Every Halloween, no matter what the newest costumes might be, there are always little girls who insist upon dressing as witches. You can see them on the street, in their black hats and rustling black capes, in groups or alone. These girls instinctively know it is far better to be a witch than a princess or a queen, for they are self-defined rather than being defined by men. They have no need for a prince or a king to give them worth. Perhaps a friend or a sister may travel with them, but in the long run they are strong enough on their own. There is no mythic female figure that is as powerful. When it comes down to it, on a clear, cold October night, she is the woman we want to be.
The legacy of the witch is in our blood. As girls and women we know that these women were our foremothers, wise women who claimed power for themselves and their sisters. The history of the witch is that of a woman who was an outcast in society, mistreated and victimized, a woman who had to fight for her rights.
Witches were persecuted for having too much land or money, for being independent, for being old, or alone. During the Salem witch trials (1692–93) nineteen witches were hanged on Gallows Hill and 200 were accused of practicing magic, all based on “spectral evidence,” which is to say gossip, half-truths, and tall tales. Witch hunts have existed throughout time, and what they all have in common is that the ruling patriarchy tries to control women who are uncontrollable, punishing them for alleged misdeeds. Perhaps this history is ingrained in every little girl dressed up on Halloween night. The heritage of the witch runs deep. Witches draw their power from nature, the green magic of herbs and healing. Through storytelling they have often been recast as dark, twisted figures, but in fact they are healers, forever linked with midwifery, folk medicine, and magic, all of which have been outlawed at one time or another and all of which are included in women’s traditions. Mystery, power, birth, death, medicine, sexual empowerment, liberation—the witch lays claim to all of these and more. In her realm are the power of the imagination and the doors between reality and creativity.
Mythic stories and fairy tales remind us of a time when women refused to conform to society’s ideas of what they should be. The witch is not a mother or a daughter or a queen, but she’s our sister, a soul sister who resides deep inside each of us.