ever been healed by a song? Have you ever felt that love is a madness, induced
by some force outside yourself? Or have you ever found, after a seamstress
mended a coat for you, that you were unable to take the dratted thing off? And
did the seamstress smile? And did she promise that she would release her spell,
if you would just do her a little favour? – Or maybe you once saw a man approach
a wailwoman, and he withstood the
ghost’s bone-melting cry, and with a curious dance and gesture lifted the curse
that had detained the tortured soul within its spectral form?
If you have experienced any of these things, then you have likely received a better introduction to Witchcraft than letters on a piece of parchment will ever be able to impart. Witchcraft is the common name for the magical arts of Santharian witches. The term “witch” itself is derived from the Styrásh verb “ouidshán”, which means “to practice twisted magic” – and although witches themselves carry their name with pride, its origin tells a poignant tale about how they are perceived not only by the elves, but by all Santharian people. Generally, Witchcraft – or Black Magic, as it is known to its many detractors – is understood to be synonymous with dangerous, sinister, harmful sorcery. Witches have been treated with suspicion for as long as history records, since they often live outside of established orders, defy worldly and religious authority, and are loyal to none but fellow-witches (or so people think). After the calamitous War of the Chosen, when the world was weary of both sword-fare and magic, witches were persecuted and suspected of being in cahoots with necromancers intent on bringing forth creatures from the Netherworlds, and with them further deadly strife.
Image description. A cauldron witch in her kitchen. The ingredients on her shelf suggest that she is cooking no ordinary soup. Picture drawn by Seeker.
On the other hand, fairy stories and sayings also betray a certain fascination
with beautiful witches dancing on mountain tops, with the love potions that they
brew, or with the idea that one might ask a witch to let a wart grow on one’s
unloved neighbour’s nose. And indeed, the practice of Witchcraft would not
flourish quite as well as it does if
Santharians did not avail themselves of witches’ services rather more often
than they would admit.
Prevalence. This entry is concerned with Santharian witches only. Some reports suggest that Santharian Witchcraft bears a resemblance to the practices of shamans in Northern Sarvonia, but at the present stage of research we are unable to make a confident statement to this effect.
In the Kingdom of Santharia, Witchcraft is practised by both men and women. Most witches are human, but we have personally met some gnomish practitioners of the art, and have even heard stories about hobbit witches. In fact, one of the best spell cooks currently alive is rumoured to live in a smial in the Helmondsshire. (And a spell cook, as you shall soon see, is a type of witch that specializes in enchantments achieved through cooking or brewing.)
Before we proceed to introduce the gentle reader to the philosophy and practice of Witchcraft, it is necessary to make a distinction. For the magical arts of the witches – the focus of our article – are one thing; but what Santharians in their ignorance and superstition may choose to call “witchcraft” is quite another. In general, the terms “witchcraft” and “witch” are used to denote any kind of magic, and any kind of magic practitioner, that do not belong to one of the established and respected schools or systems of magic and that are therefore regarded with suspicion. As a scribe working in the Thane’s palace in Marcogg once told us: “If it ain’t Ximax, and if it ain’t Thalambath, and if it ain’t clerics, and if it ain’t elves, why, then for sure it’s foul, and for sure it’s witchery.” More sophisticated individuals might know that druidic magic, weaver magic, and life magic are also quite distinct schools of magical art – but even these knowledgeable ones might well fail to distinguish witches from mere gifted macanti, from shamans, or even from rogue mages. In short, Santharians tend to attach the label “Witchcraft” to any magic that they do not understand and do not have another name for – especially if they are afraid of it or repelled by it. That such confusion has done much harm to the reputation of witches in Santharia is beyond doubt, and it is the humble purpose of this article to try and dispel the ignorance that has clouded the perception of witches for far too long.
Concept/Worldview. Why is there a world, rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? – Because Avá the Beautiful dreams it, say the elves. – Because the Twelve Gods, praise be to them, are defending it against Coór the Shadow, say pious humans. – Because if the world didn’t exist, what would we eat, say the hobbits. (According to the philosopher Athiost of Carmalad, the hobbits’ answer is the most profound.)
