Every year around this time I do a little research on a different traditional Halloween monster. This year, I’m taking a quick look at the evolution of witches.
Most of the traditional Halloween monsters–vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein, mummies, zombies–are considered monsters for the main reason that people believed they would harm them. But each of those monsters, more than witches, also come with a physical indication of what/who they are–fangs, rags, bolts, fur, rotting skin, etc. Witches, on the other hand, do not necessarily have a physical means of identification.
Historically some witches practice spells and call upon spirits to affect change in some way. Some were/are simply natural healers. The origin of witches in historical context is unknown. One of the first references in the Bible in 1st Samuel referring to the Witch of Endor. Of the various Halloween monsters, witches are one of the few (possibly the only one) to be called out in the Bible by name as something to condemn.
In early literature, witches appear in many famous works including Circe in the Odyssey and Morgan Le Fay in the Arthurian legends. Shakespeare included several most notably the Weird Sisters in MacBeth. Notice that most of these witches are monstrous creatures to be feared.
Meanwhile, the fear of witches by society his it’s zenith in the late middle ages and early modern age. Over the years, women believed to be witches have been persecuted over and over. Between the years 1500 and 1660 in Europe it’s believed over 80,000 women suspected of witchcraft were put to death. Witch trials hopped the pond in the 1690s resulting in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. By the 1730s laws were passed to protect people from wrongful accusation, and witch hysteria died down.
Witches continued to be a mainstay in the societal consciousness of monsters however, as Halloween became a more popular holiday, witches made the list of traditional creatures to fear and eventually dress up as.
In earlier 1900s literature, we got such witches as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda in the Wizard of Oz and the White Witch from The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe.
Unlike the other monsters, witches have a modern-day incarnation. One which is not monstrous. According to the History Channel
, practitioners of Wicca “avoid evil and the appearance of evil at all costs. They’re motto is to “harm none,” and they strive to live a peaceful, tolerant and balanced life in tune with nature and humanity.”
Witches in stories are a combination of evil creatures to fear–Lamia in Stardust, Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter–and good witches to admire–Harry Potter/Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley/etc from Harry Potter. And don’t even get me started about the variations on witches in media–Hocus Pocus, Maleficent, Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, Bewitched, Charmed, and witches on various shows/movies that are not primarily witch related including True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Buffy.
Like with the other monsters–yes, even zombies–modern Halloween goers have sexified the witch finding power and sex appeal in the figure (as long as their powers are used for good). Personally, I love this more dynamic vision of this traditional Halloween monster.
What about you? Are witches one of your favorite paranormals these days? Do you love to dress up as a witch for Halloween?
Obviously I love them because of all the fun things you can do with magic in literature. I’m limited by only my imagination. If you’re a fan of witches in paranormal romance, check out Bait N’ Witch
Here are my previous articles on Halloween Monsters: