The Halloween Witch is unlike any other – in the first place she’s kind of not real. I’m not here to tell you to start painting your skin green or growing warts to emulate her, but underneath all of the fairy tales and Halloween costumes lies real magic – movie or otherwise. Let’s continue our look at some of Halloween’s Witchiest Myths and the myths and legends of Halloween’s Witchiest Witches.
Elizabeth Montgomery’s Trick Nose
Bewitched graced the airways in 1960s and became an instant hit with a cult following. The show followed the life of Samantha Stevens and Her husband Darrin, a totally adorable and average couple, living an average life, in an average suburb… until Samantha would twitch her nose and the dishes would do themselves, or drinks would pour or she would simply vanish. The twitch of the nose has become just as iconic as a witch flicking her wrist, waving a wand or speaking an actual spell. Later in the series when Samantha had a little girl, she would use her finger to make her nose wiggle and have a pretty good laugh at her father’s expense. The twitch became Elizabeth Montgomery’s signature – and all because her nose was just cute. Her husband at the time was one of the writers of the show and was a big fan of Liz’s cute little nose, and came up with the idea to make her stand out and to show it off. Disappointingly, the secret of the nose trick is not quite a magical as we’d all like. It turns out Elizabeth was actually twitching her lips, which made her nose move (though that means you’re totally doing it right!). Sometimes the film would be sped up, or the camera would even zoom in and cut her mouth out of the shot to make it look extra witchy. Movie magic!
Perhaps the most authentically witchy thing about Bewitched is it’s effect on Salem, Massachusettes. Salem was not, obviously, the witch haven we all know and love today. For a long time they tried to hide their sordid history or religious prosecution and outright murder of average innocent people (I mean, I guess I would to) but that all changed when Bewitched came to Salem in 1970 to film their “Salem Saga”. The show got a warm welcome from the people in Salem and after the show premiered witches just started showing up, with Laurie Cabot claiming to be the first, of course. That little nose twitch woke up generations of witches and called them to a place with some serious witchy mojo. Not bad, Samantha.
Black cats and witches go together like newt’s eyes and cauldrons! The black cat has been following in the footsteps of their witchy master for as long as anyone can remember, and it’s no wonder. Cats are mysterious, agile, cunning, and vicious hunters. Cats get what they want and always land on all fours no matter what. The power and worship of cats goes back to ancient Egypt and to the goddess Bast, the mother of all cats. Bast was the goddess of love, sexuality, fertility and music. She was a strong, sensual goddess and is often depicted as being part cat or being surrounded by cats. Her grace, beauty and mystery matched that of the cat and this is where the story begins. Witches were always seen as wild women, women without morals and who eschewed the domination of men and of male run society. Because of it’s relation to Bast, the strong sexual goddess, the cat has always been seen as a sign of a woman’s rebellion against the norm, and a retreat into “darkness”. Witches have always been one with nature, and so it was only natural for a witch to develop a friendship with animals. A single animal who is fiercely loyal to a witch, and who aids in their magic is called a familiar, and the black cat is the most popular familiar of all. Unfortunately for the cats, their association with witches and wild women has often lead people to believe they’re bad luck – except sailors. Sailors and their wives believed that keeping a very happy black cat at home, at the dock or even on the boat would assure good luck while at sea. The cat was thought to be so powerful that it would convince any supernatural force that might do you harm that you were worth keeping around just a little longer.
There’s a bunch of magic you can do you with your familiar, feline or otherwise. Check out The Enchanted Cat by Ellen Dugan and The Witch’s Familiar by Raven Grimassi for some info and spells. Or, if you already have a familiar and want to jazz it up a bit, check out my special Feline Familiar Fascinator, available in my Etsy shop! It’s got a special magickal protection charm (triquetra or pentacle) and is awesome dayglo rainbow colours – 90s style.
Flying Ointments and Instruments
Every witch has places to go, and people to hex, and the most common form of transportation for history’s greatest witches has been flight. The image of a witch soaring across a cloudless night in front of the full moon on her broomstick is one people the world over will recognize. Let’s start with the broom, why a broom? The easiest answer is – accessibility. Most witches in history have been perceived as women and the woman’s domain was the home. A broom would be something every woman had access to whether she lived in a mansion or a cottage in the woods. The broom is also a symbol of a home and of the hearth, where most cauldrons sat over the open flame. Brooms have been used in legitimate magic for centuries for spiritual cleansing as well as physical cleaning. Brooms, or besoms, made of specific woods or herbs are used to cleanse your sacred space of negative energy, or break curses. Brooms and besoms are used to sweep the threshold to attract money and love into the home. So how did they start to fly? It wasn’t the broom at all, but a potion or salve mixed by the most skilled of witches and applied to the broom.