Witches, for their part, have a different explanation again. The world exists, they say, because Harash spins it. Harash – that is the Great Spider, the Spinner of the World Web. It is a being both male and female, beautiful and ugly, wise as a whale and dumb as a pebble. The witches believe that all the world we see, hear, smell and feel is made of threads woven by Harash. The witches call these threads “dream threads”, because in our everyday lives, we are unable to see these threads themselves, but instead only illusions, “dreams” conjured up by them. This may be a bit complicated to understand, but a simile often used by witches to teach novice witchlings may help to make things clearer.
Consider what happens when you regard a tapestry. If you look from a distance, your eyes behold a picture: they see shapes and colours, and arrange them into objects and animals and people. Yes, if the weaver was skilled, you even believe that you see the figures moving. You think you see a boy running, a bird flying, a tree bending its branches in the wind. It is as if the tapestry were alive. But step closer, and you find that all these images are in fact composed of thousands upon thousands of individual threads of different colours; and that the boy or the bird or the tree that you admired are, in fact, nothing but a deft assemblage of dyed wool. You begin to see beneath the picture; you begin to see how it was done.
And so, the witches say, it is with reality also. In our everyday life, we only see the images, the illusion: the boys, the birds, the trees. But the tapestry itself with its myriads of interwoven threads we do not see. If we want to behold reality, we first need to know how to “step closer” to it; only then can we see “how it was done”. If we could do this; if we managed to see not just the images, but the threads themselves, we could even do a bit of weaving of our own. Not that we could spin new threads – that is Harash’s power alone. But we could rearrange them, make a new weft. In short, if we saw the fabric with which the illusion of reality is constructed, we could create a new illusion, a new image, a new reality. And that is Witchcraft.
By reweaving the tapestry, the witches say, they make a little contribution to helping the dream that is the world to expand: they help to bring new beings into the world (for example, through fertility spells); to bring new stories into the world (a love charm, say, leads to new and often complicated relationships, which make for good stories); and to bring new emotions into the world (even if ordinary people may judge these emotions to be negative, such as wrath or lust for revenge). New beings, new stories, new feelings – all these are so many new snarls in the dream web, new pictures in the tapestry. And that, in the eyes of witches, justifies them. What grows is good, and what grows in a disorderly way is even better. The more confusing the dream, the more mazy its yarns, the more fun there is to be had.
It is not the witches’ belief, by the way, that Harash the World Spider herself weaves the tapestry of the world. Harash merely spins the threads. The interweaving of them, which causes the world to be furnished with people, animals, plants and things, is an entirely chaotic process. Succinctly put, the world is a giant ball of tangled dream threads, and we are the knots in it. We have come about by chance, by the random muddled mess of Harash’s threads, and it is up to us to make something of this chance. Witchcraft, the witches say, is the best way to of doing so.
Sometimes young witchlings ask why Harash’s threads should assemble themselves to make a world such as ours, which features, despite its many unpredictabilities, a considerable amount of regularity. Oftentimes, the reply from older witches is but a shrug and an admonition to be careful only to ask questions that have an answer, lest your mind befuddle itself. Yet wiser witches respond that Caelereth, our world, actually is composed of but a tiny portion of the total number of Harash’s threads. In fact, they say, there is an infinite number of tangled balls of dream threads, and therefore there is an infinite number of worlds, none of which is like the other. Some of these worlds, the witches say, are lifeless. Some consist only of swirling colours, like the winter sky in a Northern night. Others are inhabited solely by fluttersong moths. Then there are worlds that are so beautiful that on seeing one of them, our eyes would immediately go blind. Yet others are so ugly that if we saw them, our hearts would wither and refuse to beat another beat. We are lucky, say the witches, that we live in a world that we can bear to see, because is both beautiful and ugly, just like Harash herself.
Basic Principles: The Craft. “Sing, and you shall hear; brew, and you shall smell; cook, and you shall taste; weave, and you shall see; dance, and you shall feel.” - Hildula Hauntwell: “The Arts of Warts, or: How to Take Revenge on the Infuriatingly Pretty” (New-Santhala, 1666 a. S.)
