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This course is sponsored by the Lawson Writers’ Academy

Three candles in the darkness text says: Magic & Witchcraft with Sheila Currie
Three candles in an ancient temple

Magic & Witchcraft

February 2021

Magic is distinguished from religion in that a magical practitioner usually acts for the benefit of one person whereas a priest acts for the benefit of a group or society. 

The word ‘magic’ comes from Old Persian, and we are familiar with the Latin spelling magus and French mage. In this course you’ll find out why the magi or mages had such an influence on people outside Persia. 

The religion of Zoroaster developed in Persia, and the magi, its priesthood, were thought to be quacks by Romans and Greeks. Any priesthood they disliked, they called magi especially druids, the Celtic priesthood.

Romans and Greeks were religious but they were superstitious as well. They spent a lot of time and effort on spells and counterspells. In the Middle Ages witchcraft developed from beliefs and practices of pagan religion and superstition. As Christianity spread, new beliefs and rituals were blended with with the old. But there were holdouts such as the Norse who became Christian hundreds of years after the peoples of Britain, and kept many ancient beliefs about magic and witchcraft. Trolls and such. 

In the 12th century the concept of white and black magic spread widely causing the Church to investigate. As a result witchcraft became those beliefs outside Christianity. A surprising amount of pagan belief was just fine with Christians.

At the end of the 16th century European elites believed that, just as European nations were becoming better organised, the devil made pacts with witches and organised them into covens. The regimes of the 16th and 17th centuries controlled what they considered the deviance of witches by persecution. 

Scotland became a persecuting nation in the reign of James VI and, between 1590 and 1700, over 1000 people, mostly women, were executed. The king personally attended the trials at North Berwick to make sure things were done properly.

However, in the Scottish Highlands, isolated from the European mainstream, witches were feared but not executed. They were too useful and older ways of thinking prevailed. Into the 19th century Gaels performed rituals at the rising and setting of the sun, the making of a fire, indeed, before the start of any activity including travelling. Pagan customs. 

The course is wide-ranging with enough detail to give you a ‘taste’ of belief outside religion. The instructor is not a witch nor is she a neo-druid. She is a historian and this course is a history of European magic and witchcraft including beliefs from Greece, Rome, Scandinavia and Scotland.

Research projects will be offered as well as a substantial bibliography. Discussion will be encouraged and comments welcomed.

The course will cover:

1. Greece & Rome

2. Witches & Vikings

3. White & Black Magic 

4. The Witch Craze 

5. Witchcraft in Scotland

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Scottish Highlands 1500-1800

6 Sept 2020

Swinging Kilts & Claymores! 

Everyone the world over recognises the heroic figure of the Scottish Highlander. But you have to wonder how that distinctive clothing evolved. You might assume that the society of the people who wore it was quite different from the Scottish Lowlands, England or any other European country. And you would be right.

In the Scottish Highlands, serial marriage was as common before 1700 as it was in northern Europe before 1200. Highlanders still raided Lowland cattle in the 1600s and 1700s. Lowlanders did not appreciate the fact that cattle raids were an elite and honourable activity carried on by Celts for over 2000 years.  Lowlanders wanted their cattle left in Lowland fields.

As late as the 17th century chiefs were inaugurated in pagan ceremonies with divination and no clergy, and then expected to go on a cattle raid to demonstrate their leadership qualities.

The government in the Lowlands did what they could to abolish Gaelic language and customs and make them into proper subjects. Yet Highlanders were not completely assimilated in the 18th century, and the Highlands became a tourist destination for such literary giants as Samuel Johnson. At the end of his tour of Scotland he said, “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!” Is that justified?


–Incredible information!  Your  classes are so packed with interesting history. I can’t wait to go through them again in a more leisurely manner and really absorb all the detail.  Thank you! Enjoyed all that you shared.   

–I appreciate your expertise in Scottish history. You’ve helped tremendously in supplying needed details for my Scottish Historical Romances. 

–Thank you. Was so incredibly informative and intensely detailed, am taking time to delve deeply.  I am so impressed with the care you took with this, much gratitude to you! 

–I wanted to thank you for such a wonderful class. I always come away with a wealth of info and ideas. I look forward to the next session. 

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Possible Courses in the Future

Ancient Celts                                                     Celtic Mythology    

Druids                                                                Celtic (Gaelic) Church                               

Roman Britain                                                   Fairies

Picts & Scots                                                      The Wars of the Three Kingdoms

Lords of the Isles                                               The Jacobite Rebellions

The Wars of Independence (Scotland)           Emigration

Medieval Ireland                                               Victorian England

If you want more information on one of these course, please contact me.