Are there witches?
Which witch
From our early years we've all hear 'witch' stories.
When you hear the word 'witch' what image do you conjure up?

Is it the 'panto witch' who everyone boos when they come on stage? Dressed from head to toe in black, swirling cape, pointy hat, with a large nose and warts? Out to foil our hero's plans, but generally incompetent?

Is it the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth? Huddled over a foul smelling cauldron, dropping in animal parts, and seeing into the future?

Or is it the more modern version of a 'new-age' witch. Floaty dresses, dancing in the woodland, and chanting spells with candles and incense?

Let's start with the facts.
Many, many women over the centuries have been executed, burned at the stake, drowned etc, after being found guilty of being witches; and this by supposedly intelligent, sane men.

What led to these women being persecuted?
Did these women have magical powers?
Did these women behave strangely?
Did these women have the power to harm others?
Or was it the same old chestnut that runs through history on so many subjects - fear of the unknown?

 

 
How people lived
Let's go back to the Medieval realms and see how many of these women lived.
Chances are they were the local 'herbwife'. She would have preferred to live on the outskirts of the village, a bigger garden to grow her herbs and easy access to the wild, medicinal plants of the area. Possibly the villagers would have preferred her to live a little separately from them too, in my experience some of the 'medicines' concocted can have a fairly pungent smell! 

Her medical knowledge of plants may well have helped her stay healthy, and therefore live longer than many in the village, earning her the title of 'old crone', with wrinkles and warts to match, and a stoop from years bending over her herb patch!
In a time when infant mortality was high, imagine how people felt when they saw the young of the next village dying of some mysterious disease, yet the herbwife managed to cure their young. It really must have seemed like magic.
When the Lord of the Manor has spent a small fortune on Physicians tending his sick wife or child to no avail, and a servant bring a 'magic potion' from the local herbwife that restores them to health, is this Lord going to worry about the powers this woman might have to overthrow him?

So this Wise Woman who used the powers of nature to help others may well have been seen as a threat and dealt with accordingly.

Julie Felix wrote and sings a wonderful song called 'The Witch Song', well worth a listen!
Modern science
In the last couple of decades scientists have made the link between a fungus found in wheat that causes hallucinations and strange behaviour, to poor harvest years over the last five or six centuries when it was found in the wheat; these in turn match years when the 'witch trials' were at their height.
It's then easy to see that despite the wheat being infected, as the harvest was poor, and bread being the staple of everyone's diet, the poor had a choice but to eat rotten wheat or starving. By eating this wheat it caused very strange behaviour that could be seen as the effect of witchcraft.  

Why witch stories today?
Why are there still witch stories around in our modern world?

This is just a person belief, but adults have always had the unfortunate habit of scaring children into 'doing as they are told'.
"If you don't get back into bed the bogeyman that lives under it will get you" has had many kids down the generations scared to put their feet to the ground at night!
Children have such vivid imaginations that a throw away comment from an adult can have a whole host of monsters living under their beds for years!

It's easy to see how stories can develop. Children the world over, and through the centuries, have always been inquisitive and apt to push boundaries, fear rather than danger or punishment has been used to control this.

Imagine our Tudor child looking into a field with the local bull in it. An adult might say "no supper if you go into the field", or, to be more reasonable, explain why "don't go into the field as the bull might hurt you". Either of these the child might risk to break through the boundary to see this magnificent beast up close.
But, play on the child's imagination and said "If you try and enter the field, the witch that lives in the elder tree by the gate will grab you and hold onto you" you'll find the youngster far less likely to pass that elder tree! The slightest movement of branches in the breeze will have them running.
To get your Tudor child to stay in bed at night what better than a witch flying past on her broomstick - made from Ash or Birch, of course! - looking for children for her cauldron!
Over to you
Now it's time for you to debate witches, the stuff of fairy stories, or wise women using the power of nature for the good of others.

Let me and everyone else know your take on Witches in my Guestbook!
After an Apothecary talk and demonstration there's talk of magic!

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