So how does Witchcraft actually work? How do witches contrive to see the dream threads? How do they “step closer” and inspect the weft of the world, and how are they able to change its structure? More competent authors than ourselves have failed in the task of making Witchcraft intelligible to the minds of non-witches. The single best introduction to the matter is still Archmage Turya Firebane’s “On Ouidch-craft”, written more than 1,500 years ago. Addressing her fellow Ximaxian sages, Turya explains:
“We know that magical
effects can sometimes be achieved involuntarily, and even by untrained but
magically gifted individuals, especially in
situations of severe emotional distress or physical exhaustion. As you,
venerated colleagues, are well aware, the principle of study that our
Academy is proud to represent is that
what the untrained individual can but achieve unconsciously, haphazardly,
the trained mage can learn to achieve consciously, deliberately, by
training his will to concentrate on the cár’áll,
its configurations, and its manipulation. Witches, however, draw quite a
different conclusion from the phenomenon of spontaneous, chaotic
magic: they prefer to observe that these
spontaneous effects occur when the person whom they originate from is, as
it were, not herself – when fear or pain or hatred or love have thrown her
out of her mind. The principle of Witchcraft is to lose oneself, or, as
the witches would say: to surrender. They seek such experiences that bring
about altered states of mind, where the logic of dreams and nightmares
rules, and where reason is silenced. So rather than striving for
concentration and control, witches aim for ecstasy and trance; rather than
avoiding everything that could disturb the calm execution of the will,
they seek to renounce their will and use the forces that lurk beneath it;
and rather than training the mind to control what it cannot directly
perceive, they seek to subvert the mind in order to overcome its limits.”
In the practice of
Witchcraft, ordinary consciousness is suspended, and the witch experiences
rapture, trance or ecstasy. The more spectacular variants of these states, such
as wild dances and hypnotic chanting, have become predominant in popular
perception, and exaggerated tales of naked rituals, orgies and licentiousness
abound. Yet your average witch is far more likely to prefer quieter sorts of
trance. The key to understanding this is the concept of “craft”.
Every witch knows a craft – an actual handicraft, or art – and it is through its execution that she accomplishes her magic. Thus, a witch trained in tapestry may “weave a spell”, a witch good at woodwork may “whittle a spell”, and a witch inclined to poetry may “rhyme a spell”. In this way, depending on the witch’s craft, her work may involve dancing a spell, singing a spell, baking a spell, cooking a spell, sewing a spell, spinning a spell, and so forth.
It is not necessarily the case that the witch, by her craft, produces a magical artifact (although this happens too, as witches may make magically enhanced brews, charms in the form of wooden figurines or embroidered clothes or amulets, or even magical sculptures of stone). But it is always through her craft that the witch “dives into the web of dream-threads”, as the witches put it. The crucial transition from everyday consciousness to trance is accomplished through the craft itself: through the hypnotic effect of repetitive movement (such as in dancing, or in loom weaving), through evocative chanting, or through the “surrender” of the mind to a tricky task.
Once she is in trance, the witch’s concentration is wholly on the invisible fabric of Harash’s tangled web. Witches believe that through losing themselves in this way, they can leave the illusion of reality behind, and can fiddle directly with the weft of the world tapestry: loosening a thread here, reweaving it there, cautiously making the picture yet more intricate, yet more interesting.
What makes Witchcraft Unique: Knots and Threads. “The spider that catches us liberates us. It is by being entangled in the web of life that we become free.” - Hildula Hauntwell: “An invitation to the spider’s web” (New-Santhala, 1456 a. S.)
So far, a reader educated in Ximaxian magic might think that the witches’ craft is just an alternative road to the goal that Ximaxian magic shares: the manipulation of the invisible energetic essence of the world. Furthermore, the reader might think that the witches’ notion of ‘tapestry’ and ‘threads’ are but simplified expressions of Ximaxian theory with its concepts of the cár'áll, the oúnia, and their links. Yet there is more to Witchcraft, and this is why the Ximaxian mages’ efforts to integrate the witches’ arts into their conceptual system have so far failed.
The witches say: You are a knot. And so am I. We are all knots. We are knots in Harash’s tangled web, a web that is ever-moving, ever-changing. Each of us consists of thousands upon thousands of threads, some of which are thick and constant, while others are thin and fleeting. We are chaotic entanglements of dream threads, and so is everything else: the animals, the plants, the objects, and the materials. Wherever we go, we carry a long trail of loose threads with us. And that is good, because loose threads allow us to make connections.
Have you ever thought about why you can recall in your mind a place that you have not visited for many years? Why you can sometimes, in lucid moments, remember this place as clearly as if you were there? It is because some of your dream threads are still tied to it. When you were in that place, one of your loose threads tied a knot around some rock or tree or doorpost there. And thus you became a part of the place, and the place became a part of you. This is why you have memories: the thing you recall is still with you, because you are tied to it. And your recollection of a thing is the richer the more of your dream threads are entangled within it.
