“Raven hair and ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips. Echoed voices in the night. She's a spirit on an endless flight.” The Eagles famously sang about the allure of a “Witchy Woman” in 1972, but witches have been symbols of forbidden power and attraction for much longer than that.
With Halloween approaching, I wanted to dive into the history of one of my favorite characters of the macabre.
A little online research led me to the Bible, where one of the first written mentions of a witch can be found in 1 Samuel 28.
In the book of Samuel, King Saul seeks the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to advise him in his fight against the Philistines.
According to the passage, Saul had fallen out of favor with God and sought alternative means to communicate with Samuel, who admonished him for his transgressions and foretold of his defeat in battle and the death of Saul and his three sons. Interestingly, the witch took pity on the distraught Saul and prepared him a much needed meal before he went off to meet his doom.
The “Malleus Maleficarum,” a guide to identifying, hunting, and interrogating witches written in 1486 and largely attributed to triggering widespread witch mania. It is said to have held the distinction of selling more copies than any other book in Europe – with the exception the Bible, for more than 100 years.
Spreading to the Americas, witch hunting found easy scapegoats among holistic healers and disreputable women, blamed for natural occurrences like smallpox epidemics and victimized by the population's general fear of the unknown.
Connecticut saw the first American executed for witchcraft in 1647, and before the final witch trial in 1697, 46 people were accused and 11 put to death.
In Virginia in 1655 it was declared a crime to falsely accuse people of witchcraft, perhaps motivated by early American's founding principles of escaping unjust persecution.
While Virginia held its share of witch trials between 1626 and 1730, none of the accused were executed.
The infamous Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts began in 1692 after young girls became mysteriously ill with symptoms that are now believed to have been caused by a reaction to fungus.
The resulting witch hunt led to 150 women and men being convicted of witchcraft, culminating in the execution of 18 people.
While we are much more informed and tolerant today, we don't always persevere against out innate fear of what we can't understand.
Is it science or magic? Faith or fact? Should we try to embrace the unknown or reject it?
Witches, whether you believe in them or not, symbolize empowerment and freedom. Unbound by the laws of man and the rules of nature, witches have long been believed to be able to create what mere mortals cannot – power over the unknown.
Maybe we could all benefit from a little bit of that “magic” power in our own lives and face our fears with a very real sense of empowerment and an open mind.