 20, 21, 22, or 23
On the longest day and the shortest night of the year, Wiccans celebrate nature at its peak and the abundance of wildlife and people.
On Lughnasad, Wiccans face their fears, focus on developing their abilities, and take measures to protect themselves and their homes.
Mabon (Fall Equinox)
September 20, 21, 22, or 23
Mabon, also called Harvest Home, is a time of beauty and bounty as summer gives way to winter.
October 31 or November 1
Samhain marks the new year and is, for most Wiccans, the most important Sabbat. It is a time to celebrate all that has happened throughout the year.
National Geographic Wicca Documentary (Video)
Questions & Answers
Why did you include such a controversial witch as Silver RavenWolf especially given that I've heard absolutely nothing good about her from the community, save for beginners who haven't read anyone else's books yet?
Everyone knows who she is, don't they? It's not titled "9 Lovable Witches."Helpful 21
© 2011 Kitty Fields