SAN DIEGO: 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.
Witches get bad rap throughout history
In real life, witches have played a significant role throughout history in both 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. 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.
The origins of natural medicine and herbalism
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.
Their covens were organizations of groups of 13 which were ideal for sharing tips for healing, herbal and homeopathic recipes, and ongoing education. The most important part of these gatherings may be the sharing of their experiences with 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 witches thousands of years ago.
Persecution of witches
With the advent and spread of Christianity in the Western World, doctrine and power o 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. It was seen as 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. Including 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.
Women accused, however unjustly, of being a witch were 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 – all initiating a witch hunt–leading to a sentence of death or deaths.
Misconceptions and beliefs about witches spread to America
During the 1600’s, the deaths by hanging of approximately 20 women who were deemed to be witches in Salem, Massachusettes. Estimates are of another 150 who died in prison.
Continuing to be suppressed by religious doctrine and societal misogyny, women healers have historically been relegated to healing services within their families, roles as housekeepers or aides, and lower-level nurses with limited responsibilities. As recently as the 1970s, 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.
According to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study, there are 359,409 female physicians in the United States.
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 the 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!