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Witch Hysteria and Why We Associate Witches With Halloween

Witches are one of many characters that appear during Halloween, popping up as a popular Halloween costume, and as a popular theme in movies. While there are real witches who often practice different elements (known as Wicca), the stereotypical witch seen on Halloween and in history is a little different than those in our modern-day. 

Witch hysteria began in the 1400s throughout Europe. Witch hunts became common with over 80,000 suspected witches were put to death through the 1500s through to 1660. As hysteria decreased within Europe, it grew within the New World with the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Some believed that Halloween was the best day for divination. Meaning, young women would often seek out fortune tellers or witches in order to find their future husbands. 

Witches are often tied in with our western Halloween celebrations. Witches are often seen as those who practice black magic and to many different cultures with traditions and folklore black magic is tied to their celebrations of Halloween. 

Beliefs of witches practicing dark magic, working with the devil, and wearing pointy hats have led to the modern media’s image of these women. 

However, one of the largest ties of witches to Halloween is the traditional Pagan celebration of Samhain. This festival took place from October 31 – November 1 to celebrate the harvest and the beginning of the dark half of the year. A revival of the ancient festival came back in the 1980s by the Wiccans. Some carried the traditional celebrations by participating in traditional fire ceremonies while many others have modernized it. However, many still use this time to communicate with the dead. 

Witches are yet another Halloween legend of things that go bump in the night. Whether it is a young beautiful woman who didn’t know they had witch powers, an old woman with warts, or a hunchback who rides a broomstick, the modern western media has taken witches and integrated them into the ghostly celebrations of October 31.

Maddie is a fourth year student at the University of Ottawa majoring in History. She is a major fan of Friends, and The Office and is a geek for all things history. Maddie loves food, relaxing, and her cat.
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