16 Famous Witches in History from Ancient to Modern Times
I first wrote this article for Hubpages about 8 years ago. Since then, numerous people have plagiarized it. It was once titled 9 Famous Witches in History, but now I’m adding 6 more to the list to top the plagiarizers! So here’s my updated article on 15 Famous Witches in History from ancient to modern times.
1. Isobel Gowdie
Perhaps my favorite famous witch in history is the Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie. Her story takes place in seventeenth century Scotland, where she was accused and (supposedly) willingly confessed to being a witch. There’s much speculation on whether Isobel was simply psychotic, whether she was forced or coerced into confessing, or whether her confessions were real. Emma Wilby, a scholar on witchcraft, dedicated an entire book to analyzing Isobel’s confessions. She theorizes Isobel Gowdie was a woman who practiced a form of shamanism carried on from past centuries. Moreover, Gowdie’s life and confessions are much more complex than just one theory could explain. Gowdie had a way of speaking that seems almost bard-like. If indeed she confessed willingly and these were her true confessions, she was a talented woman.
2. Morgan Le Fay
Morgan le Fay’s existence is most likely one of legend and ranges from her being an evil nemesis to a helpful priestess of Avalon. While Morgan le Fay’s existence cannot be proven, those who believe in the Arthurian legend believe in her power. Some Arthurian stories denounce her allegiance to her brother, twisting her into a vengeful witch who wants to destroy her brother’s kingdom. However, other legends say she aided King Arthur in his dying hour by taking him to Avalon. We will never know the real story, or if it truly happened, but modern witches believe in Morgan Le Fay—and that she was, indeed, a famous witch in history who might have once been a goddess.
Aradia was a famous witch in history whose story starts in Italy. She is the main character in Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches, a book written by Charles Leland in the 19th century. The book’s authenticity is debated yet helped fuel the resurgence of witchcraft in the 20th century. Charles Leland claimed he was given the information by a woman named Maddelena, and it was in this book that Aradia was created. According to the book, Aradia was the daughter of the goddess Diana and Lucifer. Aradia was a goddess incarnated on earth (similar to a messiah or Christ). Her followers were a group of witches that had survived since the 12th century. They used witchcraft to fend off the Church and keep their ways alive.
4. Marie Laveau
The most famous Voodoo queen of all time is Marie Laveau. Marie was born a free black woman in New Orleans in the mid-1700’s and became the most well-known voodoo priestess in Louisiana and arguably the world. Everyone came to Marie Laveau for cures and advice. Marie attended mass religiously yet she was also a priestess of Voodoo and practiced the magical arts. All classes of New Orleans society called on Marie Laveau for magical spells. Marie Laveau, a famous witch in history, lived well into her nineties. Her grave in New Orleans’ Saint Louis Cemetery #1 gets more visitors on Halloween than Elvis Presley’s. This famous witch may have been a voodoo queen, but she was also a wise woman and knew her craft well.
5. The Witch of Endor
Back in Biblical times, perhaps the most famous witch in ancient history is The Witch of Endor. We hear of her in the book of 1 Samuel in the 28th chapter. Apparently, King Saul calls on her to raise the prophet Samuel’s spirit from the dead to advise him in battle. Saul was having a particularly difficult time defeating the Philistines and all attempts to summon Samuel’s spirit through other means failed. Some accounts say God brought Samuel’s spirit to Saul, while others claim it was in fact the Witch of Endor.
6. Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of the infamous King Henry VIII of England in the sixteenth century. Scholars say Anne Boleyn was not a witch, but that depends on your definition. She engaged in mystical practices and supposedly employed magical advisers. Throughout her years as a Queen of England, Anne Boleyn became an educated, extremely intelligent woman of power. Despite the rumors and accusations of treason, adultery, incest, and witchcraft, which led to her beheading, Anne is known as one of the most influential queens and witches in history.
7. Grigori Rasputin
Ever seen the movie Anastasia? It’s based on a true story about the last Czar of Russia Nicholas Romanov II and the last-surviving faily member – Princess Anastasia. In the movie – the evil antagonist, and supposed enemy to the Romanov dynasty, was a man named Grigori Rasputin. In reality, Rasputin was close to the royal family and many claimed it was his fault the Romanovs were assassinated and the dynasty fell. He was accused of black magic and witchcraft, among other awful things. Yet Rasputin claimed to be a holy man in God’s service and mystic. He will go down as one of the most famos witches in history, whether a true witch or not.
