A History of Witches

6 min read
A History of Witches

 A witch, as fiction will have us believe, is an old woman with a nest of fly-away hair, a wart on her nose, a pointy black hat and a broomstick. She cackles as she flies by on her broomstick, black cat in tow, always ready to throw out a potion with an ingredient list consisting of eye of newt…

The History of Witches | Stay at Home Mum
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But this hasn’t always been the case.

In fact, the concept of witches (and more specifically witchcraft), has been around since the dawn of human history. In some periods of time, witches have played starring roles, while being entirely ignored in others. It’s hard to look at the history of witches because there is no linear narrative in their past. They exist all over the world and in all manner of forms. So instead of trying to give you a blanket coverage, we’re just going to look at the basics.

What Are Witches?

Despite having ‘plagued’ the civilised world with the devil worship, there’s no clear definition of what a witch actually is. In present day, we tend to assign the title of ‘witch’ to women only, but in the past a number of men were hung as witches. Maybe the issue was that they weren’t sure how to prove it?

Ok, How Do You Know?

The History of Witches | Stay at Home Mum

How can you tell if someone is a witch? Well there are a number of foolproof methods that have been deciding the fates of the accused for several centuries. These include:

Feeding Them Witch Cake

This isn’t the chocolate mud cake you’ve been dreaming about. It’s a patty made from rye meal and the urine of all the people the witch has enthralled with her spells. The cake is then fed to a dog, who (if she was a witch) would fall under a spell and point out the witch with his canine charms.

Check For Devil Marks

Another method often used when checking someone’s witchy qualities was to search them for ‘devil marks’, otherwise known as birthmarks, moles, scars or extra nipples (for feeding their animal familiars). Hmmm”¦ I’m three for four out of that one.

Weigh Them Against A Stack Of Bibles

The thing to remember here is that anyone who is either heavier or lighter than a stack of Bibles is a witch. There is no middle ground. But, how many Bibles go in the stack?

See If They Talk To Themselves

If they’re often seen mumbling to themselves, take note. They’re not a busy mum and they don’t have a screw loose, they’re a witch!

See If They Float

In case you suspect a witch, drag them to the nearest body of water, get them in their birthday suit and throw them in. If they float, they’re definitely a witch. If they drown and die, well they were innocent. In some cases women were tied to chairs and thrown in the river and if they managed to free themselves they were confirmed witches.

Did Witch Trials Actually Happen

The History of Witches | Stay at Home Mum
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Most definitely! The paranoia of the early days about witches meant that there were a number of witch trials that saw large numbers of the population accused of witchcraft. The most well-known of these is the Salem Witch Trials. These trials happened in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693, and resulted in the execution of twenty people. Whatever it might have to do with witches, it is today considered one of the most notorious cases of mass hysteria.

It all started when two little girls in the village began to have fits and complained that they were being pricked by pins. They were witnessed uttering in tongues, throwing things and contorting their bodies into strange shapes. Soon, another two girls were exhibiting the same symptoms. Three people were accused of using witchcraft to harm them: a homeless woman, a black or Indian slave and a woman who rarely attended church. They were interrogated for several days, and then jailed. It appeared to be a success for the church.

Then in March four others were accused in Salem and beyond. One had suggested that perhaps the girls were overreacting and had drawn attention to themselves. Another was the four-year-old daughter of one of the first set of accused women. The townspeople were starting to worry, as two of the women were committed churchgoers. Could the Devil have wormed his way into the minds of these good people?

By the end of this period of insanity, some 150 people had been arrested and imprisoned for their involvement with witchcraft. This number was actually only a small portion of the total number of people who had been accused but not actually pursued. Of these people, 19 were hung and one man was pressed to death by large boulders as the court tried to get him to confess. Whether or not they were witches remains unknown, but there have been suggestions that the hysteria could have been caused by a hallucinogenic fungus that may have been present in the rye used to make bread.

Where Does That Leave The Witches?

Well, as far as we can see, that leaves the witches a little low on population, a little annoyed at how zealously (and ultimately uselessly as all the accused were found posthumously innocent several centuries later) they were pursued by the courts. In reality, witches at this time were most likely village healers and people with a basic knowledge of medicine, herbs and natural remedies. To be targeted for trying to help their neighbours and in some cases to be accused by them, it defies reason.

Whether or not witches can do magic, there’s no doubt that they exist in some forms. In the 1920s and 30s, scholars suggested that instead of being followers of the Devil, the early witchcraft accused may have been the dregs of a pre-Christian pagan religion. They called it the Witch Cult. From this, a new belief system called Wicca was born, which is now thought ot have about 800,000 followers world-wide.

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Oceana Setaysha

Senior Writer A passionate writer since her early school days, Oceana has graduated from writing nonsense stories to crafting engaging content for...Read Morean online audience. She enjoys the flexibility to write about topics from lifestyle, to travel, to family. Although not currently fulfilling the job of parent, her eight nieces and nephews keep her, and her reluctant partner, practiced and on their toes. Oceana holds a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Writing and Indonesian, and has used her interest in languages to create a career online. She's also the resident blonde at, where she shares her, slightly dented, wisdom on photography, relationships, travel, and the quirks of a creative lifestyle. Read Less

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