Flying ointments have traditionally been made with a mixture of psychoactive herbs such as nightshades, henbane, and mandrake – all extremely poisonous. The mixture was applied all over the skin and would make the witch fly, or at least feel like she was. The most important ingredient in a proper flying ointment though is one worthy of Macbeth’s witches or Circe herself – a toad. Many toads the world over secrete psychoactive chemicals from their skin which can add to effect of the herbs and produce the same effects. The toad is also a symbol of witchcraft and magic, for all of the reasons explored above. The toad is often boiled in oil, and then poured over herbs such as poison hemlock, mandrake, belladonna, henbane, Datura, monkshood, tobacco, mugwort and mullein. The mixture is applied to sensitive areas like between the toes, the armpits, the chest, temples, and finally onto the handle of the witch’s broom, which comes into contact with the most sensitive skin of all. Some modern witches will skip the toad and combine herbs with a slightly less high chance of actual poisoning, with beeswax or coconut oil and use it to open their third eye or to enhance astral travel – allowing their spirit and consciousness to fly.
Interested in flying ointments for real? Check out Introduction to Flying Ointments by Sarah Anne Lawless, the modern witch queen of flying ointments and sketchy witch herbs. Ms. Lawless is a folk herbalist here in Ontario who makes, sells, and even educates on FOs regularly. You can hear her on countless podcasts (though not mine… yet? maybe?), read her in pagan publications and find her at SarahAnneLawless.com and on Facebook and Twitter. You can even buy them from her online shop. For those interested in more old school witchcraft, or using psychoactive plants in their witchcraft this is the best place to start your education.
The Wickedest Witch
The Wicked Witch of The West from the film The Wizard of Oz broke the mold in the world of witches. She had it all! Black clothes, the pointiest hat, green skin and a big curling nose, a flying broom, a giant crystal ball and even a pack of flying monkeys who did her bidding. She lived in a big dark castle and wanted to ruin the happiness of children. Thanks to her (and her BRILLIANT portrayal by Margaret Hamilton) the WWW has become the witch that all witches seemingly want to be. Her green skin is one that is often copied and many people wonder – where did that come from? The truth is, no one knows exactly why. The green skin isn’t mentioned in the book at all (though she did have an eye patch). The two most common theories are that this was yet another change made for the movie to make proper use of the world’s newest magical art form – technicolour. Much like the silver slippers who became sparkling rubies, the witch’s skin might have been made green just because they could for the first time ever. The second theory is that green skin was associated with monsters, the undead and illness in art and Hollywood. Colour posters for black and white films such as Frankenstein, often depicted the monster with a green skin that indicated that he just wasn’t making good use of his lungs. This made it clear that the witch was OTHER. She was different, and not in a way you’d like to be.
The witch’s flying monkeys have also become associated with witches in general, though they are definitely a product of L Frank Baum’s brilliant mind. In the years since the film and books have been published, the wicked witch’s tale has been told and retold as she remains the most iconic feature of the entire story. In Gregory Maguire’s popular WICKED, the witch’s name is Elphaba and she was born green. Her mother believed she was born green as a punishment for her infidelity – she slept with a mysterious stranger who traveled by in a balloon from another world. Elphaba’s father, a priest, believes he tempted fate when he uttered the words “the devil is coming” on the day of her birth. That mysterious stranger (let’s call him a wizard) shared an intoxicating green drink with Elphaba’s mother the day of her indiscretion that is theorized to have been the real cause. Considering the time this book takes place it seems that the green fairy, also known as Absinthe, is to blame for the wicked witch’s complexion. In the more recent film, Oz the Great and Powerful, the witch’s skin is a result of succumbing to the dark side of magic in response to strong feelings of hatred and envy.
Then comes the thing that could finally do The Wickedest Witch of all in for good – plain water. The book and film both end with Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the witch and watching as she melts into a puddle. Though it’s never explained in the original book, allusions to the witch being dried up inside and devoid of life are often made. Water is the purest substance on earth, and the source of life. Such a powerful force could never mix with such an evil soulless thing without consequences. Drowning was also a common way of disposing of suspected witches in the middle ages, and even used a test to determine if one was a witch. Witches can’t sink, can’t stand to be in the water, and so they’d float to the top and escape. In Wicked, Elphaba is allergic to water and never bathes with it or drinks it, instead using an oil to wash her hair and skin.
Though a portrayal as evil and soulless isn’t really helpful to the modern witch image, the overall story of the WWW – beginning with L Frank Baum’s wonderful children’s stories and ending with Elphaba’s pseudo-redemption in Wicked- make her downright relatable. PLUS her awesome spooky witch castle and that giant crystal ball? #witchgoals for sure.
No matter the myth, the image of the witch is that of a strong, powerful woman with a vast knowledge of the sides of nature and of life that many of us dare to explore. So wear your pointy hat with pride, and maybe invite all the black cats in the neighbourhood for a little witch’s brew at midnight.