What you’ll need: broom closet, wart remover

SonglistDefying Gravity from Wicked, Black Magic Woman

Further readingThe Witches by Roald Dahl

When I was about 12, I found a book at the library about Celtic goddesses and magick (yeah, with a “k”). It was so out-of-place and exciting that I became completely enthralled. Much of the book was the retelling of Irish legends, but at the very end there were various spells for different times of the year (Samhain, Beltane, etc) as well as love spells and the like. I am proud to say that I didn’t try out any of the love spells, but, as a 12-year-old girl, I was not surprisingly intrigued.

In the end, I was too afraid of witches to much pursue the idea of being one. As an insatiable fan of Roald Dahl’s, I read The Witches, but was very sorry I had. Dahl’s witches were bald and without toes and lurking all over the world in high heels and wigs. This was much scarier than the giants in The BFG–I knew those were fake. The witches, though, I couldn’t be sure weren’t real. For a few weeks after finishing The Witches I had a hard time getting to sleep at night, worrying that a witch would sneak into my room and turn me into a mouse.

Caravaggio's Medusa--doesn't she look lovely?

As a kid, I was similarly afraid of the witches in Hocus Pocus, the Wicca teens in The Craft, and the Wicked Witch of the West, and the evil witch who curses Sleeping Beauty. But when I got to high school and read Macbeth and The Crucible, my interest in witches was reignited. I found out that one of the women killed in the Salem witch trials was a distant relative.

Women in mythology are quite adept at being killed for their seemingly supernatural powers, such as Cassandra and Medusa (my Halloween costume this year). And women throughout history, up until the present day, have been accused of such powers so as to strip them of land, blame them for crop failures, and punish them for refusing sexual advances. Fear of witchcraft might have historically been conflated with fear and hatred of the devil, but in practice it looks much more like fear of the feminine. A scary thought indeed. On that note, Happy Halloween!