That is the biggest question of all for this course isn’t it? Why witches? Why not princesses or thieves or those kind, stern, and usually armed ladies who run the best inns? (Although, I am not yet convinced that the last woman falls outside the witch category.) The short answer is I feel the archetype of the witch is the one that best represents the entirety of what it means to be a woman.
The long answer is, well, long. I started reading at a very early age; by kindergarden I was reading the Harry Potter series on my own. And perhaps it is the character of Hermione that started this trend, but I think in truth she merely solidified it: I never wanted to be the princess in stories, I wanted to be the witch. Or at least, they fascinated me more, as I do not recall ever wanting to be the Wicked Witch of the West or the “Marvelous, Magical, Magnificent Mad Madam Mim”, but they were definitely interesting. Not to say that I did not go as a bride or a princess or other characters for Halloween, but it seemed to me that the witches definitely did the most. They didn’t get locked up in a tower for the entire book, they were off doing things.
Over the years, my thoughts on this have become more sophisticated, although I still want to be the witch. My mother introduced me to the school of thought concerning Native American Spirituality and through her I met quite a few powerful women who you will never be able to convince me aren’t witches of some sort. This is not to say that my beliefs on this subject are wholly spiritual or that matters of that nature are the focus of my research; this is an attempt to show how I arrived where I am now. As a young child I found myself not only surrounded by my family members who are all no-nonsense women, but by friends of my mother who were wise, intelligent, generous, scary, and in charge. They might be short, they might have silver hair, and they might be slow to sit down and stand up, but not one of those ladies would I tangle with willingly.
It was through them that I began to connect the idea of women to the idea of being a witch. Witches come in threes. There are the famous witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the three sisters of fate, the Morrigan, Hecate, and so many others. Women also come in threes: maiden, mother, and crone. Now, it is true that when witches come in threes, you often get one of each. I can hear you now thinking “Well, no duh Sherlock. Excellent leap you’ve made there.” My point is that even when you don’t have three witches, you get witches in all states or witches able to willing change themselves between states. You don’t get princesses in bunches of three do you? No, I didn’t think so. (Unless of course, you’ve been collecting.) Witches can, and do, represent a woman in all stages of her life.
Magic tricks also have three parts which are known respectively as the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. Stories, even the oldest, come in three parts. Witches and women are naturally tied to both.
On the topic of magic, let’s take a moment to think about the type of magic it is attributed to witches and women. They are tied to the devil and the black arts and seduction. They are also tied to the moon and the earth and life. As women are, so are witches tied to life and death, and the cycles of the natural and unnatural world. The oldest gender roles of being a caregiver and a gatherer and wanting to rise up are written into the very fabric of women’s/witch’s magic.
Well they curse, they brew, they turn people into toads, they ruin lives, and steal children, and dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. (And if you’re lucky, you run into them doing it naked.) But they also heal, they find, they protect lives, get their hands dirty when no one else wants to, they look after the children, and dance in the moonlight to keep the devil away. They protect others from the rest of their kind. They are conniving, scheming, tricky, evil, tempting, seductive, damned, and outcast. They are shrewd, smart, selfless, protective, helpful, kind, and necessary. They are driven out and ushered in. They horrify and fascinate. They are reviled and lusted after. They are nothing and everything. They challenge everything and everything that they know about themselves and that men think they know about them. The question you now have to ask yourself is, when did I stop talking about just witches and start talking about women? And that, that right there is why witches.