Sister Witch

Illustration © Guinevere von Sneeden


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.

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Alice Hoffman grew up believing in magic. She’s the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The Book of Magic, Magic Lessons, The World That We Knew, Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic (a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick), the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, The Red Garden, The Dovekeepers, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites, and Faithful. Her new novel, The Invisible Hour, will be published in August by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. She’s written many original fairy tales and pieces on magic and witches for Enchanted Living, including for our 2017 Practical Magic issue. Find out more at


  1. While I would argue that the 19 victims of the Salem hysteria were in fact Witches, this was a lovely article. Thank you.

  2. Fantastic and empowering article! This article really touched me, when I was younger bullies would call me mean names, but them calling me a witch was never an insult. I found it as an honor being called as such a powerful being. Thank you for writing this article.

  3. Wonderful article in that wistful, whimsy style of Practical Magic. I can’t wait for the new book! I still read the book and watch the movie several times a year! Thank you for empowering us all with a little bit of magic…and love…and pepper in our mashed potatoes….

  4. As a child my family went to Salem several times, while no one said it, what sunk into my consciousness was ‘oh so they hang women who have powers’. Through the years on numerous occasions Salem would come into conversations I had with friends and with women I didn’t know well; I realized that by now it’s probably in our DNA, a powerful and in most cases unconscious awareness that we could be killed because of our skills. Women are reluctant to talk about their ‘sight’, or ‘knowing’, let alone any other gift or skill. It’s unfortunate that the events in Salem have had a very long reach of negative impact on women’s’ self perception. Fortunately articles like this have started to appear. I, for one, thank you!

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  9. While I admire and lift up my sister Witches she wasn’t the only one being persecuted, hanged or even burned at the stake (Europe) but many men as well were also either accused of being Witches and Witchcraft. Some even pressed to death. While I share in the power of my sisters I also am reminded of my brothers before me.

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