Folk Witches: sources (bibliography) of powers?

Hi there!

I am designing a witch coven for my saga :slight_smile: I like the idea of witch covens, but I am struggling somehow to make the witches described in the book match my preconception of witches. This mentioned preconception is probably heavily victorian/disney inspired, so I would like some info on where I can get some first hand info on 11-13th century witches.

So, I am asking: do you know any good books on medieval witches?

Looking at the stats I can see no problem with:

  • Shapeshift: the paradigmatic crow, cat or wolf witch. Cool :slight_smile:
  • Animal Ken: we all know witches talk with animals :stuck_out_tongue:
  • Flight: no proper witch would be complete without her broom or dark flying cloak
  • Second Sight: witches see supernatural stuff and they chat with demons before nightime.

What got me somewhat puzzled were the following ones:

  • Dowsing: Are witches supposed to be any good at this?
  • Cursing: The catchall ability for witches, so that they can curse you or create related (love) effects. I was wondering if maybe Hex wouldn't have been a more "normal" option? My image of a witch has she cursing the hell out of you, and casting the evil eye on you, not making your shrink after 3 months of work in the lab.
  • Healing: witches and midwives can be quite related, but wouldn't mythic herbalism be enough to achieve most of this stuff?

This is NOT a design criticism on the design :slight_smile: It is just that I am totally ignorant on witch traditions, and would like to know a little bit more about them :slight_smile: Any sources of inspiration welcome!



Dowsing... yeah, the finding of lost things is a fairly witch typical ability.

Cursing... the curses are all straight out of popular folklore, including making someone sick or miscarry right up to turning someone into a toad. The "season of lab work to do it" I find questionable, though certainly powerful curses traditionally would require a ritual space (lab) and an arcane connection. It's the "season" part I find dodgy. A few hours maybe (something on the order of a ritual spell) but not a season. Still, only truely powerful witches could turn someone into a toad with just a word and an evil glance (and such "witches" would probably be better represented by Ex Misc Magi, IMO).

Healing... I also think Mythic Herbalism is much more representative of folk witchcraft and I would replace Healing with it should it become revelent in my saga. I think that may be a case of different authors for different chapters and not enough overlap of ideas (but I could be way off base).

It's actually relatively difficult to find information about this period. This is because much of the information ultimately comes from the Church, and as an institution the Church didn't apparently really care too much one way or the other about "witches" in this period. Although, of course, it depends on exactly what you mean by "witch". There is much more information available about the 14/15/16th century.

I think there is a bibliography in Hedge Magic Revised Edition?

These are all traditional things for "witches" to be doing. Of course, real traditions don't draw clear distinctions between faeries, witches, wizards, devil-worshipers, and other sorts of people with access to supernatural powers.

The set of Supernatural Abilities listed is just meant to be one example of the "bundle" of Supernatural Abilities that a particular group of folk witches might have --- so, you should feel entirely free to swap these around with other Supernatural Abilities if that suits the local folk witches of your saga better.

As far as Cursing taking a season, that comes from the idea that many/most traditional representations of cursing require some physical object to embody the curse. Making the object initiates the curse and destroying the object lifts the curse. That fact that it takes a season of game time (rather than, say, a week or a month to do this) is just because in ArM5 we already have a mechanism for activities that take a season. So rather than waste time trying to write rules for activities that take a different period of time (and probably mess the rules up somehow), I thought it was better to use the existing game mechanisms.

Which, I guess, is the philosophy that I try to use in the material that I have written for ArM5: "Try to write as little new rules as possible, but use the existing mechanics in interesting ways."

Yes, yes and yes. And M. Herbalism may very well substitute for healing for SOME. Some will have both. But few or none will have neither.

Unfortunately no. And im not sure there are any truly good ones. You can find bits and pieces in a bunch of books but its more guesswork and assumption than knowledge in my experience.
Actually its probably easier to look for depictions of witches and similar in the fantasy literature than in books written for facts.

For fun you could try reading Terry Pratchett, especially the Tiffany Aching series and the books featuring the witches as main characters("Lords and Ladies"(also features his version of faeries), "Wyrd sisters", "Witches abroad" and "Carpe Jugulum" for example), while his witches are the twisted Discworld mirror images of myths, he actually does use a lot of concepts and ideas that probably was "for real". And his basis is to a large extent British folklore, so its actually one of the better sources even if its often very "tounge in cheek" depiction.

Others that i can recall right now that might be of interest:
Ilse witch(partly very "atypical" though) and the crazy feuding witch sisters("Elfstones..." book) from Terry Brooks Shannara series and perhaps Nightshade from his Landover series.
Shota from Terry Goodkinds sword of truth series (and dont bother with the tv-series, even the once overly and excessively enthusiastic author wants to flush it down the toilet).

Carlo Ginzburg's "Ecstasies" mostly begins in the 14th century but it has some earlier material, is an interesting read, and ties witches in to what AM calls Nightwalkers. The book is also listed in the Hedge Magic bibliography.


There is a bibliography in the book! I had thought it was weird that there was none given prevcious ArM books. I just noticed I had the 2 last pages of my HM book bound together, so I hadn't seen the bibliography page. First place to start looking :slight_smile: Thanks all for the responses, highly informative! :slight_smile:

I think I will be changing my witches to have Mythic Herbalism and Hex instead of Healing and Cursing. For what you say as long as it fits the idea, it is cool, and the change is not that big compared to the written witch package :slight_smile: I think I might use a sabbat using the rules for wizard's communion straight from the book, so that witches can get some penetration for hexing and can cast the BIG hex spells et al. We will see what I build up in the end :slight_smile:


Tinkering with the witches I did the changes I said above (Hex instead of Cursing & Mythic Herbalism instead of Healing)

Now, I think that a familiar applies to Mythic Herbalism no problem. It is a "lab/cauldron process" after all. However, I am not so sure about if a familiar should apply to non-incantation Hexes.

Incantation hexes (naming the dude something disgusting and its effect: "I curse thee! By the new moon thou shall lurk in the undergrowth like the slug you are and will always be!") are "field magic", and familiars do not work there. However, there are 2 other Hex methods that work with arcane connections and describing the Hex physically: writing and representation ("voodoo doll style"). I am unsure if I should allow a familiar to add his Int+ Hedge Magic Theory to the casting total.



There's no Right answer, I guess.

If it was me, I would look to see whether a something equivalent to a Laboratory Total or something equivalent to a Casting Total was being generated. If it's a Laboratory Total, then the familiar counts. If it's a Casting Total, then the familiar doesn't.

So, from your description of Hexes I would say, that the familiar doesn't count.

the book about Montaillou by LeRoy Ladurie contains a chapter about magic, iirc (scientific on a Cathar village)

and then, late Middle Ages but the medieval expertise on witches

The wiki links to full versions in Latin and English. They will help you understand that God created women for the devil to tempt men.
Their spells are in Part II.

People overestimate the degree to which this book was considered correct by the Church. I'd like to spruik Ginzburg's "Ecstacies" though.

Indeed. Timothy is right - he always is. Some professors the author of the malleus names as proof-readers claimed they didn't agree twith the book's content.
That doesn't change the fact that the Malleus is a long, famous and easily available source, written by a truly medEVIL mind, on medieval ideas about witchcraft whose author is a man who had an inquisitorial license issued by the Pope. So it is suitable for Ars Magica purposes.

Thanks all for the info. Greatly appreciated :slight_smile: It looks like I might need to do an Amazon order soon