16 Sep 2011


Let me begin by saying that whilst I acknowledge that there are indeed modern day witches, many of them Wiccans, (did you know that in the 2001 census some 7,000 UK citizens said they were witches?) this post though factual in places also largely takes a look at the witches of myth, of European folklore.

Deriving from the Old English masculine noun Wicca meaning 'sorcerer, wizard', the feminine noun Wicce meaning 'sorceress, witch', the plural form for both the masculine and feminine nouns being Wiccan, the modern spelling (witch) did not appear until the 16th century.

To dispel one of the main myths about witches .....

A male witch is not called a warlock, warlock means traitor, devil, summoner of spirits, oathbreaker ...... depending on just which website you are looking at.

Not that it's any surprise that most of us think of witches as women, and not just any women at that. No, witches are wrinkled and old, they wear black or darkest purple and have warts on their noses ..... don't they?

According to sixteenth-century lawyer William West ......

“ A witch or a hag is she which being deluded by a league made with the devil through his persuasion, inspiration or juggling, thinketh she can design what manner or evil things soever, either by thought or imprecation, as to shake the air with lightnings and thunder, to cause hail and tempests, to remove green corn or trees to another place, to be carried of her familiar (which hath taken upon him the deceitful shape of a goat, swine, or calf, etc.) into some mountain far distant, in a wonderful short space of time, and sometime to fly upon a staff or fork, or some other instrument, and to show a thousand such monstrous mockeries.” - Monstrous.com

Found in many cultures and feared by many, according to the Bible

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,"

which is why many accused of witchcraft were hanged or burnt at the stake for 'crimes' such
  • Having red hair.
  • Sweeping their porches on a Sunday
  • Putting herbs in soup.
  • Blaspheming.
  • Being unable to live peacefully under their rulers. (Joan of Arc was believed by many to have been a witch).
Ok, so apart from looking out for a red-headed, warty-nosed woman who is blaspheming whilst sweeping her porch on a Sunday, how else would one know one is in the presence of a witch?

Well ........

According to the movies many look just like me and you, some such as Serafina Pekkala (The Golden Compass) attractive, and some (The Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz), well, not so attractive.

Oh, and of course they all have a cat which is usually black.

A black cat, where did that belief come from?

Because they are nocturnal and roam at night, during the Middle Ages many considered a cat to be a witches' familiar: a supernatural servant of the witch or even a witch incarnate, who folklore has it, if a witch became human, would no longer reside in the house.

But enough of cats, black or otherwise, what about the broomstick? Surely a sign of a witch.

A common household object in Medieval times, the first known incident of a 'witch' flying on a broomstick was recorded in the fourteen hundreds when male witch Guillaume Edelin confessed to just such a thing.

Don't be fooled by the word broomstick though, witches disguised their wand/staff used for magical purposes by binding twigs around the end in order to give the appearance of a broomstick.


chitra said...

This post reminds me of the comics where Sabrina( hope I got the name right ans her aunt (s)who is a witch. Do not recollect properly. Use to read them ages ago.

....Petty Witter said...

Chitra: I seem to remember a teenage witch who I think was called Sabrina. Her aunt(s) I can't remember.

chitra said...

Yes, you are right, teenage witch, a good hearted one, unlike her aunt. Used to see it along with Archie comics.

Kelly said...

Wasn't Sabrina also the name of Samantha's sister in the TV sit-com Bewitched? (played by the same character, but with a dark wig)

You've taught me quite a bit in this very interesting post! Any chance you'll do Faeries next?

anilkurup said...

When I hear of witches, I remember "Wendy the witch", of the comics of the past.A lovable one she was and could not dislike her.

I was about to wonder about the phasing out of the broom stick when vacuum cleaners are in vogue. Good that you enlightened me about the camouflaging of the wand and the staff as broom sticks.ha!

Let me tell you , I felt like floating through a fairy tale kind of story about witches the ones from childhood that still stays in the mind.
Truly a good work again kudos to your research and the post.

Vivienne said...

That must mean I am a witch. The red hair is really hidden though. I thought a warlock was a male witch, so easily fooled.

Nina said...

Thank you for this lesson. Now I know what to look out for on my witch hunt. lol. ;)

Dorte H said...

A truly bewitching post - I think it could be fun to write stories which features witches, but I have no concrete ideas right now.

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting post!

Lilly said...

Very interesting post. I've always been fascinated by witches, when I was younger I used to watch Sabrina the teenage witch on tv (to be honest I would still watch it if it was on).

Suko said...

Fun, informative post, Petty! Witches do come in all shapes and sizes. I wonder if you've ever seen the TV show, Bewitched?

Sridharan said...

Fun indeed.. Interesting topic..!

naida said...

Interesting post! Putting herbs in soup meant you were a wtich? Red hair too? yikes.