The common association of witches with Halloween is that of an old, cackling woman who casts evil spells and may just turn you into a frog or a newt if you so much look at her wrongly; the Wicked Witch of the West, as depicted in the much loved classic movie, The Wizard of Oz (1939), is perhaps the epitome of most people’s version of the witch. However, this stereotypical picture of witches is perhaps a little unjust; the original “witch” was in fact a healer.
Witches as healers
The history of witches is complicated but, according to the website LiveScience.com, the witch stems from a pagan goddess known as “the crone.” Many “witches” were healers – and it is perhaps this fact that scared people into thinking witches were evil as they didn’t fully understand the healing power of plants that “witches” used. Witches were suppressed during Medieval times.
Healing herbs in Medieval Europe
Lots of herbs and plants were used in Medieval Europe to heal; healing herbs such as basil, lovage and fennel were commonly used to create love spells (another reason they were probably associated with witch’s spells) but such plants had other healing powers too. These plants were also used to treat digestive problems, coughs, colds and fever. Nature provided the medicine that many synthetic drugs duplicate today.
Hallucinogenic healing plants
Some healing plants are hallucinogenic. Folklore depicts that a plant such as belladonna was used by witches in the belief that it could help them fly around on a broomstick; the hallucinogenic properties of belladonna might explain why some people believed this to be true. However, although belladonna is a poisonous, hallucinogenic plant, it has been used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Another Medieval folklore legend tells that the plant wolfsbane could be used to protect oneself from werewolves. Although it is doubtful that this is in fact true, wolfsbane is a powerful anesthetic that was used before modern day morphine was discovered.
Plants as healers
Plants are a complex make-up of chemical components, some of which are deadly, and a reason that many feared such plants in Medieval times. Healing women who understood the powers of these plants were often treated with fear and the image of such women was morphed into the familiar image of the Halloween witch we are familiar with. Although healing plants and witches were not completely synonymous with each other in Medieval times, the two were very often seen as such.
Today, many healing herbs are used in herbal medicine, homeopathy and aromatherapy as essential oils for their healing properties, many of which are used to treat women’s health problems in all cycles of her life.
Therefore, it is worth remembering if you come across a witch on All Hallow’s Eve that she might be indeed be a woman with more healing powers than you give her credit for…
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
LiveScience website, 13 Halloween Superstitions and Traditions Explained, accessed October 29, 2012
Harry Potter Lexicon website, accessed October 29, 2012
Botanic Gardens Conservation International website, accessed October 29, 2012
Author is a professional aromatherapist with her own aromatherapy business