A Witch’s History


Destanie Neal

With Halloween a little bit away, a fun and spooky article were definitely on my list of things to do. Witches are perceived as scary and evil because of past European Christians, and because of that, they become iconic Halloween figures. Throughout history, the picture of witches has changed repeatedly. They’ve gone from evil women with warts all over them while leaning over cauldrons to awkward teens trying to control the power they have. Although that sounds like the truth and sounds like an exciting story, the real history behind witches is pretty dark.

The earliest witches were people that practiced witchcraft which meant people who used spells and spoke and called upon sports for help. Back then, many people thought witches were pagans “doing the Devil’s work.” They were usually just natural healers or wise women whose job was misunderstood. No one is 100 percent sure when witches became a thing, but one of the earliest known records of them is in the Bible in book one of Samuel. It is thought to be written anywhere from 931 B.C. to 721 B.C. It is the story of when King Saul went to the Witch of Endor to bring back the spirit of the prophet Samuel for help against the Philistine army. The witch complied, and Samuel’s spirit rose then prophesized the death of Saul’s children and Saul’s death as well.

In the 1400s, people really began to let their fear of witches rule over them in Europe. It mainly started because many people, accused of being witches, were starting to confess to either being witches or committing some other wicked behaviors. Later, in the 1500s witch hunts were very common and the accused were either hanged or burnt at the stake. Many of the women targeted in these witch hunts, were often single, widowed, or on they were just on the edge of society. Between the years 1550 and 1660, 80,000 suspected witches were killed. About 80 percent of them were women who were thought to be working with the devil. Looking at all of Europe, Germany had the most amount of executions, while Ireland had the lowest. A book called ” Malleus Maleficarum”, which usually translates to “The hammer of witches”, was about witches and was written by two well-known German Dominicans. The book caused the fear of witches to spiral out of control pretty fast.

As Europe’s fear began to lessen, the New World’s fear just grew. It was extremely tense in the colonies, because of the wars with the British and the French, a smallpox epidemic, and fear of the surrounding Native American tribes. For example, during one of the most well-known witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, around 150 people were accused of being a witch and 18 of them died because 2 little girls got sick. Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams had suffered from fits, body contortions, and uncontrollable screaming. Others soon started to see the same symptoms, and everyone started to accuse each other of witchcraft. After a while, 3 women were accused Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn, and Tituba. Tituba confessed to being a witch and then started accusing others. There ended up being 150 accused witches and 18 died.

There were other deaths and other accused, but that was the most famous trial. After that, the mass hysteria started to spread across the rest of the world.