Everybody is familiar with the image of the cackling, snaggle-toothed hag on her broomstick. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. The nasty woman with the candy cottage in Hansel and Gretel. But not many people know where the stereotype came from.
In medieval Europe, the old-nature religions were practised before and alongside Christianity. There were Druids, Norse Odinists and the witches who were the healers, priestesses and wise elders in many country villages. When the Inquisition was launched, all these groups came under attack, and in order to feed the frenzy, the inquisitors pictured the witches as evil, ugly devil-worshippers. It was propaganda in a religious hate war.
Over a period of five centuries, several hundred thousand — possibly millions — of women, children and men were accused of witchcraft and killed. many were not witches, but elderly eccentrics or wealthy or attractive people with jealous neighbours. The real witches went underground and practised their religion in secret.
The witch stereotype was false centuries ago, and it is false now. This hateful image connects women, old age, and power with ugliness and evil. It is a disservice to elderly women everywhere, especially strong, old women. And it is a slander on a living religion called Wicca or Witchcraft.
Wicca exists today. It is a benevolent nature religion which teaches respect for the Earth and worships the Creator as both feminine and masculine. (Goddess and God). We celebrate the turning of the seasons, and full moons. We hold healing circles for friends and also send healing out to our ailing Earth.
It has nothing to do with satanism, warts or hexes. I know, because I am a Wiccan priestess — a real Witch, not the fairy-tale stereotype. Oct. 31 is a special day in my religion because it is the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. We call it Samhain. People may not know or remember that the word Halloween is short for Hallowed Evening, also referred to as All Hallows Eve.
Hallowed means sacred. It is a time when we remember and honour our ancestors and friends who have gone on before us. While others are out trick-or-treating, we will be conducting a sacred ritual, one not so different from Christian ritual. We use candles, incense, and sometimes music. And we have cakes and ale to honour the Lord and Lady.
As Halloween approaches, it saddens me to see the ugly images in store windows and advertising as part of the Halloween “fun.”
I certainly don’t have any problem with the true fun aspect of Halloween, such as trick or treating, or bobbing for apples. I used to take my daughter out trick-or-treating in the early evening before the adults got together for ritual. However, putting down any group of people — whether blacks, Jews, Catholics, old women or Wiccans — is a poor way to celebrate a holiday.
So here’s a request from a neighbour. Decorate your house or store with goblins and spooks if you like — they’re not real. And black cats and pumpkins — they won’t care. But skip the ugly “witch” pictures — I’m real, and I do care.
Sue McCaskill is a Victoria writer and a Wiccan.