31st Oct 2012
A History of Wicked Witches
The first things that spring to mind when you think of the word ‘witch’ will inevitably be a long crooked nose, long dark hair, an ethereal beauty, a cauldron and a broomstick. The features will differ from person to person, yet most will agree on one distinguishing factor. A witch is female.
Intrinsically the character of the witch has been played almost exclusively by women, in both literature and history. From a very young age, I became fascinated with the idea of magic and the power that could be created between a gaggle of girls. After watching The Craft I felt an insatiable urge to dye my hair and speak in tongues in total belief that I had the power to wield my gender as a pure force of nature.
During my early teens I burnt candles, held ‘seances’ and used pots of Directions and bleach to dye my hair an otherworldly colour. The only magical effect this seemed to achieve was a few burnt and waxy pockets in my bedroom carpet and the wrath of my parents for splattering hair dye all over their bathroom.
Even though I’d like to think that I have grown-up (to some degree), I can’t help but find the idea of being a witch simply fascinating.
As I was enraptured by the works of Roald Dahl, I was extremely excited to see the cinematic adaptation of The Witches at the Scala cinema in North Wales. The Scala cinema happened to suffer from a healthy infestation of mice in 1990 (which has thankfully been dealt with since!).
Therefore as the witches transformed the children to mice on screen I was treated to an interactive experience as mice scurried and scrabbled beneath my very feet. This only seemed to heighten the magical capability of witches for me.
I needn’t have too far to hunt as many a witch appeared within our school curriculum. Namely The Crucible, Macbeth and the Welsh folklore tales of Mabinogion. All of those classics dealt with witches in a cruel and mistrustful manner.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them in some way, and at my young and impressionable age, felt that it had something to do with the lack of proper care for the elderly that had led witches to become malevolent beasts.
“Give them meals on wheels and a proper pension and I’m sure that they would use their magic for good instead of evil.” I thought.
The feeling of purity and love for all mankind quickly disappeared during my adolescence. As soon as puberty hit, I suddenly became a malevolent beast in my own right. I felt that I would be able to gain an understanding of the world and all it’s workings through ‘witchcraft’.
Little did I know that I was just learning the basics to astrology and botany, along with a few nonsensical incantations. Yet, in some way they made me feel in control of my life and connect with the world.
I became morbidly fascinated by the treatment of so called witches in history and devoured such books as A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill and Entertaining Satan by John Demos. It was clear that the early New England trend of witch trials was nothing more than a way of asserting authority, mostly upon women, to chastise and create new law in a land which had yet to find it’s feet.
Since leaving my teens (and shortly I shall be leaving my twenties!), I feel that I have gained a lot from the influence of witches and witchcraft throughout my life. I learnt with ferocity, as witches always have their heads in books, reading with vigour and loading their brains with information.
Therefore, I also read with vigour, aiming to learn as much as I could, pleasurably whiling away time in the oldest part of the library inhaling the musty smell of leather bound books. This had a great affect on my grades but not so much on my school friends as I inevitably went though my goth phase. Yet, as Stewart Lee says this only served to ‘cut the wheat from the chaff’.
As witches, vampires, werewolves and the like have been Disney-fied for the mainstream, it’s almost impossible to move in a bookshop without bumping into some identikit ‘sexy thriller’ as the young adult market booms; I sigh for the intelligent, alternative books that gave me a thirst for knowledge.
Maybe I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses and actually read more trash than I am letting on. All I know is I am thankful for the appearance of witches in my life. For the all the avenues of learning that I have gained for their existence and I hope that women can reclaim the word witch as a compliment instead of an insult.
Were you obsessed with witchcraft before Hogwarts opened its doors? What magical novels got your heart racing? Let us know!
Image via Der_Krampus