A Legacy of Witches



Whether you grew up with Hermione Granger, cast some trouble with Sabrina Spellman, or revelled in the sisterly bonds of the Halliwells, witches have infiltrated our lives. From commanding our attention on-screen and teaching us their wicked values, most of us have spent our lives fascinated by these divine individuals. Yet, as we know, the perpetuation of witches in society was not always welcomed. Instead, it was abhorred and remedied with severe periods of persecution, malice, and murder. History has been greatly intolerable towards powerful women, but even less so to women they could not, and would not, understand. 


The legacy of witches began with time itself. As many argue, this began with the creation of Adam and Eve. With Eve’s defiance of a higher authority, she was banished from the established societal construct. However, through her rebellion, she gained the fruits of knowledge that extended beyond the reach of man. To keep Eve and the women after her, bound, the female origin story can be seen as inherently sexist. Yet, this is where our story began.


The birth of witch persecution on the grounds of religion can be traced back to the 13th Century. On an ill-fated trip to the South of France to root out heretics, one of the Pope’s Inquisitors was murdered by a Knight ‘who believed that the Old Testament God was a demon’. Thus, established a personal and religious vendetta against such heretics. Those who survived such the brutal punishment of being burned alive in 1244, were accused on the newly found crime of ‘conspiring with the devil or, as it came to be known, witchcraft.’


To reach a more applicable and capable lense, we shall jump to 17th Century England, the height of witch-related persecution. Shakespeare’s dark tendencies of witches, whether in Macbeth or the supernatural-related Hamlet, were not unfounded, according to the remnants of Elizabethan society. Legally deemed as heretic, witchcraft was capitally punishable from 1563 (and witch-hunting subsequently being banned by 1736 via the Witchcraft Act). Elizabeth I’s rule (from 1558-1604) was drastically more moderate than her father’s. Protestantism was established, which focuses on reduced formalities than surrounding Catholicism. With the divine right of the monarch being strictly present, any threat outside of this form of religious knowledge was viewed as dangerous. Hence, the birth of anti-Catholic sentiment and the proliferation of mass murder of minority groups grew wide. As many also believed that external appearance represented internal dispositions, anyone that looked unacceptable, which, according to these authorities, included poorer women with distorted figures, were outcast.