The Portrayal of Witches #Halloween #Witches

Here’s a post from a few years ago to get you in the mood for Halloween.

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 those 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. Lovely post Alison and having worked with herbs and alternative therapies for many years, there have been times when I have been called a witch.. but in the nicest possible way. I cannot imagine the terror faced by these women who learnt their healing arts from generations of women before them stretching back to the early days of humankind.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. But Wiccan with all respect intended is a modern off shoot of Paganism. Most people considered witches weren’t witches at all. Wicca wasn’t even around back then so they weren’t wiccans either. They were probably Christians themselves and just got caught up in hysteria. I think it’s important to remember that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jen. I’m not saying that those accused of witchcraft were Wiccan or, indeed, witches, but that those who practised healing were accused of witchcraft, and that witchcraft itself was falsely represented as being something evil and connected to the devil, which it never has been. Without a doubt, Christianity was used to misrepresent and accuse and to murder the innocent.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post, Alison. The movie The Elephant Man is a good example of how people saw physical deformity. When I studied psychology, it goes way back to how people treated mentally ill patients as demon and burned them to death. It seems like certain people set the norm and anyone outside of that is abnormal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely post, Alison! I featured a kitchen witch (and poisoner) in my last book, as you well know!
    I’m tucking the idea of having another witch in a later book – maybe Glinda, the Good Witch of the South? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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