8. Alison Device
One of the most infamous accused witches in English history came from the Pendle Witch Trials in 1612 – Alison Device. Alison confessed to many counts of witchcraft including employing a familiar to hurt her enemies, charming milk into butter, and killing children. While these confessions were coerced out of Alison, the story is one of great intrigue even today. Today, there’s a statue of one of the Pendle Witches standing in Roughlee honoring those accused.
The most famous witch trials in history are the Salem Witch Trials, at least in American history. Movies, books, and TV shows have been inspired by the true witch trials of dozens of women and men in Salem, MA in the seventeenth century. The supposed witch who started it all was known as Tituba. She was a slave (some say Native American, others say African or a combination) in the Parris house and was accused of witchcraft by two young girls. Later, Tituba confessed to making “witchcakes” and to knowing magical practices of protection against evil from her time living in Barbados. No one knows exactly what happened to Tituba, she disappears from the record after the trials. People believe she was purchased as a slave by another family.
10. Gerald Gardner
Gerald Gardner is called the father of modern witchcraft because he is the founder of Wicca. His story goes that he was shown the “old ways”, that of witchcraft, by a coven in the New Forest and decided to keep the religion alive by making it public knowledge. While Gardner had his faults and is accused of misdeeds, many Wiccans and Pagans alike, are able to come out of the broom closet today, without fear of being hanged or guillotined at least partly because of Gardner.
11. Sybil Leek
Sybil Leek was taught witchcraft at a young age and was practicing during Gerald Gardner’s time. She’s one of the most famous witches in modern history and has written many well-known occult books, such as Diary of a Witch, Sybil Leek’s Book of Herbs, and Star Speak: Your Body Language from the Stars. Sybil claims she was taught some of her knowledge of witchcraft by Aleister Crowley and that she was supposed to be his successor, until he went down a darker path. She was a well-known psychic and kept a pet jackdaw. Sybil Leek died in the 1980’s as “Britain’s most famous witch” but was living in Florida at the time. Her book Diary of a Witch was influential to many.
12. Laurie Cabot
Laurie Cabot is the “Official Witch of Salem” and the most famous witch today, in my opinion. She is also an author and wise woman, owned her own witchcraft shop in Salem for many years, and records videos on her YouTube channel! She’s aided the police in a murder case, as well as taught college classes on the occult. Read her book Power of the Witch to get an understanding as to Cabot’s ubiquitous wisdom.
13. Scott Cunningham
Scott Cunningham preferred to call himself a Wiccan above a “witch” for personal, spiritual reasons. He’s written many books on various topics of Wicca, such as kitchen witchcraft, magical herbs, magical stones, earth power, and practicing solitary Wicca. Unfortunately, there will be no more wonderful Wiccan books published by Scott Cunningham because he passed in 1993. He continues to be one of the most famous witches in history and one of the most loved Wiccan authors in the Wiccan world today.
14. Doreen Valiente
Doreen Valiente was a witch in the twentieth century who wrote The Charge of the Goddess, An ABC of Witchcraft, and Witchcraft for Tomorrow. She was responsible for writing much of Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows and went on to work with Robert Cochrane in the Clan of Tubal Cain for a period of time. Separate from her workings with Gardner and Cochrane, Valiente was a wise and witch of her time and passed in 1999.
15. Rosaleen Norton
Another famous witch in recent history was Rosaleen Norton. Known as the Witch of Kings Cross, Rosaleen became a spectacle in Australia with wild paintings of gods and demons. Norton started her own coven called The Goat-Fold in the mid-twentieth century. Norton was influenced by the dark side of magic. But she wasn’t a Satanist. She was a pantheist. It was difficult for people to separate her dark artwork from her religious claims. Her provocative artwork goes on display from time to time in Sydney still.
16. Alex Sanders, Famous Witch and Founder of Alexandrian Wicca
Alex Sanders is mostly known establishing Alexandrian Wicca, an offshoot of traditional Gardnerian Wicca. He was a famous witch in the 1960s and 70s, appearing on television shows for interviews and in documentaries. Sanders claimed he was the “King of Witches” and married Maxine Sanders, much to the dismay of a few prominent Gardnerian Wiccan members including Patricia Crowther. Sanders was one of those people – you either loved him or hated him. But, being the High Priest of his own tradition, I don’t think he much cared. There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding his life.