And have you ever thought about what love is? It is a form of intense entanglement of the dream threads of two people. That is why it hurts so much when someone you love dies. The soul of the deceased, travelling into Queprur’s realm, pulls on your dream threads, to which it is fastened; and thus it tears your dreams apart.
Another form of intense entanglement between two people, by the way, is hatred. Power is another. And fear, another.
Such entanglements – or connections – between people might be weak or strong, fleeting or durable, flimsy or robust. But they may persist over space and time. This is why love can endure even when the lovers have been separated for many years. It is why a bird that migrates hundreds of strals south in the winter always finds the way back to its home forest, and yes, even to the very tree on which it was born. And it is why Witchcraft works.
For witches, when they leave their everyday minds behind and dive into the web of dream-threads, can see these connections, and use them in their art. Say, for example, that a witch has obtained a lock of your hair. This hair, although apparently separated from you, is still connected to you through dream threads. For you cared for this hair once; you washed it and combed it, you looked at it in a mirror. It belonged to you; and because it once did, it still does. Its separation from you is only superficial. Never mind the scissors that cut it off – the connection persists. Now, the witch can use this connection. Taking hold of your lock of hair, she can pull on the threads that tie it to you, and thereby achieve effects that affect you. For example, she might weave this hair into a doll; and pricking this doll with a needle will cause you pain. Or she might spin your hair into a rope and tie the rope to a tree, and thereby draw you to that tree by a force as strong as if she held an actual rope in her hand that was tied to your waist. Or she might use your hair as an ingredient in a mixture she concocts, which will make someone into whose eyes it is dropped fall in love with you. Or she might enclose your hair in an amulet, and speak a charm, so that the amulet will become warm when you are near. In this way, someone wearing this amulet may find you and recognize you even if you are in disguise.
Abilities, Limitations, Restrictions and Practice. “Thirteen needs has a man: food, drink, air; warmth, coolness, shelter; sleep, wakefulness, steadiness; embrace, beauty, wholeness; and silence. And thirteen desires he has: love, sex, friendship; respect, adoration, belief; solitude, invincibility, perfection; subservience, dominance, rules; and immortality. These, my sisters, are the hooks. Like fish the men will swallow them and hang at the end of your line. But you must know the right bait.” - Hildula Hauntwell: “To Make Your Loved One Want You: Amorous Enchantment in Seven Times Seven Easy Steps” (Nyermersys, 945 a. S.)
To some extent, a witch’s skills are determined by her craft: the protection spells, magical banishments, and enchanted cloaks of a spell seamstress are a dream apart from the love soups, healing breads and pestilence pellets of the spell cook, or the spirit whispers and summoning rituals of the spell dancer. Also, it is clear that some “witch’s crafts” are more limiting than others. A witch who “embroiders” her spells must have access to a needle and fabric to work her magic, while a “rhyme-crafting” witch is limited only by her poetic imagination. However, the more experienced a witch grows, the less important those limitations become: a skilled spell seamstress may need no more than a few blinks to quickly stitch a pattern into her sleeve and thereby craft a charm.
Witches use five categories to describe the varying levels of ability among their kind. These categories are: the Gifted, the Witchlings, the Spell Crafters, the Dream Bringers, and the Handmaids of Harash. Outsiders that have encountered but one kind of witch, and have prematurely generalized from their experience, have therefore come to rather contradictory conclusions about witches: while some have said that witches are “wicked but weak”, others have called them “powerful and terrible as demons”. The following overview of the five stages of Witchcraft shall, we hope, help to dispel such confusion.
First, there are the Gifted. A Gifted One is a person who was born with a talent for magic, but has not learned to use it. As such, a Gifted One is not a witch, but may become one under the guidance of a teacher, who must herself be a witch. Of course, a Gifted One may instead train to be a different kind of magic practitioner, such as a mage, a druid, or a cleric. Furthermore, many Gifted Ones never develop their talents, but remain dilettantes, whose access to magic is sporadic and haphazard. Some even reject or deny their talent. Others, the so-called macanti, become charlatans who exaggerate their magical powers, and make a living from folk’s credulousness and superstition.
