A Brief History of Witches, From Wicked to Sexy
The season of the witch is upon us. Time to brush up on your history—these evil green-skinned sorcerers aren’t necessarily what you think. For example, they aren’t evil, green-skinned or sorcerers. (Well, maybe some are, but not usually.)
Before university-trained doctors and modern medicine were readily available to the masses, people still got sick, gave birth and looked to others for essential care. The job of healing often fell upon certain women with specialized knowledge of herbs, plants and treatments that cured disease, or at the very least alleviated pain. This is how “witches” began.
The Rise of Christianity
When the Christian Church came into power, the medicinal abilities of non-Christian healers went against the notion that learned men of the church should be the only ones responsible for a person’s spiritual and physical wellbeing. Lots of folks believed that disease and suffering were sent by God, and cured by him as well. Anyone acting to ease the burden of pain through means not well understood was working against God—and perhaps in league with Satan.
And thus modern witches, or “wiccans,” were born. Belief in magic was widespread before Christianity, but once the religion really took hold, magic (or “miracle working”) was reserved solely for the church. Healing practices that went against church doctrine were often labeled “black magic.” Fear and distrust grew among the populace, until witch hunts become a substantial part of European culture, kicking into high gear in the 1400s.
You’re Not a Witch, Right?
If you were unlucky enough to be accused of practicing witchcraft, then burning at the stake or some other grisly form of public execution would most likely be in store for you. The panic and fear become so prevalent at one point that even a hint of witchcraft whispered about you among your neighbors could mean death.
In America, “witch fever” reached its peak with the Salem Witch Trials in 1691-1692. When doctors couldn’t find the cause as to what was causing seizures in some local girls, they blamed witchcraft—and many unfortunate women were killed as a result, once they had been labeled witches.
Modern-day witches, “real” or just decked out for Halloween, owe their existence to the hard history of witches in Europe, and America. These days “sexy” witches have supplanted “ugly” witches to a large extent—but regardless of how they might look, these magical beings have been with us for a long time, and thanks to Halloween, will probably be with us for a long time to come.