Witches are one of the most common entities associated with Halloween. When you think of a witch, it’s common to think of an old, crouched over, a hook-nosed woman who’s stirring a big steaming cauldron brewing a potion. But where does this image come from? Have you ever wondered where this image of the witch started and the history behind witches?
Thousands of years ago, peoples lives were a lot more primitive than the luxury we know today. They didn’t have access to amenities such as modern treatments and medicine. When a person was sick, unwell or in pain, there wasn’t much that could be done about it apart from rest and some remedies. In those days, many people were wiped out by regular illnesses thought of as tame today, such as the flu for example.
Some women took it upon themselves to work on different homoeopathic treatments such as different healing herbs. These women were known as ‘sage women’. These remedies helped many common people with illness and the skilled women became known for their natural, healing medicine. They even occasionally functioned as midwives, assisting the delivery and birth of babies, aiding the mother with different plant-based medicines to help with the pain of childbirth.
Christianity and Witches
Christianity soon started to spread across Europe, and the clergy from the church didn’t agree with the existence of women using homoeopathic remedies to help heal people. The church only thought it appropriate that men and the church should do the healing, as these women were using ‘unnatural’ means. Many others also believed this and thought that if a person became sick, that it was God’s punishment for sin committed and the suffering that came from it should be independently handled by whoever was afflicted. These healing women became known as anti-Christian, many being accused of worshipping the devil. The word Witch comes from the word for ‘wise one’ that was ‘Wicca’, and who were once considered wise soon became something to be feared and avoided. Witches were accused of bad things, such as being associated with evil sorcery, pagan worship and black magic.
Although most go the witches lived quiet lives in remote villages, by the late 1400’s religious sources began planting fear and hysteria into peoples minds, which ran rampant through these towns and villages. Anyone accused of practising any kind of witchcraft was tried by the church, and many of these trials led to very public and gruesome punishment.
The general population became fearful that they too would be accused of these practices and tried in an equally hideous way and were conformed into obedience. The church spread the exaggerated lie that witches were practising evil black magic and not simply medicine.
Accusations and Death Sentences
Witches became feared by the masses since the church had become increasingly aggressive with their witch hunts and punishments. Hysteria broke out surrounding finding those women who were suspected of practising black magic and ‘witchcraft’. Finger-pointing was common within communities. It even got to the point where it wasn’t necessary for a person to be practising rudimentary medicine in order to be accused and sanctioned to the cruel punishments. Just about anything could get you into trouble with the church.
The Salem Witch Trials
In 1619 in Salem, Massachusetts, Samuel Parris’ daughter Betty and his niece Abigail came down with a mysterious illness that caused them to have fits and seizures where their bodies would begin to start thrashing around, seemingly bought on by nothing.
Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with the girls because of the limited knowledge they had at the time and came to the conclusion that the girls must be bewitched. This was an unfortunate circumstance for the girls and anyone in their close quarters, as having any link to witchcraft at the time was an invitation for a whole host of accusations being thrown around.
An Indian slave that had worked for the Parris family was one of the first to be accused by the girls of casting a spell on them, as were some local women, one of who was homeless and living in extreme poverty, and another who was known within the community of foregoing church sessions for years prior. This led to the unfortunate execution of these women, who proclaimed their innocence until their death.
These events encouraged extreme hysteria within communities, and women who were brought up on witchcraft charges faced harsh punishment such as burning alive while being tied to a stake or by hanging.
As a result, nearly 200 people were accused of witchcraft in Salem and the surrounding areas. Many were killed or died while awaiting trial.
Witches and Samhain
Samhain is one of several Wiccan holidays that takes place every year. Samhain was the original name of Halloween and is celebrated to be a day to celebrate those who have passed as the veil between the spirit and physical world is thinnest. This means that during Samhain, spirits can cross into our world, and lost souls can be sent off into peace.