The Ancient (And Problematic) History Of Witch Costumes
Start writing a post
Entertainment

The Ancient (And Problematic) History Of Witch Costumes

She has a broomstick. She's green. She has a big wart on her nose.

You guessed it-- she's your classic Halloween witch. But why are we so familiar with her?

466
The Ancient (And Problematic) History Of Witch Costumes
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

This week my parents went on a tour of Massachusetts for their anniversary. They texted me pictures of Boston hotspots, the beautiful Massachusetts countryside, and… decorations of...little witches in Salem. It got me thinking...how did the infamous Salem Witch Trials progress into such a popular tourist attraction? How did witchcraft --something so dark and grim-- become a cutesy costume that kids wear October 31st?

It probably goes without saying that the "modern witch" costume originates in ancient wicca practices. But why are witches so prevalent in pop culture? Why does she wear a pointy black hat and ride a broomstick? Why is she green? Why is she a she? Well I took the liberty of doing some research, and have the answers to questions you are dying to know.


1. Why is she associated with Halloween? 

It all started about 2,000 years ago when the Celtics celebrated their new year on November 1st. The day before, October 31st, was a holiday called "Samhain." On that day, the Celtics believed that those who had recently passed away would enter into the afterlife. In order to ensure their ancestors a safe journey, the Celtics would "ward away" evil spirits by building bonfires and (you guessed it!) disguising themselves as evil witches, goblins, and ghouls. For generations, this tradition was passed on throughout Europe. In the 1800s, as Europeans immigrated to the United States, they brought their holiday (and witch costumes!) with them.

2. Why is she a she?

Last night I watched Hocus Pocus with my roommates. What used to be one of my favorite Halloween classics, I suddenly started viewing with a feminist critical lens as I asked myself, "why are all the scary devil-worshipping characters in films...women?" But really. Why are the villainous witches in this October classic the Sanderson sisters and not the Sanderson brothers? I did some research and what I found was unfortunate, but unsurprising. Remember The Crucible? In Puritan (but, let's be real, many) societies, positions of power were reserved for men because they believed women were more likely to fall into temptation. This is why, in the Salem Witch Trials, all of the dancing-with-the-devil accusations were against women. This is also why, in pop culture, male witches riding on broomsticks didn't exist until Harry Potter. Now that's what I call "a bunch of Hocus Pocus!"

3. Why is she always seen with a broomstick and cauldron?

The history of the witch's broomstick isn't as exciting as you may think. In the time of the Celtics, sorcerers were usually also the village doctor (or "witch doctor"). They brewed medicine in a cauldron-like pot, mixing herb concoctions to heal the sick. Just like any doctor, they also cleaned their area... with a broom. Not only that, but the association of cleaning supplies with female domesticity further exacerbated the image of a female witch with a broomstick (yikes). But why does the broomstick fly, do you ask? Well, there's many theories. Some anthropologists say that witch-doctors danced and jumped during Celtic rituals, and that image progressed from jumping to flying. Other historians say that the concoctions the sorcerers made were hallucinogenic. Because of that, they hallucinated the image of flight!

4. Why does she wear a long black hat?

You remember The Crucible, but have you heard of the Quaker hat? Probably not.

The Quakers were a religious group prominent in the 15th and 16th centuries and are, often, associated with the Puritans of Salem. In most paintings illustrating the Witch Trails, a certain fashion trend of that age is easily noticeable-- tall, black, flat-topped hats. Although these were typically worn by all Quakers (not just the ones they thought were witches) throughout time, those hats became associated with the Witch trials and, therefore, witches.

However, there is another disturbing explanation for the witch-hat that is rooted in racial discrimination. Witches are typically associated with the devil and, when Jewish people began suffering persecution in the Middle-ages, anti-semitics associated them with the devil as well. At some point between 1000 and 1300, Jewish men began wearing long black hats called the "Judenhut'' Unfortunately, anti-semitics began using art to illustrate the devil and witches as wearing a similar hat.

5. Why is she green?

Three words: Wizard of Oz.

Fun fact: this was actually the very first time a witch was depicted as green. Because of the influence of this movie, the Wicked Witch of the West became the muse of the modern witch-- green, wearing a black hat, and riding on a broomstick. This is when the popularity of the witch-costume began to develop into the Halloween icon of today.


Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
the beatles
Wikipedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have been listening to The Beatles. Every year, my mom would appropriately blast “Birthday” on anyone’s birthday. I knew all of the words to “Back In The U.S.S.R” by the time I was 5 (Even though I had no idea what or where the U.S.S.R was). I grew up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo instead Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance (I had to google N*SYNC to remember their names). The highlight of my short life was Paul McCartney in concert twice. I’m not someone to “fangirl” but those days I fangirled hard. The music of The Beatles has gotten me through everything. Their songs have brought me more joy, peace, and comfort. I can listen to them in any situation and find what I need. Here are the best lyrics from The Beatles for every and any occasion.

Keep Reading...Show less
Being Invisible The Best Super Power

The best superpower ever? Being invisible of course. Imagine just being able to go from seen to unseen on a dime. Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to be invisible? Superman and Batman have nothing on being invisible with their superhero abilities. Here are some things that you could do while being invisible, because being invisible can benefit your social life too.

Keep Reading...Show less
Featured

19 Lessons I'll Never Forget from Growing Up In a Small Town

There have been many lessons learned.

74252
houses under green sky
Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Small towns certainly have their pros and cons. Many people who grow up in small towns find themselves counting the days until they get to escape their roots and plant new ones in bigger, "better" places. And that's fine. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought those same thoughts before too. We all have, but they say it's important to remember where you came from. When I think about where I come from, I can't help having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my roots. Being from a small town has taught me so many important lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Keep Reading...Show less
​a woman sitting at a table having a coffee
nappy.co

I can't say "thank you" enough to express how grateful I am for you coming into my life. You have made such a huge impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today without you and I know that you will keep inspiring me to become an even better version of myself.

Keep Reading...Show less
Student Life

Waitlisted for a College Class? Here's What to Do!

Dealing with the inevitable realities of college life.

135098
college students waiting in a long line in the hallway
StableDiffusion

Course registration at college can be a big hassle and is almost never talked about. Classes you want to take fill up before you get a chance to register. You might change your mind about a class you want to take and must struggle to find another class to fit in the same time period. You also have to make sure no classes clash by time. Like I said, it's a big hassle.

This semester, I was waitlisted for two classes. Most people in this situation, especially first years, freak out because they don't know what to do. Here is what you should do when this happens.

Keep Reading...Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments