Although anyone may cast a spell and, historically, people from all walks of life have been accused or suspected of witchcraft, certain professions have, over the centuries, accrued a magical reputation. Belonging to one of these professions bestowed an aura of mystery and power, although sometimes, depending on mainstream societal orientation, that aura was considered sinister.
Midwifery is also a profession intrinsically identified with witchcraft. During the witch-hunt era, for various reasons, midwives were among those most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft. Connections between midwifery and witchcraft are deeply rooted in women’s ancient spiritual rites, and midwives are discussed in .
In general, those practicing the magical professions were skilled people: not just anyone could operate a mill or create fine swords. These professions were also renowned for maintaining professional secrets. However these were not obscure professions but somewhat commonplace, necessary, every-day, even superficially mundane ones, particularly in agricultural societies: there was no bread without a miller; no agricultural tools without a smith.
It is crucial to appreciate that all or even most individual millers, smiths and metalworkers and stonemasons have nothing to do with occult sciences and many, although not all, tremendously resent these associations. It is the profession itself that is traditionally identified with sorcery and witchcraft.
With the exception of the coachman who is a special case (see ), what these professions have in common is transformation. Like the stage magician producing a rabbit from that seemingly empty hat, the miller transforms grain into flour; the mason transforms solid rock into sacred architecture, and the metalworker transforms lumps of metal into practical, sacred, beautiful, and valuable objects.
For the modern rationalist mind this is impressive, although, in a world that denies magic, it is hardly magical. Ancient minds, however, perceived stone, grain, and lumps of metal very differently and so these transformations were powerfully magical indeed. Millers, and especially smiths, were cut from the same cloth as alchemists: spiritual masters of transformation and transmutation—except that millers and smiths demonstrated their expertise and magical mastery daily for the greater good.
Magic, at its most primal, ultimately derives from mysteries of creation. The act of sexual intercourse, which produces new life where once it didn’t exist, may be understood as the first magic spell and the one that still remains most powerful and mysterious. (And of course, in addition to the philosopher’s stone, alchemists like Dr Faust strove to create artificial but living people, the homunculus.)
With the exception of the coachman, associated with mysteries of death rather than birth, the other magical professions are all involved with acts of creation.
Millers, masons, and smiths transform the fruits of Mother Earth’s body (grain, stone, and metal) into new, crucial, and sacred forms.
One other factor to keep in mind when considering the magical aspects of these professions: two of the magical professions have historically been dominated by women, fortunetelling and midwifery. During the witch-hunt era, both were intrinsically identified with witchcraft; both professions were subsequently decimated. Even after the witch-hunts, both professions retained a disreputable air, identified with poverty and superstition. Fortune-telling remains illegal in many places; midwifery often has so many legal restrictions placed upon it as to make its practice virtually impossible. In the twenty-first century, both professions still bear the scars of the witch-hunts.
The other professions, however, are almost exclusively identified with men (although, as we will see, women associated with these professionals—ironworkers’ wives, millers’ daughters—were also traditionally considered magically empowered). Because victims of the witch-hunts were overwhelmingly female, many often ask, where were the male witches? At the time, witch-hunters claimed the preponderance of women accused of witchcraft indicated women’s special relationship with Satan and their general moral weakness, however many historians now suggest that men were simply not as frequently labeled “witches.”
Skilled professional men went to work daily, grinding grain and crafting metal. These professions, rooted in shamanism and Pagan priesthoods, were utterly necessary for the everyday maintenance and continuation of society. Society would have ground to a halt without millers and metalworkers. Therefore they did not become official targets of witch-hunters even if concurrent legends suggested that it was impossible to be a successful miller without a Satanic pact, that masons were in the forefront of the devil’s army, and that the devil himself was a smith when he wasn’t moonlighting as a coachman.
These professions retained their magical aura; rumors regarding individual professionals were quietly but insistently whispered and legends regarding these professions still survive. However, their ancient shamanic associations were often publicly ignored—as they were not with midwives and healers. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)