Last year, I had the chance to read a blog or as Facebook calls them “Notes” about the classic Halloween witch. You’ll have to forgive me as I don’t remember who deserves the credit for this blog. It’s contents struck a nerve with me, a heartbreaking nerve at that. I will retell it the best that I can, with my own perspectives included.
The green, gnarled and grotesque caricature of a witch that we have been exposed to via media, art through the ages designed to scare folks into believing that the women depicted in the art were in league with the Christians’ icon of evil known as Satan. This image and it’s association to evil has been drilled into our heads for hundreds of years. The reality of what this image should represent however is something much different, much more tragic.
I won’t give you the full history lesson of what is commonly known amongst the pagan and witch communities as “The Burning Times,” but just as a point of reference let’s point out that sometime during 15th and 18th centuries there was a period in leadership within the Christian church, in effort to spread their ideas of Christianity, created guidelines that defined the witch hunts that we now know as the “Burning Times.” Some historical accounts refer to this as “The Reformation.” Within these guidelines it was determined what denoted “devil worship,” with special attention paid in particular to the vilification of women as a whole.
Women were defined as the progenitors of “sin.”Women were equated with filth, with being weak minded, innately evil, and the list goes on. The point is, it was made very, very easy and in that time, under the mindsets of those in charge, very, justifiable for women to be hunted down on the mere suggestion of perceived wrong doing and tortured until they confessed to being in league with the Christians’ Satan, and then killed through some grotesque manner such as burning; or in many cases the victims of these persecutions, they died during the torture portion of the process. Allow me to also clarify that they didn’t target only women. The persecutions went after men as well, but more frighteningly they were just as eager to murder children in the name of their god, and their religious zealotry.
Often times the women that were targeted were older outspoken women, they were the midwives whose knowledge of herbs and the wisdoms that had kept a village in good health or good spirits had offended someone in some small way, or perhaps they were merely the wife in the way of an husband or lover of a husband, or the scapegoat used to excuse the heinous crime of someone else. You know, “She made me do it, she must be a witch.” You get the picture of where this is going. You didn’t have to do anything to earn a trip to the stake, you could be too old, too pretty, too anything or not enough of something to someone, anyone and find yourself in the hands of those set about the task of removing the influence of “Satan” or the “Devil” from their community.
Often times, when the accused were taken in to custody, so too were their children and family members. They would all undergo torture to force a confession or further accusation toward the accused to determine that they were in fact, “cavorting with devils.” If you subject a scared person, especially a child to enough pain and cruelty, you can get them to admit to just about anything, no matter how outlandish, or untrue that thing may be. They’ll say what you want them to, just to end the torment, just to end the torment put upon their families.
By the time the public would see these women condemned to die for witchcraft, and heresy, they had been beaten, and battered to the point of being unrecognizable. Their faces a mottled range of colors from different stages of bruising, with the swelling and likely infections setting in from the broken bones in their faces. Their hands gnarled and broken as well. Their hair ripped and savagely torn from their heads. Drug through the streets in rags, if they were lucky, they were often gagged so they couldn’t speak or worse, had their tongues cut out entirely. These tortured women were then paraded out through their communities, and murdered for all to see, in the name of religion. This is the gruesome reality that is the origin of the Halloween witch.
She is the face of the thousands of people, 80% of which were women who were tortured and murdered in effort for the church, and the political powers of the time to gain control of the people. She is not a depiction of evil, but of the evils that people will go to in effort to hold power over others. She represents, what happens when people create and use religious doctrines as a means to spread dissension, and fear for the purposes of their own gain. Hers is the face of the results of misogyny, hatred, jealousy, and bigotry. Her face distorted to monstrous proportions is not evil in itself, but what was done to those women, children, and yes, those men as well is most certainly evil incarnate, as are those who perpetuated it and at times you can be sure, they took pleasure in it.
I know, Halloween is months away, but this really has nothing to do with Halloween and everything to do with what most people think of when they hear the word, witch. The Halloween witch deserves to be given the reverence that she is due, simply for bearing the bigotry that continues to be elicited upon her, in honor of the people who died during that frightening time period.
I ask you, who would you be to this witch? Accusor, condemning her for an evil she likely never committed to, but admitted to simply to end the torture, as she was paraded to her place of execution? Would you turn your back on her in hopes that no one caught the recognition in her bruised and battered gaze as she was paraded passed you? Or would you acknowledge that brief glance with a moment of compassion toward her, allowing her last moments of vision to fall upon someone who could spare love for her, despite what she’d been accused of?
I ask you further, what if she represents someone you love, someone you know?
A note on the side: I would like to point out, that there are points within this post in which I have very specifically made the distinction that, “Satan,” the “Devil” are beings that are part of a Judeo/Christian ideology. I do so, not to accuse the modern Christian of anything outside of this, most Pagans and people who identify themselves as Witches, or Wiccans do not acknowledge or believe in the existence of a being known as or “Satan,” or the “Devil.” They don’t believe in the idea that there is a deity or however you’d like to term it, out there with the soul intent of getting the world to be “evil.” He doesn’t exist at all, to people such as myself and many others within these communities. To insist that people of the world who identify as witches, pagans, or any other form of minority belief system are secretly or inadvertently worshiping the being in your religious ideology that represents the ultimate evil, is to put it bluntly…incorrect.