The Witch

When things go wrong we seldom nowadays contemplate the effect of anything mystical. We may however apologetically impose a species of predictable misfortune if we are inclined to believe the application of luck and chance to anything we do.  Seldom however do we go beyond the attribution of religious punishment or divine retribution.

In Graeco-Roman culture the blame of misfortune was a dynamic of greater precision. Consider for example the goddesses Artemis, Selene and Hecate who (by simplistic exhibition) were representative of Earth, Heaven and Hell. The woman who was alleged to travel as a vagrant among these three geometric, astronomic and metaphorical extremeties became known as a termagant.

Middle English: via Old French from Italian Trivagante, taken to be from Latin tri- ‘three’ + vagant- ‘wandering’, and to refer to the ‘moon’ wandering between earth, heaven and hell under the three names Artemis (earth), Selene (heaven) and Persephone (queen of the underworld).

Both Persephone and Hecate are heavily associated with the afterlife: Hecate leads souls to their rest in the Underworld, where Persephone looks after them. Hecate is the goddess of transitions, and Persephone brings about the change of seasons, the greatest transition the natural world experiences.

These allusions from classical antiquity illustrate the influence of the language, culture, government and religion of the Greeks and Romans. It is the fluid of the Mediterranean world, the “swimming pool and spa” of the Greeks and Romans. Notwithstanding the amusement of these ancient myths (and their frequent appearance in fictional literature and theatre including Shakespeare) there is nonetheless an element of current relevance; by which I mean, there is such thing as a witch.

The predominantly female depiction of a witch incorporated all three elements of earth, heaven and hell; and (like the moon) was known to reflect the characteristics of each. Two points of relevance here: one, the activity of the witch was at times unobservable except in darkness; and, two, there was nothing either especially benevolent or simpleminded about the woman. The depictions of witch include both magic and unpleasantness of varying degrees.

As much as we’ve suffered the historic endurance of singular characteristics of women and men, the proper achievement of understanding of the witch is the recognition that both have hidden (and often identical) ingredients. Neither is beneath disguising its demeanor or ambition. Regrettably much of the enterprise of the witch is devoted to revenge or assault of more pernicious fulfillment. Considering the broad and perhaps pervasive influence and resource of the witch, she is a woman to be respected for her subtlety and breadth. Nor do I particularly mean this as a compliment but rather more pointedly as a warning. Check your baggage before leaving the room.

The Judy Garland introduction of the witch to modern society in “The Wizard of Oz” afforded a one-sided view of the witch who was inevitably dissolved by a splash of water. I prefer to accept the less monochromatic interpretation even though it doesn’t diminish the possibility of manipulation and harm. The unsuspecting mind may often be deceived by the intelligence and ferocity of witchcraft.