Popular witch stereotypes have them as ugly crones, wearing tattered black cloaks, pointy black hats, and flying on brooms with black cats perched onboard. Then there’s that other stereotype that has them wearing as little as possible with a come-hither gleam in their eyes.
Our fictional witches don’t follow these patterns. They fly without brooms, wear regular clothes, and they look like you and me. Well, maybe a little better than us, thanks to some glamour spells. This isn’t TV’s Bewitched where magic is used only for emergencies. How dumb was that? And btw, when our witches dress sexy, it’s because they want to. Witches have the same rights as everyone else.
Creating our characters made us wonder about the origin of how witches look and dress. Like most stereotypes, there had to be some basis in history.
Take, for example, the notion that witches only wear black. It likely came from associating the color black with evil, mystery and the occult.
For thousands of years, healers have used natural remedies and spells to alleviate pain and suffering. This was an affront to early Christians, and such activities were deemed a sin and a crime. “Wise women,” known as witches, were forced underground. It’s easy to imagine them sneaking through the shadows in black, hiding their missions of aid in order to avoid condemnation or imprisonment.
Black is also a choice for many witches as protection from negative energy. The color absorbs light from the sun, power that provides clarity and helps divine the truth. And honestly, should Stevie Nicks dress in anything but black when she twirls and swirls onstage while singing about an old Welsh witch named Rhiannon?
Images of witches riding brooms appeared as early as the 1400s. Historians suggest the origin of this belief lies in pagan fertility rituals. Also, as women were most often associated with witchcraft, domestic tools such as brooms and cauldrons might naturally be seen as implements for their magic.
The history of the witch’s pointy black hat is complicated. Similar hats have been identified in mummified remains of purported witches from ancient China. In the 1200s, in a wave of anti-Semitism in Europe, Jews were forced to wear black hats as identifiers. As Jews were accused of black magic, the hat merged with an image of evil and devil worship.
The Quaker religion may have had the most direct impact on the witch’s hat. Rising to prominence in the 1600s, Quakers dressed in conical black hats, and they believed that people weren’t inherently sinful creatures in need of redemption and that women were equal to men. Oh the horror of it all! All those Quaker women parading in their black hats and speaking their minds perhaps cemented that element of witchy attire.
In our modern era, The Wizard of Oz presented The Wicked Witch as a green, snarling hag in that black dress, hat and on a broom. The iconic witch image was cemented. The movie also planted the idea that all bad witches are green. Thanks to that, millions have spent hours scrubbing off green makeup after Halloween parties. Real witches only achieve a greenish glow the morning after indulging in too much potent brew, just like most of us.
The notion that witches are all wart-faced hags likely came because warts were once called “the devil’s mark.” Like all unfounded fears, this became distorted, turning someone with a facial wart into a witch who meant great harm.
Any fully-stereotyped witch is also supposed to wander around with a black cat, known as a witch’s familiar, their closest companion and protector. First of all, not all familiars are cats, and not all witches have familiars. We’ll get into that at another time. Second, black cats have an unfounded bad reputation as symbols of bad luck and death. Black felines can be as lovable and cuddly or cantankerous and standoffish, as any other cat. And have you considered that caring for an animal might help you be the sort of person who makes their own good luck?
As we discovered how some of the presumptions about witches came to be, we decided to ignore some of them in our books. That’s the great thing about writing paranormal fiction; you can make your own world. Please enjoy the world of The Witches of New Mourne, our bewitching trilogy. https://bit.ly/NewMourne