Second, there are the witchlings. A witchling is an apprentice, who is learning from an accomplished witch. Witchlings usually live with their teachers, and help them with everyday chores in exchange for instruction. Witchcraft is always taught this way: from witch to witch. According to the craft of their teacher, witchlings are referred to as “song witchlings”, “needle witchlings”, “cauldron witchlings”, and so on. The witches say that of every thirteen apprentices who start the path to Witchcraft, three will never pass beyond the skill level of a witchling – whether for lack of talent, lack of dedication, bad teaching, or bad luck (such as, say, the death of their teacher before the end of the apprenticeship).
Third, there are the spell crafters. These are ordinary witches, whose magic is limited to a small selection of specific spells that they have learned. Witches themselves rarely use the word “spell crafter”, by the way, but refer to the individual witch’s craft instead, calling her a “spell singer”, “spell seamstress”, or “spell cook”, and so on. For nine out of every thirteen witches, spell crafting is the summit of their development. Spell crafters are therefore the most common of all witches, and the mediocrity of their skills has led some sages to conclude that Witchcraft in general is inferior to Ximaxian magic. May our readers make up their own minds about this point, but not before they have read on.
Fourth, there are the dream bringers, accomplished witches who are far more powerful than ordinary spell crafters. A dream bringer’s skills are no longer bound by the necessity to adhere to specific spells she has been taught. Instead, she is able to compose her magic freely. Rare is the witch who has the talent, the dedication, and the good fortune that are needed to become a dream bringer; and whoever rises to this level is highly respected among witches. The witches say that of every thirteen witchlings who begin an apprenticeship, only one will become a dream bringer. Like spell crafters, the dream bringers are commonly referred to by terms that are specific to their craft, such as “dream singer”, “dream seamstress”, “dream cook”, and so on.
Last, we come to the most powerful witches of all, the terrifying Handmaids of Harash. They are the stuff of legend, and you are about as likely to meet one as you are to meet a resonance dragon. Some witches say that a Handmaid of Harash appears only once every seven times seven years. Others say that the true number is closer to once every thirteen times thirteen years. In any case, a Handmaid of Harash is always an influential figure, and if one is around during your lifetime, you will either have heard of her, or have heard of events that she has caused, even if you don’t know that it is she who is at the roots of it all.
Witchcraft and Ximaxianism.
The effects of Witchcraft continue to befuddle
Ximaxian mages, as they defy the neat classifications and hierarchies that
Ximaxianism prefers. For example, relatively
undistinguished witches, who would fail at something simple such as conjuring a
little wind to drive a fly off (an elementary
Ximaxian wind spell), may nonetheless succeed
in brewing a magically enhanced potion that temporarily changes the appearance
of anyone who drinks it (say, making their skin radiantly beautiful, or
increasing the size of their teeth to give them the appearance of a donkey) – an
effect that Ximaxians would consider to be an
“enchantment” and a “Level 9-spell”, a skill that a
Ximaxian can expect to attain only after
decades of study.
Many Ximaxians have therefore concluded that witches must have supernatural help, and the theory that witches achieve their results through entering pacts with demons is rather popular even among archmages. Certainly, most mages are proud to distinguish their own profession from the “wild” magic of the witches, and would be greatly offended to be considered in the same category. Yet a few mages have shown interest and genuine curiosity. The archmage Kar-ii Turya Firebane’s treatise “On Ouidch-craft”, for example, presents a dispassionate account of what was known of witches at the time, and a valiant attempt at explaining both the witches’ world view, and the manner in which they achieve their magical effects.
Locations. Witches can work magic anywhere they can perform their craft. Obviously, if you want a spell cook to make a healing potion, you had best provide her with a kitchen, a large fireplace, and two dozen shelves full of ingredients suitable for her receipts. At a pinch, however, the spell cook might be able to make do with a campfire, a few herbs, and a drop of saliva that she scrapes off your tongue.
More intriguingly, groups of witches sometimes assemble in remote locations, such as high in the mountains or in forests, in order to combine their magical powers for particularly difficult or demanding spells that one witch on her own could not accomplish. Spell singers and spell dancers, in particular, are known for holding such congregations from time to time. Needless to say, witches are very wary of persecution, and many have withstood torture without revealing their sisters’ and brothers’ secret meeting-places.
