The History of Witches

The Interesting Backstory of Witches

October 28, 2022

No doubt you have heard of witches. They are usually made out to be old women with pointy hats, that perform dark magic. In some cases, witches are depicted to eat children as shown in the popular Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus. Some are shown to have a green complexion and seen as ‘ugly’ like seen in The Wizard of Oz. What you may not know is that ‘witches’ have quite an interesting background.  


Where It All Started 

Early witches were women who practiced witchcraft. For example, using spells to call upon the spirits for help or to bring about change in the world, or their daily lives. Most of these women were perceived to be doing ‘devils work.’ Many of them were just natural healers, or so called ‘wise women.’  

It is unclear as to when witches exactly came about. The earliest time in which witches were mentioned was between 931 B.C and 721 B.C. However, the witch hysteria seemed to popularize in Europe during the mid 1400s. Many were accused of being witches for mundane things and were later tortured or even killed.  



 Witch Hunts 


The witch hunts took place from 1450, to around 1750. Witch hunters would get paid by local magistrates. Witch Hunters would get paid around the equivalent of a month’s wage for each ‘hunt.’ Some hunters would accuse women of being witches just to get paid. 

 Many witch hunters would go around the world to find witches and execute them. Some witch hunters had different methods in identifying witches then others did. For example, a witch hunter named Matthew Hopkins had some very odd methods. In one method he would cut off the accused persons arm. If she did not bleed, she would be considered a witch.

Between the years 1500 and 1600 over 80,000 innocent women convicted of being witches were killed in Europe. 



What Made a Person Suspected of Being a Witch?  


People suspected some women of being witches for many ridiculous reasons. If you were widowed or single, then you would be suspected. Some women were suspected because they had more wit than others. While some were suspected due to their certain physical features, such as moles or a crooked nose.  

As I said before, some women were accused due to the monetary value received. Some women would even pretend to be bewitched just so they could receive some money. 



 Salem Witch Trials 


The Salem Witch Trials are one of the most famous witch trials in American history. They took place in Salem, Massachusetts, between 1692 and 1693. The events leading up to the trials started when the niece and daughter of Samuel Parris, a minister in Salem Village, grew terribly ill. The girls were having violent fits, a crawling sensation on the skin, vomiting, and choking.  

Worried, Samuel asked the village doctor, William Griggs, to examine his niece and daughter. Since this occurred during the late 1600’s, the doctor assumed that the girls were bewitched. The girls then proceeded to accuse three women of bewitching them.  

These three women were Tituba a Caribbean slave, Sarah Good a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborn an elderly woman. They were put to trial. While Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn pleaded not guilty, Tituba pleaded guilty to protect herself from punishment and instead acted as an informer. 

Tituba said that there were other witches working alongside her. She accused other people as protection, which obviously lead to those accused accusing others. These accusations would later result in the hysterics of witchcraft in the village where150 people would be captured and imprisoned for suspected witchcraft. Of the 150 captured,18 women and 1 man were executed. 

The trials continued with great intensity until early 1693. Those imprisoned were later pardoned and released from witchcraft charges. Sometime around January 1697, the General Court of Massachusetts declared a day of fasting for the tragic Salem Witch Trials. The court later deemed the trials unlawful. 

To this day, it is still somewhat unknown as to what actually happened to the ‘bewitched’ girls. Some say that they had an allergic reaction or were poisoned. While others believe that those aggressive fits, they were experiencing were seizures. It is truly unclear as to what happened, but people do have speculations.  


 Witches and Witchcraft in Pop Culture 


Witches and witchcraft are shown in a lot of movies, shows, and books, and are usually perceived differently in each. Some witches are perceived as evil, while others are perceived as good. For example, in the Wizard of Oz there is both good and evil, the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch.  

This is also the same in the Harry Potter books and movie series, there are both good and bad wizards and witches. For example, Voldemort is an evil wizard, while Harry Potter is a good wizard.  

While some movies, shows, and books are based on creativity and fantasy, others are somewhat based on witches’ history. For example, the popular Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus, takes place in Salem.  

The three Sanderson sisters were evil witches and would use the souls of children to stay young. They lived in Salem Village, until they were later executed. Then over 150 years later they returned.  





In conclusion, the concept of witches and witchcraft has been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. The tragic and interesting history of witches is almost entirely conceived of misunderstands. Though I would not say that witches do not completely exist.  

Some people have a great spiritual connection to nature, the world, and the universe and identify themselves as witches. What I can say, is witches are not out to eat children nor do they burn when water is poured on them. Those ridiculous ideas are simply developed for creative intrigue.  


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