Halloween and the portrayal of witches #halloween #witchcraft

The history of witchcraft and the treatment and persecution of witches throughout the centuries is a subject close to my heart – many of the horrible accounts I read when researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ have stayed with me. And it always seems pertinent on Halloween to revisit this post.

Macbeth witches

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble. 
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. 

Most of us are familiar with these words from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and with the gruesome hags that stir the cauldron. They have become the blueprint for the portrayal of witches; ugly, toothless old women; scheming, mysterious and powerful. But is it fair? And why do we see witches in this way – it can’t all be Shakespeare’s fault, can it?

Before the advent of Christianity there were many diverse religions – Druids, Norse Odinists and the witches that had for centuries acted as healers, midwives and wise women and men. However, when the Inquisition was launched, it wasn’t just direct ‘threats’ to the Roman Catholic Church that came under suspicion. Anyone could potentially be accused of heresy, and many of those healers and wise woman came under attack.

Propaganda was a big part of this religious war. The inquisitors sought to portray witches as evil, ugly, dirty devil-worshippers, as these images show:

Witch and devil


This left anyone who didn’t conform open to attack – if you lived by yourself, had a wart on your nose, a deformed leg or a harelip – then watch out! You were probably a witch. The majority of those arrested, tortured, tried, condemned and murdered were not witches; real witches had taken their religion underground.

Of course real witches are nothing like those pointy-nosed, warty child-cookers of Hansel and Gretel fame and seemingly endless Disney adaptations. But the stereotype lingers, as false today as it was back then. Witches aren’t Satanists, and witchcraft isn’t and never has been Satanism. In fact, witchcraft in ancient times was ‘the craft of the wise’. It is a spiritual system that teaches respect for the earth. Witchcraft is also referred to as Wicca, the term most often used today. It is a religion, based on a respect for the earth, and the worship of a creator that is both male and female – Goddess and God. Wiccans believe the creator is in everything – the trees, rain, the sea and all other creatures, and this belief fosters a respect and a caring for the natural world and for all life. Wiccans celebrate the changing of the seasons, and the phases of the moon. They are still healers; using natural remedies, and their spells are for harmony, love, creativity, wisdom and healing. Isn’t it time witches were given the respect that we give others? After all, we speak a lot of tolerance for religion and beliefs and yet don’t allow this most ancient of religions any respect at all.

wiccan saying

And as a little antidote to these images, here’s a rather beautiful portrayal of a witch, strangely enough from an ad for Pears soap!

pears soap witch







  1. Excellent post… I have recently watched a video in which the hoster speakS about that particular excerpt from Macbeth… Basically she says that it is quite interesting as it is written in Trochee feet whilst the play is predominantly iambic. It is an interesting video by the way, so I´ll attach it to you over here: Amazing secret of English rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUVGhF1fFig Sending best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I just wanted to say that some of these assumptions were something I truly believed before I dived into the information about Wicca. After realizing that I could relate almost identically to a lot of the concepts, I realized I myself, am Wiccan. I’ve been practicing for just a short amount of time, but the energy I have in my heart is overwhelming. It’s definitely comforting to know that there are people out there who are taking the time to actually understand some of the practices that Wiccans do. Not all of us are casting hexes and cursing others! (That actually goes against the Wiccan Rede)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I wrote the post because when I was researching the persecution of witches I realised how much misinformation there is and how awful it is that we do, as a society, make light of the way so many people suffered. I find Wicca fascinating and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂


  3. A great post, Alison. All ancient wisdom seems to venerate care of the earth, and nature, and each other. What could our patriarchal society and religion have found so threatening in that?

    Liked by 2 people

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