The image of alchemists as defrocked wizards and full-time frauds is not quite accurate. Most of them were, in fact, highly spiritual men whose quest to transmute one substance into another was closer to mysticism than modern chemistry.
For thousands of generations, from the earliest days of the cave dweller to Star Wars technology, a belief in magick has served the human race. And its practitioners maintain that it will be as powerful and as meaningful in the New Age.
Merlin, the magus who served as a tutor to young Arthur Pendragon before he became king, has become almost universally known as the mentor to all those youth seeking wisdom, spiritual values, and material prosperity. Although scholars tell those fascinated by the legend of Camelot that Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, are fictional creations, there are still those who seek out their graves.
Among certain Hispanic and Native American cultures of the Southwest, the practice of Burjeria is feared as a manifestation of evil. Those who use rituals, spells, incantations, potions, and powders to work ill against others are known as brujas (witches), who are primarily female in number (the male witch is known as a brujo).
Everyone who knows the traditional story of Christmas has heard of the three magi who followed the star in the East and who traveled afar to worship at the manger wherein lay the baby Jesus (c. 6 B.C.E.–c.
According to the U.S. Census, the number of individuals professing to be Wiccans rose from the 8,000 reported in 1990 to 134,000 self-proclaimed witches in 2001.
Those who follow the Wiccan path are a diverse group of individualists who pride themselves on being members of a religious philosophy that is flexible and adaptive to the needs of contemporary society. Athough there is the sometimes fiery debate as to the true historical roots of the faith, most Wiccans believe that none of them can dictate to any other just exactly what it is that they must believe.
At the time of his death on March 10, 1985, Dr. Francis Israel Regardie was considered by many occultists to be the last living adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical tradition that had numbered among its members William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), and Dion Fortune.
The curandero works among the Hispanic people of California, Texas, Mexico, and many areas of South America as a master of the many skills involved in folk healing. Whether male or female, they acquire their abilities through two basic methods: By serving as an apprentice under the guidance of an experienced curandero or by receiving a spiritual vision that gives the knowledge upon them.
Since the Middle Ages, witchcraft, the "Old Religion," or Wicca, the "ancient craft of the wise," all of which are different names for the same nature-based religion, has been unjustly, and for the most part purposely, interwoven with Satanism until, in popular thought, the two comprise a tapestry of confusion and misidentification. Wicca, in its contemporary expression, has evolved into what its followers term "neo-paganism," a concept reviewed in another section.
Followers of the order of Italian witchcraft known as Stregeria claim that their tradition has maintained an unbroken lineage that goes back before the days of the Roman Empire.
Before gathering in the forest for a Sabbat, many witches applied "flying ointment" on their bodies. According to ancient lore, this ointment enables the witch to fly through the air, often accompanying the goddess Diana through the night sky.
In the period from about 1450 to 1750, somewhere around 40,000 to 60,000 individuals were tried as witches and condemned to death in central Europe. Of that number, as high as three-quarters of the victims were women.
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) so deplored the spread of witchcraft in Germany that he issued the papal bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus and authorized two trusted Dominican inquistors, Henrich Institoris (Kramer) (c. 1430–1505) and Jacob Sprenger (c.