At my sorority meeting on Wednesday night, one of our members did a presentation about the Salem witch trials. For anyone who thinks otherwise, no actual witches were harmed during that shameful period. Think about it: if you were actually a witch, why would you hang around and wait for the persecutors to bang on your door? You’re a witch! Do a spell and disappear! No, the actual victims of the witch trials were mostly widows and a few men who had the temerity to stand up against the mob mentality.
Sometime in my early-childhood years, my mother acquired an oval, sepia-toned portrait of an ancestor. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun and she was dressed all in black – probably widow’s weeds, now that I think about it. In addition to those factors, she had suffered a stroke, so half of her face was marred with lines while the other side was smooth. One eyelid sagged closed, leaving my ancestor with a single amber eye that, thanks to the beveled glass over the photo, always seemed to be looking back at whomever was looking at the photograph. My mom, who has always had a passion for antiques, hung the darned thing over the fireplace in the living room.
I’m not certain, but this picture may have been the source of my fascination with witches and witchcraft. I remember checking out a number of library books on the subject. I wanted very much to be a witch; alas, I never really had the knack. My friends, however, were less inspired. Most of them found the image creepy – even a little scary.
Like most supernatural creatures in the last few decades, witches have also received a kinder, gentler image. As a result, it’s not unusual to find people claiming to be witches without fear of persecution. Culturally speaking, the idea has gone from terrifying to exotic – even glamorous.
Perhaps it is the rise of science – its own practitioners once thought to be magicians – that has cleansed the image of the witch. Or, more likely, the things we have built with science and technology – automatic weapons, man-made toxins, and nuclear bombs, to name a few – are more frightening than the supernatural ever was.
We no longer cringe in terror at the concept of witchcraft; too many other real-world threats have robbed our superstitions of their fear factor.