Image description. Among other things, witches know how to converse with ghosts. What the pompion has to do with this only a witch could tell you! Picture drawn by Eratin.
Witchcraft has been practised for so long that no tale tells of its beginnings.
Historians have speculated that Witchcraft provided some of the many
magic weapons that
came close to destroying the world during the
War of the Chosen (9500-9000
b.S.). Yet even halfway reliable records only begin to appear in the subsequent
Era of Consolidation (8500-3400 b.S.).
Ostracism and Persecution: The Era of Consolidation. During the Era of Consolidation, the world was weary of magic, and its use was banned almost everywhere. The term “witchcraft” seems to have originated at that time. In Styrásh, the elven tongue, a “ouídsh” is a charlatan, or someone who practices twisted magic. And it is clear that from the beginning, Witchcraft was thought to be a sinister art practiced by malevolent sorcerers.
Punishments for the crime of Witchcraft were severe. The scant records we possess from this period suggest that every year thousands of people throughout the continent of Sarvonia were burned, drowned, or otherwise executed for using magic. Since at that time no legitimate magical schools for humans existed, it is possible that the words “witch” and “witchcraft” may have been applied to any magic practitioner and any practice of magic, rather than specifically to what we today understand the terms to mean. In general, magic practitioners at that time were always suspected of intending to bring harm, even if (and indeed, especially if) they were apparently using their powers for harmless or even benevolent ends.
Thus, we know of a woman in Serpheloria who in the year 4523 b.S. was drowned for using a charm made from wizardleaf to bring a child back to life from the Black Death. And a document from what in 5511 b.S. was called “Hobbitshire” (today’s Helmondsshire), tells of a gardener who was burned at the stake for “enchanting his vegetables to have unnatural shapes and colours, and for growing corpseberries as big as pompions”.
Witchcraft and Ximaxian Magic. Around the year 2000 b.S., the institutionalization of magic began with the building of what came to be known as the Magical Academy of Ximax. At the time, mages were working hard to gain the trust of kings and common folk, who nonetheless remained suspicious. One way in which the early Ximaxians sought to gain respectability was to distance their own “controlled”, “virtuous”, and “scholarly” magic from the alleged “wild magic” of other magic users. Indeed, it was at this time that mages invented the term “black magic” to draw a firm line between allegedly evil Witchcraft on the one hand, and their own “white, clean” magic on the other.
The First Sarvonian War. In the first millennium b.S., the Ximaxians gained prestige as their art supported the human armies in the three Sarvonian wars against the elves, and also helped to alleviate the suffering brought about by the war. Witches, on the other hand, were routinely blamed for undermining the human war efforts. During the First Sarvonian War (806-729 b.S.), witches were suspected of having dealings with the elves, because they did not participate in the battles. Spontaneous witch-hunts against the supposed “enemy spies in human lands” are said to have cost the lives of thousands of actual or suspected witches.
The Second Sarvonian War and The Night of the Hand. The Second Sarvonian War was even more disastrous for the reputation of witches. This conflict began on the infamous “Night of the Hand” (7th Singing Bird, 550 b.S.), when elven artifacts from the “Grave of the Leaders” of the first Sarvonian War were stolen by unknown thieves, while artifacts of the human heroes remained untouched. Suspicion fell on the elves, and the humans declared war. In 501 b.S., after almost fifty years of bloodshed, the humans surrendered to the elven forces, but were surprised by the elves’ magnanimity in victory, as they demanded no payment of reparations. This spurned rumours that the elves might not have been responsible for the war after all, and people began to put the blame on witches instead. Witches, it was said, had wanted to provoke a new war to distract human rulers from persecuting their own misdeeds. This version of events is still widely believed to this day.
Indeed, the night after the seventh day in the month of Singing Bird, the date of the “Night of the Hand”, now has a firm place in the Santharian calendar. Superstitious folk believe that every year during this night, witches perform rituals that enhance their magical powers, and that they roam towns and villages to look for victims for their malicious machinations. So when the sun sets on the 7th Singing Bird, Santharians lock their doors, close their window shutters, and won't leave their houses until the morning. Many put blossoming branches outside their homes in the belief that the sign of the Tree of Life will fend off witches. The witches themselves, by the way, also tend to stay at home during that night, for they say that on no other day in the year have so many witches been hunted, caught, and slaughtered than at the anniversary of the Night of the Hand.
