Witches and Inherent Power

Last week we celebrated Halloween. I spent the evening watching Practical Magic and painting my nails black. I made pumpkin spice bars and carved jack-o-lanterns with my husband.

You see, I freaking LOVE Halloween. I have since I was a little girl. I’d save up my allowance and buy decorations for the yard. In fifth grade, I gave a show-n-tell presentation of my favorite movie, Hocus Pocus. (Not sure what I showed or told, but I’m sure it was riveting.)

So it’s been fun, with the development of mages in my novel, to reconnect with this childhood fascination with witches. I’ve done a fair bit of research into the history of witchcraft in our world: a history wrought with myth, fact, and the violent persecutions of those accused of evil during the witch-hunts of the Early Modern Era (1450-1750) in Europe and colonial North America.

As I’ve written about before, the majority of the content in my novel is inspired and informed by the cultural-ethnohistory and geography of our world. While magic is awesome in and of itself, I am particularly drawn to the idea of magic as something unexplained and mysterious and thus subject to the manipulations of our psyche, for better or worse.

Many of the women during the witch-hunts were midwives and herbalists. Understanding plant medicine is power: power to heal, and, as with all medicine, power to cause harm, intentionally or no. Pair herbal knowledge with the basic mystery women embody in our ability to bring life into the world and you have a potent enigma for the human psyche to project fear onto.

Magic is defined as the “power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious forces.” The magic in the witch-hunts, then, was potentially less in the accused’s talents as healers and more in the power of the human imagination to spread violence through ignorance.

Looking back, I think my enchantment with witches as a little girl came from a child’s curiosity—is magic real? But I also think, even then, I was fascinated with why women were even accused of being witches in the first place.

The victims of the witch-hunt were deeply feared. Though they were ultimately rendered powerless by societal circumstances, they were recognized as powerful people.

I think this “fourth wave” of feminism we’re experiencing is tapping into the latent power within us all, though for centuries women weren’t always allowed to explore and harness it. By power I don’t mean the ability to conquer or oppress another. I mean the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities to do either tremendous good or harm in our lives and those of others.

As Aunt Jet says in Practical Magic, “There’s a little witch in all of us.” We all have the power to “influence events with mysterious forces.” Hate, love, empathy—these are unseen and often unexplained forces shaping our reality.