OpEd: How I Dressed As a Witch for Halloween (Samhain)

Trish-2013-Samhain-800It is October 31st.  For most, it is Halloween.  For me, it is Samhain.  Samhain is pronounced “Sow-en” in Ireland and “Sahv-en” in Scotland, but never is it pronounced Sam-hayne.

Samhain means “Summer’s End”, and October 31st is a night to honor those who have crossed over.  Most cultures that are close to their indigenous roots have rituals such as this.  For Northwestern European indigenous culture (and those of us of that descent), Samhain is a very special, sacred time.

For some background, Halloween is NOT rooted in paganism or witchcraft.  The devil, demons, and evil spirits are a Judeo-Christian fantasy.  The word “witch” comes from the Proto-Indo-European word wig- which means “wise” and was used to refer to “wise women”, the healers and keepers of life’s mysteries.  This is the reason that misogynist imperialists have always hated and feared women.  “Pagan” comes from the Latin paganus, which means “country dweller”, and was used by the Romans to refer to the indigenous clans of Europe.  For clarification, the Romans were NOT pagans; in the Roman Empire, the walled cities — urbs, were home to Roman citizens — civiem (from which we get the words civil, civilized, civilization).  The walled cities were built to keep the indigenous tribal pagans OUT and away from Roman citizens.  This is how “pagans” (the indigenous clans) came to be thought of by the church as un-civilized; they were literally un-citied — the pagans did not live within the walled cities of Rome with the civiem.

Back to the present, one of the most prolific visages at this time of year happens to be decorations, candies, and costumes featuring a green-faced witch.  Some say, it’s just a comic take on something that’s not real.  They say it’s a joke, a harmless costume.

I completely disagree.

When you buy products that feature a green-faced witch with a crooked nose & ragged hair, you are perpetuating misogyny.

The mass public is thoroughly confused about witchcraft and witches.  In regard to paganism and witchcraft, too many people think witchcraft is either evil (thanks to the medieval church) or whiz-bang fireworks (thanks to TV, film, and Harry Potter).  This is why we activists have to speak out against the ingrained prejudices.  Sadly, most people do not know they are being misogynistic, thanks to the imperial patriarchal culture of the past 2,500 years.  And so, we continue to speak up and speak out until all of humanity is educated and the healing begins.

Posting some of this information on my Facebook profile, one friend (yes, an actual, in-real-life friend) made this surprising comment:

All I can do is laugh. Halloween has always been about fun in my lifetime, people overthinking things and getting offended over nothing is what the problem is. Look at all the BS going on about peoples costumes, it’s Halloween, that’s what people do, dress up in costumes that depict something they are not. get over it lol [sic]

The getting offended part may have referred to American Indian activists protesting Halloween costumes that include “Indian braves” and Pocahontas.  Odd, since my actual friend is actually Cheyenne.  Just goes to show how insensitivity to other people’s oppression is prevalent regardless of personal identity.

For my response, I gave a brief overview and background of the Witch Trials, which I researched extensively for my musical, Witchcraze.

The perception of what witches look like stems from the witch trials of Europe and the New World colonies.  Wise women — witches — were a common part of rural society, but the height of the Dark Ages saw the first Witch Trials in the early 14th century, when Pope John XXII declared in 1326 that the inquisition could investigate accusations of witchcraft.  When the printing press was invented and mass printing was available, woodcuts of witches riding brooms and attending sabats became a familiar sight in print, fueling the burgeoning stereotype of witches.  Another damning factor for women as knowledgeable healers came with the rise of medicine and men commandeering the healing arts.  Wise women who still treated patients became suspect of all sorts of calamities during the late Middle Ages, as various epidemics afflicted both humans and livestock.  If someone or some thing died, people blamed the local witch.  As medieval Europe recovered from the fall of Rome and established institutionalized rule within its new kingdoms and expanded the institutionalized dogma of the male-dominated, woman-subjugating Christian church, the witch went from a place of respect in a community to a source of shame and suspicion.

The witch trials were brutal to say the least.  By the time most people saw a “witch”, it was for her public trial or execution (re-trial). This happened after she had been imprisoned and tortured for months.  The witch hunters and those in charge of gaining confessions from the accused used all means of violence against the women, including rape, beatings, joint breakers like thumbscrews and the strappado which broke the women’s shoulders, the iron maiden, boiling water, boiling oil, to name just a few.  The beatings left their faces severely bruised and swollen, hence the green discoloration, and misshapen as their facial bones were broken and not reset properly, a feature that is caricatured by a large, crooked nose and overly emphasized cheekbones and jaw.  The missing teeth of the commercialized witch are a nod to the real witches having their teeth punched out during beatings for a confession.  The witches hunched posture and misshapen fingers are also part of the legacy of beatings, their backs and shoulders were severely injured while their hands were crooked and disjointed.  Their voices raspy due to choking torture and dehydration.

My comment to my friend:

So you may not see what harm there is in buying green-faced witch merchandise, but for those of us who know what it means, it represents misogynist evil.  So there is nothing for me to “get over”.  I will continue to educate people on the truth.

To which he responded:

I’m well aware of what happened in those times, not a good time for people, women and men, who were accused of witchcraft. Education is a great thing or we wouldn’t be where we are today but come on, I’m not going to turn away a child because he or she is wearing a green faced witch costume.

I replied:

You do not aim scorn at the kids; after all, hate and prejudice have to be carefully taught (to paraphrase South Pacific).  It’s the adults who need educating so they don’t continue the cycle of misinformation and stereotypes to another generation.

So I speak up, and I speak out.  I love sporting a witchy hat when I can, and “looking like a witch” is something I do every single day — just by being me.

trish

P.S.  I’ll save talking about the sexualization of witches, the pentagram, and Christians stealing Yule from the pagans for another time.

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0 Replies to “OpEd: How I Dressed As a Witch for Halloween (Samhain)”

  1. Having been a part of this exchange I demurred rather than be the loud mouth on the board–as I am SO prone to do. The English refer to the killing joke and insist that jokes kill. I prefer Robin Williams’ take, “The Holocaust began with a joke about two Jews. When it was over that was just about all that was left.”

    I’m proud of my Irish heritage. My family–who claimed to be French/Indian/Pieces with a bad moon rising–not so much. Mutha’ McClellan raised me Catholic and I’m the last, failing Catholic in the family. I was raised on Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. What he drove out was a snake cult–it means a religion but not an “acceptable” one. The thing is the snake cult was curated/priest-ed/choreographed by women. Ireland has a long history of women leaders and a reverence for women. Then the Christians came and the persecution began.

    My point–and my hair covers it nicely–is the witch “jokes,” is no better than blackface shoes, or whooping Indian gags, or “illegal” alien jokes, or drunken Irish on Saint Paddy’s day. It’s bullying and hatred and all the things we’re supposed to be aware of and smart enough to do away with. Good article, Sis. Keep up the good fight.