In any case, by the second half of the first millennium b.S., the term “witchcraft” had become all but synonymous with “evil magic” in most people’s imagination. Thus it comes that an elven sorcerer such as Saban Blackcloack (110-60 b.S.), who brought much destruction over humans, dwarves, and other elves, has come to be known as the “Witchking” in popular parlance, even though there is no evidence to suggest that witches were ever among his followers.
Witchcraft in the Santharian Kingdom. Even in more recent history, and specifically in the Santharian Kingdom, whose founding marks the Year Zero of our calendar, witches have continued to suffer persecution by authorities, as well as pogroms from enraged mobs. Although no Santhran has ever sanctioned a witch-hunt, provincial rulers and town patricians have often found it expedient to blame the witches for all kinds of ill befalling their grand or petty realms. Droughts, plagues, floods, deadly hailstorms, troll attacks, wars, and even holes in a duchy’s treasure chest have been ascribed to the witches’ machinations.
The witches’ situation is not helped by the existence of the so-called witchfinders: men and women who claim expertise in the art of finding and identifying the secretive witches, and of extracting confessions from those suspected of witchery. Most witchfinders are solitary individuals, who travel the land and offer their services to anyone who will pay. Yet some dukes and lesser nobles have raised this occupation to a regular office, and keep a witchfinder at their court, in order to protect their family and their retinue from witches’ interference.
The Moundgraven of Cinnabark Ridge in southern Manthria is said to demand any family who wants to join his own by marriage to undergo a thorough examination by his witchfinder. The skill of this remarkable individual in detecting witches is said to be so great that none of the Moundgraven’s three daughters has yet been able to find a husband, even though the extraordinary beauty of the young gravionesses is beyond doubt, as is their father’s considerable wealth. The witchfinder in question has no wife of his own, by the way, but considers it his professional duty to carry out daily inspections of his protégés’ private chambers lest a witch may have placed an enchantment therein. By virtue of his office, he is therefore the only man, other than their father, who is permitted to spend time in the company of the gravionesses without the presence of a chaperone. We have heard rumours that the pleasures which this privilege affords on the one hand, and the witchfinder’s exactitude in judging the families of the gravionesses’ many suitors on the other, stand in causal relation to one another. Yet the witchfinder assures us that any such insinuations are entirely without foundation, and can only have been circulated by witches, who forever aim to thwart him in his noble work of exposing their foul schemes.
In short, being a witch in Santharia today remains a precarious occupation. In response to the persecution they encounter, witches have become rather secretive – which, while understandable, is liable to reinforce the mistrust against them. Your humble author can only hope that the present article, in conjunction with his report on the witches and their covens, which he intends to submit to the august Compendium soon, will serve to disperse the poison of mutual suspicion, and foster understanding between witches and non-witches in Santharia.
 Harash’s name derives from the Styrásh word “háh'rásh” (“Utmost Spinner”). Cognizant of this, scholars of magical history have speculated that in an age long gone, the earliest witches learned their magic from elves. By the way, the Tharian word “hag” is descended from the same elvish root, and is of course an insult that few female witches who live long enough fail to encounter. [back]
 In her seminal work “On Ouidch-craft” (Ximax, 1st century a.S.), the Archmage Turya Firebane has speculated that the witches’ idea of other worlds besides our own may have been influenced by the beliefs of those most mysterious of magicians, the Old Weavers. These Old Weavers, it is said, collectively left Caelereth around 800 years before Santhros, to enter what they called “The Web”, a world woven entirely of magic. Indeed, when witches gather in their covens and sit around their fire by night, they like to tell one another stories of how their most powerful sisters, the “Handmaids of Harash”, are able to travel to other worlds, just like the Old Weavers did. We have even heard it claim that these dauntless witches visit the Old Weavers in their magic cities, and converse with them, and learn their secrets. Yes, some witches say that the real power of a Harash’s Handmaid lies in the fact that she has overcome death, and that when she leaves this world, it is only to continue her life in another. Since the author of this article has not been lucky enough to meet a Harash’s Handmaid, however, he has not been able to verify these assertions. [back]
 As we have said, Witchcraft is practised by both males and females. However, since among the witches women outnumber men by a ratio of about three to one, we have decided to use feminine pronouns in this Compendium entry whenever we refer to a “generic” witch. [back]