Images of witches have appeared in various forms throughout history, from snaggle-toothed, hunched, hairy, wart-nosed women huddling over a cauldron of boiling liquid to cackling crones riding through the sky on brooms wearing pointy hats and capes.
Witches certainly have had a long history with Halloween.
Legends tell of witches gathering twice a year when the seasons changed, on April 30 – the eve of May Day and the other was on the eve of October 31 – All Hallow’s Eve.
The witches would congregate on these nights, arriving on broomsticks, to celebrate a party hosted by the devil. Superstitions told of witches casting spells on unsuspecting people, transforming themselves into different forms and causing other magical mischief.
It was said that to meet a witch you had to put your clothes on wrong side out and you had to walk backwards on Halloween night. Then at midnight you would see a witch.
The black cat has long been associated with witches. Many superstitions have evolved about cats. It was believed that witches could change into cats. Some people also believed that cats were the spirits of the dead and acted as the witches’ familiar or bonded animal partner.
One of the best known superstitions is that if a black cat was to cross your path you would have to turn around and go back because many people believe if you continued bad luck or even death would strike you. Yet in some village cultures black cats are seen as tokens of good luck, quite the opposite.
In pop culture, witches have been both dark and frightening but also a benevolent, nose-twitching, suburban housewife, an awkward teenager learning to control her powers and a trio of charmed sisters battling the forces of evil. So the messages have been pretty mixed up.
The real history of witches, however, is dark and, often for the witches, deadly.
The early depictions of witches were people who practiced witchcraft, who used magic spells and called upon spirits for help or to bring about change.
Probably because of the competition with organised religion and conflicting belief which undermined many pagan belief systems, systems, witches were depicted as doing the Devil’s work. But in reality, many, however, were simply natural healers or so-called “wise women” whose choice of profession and often healing practice using natural materials, was misunderstood.
Witches are found the world over, as the Legend of the Lost series explores, bringing the Werewytch and her minions to the attention of unwitting readers.
Modern-day witches of the Western World still struggle to shake their historical stereotype it seems, try as they may.
Most are said to practice Wicca and it is now an official religion in the North Americas. And they aren’t actually just women, many men identify as Wiccan too.
Wiccans famously avoid evil and the appearance of evil at all costs. Their motto is to “harm none,” and they strive to live a peaceful, tolerant and balanced life in tune with nature and humanity.
Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it. Their spells and incantations are often derived from their Book of Shadows, a 20th-century collection of wisdom and witchcraft, and can be compared to the act of prayer in other religions.
A modern-day witchcraft potion is more likely to be an herbal remedy for the flu instead of a hex to harm someone.
Today’s witchcraft spells are usually used to stop someone from doing evil or harming themselves. Ironically, while it’s probable some historical witches used witchcraft for evil purposes, many may have embraced it for healing or protection against the immorality they were accused of.
SO, as you make your outfit choices for this witching season, consider that, like many things in life and most things in the faerie domain, witches and their association with the darker aspects of Halloween is complicated. There has to be some truth to the darker side of the folklore,. But if you accept that then you have to accept the notion of the benign and kindly witch simply trying to put those powers to good use in the local community.
The Legend of the Lost series has some fine examples of witches spanning generations and corners of the world.
They too, are not always what they at first appear to be.
Or are they…?