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. The general and misleading definition of "witch" according to dictionary.com is: A woman thought to have evil magic powers. Witches are popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat, and flying on a broomstick. Though this is the general population's perception of what a witch is, it is incorrect and utterly misconstrued. While the true translation of the word witch varies and has been debated by many, it can simply be exposed to mean "wise woman".
In this article, I don't plan on introducing witches under the ill-conceived idea of women who were accused of flying on broomsticks and consorting with the devil. I actually plan on sharing some historical and modern-day accounts of wise women who, in reality, can be called famous witches by the true meaning of the word witch.
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
Witches Before the 20th Century
1. Morgan le Fay
Morgan le Fay has been depicted as an evil nemesis to King Arthur of Camelot. However, this depiction has been widely misconstrued, like many other famous witches' stories. While Morgan le Fay's existence cannot be proven, those who believe in King Arthur's legend believe in her existence, as well as the Merlin. 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 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, making her into an evil, vengeful witch who wants nothing more than to destroy and/or rule her brother's kingdom of Camelot. However, the true legend before the twisting occurred was 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
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of the infamous King Henry VIII of England in the sixteenth 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. Throughout her years as a queen of England, Anne Boleyn became a very educated, extremely intelligent woman in the country of England. Despite the rumors and her later accusations of treason, adultery, incest, and eventually, witchcraft, which led to her beheading, Anne Boleyn is now known as one of the most influential queens of 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 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.
Aradia is a witch whose story originates in the country of Italy. Aradia is the main character in Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, a book written by Charles Leland in the late 19th century. The authenticity of this book is debated to this day, but the book has actually aided in 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 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 upon her birth to the goddess Diana and the god Lucifer. Her followers were supposedly a group of witches that had survived since the 12th century by using Aradia's knowledge of witchcraft to fend off the Roman Catholic church's advances to wipe out Paganism from Tuscany.
Was Aradia a goddess of Italian witches, or merely a powerful witch from the fourteenth century, according to the modern author Raven Grimassi? You must do the research on your own her story can be convincing either way. I believe she was a witch who has had a strong following since her life in the 14th century, but others still believe Aradia was more of a goddess and much more than a mere witch.
4. Marie Laveau
The most famous Voodoo queen of all time is Marie Laveau. Marie 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. White and black folks, alike, would come to Marie Laveau for ailments in the areas of health and love.
It has been said that Marie 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 and being well-versed in the arts of intuition and seership. All three classes of New Orleans society would call on Marie Laveau in order to acquire unknown information or will into being some desire such as health or beauty.
Marie 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.
Famous Witches of the 20th and 21st Centuries
"According to the oral tradition of Witches, we were once the priests and priestesses of a peasant Pagan religion. Members of this secret sect met at night beneath the full moon, for these were the "misfits" and "outcasts" who did not fit into mainstream society. Little has changed over the centuries and the Witchcraft community still embraces individuals frequently rejected in mainstream society. These include gays, lesbians, transgendered individuals, and other people with the courage to live their lives authentically in accord with who they are inside their hearts, minds, and spirits."
– Raven Grimassi, Witchcraft: A Mystery Tradition
5. Gerald Gardner
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 twentieth and twenty-first centuries because of a man named Gerald Gardner. Gerald Gardner is called the father of modern witchcraft since he is 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 fear of being hanged from the nearest tree or other physical persecution for their beliefs (though, there is still much mental and emotional persecution for those who consider themselves witches or Pagans).
6. Sybil Leek
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 about 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 that she was taught much of her knowledge on witchcraft by Aleister Crowley himself and that she was supposed to be his successor. Sybil Leek died in the 1980s as "Britain's most famous witch".
7. Laurie Cabot
Laurie Cabot is the "official witch of Salem" and the most famous witch alive today, in my opinion. She is also an author and a wise woman, owns her own witchcraft shop in Salem, and even records videos on her own YouTube channel! I am subscribed to her channel and if you're interested, you should subscribe, too!
8. Scott Cunningham
Scott Cunningham preferred to call himself a Wiccan above a "witch" for personal, spiritual reasons. He has written 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 practicing solitary Wicca. Unfortunately, there will be no more wonderful Wiccan books published by Scott Cunningham because he passed in 1993 from a long-term illness. He continues to be one of the most famous witches and one of the most loved Wiccan authors in the Wiccan and witchcraft world today.
9. Silver RavenWolf
Another famous witch that is alive today is Silver RavenWolf. She is also an author of books on witchcraft, and her 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. She is a witch that you won't want to pass up!
"Witchcraft is not evil. At least not any more than lighting a votive candle, praying for a sick friend, or carrying a lucky charm is. However, there are some who do view witchcraft as evil. This is only because organized religion (primarily the Christian church) has conditioned them to fear anything which strays from their narrow condemning view. After all, if you have the ability to fend for yourself, solve your own problems, and choose your own method of spiritual expression, why would you need the confined structure of a church?"
– Lady Sabrina, Secrets of Modern Witchcraft Revealed
© 2011 Nicole Canfield