Note: It’s supernatural month! All discussions this month will be about supernatural creatures or worlds!
Oh the wicked variability of witches!
Witches are likely the most variable of all supernatural creatures because the term ‘witch’ excited during so much of history, spans so many cultures, and possesses so many definitions. And for the sake of this discussion we’re gonna focus on female witches (because adding male witches/wizards/warlocks would be much too long a discussion post.) Also because female witches are the most common image when someone says ‘witch.’
Witches & Magic
Naturally, the first thing that pops to mind when someone says ‘witch’ is magic! (and then some other not nice words. :p) But for the most part, it’s magic. However, magic comes in many forms across literature/film/art/etc. In other words, there is no ‘one size fits all’ magic style, magic element, magic origin for witches. Let’s name a few.
The old-world, classic witch was one who called upon the spirits. They believed in the magic of the natural world and often used the four elements to harness their power: fire, earth, air, wind. These witches often used long winded incantations (usually in Latin or some dead language). They were often seen as both evil sorceresses and healers for the desperate. Yet, they were almost always shunned from society. [e.g. The Vampire Diaries]
Another origin of magic is the bloodline. These witches gained their power because they were born into it. Their family (most often, the mother) had magic and therefore it was passed down to the daughter. This type of magic often involved a family spell book (in whatever language was the family’s original language), and often involve quite a bit of potion making. These witches have secret identities. None of their mortal friends know about them and they often are able to live semi-normal lives. [e.g. Charmed & Witches of East End]
Of course, these are just a few examples. Each culture has their own type of witch and rules for what those witches are and what they do.
Individual vs. Communal Practice
Another piece of witchcraft that has high variability and is rooted in culture is whether witches practice by themselves or in groups, often known as covens. There are benefits and disadvantages to both. Practicing alone means you are the only one holding your secret and you don’t have to worry about someone exposing you. However, it also means you’re alone. You have no one to trust and no one to rely on if something or someone were to attack you(more on this in a moment.)
Covens, on the other hand, offer greater protection because there are more witches to fend off whatever evil (or good) may be attacking them. This does, naturally, come with the higher risk for exposure. After all, the more witches running around town, the more likely they are to be spotted, suspected, and persecuted.
This could explain why some covens are blood-covens only. By that, I mean they are covens of witches who are all from the same family. After all, family tends to be the strongest bond. So, who better to keep one’s secret than one’s sister, mother, or daughter?
Yet, many covens are not blood-covens. Rather, they are covens formed between witches of ancestral heritage (i.e. founders of a town who immigrated to a location together) or people gathered together by prophecy. This can be risky if one doesn’t know the other coven members particularly well, even if fate has thrown them together. [i.e. The Secret Circle]
Good vs. Evil
In addition to the variability in the origin of their magic and the social practices, there is variability in whether witches are good or bad. Some cultures see them as inherently bad. Others see them as inherently good. Yet some cultures allow them to be both or neither. But first off, what types of magic typically make witches good or evil?
Evil [i.e. Hocus Pocus]
- Blood magic
- Voodoo Dolls
Good [i.e. Bewitched]
- Protection Spells
- Incense Burning
- Fortune Telling
Though, these are just basic pieces of witchcraft that witches find themselves involved in. And even if their particular practice is seen as good or bad, their society may still seem them as the opposite.
It’s quite common in European lore for witches to be evil. This likely had more to do with the fact that they weren’t devote Catholics and, instead, worshiped their own gods or the spirits of the Earth. It might not even have to do with their practices, religion, or anything of the sort. It may simply be due to their societal participation. Human nature drives us to interact with others, after all. Anyone who went against this was often considered to be a ‘witch’, especially in a time when women were dependent upon men.
I could go on and on about witches. There is so much to be said about their culture, their history, the way they’ve changed over the centuries and how each culture views them, but we’ll stop here and ask you:
what do you think about witches? Do you see them as inherently bad or good? Do you have a favorite type of witch?
And check out last week’s discussion:
“Werewolves: The Misunderstood“