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Halloween - Witches

Witches are inextricably linked to Halloween. Witches and sorcery play integral parts in almost all of the world's traditions. For thousands of years, shaman and witch doctors have called on the aid of spirits through incantations and offerings to protect and heal fellow tribe members, crops and livestock. Psychologically, witchcraft provided our early ancestors a means of establishing a sense of control over the elements and helped eased anxiety associated with disease, uncertain weather and natural disasters. The trouble arose when the preventative measures failed to keep the maladies at bay. Many natural occurrences were ultimately blamed on malicious witches.

In the early Christian era, the church was tolerant of the local sages and wise women who used charms, herbs and incants to influence the quality of life. They were regarded as harmless relics of the old religion and were found throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Hebrews, Greeks and Romans all believed in their abilities. But in the late 13th century, a growing opposition to the old ways began to dominate the mindset. These women came to be considered in league with the devil, stemming from a precept that magic was the manifestation of evil. People who fell under suspicion of practicing witchcraft were hunted by decree of the Inquisition and from 1450 to 1700, thousands of people, mostly women, were executed on the basis of bogus confessions obtained by means of torture. They are often portrayed as the villains in many of our children's stories.

Professional witch hunters were paid a fee for each conviction. In 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum was published by two Dominican inquisitors and translated into several languages. It was sent to both Protestant and Catholic countries and its description of grotesque, demonic practices provided the impetus for widespread hysteria. It outsold all other books except the Bible.

One of the last outbreaks of witch-hunting took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692, when belief in diabolical witchcraft was declining in Europe. Twenty people lost their lives amidst the madness that ensued after two little girls claimed they had been bewitched. In the second half of the 20th century, an interest in practicing pre-Christian paganism resurfaced. The word pagan simply means country dweller. The neo-Pagan and Wiccan revivals typically foster a love of nature, emphasize a sacred interpretation of nature's cycles, promote equality among males and females and shave a renewed sense of wonder and belief in magic.

About The Author
Wendy Brinker is an artist and writer in Columbia, SC.

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