Witches: Origin of the look

BenSt

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,565
Canada, originally Clwyd, N.Wales
#1
In western culture, the witch is a pretty standard looking being. Black hat, black clothing, old and wrinkled with warts. I'm curious, where do you think this image came from?
 
Oct 2011
7,654
MARE PACIFICVM
#2
In western culture, the witch is a pretty standard looking being. Black hat, black clothing, old and wrinkled with warts. I'm curious, where do you think this image came from?
I'm guessing the image evolved from medieval Europe up through the Early Modern period. The black hat and clothing seems an obvious symbol of evil. The age and ugliness probably comes from medieval ideas that external beauty was a sign of internal goodness and vice versa.

In essence everything about our image of a witch is designed to evoke evil in our minds.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,567
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#4
Actually real witches [not real in the Christian sense, that is to say servants of the evil and lovers of the devil ...] were nothing else [and are nothing else in some naturalistic "pagan" cults like Wicca] that women [or men, witch hunting chased also men, let's not forget this] who practiced natural medicine and magical rituals [magical in the traditional sense].

This generated also confusion, confusion which came also increased by the typical social phenomenon of distrust for lonely persons. Aged widows were a very easy [I would say natural, automatic] target for closed isolated little societies like villages and little towns.

During the centuries the figures of the lonely aged widow and of the woman practicing natural medicine [and / or magical rituals] have culturally melded to generate our beloved witch.

The most famous example of the result of this phenomenon is the "Befana".

Who is not always so ugly:
 
Aug 2012
1,554
#5
The Witch-Hunts of Stewart and Civil War England often targeted older women - because they were often alone, didn't have their wits about them, and would easily confess. Witch-Hunting, remember, could land you a fair bit of money for everyone you had strung up. So it made sense to demonise the elderly.

Before this era, Witches and Sorcerers in England were not so persecuted. And could even be found in Royal company - such as the soothsayer in the employ of George Duke of Clarence, whom foretold the King's death. Or look at Elizabeth Woodville, who supposedly used a poppet doll to "bind" the King to her in marriage.
Folk magic was more readily practiced and accepted, up until James I came to power, and the chaos of the Civil War allowed private citizens like Matthew Hopkins to trek from place to place, and misuse the law for personal profit.
 
Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
#8
In western culture, the witch is a pretty standard looking being. Black hat, black clothing, old and wrinkled with warts. I'm curious, where do you think this image came from?
I don't know where it came from definitively, but in 15th and 16th century Gaelic praise-poetry (Ireland and Scotland) witches were connected to the 'ship of fools' trope. A lot of the staples of the description are already there: long, hooked noses; cackling; clawing fingernails; sexual vivaciousness; ugly, exaggerated features. As they'd not been seen as anything like this beforehand, my guess is Gaels got their impression of witches from the same place they got the 'ship of fools' narrative: central Europe. I'd put money on that being where the current popular image originated.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,472
Lower Styria, Slovenia
#10
There's something I find quite interesting. The classical, stereotypical Western witch often flies on a broom, but here they're usually described flying on pigs, sometimes doing even some other stuff with them pigs ... Where does that come from?