Witches: Supernatural Hag or Healer?
That image is the nasty, shriveled hag wearing a stiff hat and raggedy cloak—the depraved, haggard nag.
You know the witch I’m talking about.
A hunched over hag standing over a waist high pot filled with thick, bubbling liquid. That’s not a sparkle in her eye either, it’s a speck of ash from the last victim she cooked. She’s a wicked, amoral being. And whatever you do, don’t be fooled, she’d rather boil you alive than have a tableside chat.
This has mostly been our witch archetype with a few exceptions.
Well, we had wiggle your nose, Samantha from Bewitched, then there’s green, lovable Elphaba in Wicked, and of course, everyone knows Hermione Granger, best friends with Harry Potter.
As for this evil, wretched witch archetype, that we usually think of…she’s been given to us by our past.
In modern times our witch archetype is delivered to us by our media…Walt Disney’s Cinderella, Snow White, and so on, and then of course the demented horror shows.
Bugs Bunny, to be quite honest, was my favorite witch. Witch Hazel was actually quite charming and had a definite sweetness about her. Though she was not a beautiful woman, she possessed a certain fun hugableness.
I guess that was the point.
My favorite trio were the ones seduced by the devil, played by Jack Nicholson, in the Witches of Eastwick.
Before Jack Nicholson seduced Susan Sarandon and friends with his crooked grin and trademark raised eyebrows…
Before Wizards and Witches of Hogwarth fought against Voldemort…
Before Witch Hazel chased Bugs Bunny around with a meat cleaver nested in her fist, or cute Samantha twitched her nose in Bewitch…
Before we had the myriad of witches from Walt Disney and horror shows…what were witches really like?
Did they really cackle, or just giggle? Fly on brooms or mosey on foot? Sleep in a hovel or a house? Have warts or perfect skin? Boil children or vegetables? Did they conjure up powerful spells that wiped out villages or just have the occasional bad thought?
And seriously, did witches really wear those weird looking hats?
The term witch comes from the word Wicca. The origins of Wicca means “Wise One”. The word derived from the Anglo-Saxon word wicce, which means to have wisdom, so as to bend or shape, like a wicker for a basket.
Witches were overwhelmingly women of all ages. They could be beautiful or haggard.
Witches who used large pots to cook were boiling herbs for medicinal purposes, and when they boiled meat, well, I hate to disappoint the witch-hunter. It was pig, chicken, or beef—pretty much like we all cook. Okay, so maybe a goat here and there.
As for plagues and spells? Witches conjured up plagues and spells about as good as Congress compromises with President Obama.
After the fall of Rome and in early times the word witch probably did not conjure up evil witchcraft but a healer…like witch doctor. But as the Church grew in power the word became a stigma. By that point, it was not a self-appointed label, but a word proscribed by the zealous religious witch-hunters who meant to persecute. Yet, in one’s village, the witch was someone you didn’t think much about until you got into trouble.
The woman healer was sought out in times of desperation, or when others were suffering from sickness.
Hospitals did not exist.
Your local CVS or Wal-Greens were like the dinosaur.
The sickened villager had limited treatments at his disposal. And his treatment varied by the century he lived in.
You could try the official doctor who was educated and trained at an university. The doctors from the Middle Ages were quite interesting in their treatment methods. The doctor did actually have several wonderful treatments to prescribe and implement.
You could have holes punched in your skull to let out the illnesses. Leeches could be attached to relieve you of your stuffy nose, or a knife slicing you open to drain out your ailments.
How about some radioactive water to parch your thirst? Hemorrhoids, no problem, let’s put an iron up the…wait, what? If you were three shades of crazy, then removing a portion of your brain had the knack of calming you down.
No thanks, no doctor? Ok, there were the priests of course.
The priests’ treatment were predictable and unlike the doctor, their treatment never varied from decade to decade, or century to century.
It stayed the same.
The Priest could be depended to give you a quick prayer, gesture the sign of the cross, and ask you to say ten Hail Mary’s.
In other words death was going to be imminent.
Or you could choose the local medicinal person…someone who had a track record of healing people, and someone who understood the herbs of the Earth.
Don’t know about you, but an easy choice for me.
Competent medicinal people were not the doctors and certainly not the Priests, but the women. The label witch was probably given to them by the villagers or local authority rather than by the woman herself.
How did the competent healer get the name of witch?
Early Christians thought women were a mere vessel who would breed a boy who in turn would be man someday adding more wealth and land to the Church.
Women were considered inferior by men of all castes, but especially by men of power. The Church was absolute power once upon time, and it influenced everything from politics to your school. This was not the United States where we have a constitutional amendment that separates church from state.
The Church was all up your business, and the woman got the brunt of the oppression.
It was an honor for a family to send one son into the Church. It was such a great honor they’d not only give the son away but donate land and money. The young men could never marry or have families and this ensured the Church that it would accumulate land.
Look, it was a pretty good gig. The church was assured to grow in power and wealth.
Women could never be in this power structure. God no. They were the gentler, delicate sex. They also gave birth and this was problematic. A young priest might sow his wild oats but he could deny any he ever had sex, or the Church could cover it up. A woman giving birth was hard to cover up.
Better to keep women where they belong…in the kitchen, or along with the farm beasts depending on the century you lived.
