Faith and the Environment

What All of Us Can Learn From Witches

When one conjures up images of witches, pointy hats, witch trials, cackling and cauldrons come to mind. Throughout history, witches have been viewed  with more than a touch of hostility, linked to mysterious deaths, powers that defy the laws of nature and often an allegiance to Lucifer. In fact, so called witches have a far more interesting and important part in human history. Very little of it is evil and most of it is organically environmental.   

While practitioners of Pagan witchcraft encompass a diverse array of teachings and methods they were, at their core, repositories of invaluable knowledge. They had a deep understanding of herbs, plants, and their medicinal properties. Not surprisingly, they emerged as powerful  figures in their communities and were most frequently found working as midwives. In a historical context, witches were earthly environmentalists, living in harmony with nature and utilizing their expertise to help sustain life. 

Yet, beyond any botanical and medical expertise, witches cultivated a profound spiritual and philosophical connection with the environment. They viewed the natural world as a manifestation of the divine’s creative force, and believed that all life was interdependent. The environment was viewed not just as a resource, but as a companion that was deserving of respect. This holistic approach to the world seems almost modern, but these wise women had a deep-rooted sense of cause and effect. 

Unfortunately, their innate understanding of the world could not explain the changes in weather patterns and climate back in the 1400’s. Now known as The Little Ice Age, this period of history saw the Northern Hemisphere experience extreme winters, which took a catastrophic toll on harvests across Europe. An especially cold period in the 1500’s was so severe that it would take 180 years for grain harvests to return to their former levels.

Not surprisingly a scape-goat for this dire situation was needed, and during the medieval period, in Europe especially, witches took the brunt of the blame. The idea that witches could make weather and steal milk took hold and witches took a significant downgrade in popularity. No longer midwives and wise women to be turned to in times of need, they were instead in cahoots with the Devil and dancing till dawn around campfires.

Some might argue that witches are a lesson from history, blamed for something they didn’t cause just as fossil fuels are being scape-goated for climate change. Isn’t it much more believable that witches were the victims of a rampant misinformation campaign? Just like the campaign climate change deniers are embarking on at every turn, somehow our climate crisis is just cyclical nature at work. 

Thankfully we have something the witches and their haters never had – access to cutting edge science. We know what is perpetuating climate change and the story of witches is a reminder to stop hiding behind scape-goats and fight the very real enemy of the fossil fuel industry and their constant efforts to spread disinformation and doubt.

EARTHDAY.ORG’s Faith and the Environment unites believers of all denominations in the fight for the planet.