“That there are, there are.” Why do we believe in witches?

The celebration of Halloween It is loaded with symbols and meanings. It could be said that it is a whole thematic universe in constant change. An essential part of Halloween are the figures or characters that stand out among costumes, movies, advertising, myths and legends. In a group where we could place the vampires, zombies and werewolves, we find the witches. Often depicted as ugly women dressed in rags and capable of both flying on broomsticks and transforming into animals, witches are age-old characters in folklore. But… why do we believe in witches? Where does this come from?

Brief history of witches

For this tour we must place ourselves in the stories that make up the history western, in which our culture and society are included.

Since ancient times, civilizations have always had characters of a mainly religious and medical nature who administered the affairs of this sphere in relative harmony with the identity of the peoples on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, the first milestone took place during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) when Christianity reached the highest echelons of power and church that today we recognize as Catholic imposed its dogmas and doctrines in Europe and in the territories bequeathed by the Roman Empire. To achieve this, one of her most common actions was to stigmatize any belief or practice that distanced itself from the canon. The persecution extended to women who, grouped or not, fulfilled, among others, the criterion of rebelling against the dictates of the Church. This fact, added to the demonic iconography and misogyny (whose stories deserve other entries), led to the phenomenon of the witch hunt, embodied in detail in the Malleus Maleficarumwhat we could lightly consider a handbook for witch hunters.

With colonialism, the Church, an institution that governed practically every sphere of life, extended its influence to America and Africa. Already in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Protestantism inherited the war declared by the Catholicism to witchcraft and sorcery. Although modern science, philosophy and growing skepticism were able to question and subtract power from religion, Christian beliefs, traditions and imaginaries had managed to settle in the masses of citizens who already conceived witches as concubines and servants of Satan ready to torment others in many ways.

This has continued to this day in countries where the belief in witches is fueled by popular imagination, religion, traditions and informal education, especially in rural or semi-urban contexts. In addition, there is another key factor at play: the consumerism. In ours capitalist societies, the belief in witches is profitable through movies, series, costumes, books and all kinds of goods and services that you can sell to a person who is willing to buy them because he believes in them or flirts with the idea that they may exist. The phrase “I do not believe in witches, but that there are, there are” is common.

Challenges to beliefs in witches

Whether or not we believe that witches exist, whether they look like beings from another era or mimic the population of our days, we must recognize that they are part of our cultural heritage and the way that many people have to understand the world we inhabit. However, knowing the history of this belief prompts us to reconsider the Role of Women over time and their struggles for equality of rights and the freedom to be different, without being able to ignore the violence they have suffered and continue to suffer to this day. The invitation is to reflect and take critical positions that help us to live better with each other.

“That there are, there are.” Why do we believe in witches?