Each Halloween, I've researched different tradtional Halloween monsters. So far I've done Frankenstein's monster, vampires, zombies, and werewolves/shapeshifters. I enjoy finding out a little bit about how the mythology of such creatures evolved.
I know it's not Halloween now, but I thought I'd touch on the mythology of witches seeing as how I have a new release out today which is about...you guessed it...witches. (More on that later).
According to Wikipedia, "witchcraft (also called witchery or spellcraft) broadly means the practice of, and belief in, magical skills and abilities that are able to be exercised by individuals and certain social groups. Although witchcraft can often share common ground with related concepts such as sorcery, the paranormal, magic, superstition, necromancy, possession, shamanism, healing, spiritualism, nature worship and the occult, it is usually seen as distinct from these when examined by sociologists and anthropologists. It is said to have been an ancient religion." (Wikipedia, 2017)
From what I can tell, there is still dispute about the historical original of witches and witchcraft from country to country and continent to continent, let alone worldwide.
Most of the mythology which feeds the modern day Halloween witch image seem to stem back to Ancient Greece. For example, in Homer's The Odyssey, the titan Circe is described as a witch and her brother Aeetes as a wizard. The term magic is derived from the Greek mageia, which came to Greece from the east and referred to rites and ceremonies performed by a magos.
In Asia, meanwhile, witchcraft seems to date back to antiquity (documents referring to it as early as 2000 B.C.E.). Obviously, regionally, the types of mythology differ. Many are associated with religions. But in Japan, for example, there seem to be two types: those who employ snakes as familiars and those who employ foxes. And the countries of Africa and the various island countries they lump together as Oceania, have too many mythologies for me to explore today.
Given the documentation of beliefs about witches all over the world, I find it interesting that, when doing a simple search, most websites are dedicated to the prevalence of witches (or at least copious amounts of fear directed toward them) in 1600s Europe which bled over to America. It's during this time period that witches become one of the many iconic monsters associated with Halloween.
It's also during this time period that we get the more traditional image of witches: deformed old hags who are terrifying and horrifying to behold. In addition, many of the traditional symbols emerge, including the black cat, who was thought to be the witch's spirit out in the night. Because much of the fear concerning witchcraft seems to have been the church's effort to stamp out paganism, other symbols (the moon, the pentagram, runes, etc.) are also traditional symbols.
The persecution of anything remotely suspected of being magic reached it's zenith in the late 1600s (think Salem witch trials) and deescalated from there, largely attributed to the Age of Enlightenment. Today's witches, particularly in literature and pop culture, range from cute, to precocious children, to sexy ladies, to alpha men.
No matter what century you're in, witches fascinate and spark the imagination.
Here's a bit of shameless self-promotion. My new release comes out today!
BAIT N' WITCH
A Legendary Consultants Book
Greyson Masters is the Council’s best enforcer–a witch hunter who lays down the law. Despite the danger of his job, Greyson is also raising his triplet daughters. Alone. Budding new witches who display an alarming combined power no one understands. Too bad he hasn’t got a clue how to deal with them.
Little does Greyson realize that the new nanny sent to him by Legendary Consultants is the very witch he is hunting. When the truth is revealed, can these two opposing forces find a way to listen to their hearts? Or will Greyson have to follow orders and kill Rowan–the one woman who has made his soul come alive?
**GIF linked directly from giphy.com