A Christian philosopher, Boethius, had these inspiring words for women in the sixth century, “A woman is a temple built upon a sewer.” Saint Thomas Aquinas was a bit more circumspect. In the thirteen century he suggested God may have made a mistake in creating women. Another wonderful Christian of this time period debated whether women were actually human beings at all. Ouch.
If a woman was considered inferior to man, then it’s easy to see that a woman holding any power is a threat. And it’s easy to see where’s this is going.
Any group that is marginalized and oppressed can be easily vilified.
The Church back in the day jumped on this train and made damn certain woman who took power were vilified. Woman of any kind of power, especially someone who could heal people, was going to be labeled, a Witch. Even Queen monarchs were socialized to take this stance and sided with the church.
Witch-hunts picked up steam in the fourteenth century and by the 1400’s it was running hot.
During Pope Innocent the VIII’s reign the Malleus Maleficarum was written by two friars.
It was the best known manual known on witch hunting. It was so well crafted it created an obligation for all Christians, regardless of how pious or liberal you felt, to hunt down all witches. Among the prattle the Malleus told, it said witches had sex with any demon close at hand and regularly killed babies. Not to mention they could take away your penis. The nerve!
The accusations flew.
Women were arrested, charged, and convicted. The accused never knew their accuser and it could be anyone. A right to a counselor, really? A jury of peers…are you kidding? A fair trial? Harhar. Fairness is for men of power, not witches you imbecile.
It never ended well for the accused either. Torture was imminent even if you spilled the beans the second you were grabbed. You were going to get tortured no matter what. After all, we had to make sure we got everything out of you.
Your menu selection on ways to be tortured were as grim and colorful as the ways you could be medically treated for an ailment.
Torture ranged from removing fingernails to placing on the heretic collar to dislocating of joints to dangling people in air by their fingers to placing your lowers in vices that turned them to jelly. The torture procedures were cleverly designed to maximize your pain.
It’s quite amazing what confessions you can give under duress. Bizarre ones too. People confessed to licking the anus of the Devil and fornicating with hundreds Demons. Over a hundred demons? That’s a lot of, uh, uhm, Demon flesh.
When you were executed it was never a pleasant hypodermic needle. You were guillotine or hung if lucky, and if unlucky, sawed in half during the torture period or burned alive at the stake.
The Church was the sheriff, prosecutor, and executioner. The Church were quite busy too. It’s estimated from the fourteenth century until mid-1600’s that half a million people, so-called-witches, were killed. Eighty-five percent were women.
Could you blame them? Would you want to associate with a child who could be possibly be the spawn of a demon? And if you dared to take the kid in, well, you might be asking for the wrath of the Church.
That’s right. The Church just might take you during the night if you cared for that witch’s child.
The men of authority, the Church, depended on the ignorance of the populace to achieve their end. And they had it.
A villager one year may take his sick child to Old Neil living in the forest pleading for her to help. Neil was a weird woman to be sure, but she could heal and had the track record to prove it.
The real doctors were fifty miles away, too expensive, and honestly better known to kill you than heal you-this was just more convenient.
The next year though, when Old Neil was accused of witchcraft, you crapped your pants and either fled, went underground, or got on board of the accusation train. If you didn’t, then you might end up next to Old Neil during the lovely interrogation period…God only knows what you’d confess.
Nor was she a haggard, bent up ugly, warty hag who was boiling a school of children in her pot.
This image does not depict the witch.
She was simply a woman.
In the world of psychology we use a term called projection.
Projection means you take everything you see about yourself that is wrong and unconsciously project it on to someone else. We all do it every day.
In a very real sense, the image of an evil haggard, warty witch, is an accurate portrait of the Christian Church once upon a time. The Church committed horrors that would make modern-day horror fans pale in the face.
It was basically the Church’s projection of themselves. They had a dark cancer in their system and rather than look at it, it’s easier to project it onto the woman who you want to keep out of power.
Thank God that all change. Thank God the Church is filled with sane theologians who no longer believe Witches and Demons are the cause of all our suffering. We understand science now and it rules the day-not superstition.
Thank goodness that witch-hunt business is all done…we can move on.
Wait, you say they still have hunt witches? Really?
You heard me correct. In Africa, one village denounced their children because they were witches.
Just recently, again in Africa, a village burned seven witches.
One of the people who lead the burning was the village witch doctor. Holy Cow. Witches burning alleged witches.
The witch doctor apparently felt his hold on power was threatened by the people who were called witches…hmmm.
Now this story sounds familiar?
More Brewed Tales….
Barbaric torture of 83 children branded witches: Case of boy beaten to death over four days exposes horrifying crimewave fuelled by medieval beliefs
Bryce B. Summers is a psychologist who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Houston. He’s presently employed at the Dallas Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Bryce is the author of the Young Adult Dark Fantasy (Sci-Fi) series AMEN to ROT, a story that pits young people against a sinister force, but also takes a look at learning what your capable of accomplishing when facing impossible challenges. The novel Nyte God will conclude this series and will be available in 2015.
Be on the look out for a ROTVILLE, a Sci-Fi Thriller (Horror) that will be published by DAMNATION BOOKS and be available in 2015. A story about an experiment gone awry, they wanted to create the perfect soldier, but instead, a hero was born…
Also be on the look for FRESH MEAT, a Paranormal (Horror with Multicultural & Gay Themes) and is about a sociopathic’s inner journey from evil to salvation. Bryce is also a blog writer for the Human Rights Campaign.