Witches are still presented as old, ugly and evil but real-life witchcraft is very different

Halloween is back, supermarkets with devil and monster costumes. In my neighborhood I will see a mob of wart-infested, green-faced witch children terrorizing neighbors with the threat of a trick if they are not treated with candy.

Witches are synonymous with this time of year and are mostly referred to as old, ugly and evil – and as something to be avoided.

Erdman Palmore, medical sociologist, has already written that the older, more open and open a woman is, the more a woman is perceived as a threat. In this way the caricature of the witchLabeling women as evil and dangerous, helps silence a woman’s power. It also manipulates and controls society’s perception of older women by portraying them as untrustworthy or insane.

And in that sense that is Witch-witch identity has what sociologists call symbolic violencewhich is an unconscious mode of cultural or social domination. In other words, the witch-witch stereotype imposed on women is a form of non-physical violence.

Hence, it is important to understand that beyond fairy tales, mythical stories and stereotypes, there are many different ways of getting one witch.

The modern witch

As part of mine PhD researchI interviewed 13 UK-based self-identified witches and analyzed hundreds of different witch identities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. I’ve seen people use social media as a teaching platform, Learn and practice witchcraft and as a space to nurture their witch selves.

Many of the witches I interviewed and met on social media talked about the importance of online spaces due to the lack of local pagan communities. They also said that the internet offers a community and an opportunity to practice with like-minded people.

It seems that people do not tend to be witches as they are in Christianity. Rather, they become witches (often as teenagers) after realizing that the philosophies of witchcraft – such as goddess worship, the lunar cycle, and positive affirmations – are gaining traction. I have seen witches describe how they “came out of the broom closet” and started presenting themselves as witches through the use of memes and pictures on social media.

However, I have found that the stereotypical image of a witch – as an evil, angry woman or ugly, wart-strewn witch – is often used by these groups as a means to Regain power. People use the stereotype of the witch or the wicked witch to fight the patriarchy. Often with the meme: “We are the granddaughters of the witches who couldn’t be burned”.

That way, the modern witch identity is not about creating fear. It’s about sharing wisdom with the next generation. And my research has shown that the modern witch identity enables women to stand loud and proud in a patriarchal society.

Halloween or Samhain?

Also, many trick or treating may not know that Halloween came from Samhain, a three day old Celtic pagan festival. Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year and is important to witches.

It falls on October 31st – the same day as Halloween – and is one of the eight festivals (Sabbaths) in the witch year. Samhain is marked with candles, music, campfires, and food. Historically, it marked the change of season, but more recently it is also a time to celebrate life and remember the deceased.

For many witches, October 31st is a spiritual festival. It celebrates the harvest bonus and an opportunity to offer thanksgiving to the sun god and other offerings. It is not about causing mischief or evil or eating children as the stereotype would have us believe. While Halloween may just seem a bit funny, it’s also problematic as it reinforces stereotypes that create confusion.

For this reason, I want Samhain to be recognized and respected as a faith-based fall festival, similar to Diwali in Hinduism, which celebrates how light and good have overcome darkness and evil, or just like Harvest in Christianity.

In fact, it limits the exploration of the witch’s various identities by portraying the witch as evil, devilishly worshiping, and harmful. Witch is also not a gender specific term, but a strengthening belief identity and should be presented as such.

So why not this Halloween, instead of assuming the role of the witch witch, the identity of the Samhain witch rolled into one alternative halloween celebration – You could take a nature walk, light a campfire or candles, cook a good meal and say thank you for the things you are grateful for.

Maggie Webster, Lecturer in Education, Edge Hill University

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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