Hallowe’en 2… Witches

The Witches’ Sabbath, by Arthur Rackham

Witches are a staple of cheap Hallowe’en imagery and a popular costume.  Searching Google Images for “witches in art and illustration”  returned about 206,000,000 results (0.65 seconds)  I find much of this very sad. Perhaps I have just read too much and thought too much about the persecution and execution of women to be amused by smiling little girls knocking on my door wearing pointy hats.

The topic is far too complicated to be dealt with here. But let me share a few of my ideas.

The ancient Inuit, it is said, abandoned the old and infirm members of their communities on ice floes to die. To-day we have nursing homes. But what happened to the old people hundreds of years ago who had managed to survive famine, war, and childbirth? They might be a physical wreck much younger than we would imagine. A man too weak to fight or farm, a woman too old for childbearing or household chores, too unattractive for sex… what happened to them?

Imagine these women forced out of the village, building a shack in the woods, eking out a meager existence by making and selling brooms, with only a mangy cat for company. Not even the most primitive sanitation and hygiene products, no vitamin supplements or hormone replacement therapy, no dentistry, no eyeglasses or hearing aids. Parkinsons, Alzheimers, cancers of all sorts, osteoporosis, dowager’s hump, uterine prolapse, cataracts, varicose veins, incontinence, rheumatism and arthritis. Tormented by isolation and depression. Can you imagine the croaking voice magnified by deafness, the lurching groping movements caused by blindness, the fingers twisted by arthritis, the whiskered chin and the warty looking melanomas and skin tags, the body odor, the bad breath… and the bad attitudes? And two or more living together for mutual assistance, forming a “coven”?

Imagine the clever and compassionate wise women, who had a rudimentary knowledge of herbal medicines and first aid and some experience with childbirth, wanting to alleviate the suffering of their sisters during labour and birth? Such assistance was a sin, a contravention of the Biblical curse on Eve that women would bring forth their children in pain. Such assistance was witchcraft.

Imagine the young beauty the very thought of whom could arouse sensual desires and even a physical response in the most chaste of men…tempting them to sin even in her absence. If she was independent in character, unwilling or unavailable, so much the worst.

The three ages of women… virgin, mother, crone… always susceptible to accusations of witchcraft. And that was without the interference of the church and the inquisition and the witchcraft trials. They could blame storm or drought or famine or any unfortunate development on the local witches either cursing the community or in league with Satan, bringing the wrath of God onto their community.

No, witches are not amusing, or funny, or scary. They are a sad reminder of the rough way women have been treated in quite recent human history. But how many of those little girls in pointy hats… or their mothers… know and heed the story?

Here is more information: Wikipedia and an interesting article called  A brief history of witchcraft before SalemThere are many more excellent articles, two in particular from Lapham’s Quarterly:  Gold and Silver Coined from Human Blood  and Very Superstitious. 

Never mind Disney’s witches, or The Wizard of Oz, or Roald Dahl’s stories, or the witches in Harry Potter, or in The Narnia Stories, or in His Dark Materials… the examples are too numerous to mention.

Shakespeare did it best… here are the witches from Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth.

And here is a choral version of the same charm from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Double, double, toil and trouble
Something wicked this way comes.

Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.

Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron… bubble

Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.

Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron… bubble
Something wicked this way comes.

Double, double, trouble, trouble
(Fire burn and cauldron)
Fire burn and cauldron… bubble

Something wicked this way comes.
Something wicked THIS WAY COMES!

I have a horrible feeling that in  ancient times many women I know would have been considered witches. We have all been so fortunate to have been born where and when we were.

Do you know any proto witches who have escaped persecution for witchcraft by virtue of their modern birth?

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2 Responses to Hallowe’en 2… Witches

  1. Sufiya says:

    Myself, for one.

    The hate aimed at women in general and older women in particular was definitely fostered by the Roman Catholic Church, and continues to this day. I read something recently about some European country back in the day where it was proposed as part of federal policy that all women over 50 be exterminated because they were “of no further use”. China and India and other ‘female-negative’ countries are getting their karmic comeuppance in the form of a shortage of women; soon there will be far too many men and not enough marriageable females.

    An over abundance of men also assures us that major civil wars will come about as men jockey for political power in that way they have; in China, the unmarried men are already forming gangs and causing trouble in many areas. We have always heard about ‘the wisdom of the East”; well, how much “wisdom” is there in the persecution, extermination,and oppression of half the human race? The population of China and India is already severely skewed due to the practice of aborting female embryos. Frankly I am thankful to be “older”, that means I am unlikely to be around when the turds hit the turbine, in the form of “global karmic retribution”.

    I will also remark that I for one am firmly convinced of the viability of the Mayan prophecy of December 22, 2012; there is far too much going on in terms of “strange doings” to dismiss it so lightly. I belive that after this date, that “humanity’s karma falls due” and that the piper will be coming forward with his hand out; humanity has much to account for, and it is my conviction that it is all going to start ‘catching up with us’ post December 2012.

    • motleydragon says:

      Hello again! Yes, I am sure I would be persecuted as a witch.

      Independent thinking, a desire to speak out, barely controlled fury at injustice and barely conceated contempt for those who cause it… The woman I am now would definitely have been in danger. But on the other hand, could I ever have developed into the woman I am now without the freedom and privilege of a modern upbringing? If it is difficult now, It may have been impossible then… the whole nature vs nurture question!?

      I will look up the Mayan prediction.

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