Myth Busting Halloween Special: Re-writing- Re-learning and Re-membering the witches.

** With special thanks to Feminist Kidzine ‘Raise some hell’ for loaning us their words and wisdom…

With all the super-sized vamp surrounding Halloween, one would imagine something terribly terribly frightful occurred on this famous party day…

Well, Halloween was actually in fact a day of the dead, but not in the grizzly sense we’ve come to believe.. It was originally a pagan festival Samhain (pronounced sowwen) to celebrate ancestors and remember those that had died in a positive way.

Samhain

The veil between the world of the dead and that of the living is believed by Pagans to be at its thinnest on October 31st, the eve of the hallows, so that communication between the two worlds, and between lost loved ones is open. Over time this has been twisted around into something demonic, the same way that the pagan women who performed different traditional celebrations of the dead (including use of herbs) on all hallows eve were portrayed as ‘witches’ to collude with the hunts.

The European witch hunts are one of the biggest genocides of our history.

Although, La Bouche thinks it very fun to get our freak on on October 31st, the scarier stuff behind the big day ain’t the ghosts n ghouls, ah non, it is of course the elite man.

Did you know that traditionally witches were the ‘wise women,’ the poorer women of the village that knew how to use herbs and other healing practices. They were real women: doctors without degrees, passing down their knowledge by word-of-mouth from grandmother to mother to daughter. Instead of the Devil worship they were accused of, they mostly were Pagans, with an in depth understanding of nature and the human body.

So then, what’s up with the cauldrons, carbuncles n cackles? Well, we reckon, you’ve been tricked!

The Halloween Witch of today

Back in the day, the very idea that, with some knowledge, you could heal your own illnesses for free, with wild herbs available for all, annoyed some people. In the middle ages, no money was to be made from these femmes and their craft, and science was intended to take over, with professional male doctors charging for new medicines in central hospitals. Witches were demonised as being evil, so they could be justly exterminated, and so that scientific medicine could take its place. Whilst the women healers were still around, a mainly impoverished population wouldn’t want to pay for the new medicines from the professional doctors.

What does ‘witchcraft’ mean? It’s the use of supernatural or magical powers.

Witches were blamed for many things: disagreeing with the Government, disobeying the Church, for being sexually-aware women, for organizing amongst themselves, and for using magic powers both to harm and to heal. The Church and the State (those in power) saw their attack as being upon pagan magic: to them herbalist was not medicine, it was magic. Although many of the modern medicines we take today were derived from herbs and their healing uses- probably discovered by witches! The equivalent of the Church’s prayers, were the witches charms, and so the beginnings of modern medicine had more similarity with the witches crafts than with science as we see it today, and many doctors actually learnt about the body parts from witches.

The hunts

What were the witch-hunts? They were the pre-planned hunting down, torture and murder of people accused of ‘witchcraft’, by those in favour of a new political, medical, and scientific system – namely, the rich men in power within the Government and The Church.

It is thought that, in Europe over 9 million people were killed, often drowned or burnt alive at the stake, for ‘witchcraft’. Over 85% of these deaths were of women and even children. They occurred in Europe between 400 and 700 years ago. In the witch trials, Women were accused of practicing witchcraft (to account for unexplainable events like the death of cattle) and the ‘professional’ doctors would decide if the action was witchcraft, or natural body illnesses. On a vaguely brighter note, the witch-hunts did not totally wipe out the poor women healers, but it labeled them as magical and possibly bad, and they have been demonised ever since.

Un peut sexiste?

We think so… The main crime that the witches were accused of committing is that of being a woman, and a woman with healing knowledge, at that. Herbalism meant that poorer people could heal themselves for free, and meant that women (who were banned from studying/working as doctors) could also be involved. When learning about the history of witches, you are learning about the beginnings of institutional sexism itself and the beginnings of the patriarchal system that governs us today. Over 7 million women and children are estimated to have been murdered in Europe alone, in the most hideous ways imaginable, over a period of hundreds of years! This is an important part of women’s history, and important in understanding how we live today. The witch-hunts were deeply political, religious and yeah – sexist to the core. La Bouche will be thinking about the ladies behind the broomsticks and cauldrons tonight.

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