Bewitched by witches? Expand your wisdom



Smear your face with green paint and grab your pointy hat, it’ll be a big night for witches.

You might not be too worried about bumping into a broom-riding hag, but for centuries, people were terrified of witches. From Europe to America, many innocent folks were accused of witchcraft, and some were even executed.

Witches practiced Old Religion, the pagan worship of nature. Witches often were village doctors, using caldrons to create natural medicines. Until the 10th century, most religious leaders considered witchcraft as harmless old lady stuff.

But fear of the devil made people think witches were doing Satan’s work. People accused witches of riding on broomsticks at night or turning into black cats. Some European lawmakers finally passed protective laws, and the witch hunts mostly stopped in the 1600s.

But just as the Europeans were getting over witches, the early Americans were just getting started. “They very much believed people could make a pact with the devil,” says Alison D’Amario of the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Mass.

Colonists believed that this deal with the devil could last forever and gave people powers to hurt others, D’Amario says. “They believed witches could torment them or hurt them physically,” she says. “Or make children sick (just) by walking by them, and make animals fall ill.”

Witch drama peaked in 1692 when a group of girls in Salem claimed witches were tormenting them. People were jailed and sent to court. In just one year, 19 women and 1 man were killed for practicing witchcraft.

Which witch is worse?

From scary to silly, witches have long been a mainstay of the entertainment world. Here are some we like:

On TV: Witches are young and hip in shows like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Charmed,” but who can resist those long-famous “Bewitched” women: Samantha, Tabitha, Endora, Esmerelda and the not-so-nice Serena.

In movies: Glinda the Good Witch from “The Wizard of Oz” ranks high on our list, but so does that film’s Wicked Witch of the West for her nasty factor. Other scary witches we like: the nasty hags who torment Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

From books: Harry Potter is a good wizard and so is Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings.” But the White Witch is troublesome in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” And Mildred Hubble is a sweet screw-up in “The Worst Witch.”

Glinda the Good Witch, right, from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ ranks high on the list of great witches on the big screen, but so does the Wicked Witch of the West, left, for her nasty factor.

The Sun Herald | 10/25/2005

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