Halloween witches, paganism and medicine

Photo courtesy of Karen/Flickr

SAN DIEGO, October 28, 2014 — When we think of Halloween, images of grotesque, green-faced witches traveling by broomstick frequently come to mind. Witch costumes remain a favored top seller every Halloween.

In real life, witches have played a significant role throughout history in the development of the healing arts and in modern-day medicine. Thousands of years ago witches were commonly known as wiccans, which meant wise ones. Female wiccans, originally believed to be beautiful goddesses, were known as witches. Considered wise because they were early intuitive practitioners of healing, practicing herbalism, homeopathy, and pagan spells thousands of years ago. With essentially no other forms of treatments or cures for most afflictions known at that time, witches performed intuitive healing using the natural tools close at hand.

Largely borne from poorer families, courageous witches traveled from village to village to ease pain and suffering. From practicing midwifery and assisting with childbirth, to pain abatement and treatments for afflictions and diseases, witches used their homemade concoctions of healing plants and herbs while performing pagan spells.

Photo courtesy of Jetske/Flickr
Photo courtesy of Jetske/Flickr

Their covens were organizations of groups of 13 which were ideal for sharing tips for healing, herbal and homeopathic recipes, ongoing education, and telling oral history for the purpose of healing and nursing suffering humankind. It is also believed that much of the oral history was passed on, generation upon generation, from mothers to daughters.

According to “Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers,” first published by the Feminist Press at CUNY, 1973, “Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were pharmacists cultivating healing herbs.” Many of the treatments used and developed by witches included analgesics, sedatives and digestive remedies. A well-known, modern-day pharmaceutical, digitalis, was discovered and used by early witches thousands of years ago.

With the advent and spread of Christianity and aristocracy in the Western World, doctrine and power were threatened by those who were witch-healers. Witches were believed to be heretics, worshipers of Satan, and a threat to the newly established misogynic male-dominated order. Religious leaders believed that pain and suffering were ordained by God and fundamental to those who were struggling souls. Healing was considered to be an act of God, and the practice of witch healing was contrary to those beliefs, and an act of heresy.

As aristocratic and religious institutions gained in both size and power, they utilized rumor and slander against witches as a cruel form of control, which included severe punishment for anyone not reporting a known witch. Witches fled to faraway villages to hide and avoid prosecution. As science, anatomy and medicine slowly advanced under the control and doctrine of religious leaders and aristocrats, women were not permitted to read, study or practice any form of the healing arts.

Until the 18th century, any woman who was accused, however unjustly, of being a witch was usually imprisoned, tortured and hanged or burned at the stake. Blame for unusual or unexplainable occurrences was easily ascribed as being caused by a witch. Unexpected deaths, displays of bizarre behavior, unknown maladies of the time, and fear of the unknown and the desire to assign blame would initiate a witch hunt–leading to a sentence of death or deaths.

Misconceptions and beliefs about witches spread to America, leading to the deaths by hanging of approximately 20 women who were deemed to be witches, with estimates of 150 who died in prison, during the 1700’s in Salem, Massachusetts.

Continuing to be suppressed by religious doctrine and societal misogyny, women healers have historically been relegated to healing service within their families, roles as housekeepers or aides, and lower-level nurses with limited responsibilities. As recently as the 1970’s, it was very difficult for a woman to attend medical school to become a physician, and those who succeeded did so at great personal cost.

In 2014 there are approximately 893,851 physicians in the United States (not including allopathic or osteopathic doctors) with 284,828 being women, according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Photo courtesy of Dave/Flickr
Photo courtesy of Dave/Flickr

There is much to celebrate this coming All Hallows’ Eve!

Halloween witches everywhere may adorn themselves proudly in honor of the witches who came before them, sacrificing their lives for privilege of healing others. As the black cauldron is being stirred, keep in mind that the homemade brew is simmering with healing plants and herbs and is the precursor of modern-day homeopathy and medicine. Revel in the ability to heal others using Mother Earth’s bountiful gift of plants and herbs while celebrating in a coven of choice.

With a witches broom in hand, remember that it was originally used by early witches to sweep away dirt and grime surrounding the floor of a sickly villager, ensuring the utmost cleanliness and safety prior to treatment.

Remember to pay homage to the black cat purring melodiously while lying next to a mighty witch’s boot.

Rejoice in the knowledge that a witch is descended from a beautiful goddess–green skin color and a large nose wart exist only in the imagination.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is a health care provider of over 30 years. As a featured “Communities Digital News” columnist, LifeCycles with Laurie Edwards-Tate emphasizes healthy aging and maintaining independence, while delighting and informing its readers. Laurie is a recognized expert in home and community-based, long-term care services, and is also an educator.

In addition to writing for “Communities Digital News,” Laurie is the President and CEO of her firm, At Your Home Familycare, which serves persons of all ages who are disabled and infirm with a variety of non-medical, in-home care and concierge services.

Copyright © 2014 by At Your Home Familycare

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Laurie Edwards-Tate
Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, President and Founder of At Your Home Familycare in San Diego, California, was among the first to recognize the growing need for services allowing individuals to remain independent created by the aging of America including the Baby Boomer generation, now being called the “Silver Tsunami.” It is the Baby Boomers who are rapidly redefining what aging and growing older means and looks like in America today. Now celebrating its 28th year in business, AYHF is among San Diego County’s Top Women-Owned Businesses and Fastest Growing Businesses, and enjoys a reputation for upholding the highest possible standards among its employees and its emphasis on customer service. Edwards-Tate is a valued contributor to the public dialogue on current issues and challenges in the home care industry, and serves in leadership roles on the Home Care Aide Association of America Advisory Board and Private Duty Home Care Association Advisory Board, as well as the Home Care Aide Steering Committee of the California Association for Health Services at Home. Edwards-Tate is frequently interviewed in the media on healthy aging, caregiving, and health care topics. Follow Laurie and AYHF at www.atyourhomefamilycare.com; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/atyourhomefamilycare, and Twitter at @AYHFamilycare