The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Black Cats, Bats, Cauldrons & Pointy Hats

What a perfect Sunday! I spent the day decorating with mums and more pumpkins, and the weather was mild and warm.  While working in my front garden I noticed my pastel salmon colored azalea had grown over the summer, almost doubling in size.  It's taken a long time to get its feet, as the plant is almost 10 years old. It was just a tiny plant when I planted it, and today I received a special gift from my tiny orange azalea.  In the middle of October in southern New England, my spring blooming azalea had sprouted two beautiful blossoms. Its rare to get a spring blooming, perennial shrub to double bloom in one season, but every now and again we have the right combination of weather to encourage it.  I've included a photo at the right of this post. The blossoms look almost white the orange is so pale, but beautiful nonetheless.   I'm always happy when surprised by Mother Nature!

Halloween is in the air, as we creep ever closer to the big night.  I wanted to share a bit of the history as to the origins of today's typical Halloween imagery. 


Black Cats 

Since the earliest societies women and cats have had a special relationship. Many of the ancient Goddesses were associated with cats, the Egyptians had Bast and Sekhmet the gentle and more fierce Goddesses who appear in the guise of a cat, The Norse Goddess Freya was known as a cat Goddess, and the Greeks had Goddesses to whom cats are sacred, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena.  When the Goddess, or feminine divine, was targeted by the early church,  they made her image on earth, the woman,  evil, unclean and even  declared woman to not possess souls.  In the attempt to eradicate the 'witch' or any woman who showed defiance by being independent,  outspoken and intelligent, many cats were also tortured and killed alongside the woman.

During the middle ages, The Burning Times, it was unlikely that the typical magistrate or sheriff was associating the village midwife who had been accused of witchcraft to any of the ancient cat goddesses, and thus targeted the cats because of this association. No, it was more likely the partnership women had with cats during this time.  Women were often in the kitchens, barns and gardens of their homes as the bulk of their work was conducted in these areas of the home. These are also areas where mice and rats congregate.  The cat was a valuable partner in the Colonial home, aiding the house wife by keeping the home and barns free from vermin in return for food, a warm bed next to the kitchen fireplace and a stroke or two.  The smart woman recognized the importance of cats.

During the burning times, cats and witches were closely associated, as rumor and fears were spread that accused women, suspected of witchcraft of turning into cats and running to safety.  Along with women and children, cats were tied to stakes or secured in bags and burned to death.  Experts on the Bubonic Plague that swept through Europe at the turn of the 14th - 15th centuries, killing between 75 and 100 million people agree that the mass extermination of cats during the witch craze, contributed to the plague growing so rapidly and unchecked, having no natural predator to keep the rats, which carried the plague infested fleas, in check.

Bats

 Meanwhile the bat was always considered a bit sinister as it's natural habit of coming out at dusk, a time in between, not day yet not quite night. Times in-between were considered sacred by the Priesthood of the ancient Celts, the Druids.  They would take notice of any creature that appeared at an in between time, and even though bats continue to fly and eat insect throughout the evening, small dark little shapes are seldom easily seen in the dark.  The time they were noticed the most, besides dusk, would be around the bon-fire catching the moths that would be attracted to the flames.

There is some evidence suggesting that when women who were accused of witchcraft and were burned at the stake, a process that would take hours, in some cases days,  before the flames went out the moths that would be attracted to the flames attracted bats.  Some of the fearful and ignorant would believe that the spirit of the witch would escape in the form of moths or bats, thus always being about to cause harm and distress, allowing the superstition and fear to grow and continue.


Cauldrons

The cauldron has an extensive magickal history, but its primarily associated with the witch because of her association with the herbal arts. The cauldron by myth, tradition and physics is a vessel that cooks down and thereby transforms substances from one form into another.  It was a critical  tool in alchemy and just thinking about a big pot filled with a steaming, bubbling mixture that could conceivably contain anything, healing or harmful, delicious or vile, provides a provocative and mysterious image that attracts and intrigues.

Pointy Hats  


Early Ancient Etruscan coins show a female head on one side, wearing a brimless pointed hat, thought to be the Goddess Diana, and shows that this was the fashion at one time. The word Pagan comes from the Latin Paganus which means 'country dweller' a term similar to derogatory names today such as Hick. Pagans referenced those who lived in the country, follow the old ways and  picked up current fashions and manners long after they are popular in more populated cities.  Fashions,  as is true today,  came and went quickly and those in the country would often be wearing clothing that was long out of fashion.  Some experts on ancient dress feel that this is the most reasonable scenario when associating the pointed witches hat with the witch. Both the witch, or pagan, who followed the old gods, and failed to convert to the new, hip, every body's doing it! religious flavor of the day,  Christianity and so again, stood out as different and stubborn. Soon dress as well as mannerisms and gender were all easy ways to be accused and put to death as being a witch.

So many of history's images, fears, superstitions survive today as a cartoon, a funny caricature or a horrible time in the history of the earth's people. 


I hope you find this interesting and when you're browsing in the costume and party stores, and see some of these familiar images, you'll know a bit more about them and where they come from.

(c) 2010 Enchantments, LLC

Portions of this blog post may contain material from my book "Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies" For more information see www.enchantmentsschool.com

3 comments:

  1. That Azalea is gorgeous. You are a green witch!

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  2. Dear Ms. Faith,

    Thanks for sending me that blog...Hope people read it who have here-to-fore believed all the stereotypes, so that they may be enlightened, and learn the historical TRUTH !!!
    Eileen

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  3. The knowledge of the cats is new to me and very interesting, considering I have 12 cats and one all black with double paws. I love to learn more about cats always.
    Thanks
    Janet

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