“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” You are probably envisioning a bunch of warty, green-faced witches with broomsticks and pointy, black hats huddled arounds a cauldron casting a spell, right? I guess we can thank Shakespeare’s Macbeth for that. This image of the witch has become so intertwined with Halloween, but has little in common with real witches past or present. After the jump, a few things you might not have known about witches.
1. The whole idea of a witch flying on broomsticks comes from the Middle Ages. People who practiced witchcraft used various plants to make “brews,” “oyments,” and “salves.” Only, some of the plants — like belladonna, mandrake, jimsonweed and hyoscine — had hallucinogenic effects. Some discovered said effects and learned that these plants could be absorbed through the armpits or mucus membranes (vagina and rectum). So how did the witches apply these mixtures? With the end of a broomstick. You’re getting a visual. And the flying? These hallucinogenic mixtures tended to cause sleep with dreams that involved flying, wild rides or dancing. The modern day version of an acid trip. [Science Blogs]
2. Those pointy hats were not actually worn by witches. One theory is that what we know as a witches hat is an exaggeration of the tall, conical dunce’s hat that were popular for criminals in the royal courts of the 15th century, where men and women may have been tried as witches. Someone could have painted or drawn a witchcraft trial and it caught on from there. [Hats & Veils]
3. Male witches were not called warlocks, they were called witches. The term warlock referred to an oath breaker, or one who was banished from a witches’ coven. [E Cauldron]
4. It’s estimated that from 1480 to 1750 between 40,000 and 60,000 executions took place during the witchhunts in Europe and North America. During this period, witchunters would search for a “witches’ mark” on the bodies of suspected witches. It was thought to be “the mark of the devil” even though there is no evidence that any form of witchcraft had or has any connection to Satan. Witchunters would search for these marks near the armpits, breasts or genitals of the suspected witch. If found, a “witches’ mark” was thought to be undeniable proof of being a witch. There are a few theories about this. Some think that witchcraft practitioners had secret pagan tattoos, others think that “witches’ marks” were birth marks, warts, blemishes or triple nipples. A more feminist perspective suggests that the practice of searching for a “witches’ mark” most commonly happened to women and it was used an excuse to strip and “inspect” naked, often bound and restrained, female bodies behind closed doors. [Wikipedia]
5. There are many different kinds of witchcraft. Wicca is a religion practiced by some modern witches. Wiccans celebrate Sabbats — the solar wheels of the year — and Ebats — the 13 full moons of the year. One of the Sabbats, Samhain, falls on October 31. Better known to most of us as Halloween. [Wikipedia]