There are many famous witches in history, real, fictional and legendary. We most often think of witches as evil, ugly and frightening, mixing dark potions and eating small children. Also popular is the image of the attractive witch whose beauty hides awesome power. These famous witches have helped to shape our ideas of what a witch is, but how much do they have in common with modern witches? Looking at some famous witches through history will provide the answer.
This sorceress of the Arthurian legend was said to be a healer, but most writings portray her as evil, practicing black magic. She plots and schemes and uses her magical powers to bring Arthur down, but then, as he dies, she is seen trying to heal his mortal wounds with her magic.
In Homer's Odyssey, the witch Circe mixed magical potions that turned men into animals. She turns Odysseus' crew into pigs by feeding them a feast laced with potion. She is portrayed as a temptress, enticing men with her beauty before bewitching them with her powers.
The Macbeth Witches
Portrayed as old and ugly, the three witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth open the play on an ominous note. They foretell the future, conjure spirits and gather around their bubbling cauldron, mixing together eye of newt and toe of frog and various animal entrails, in stereotypical witch fashion.
The Salem Witches
During the period from February of 1692 to May of 1693, 29 people in colonial Massachusetts were convicted of witchcraft. Many more were accused and tried, and 19 of those convicted were hanged. All together, 25 lives were taken in the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. Those accused were said to be consorting with the Devil and using their "powers" to inflict harm on others. In reality, the accused were victims of witch hysteria and cruel tortures devised by the court.
Wicked Witch of the West
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, strikes fear in the heart of all who encounter her. Green-skinned, ugly and terribly mean, she is the epitome of the popular image an evil witch. Of course, her preferred mode of transportation is a broom.
The most famous real witch of our time, Laurie Cabot is known as the Official Witch of Salem. She is not green, nor does she ride a broom, change form, cast evil spells or consort with the Devil. She does, however, work to promote public awareness of what witchcraft really is, as well as teaching others the ancient nature religion of witchcraft, or Wicca.
The Halloween image of the witch draws very heavily on famous works of fiction. The Wizard of Oz gives us green skin, the pointed hat and the broom. Shakespeare gives us boiling cauldrons filled with bizarre and horrifying ingredients. In reality, these fictional witches have nothing in common with practicing Wiccans.
We all know what a witch wears and uses, but how did these things come to be associated with witches? The answers lie in some well-known works of fiction.
Afraid of witches? Learning the facts about witches will help you separate the reality of the Wiccan religion from the scary stories told in fiction.