Witches: Evil-doers or the victims of a centuries-long misrepresentation?

Witches often get a bad rap as spooky, sinister beings, as seen in the classic Halloween imagery that invokes them. But there’s more to their story than meets the eye.

A Misunderstood Profession

The earliest known record of a witch comes from the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel. The story, thought to be written between 931 B.C.E. and 721 B.C.E., tells of King Saul seeking the Witch of Endor to help him defeat the Philistine army.


Despite the Old Testament’s condemnation of them, most early witches were not pagans doing the Devil’s work, as suggested. Many were natural healers, or “wise women” whose profession was misunderstood.

A Dangerous Time for Witches

In Europe, witch hysteria began to take hold in the mid-1400s. This was spurred in part by the publication of “Malleus Maleficarum,” a book written by two German Dominicans in 1486. The book, which translates to “The Hammer of Witches,” was a guide for identifying, hunting, and interrogating witches.


For more than 100 years, it was the second highest-selling book in Europe, trailing only the Bible. And it had deadly implications — between the years 1500 and 1660, up to 80,000 suspected witches were executed in Europe.

Modern-Day Witches

Witches still struggle to shake their historical stereotypes. Most witches in the Western World practice Wicca, an official religion in the United States and Canada. Wiccans avoid evil — their motto is “harm none,” and they strive to live peaceful lives in tune with nature and humanity. 


Modern spells and incantations are often derived from their Book of Shadows, a collection of wisdom and witchcraft, and these practices are comparable to an act of prayer in other religions.


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