Visual Images: Image Comparison

 Main

 Emblems 1

 Emblems 2


The Witch Through Time

The antecedents for the witch were the priestesses and seeresses of the ancient pagan religions. Later during the 15th to 17th centuries, they became the witch and the objects and symbols associated with them became associated with devil worship. But starting in the 19th century, it seems that depictions of witches have regained their pagan associations. From the two pictures below, one can see how the typical depiction of a witch has changed.

Below are two depictions of a witch, one a woodcut from 1688 and the other from 1886. It is interesting to see from the two of them how the image of the witch has changed through the roughly 200 years. In the woodcut on the left, the witch is depicted as an ordinary looking older woman. It was believed during the 13th to 18th centuries that anyone could be a witch, even a neighbor. This witch is standing on an open field and the building behind her seems to be a church, with its arches and diamond-paned window (possibly stained glass). A younger woman is standing behind her with her chest bared. The older woman is conjuring demons in semi-human and animal shapes from what looks to be a pool of fire. She is holding a book in her right hand and seems to be chanting a spell.

The juxtaposition of the church and the acts of profanity that the women are engaging in emphasize just how sacriligious the conjuring is. The women have the nerve to actually carry out the devil's orders right next to a church, a house of god, which shows just how evil and fearless they are.

 

Anonymous, Ann Bodenham Conjuring, 1688

 

J.W.Waterhouse, The Magic Circle, 1886

The second depiction is a painting from the 19th century, influenced by the Romantic movement. It portrays the witch in a much more romantic light. She is shown in a natural setting, in what may be a seashore. There are cliffs and a cave behind her, out of which some light can be seen. The cave may be where she lives. The witch is an attractive young woman. She is drawing a magical circle with a wand around the area where she is standing and she's holding a hooked blade in her right hand shaped like a crescent moon. She has built a small fire out of ordinary wood, onto which she has put a small standing cauldron or possibly tripod (such as the Greeks used). The small pile next to the cauldron seems to be her ingredients, which look like flowers. She also has a bunch of flowers tucked into the sash at her waist. A small snake is wrapped around her neck. Her dress is printed or embroidered with figures of ancient Greek warriors. It seems that the modern representation of the witch has been reverting back to the pagan priestess. The Waterhouse painting seems to prefigure the modern type of witch, the Wiccan practitioner.

Compared to the witch in the first picture, whatever this witch seems to be conjuring looks rather harmless. Overall, the first picture is much more sinister than the second one. The witch in the second picture looks like someone a person might read about in an Arthurian tale or might be the mysterious-and-alluring-woman- living-alone one can read about in literature, such as Circe from the Iliad. While the witch in the wood carving is someone completely ordinary looking, a woman one might not know was a witch at all during daylight hours, the witch in the painting would be harder to miss. The first witch would live in the town with everyone else but the second witch has separated herself from any town or city and is living in a cave. The natural setting, crescent-shaped blade, and the snake associate her more with early pagan cults, such as that of the mother goddess, than with the devil, who himself didn't come into existence until the development of Christianity. The witch in the woodcut is a different sort of witch, one that practices within the framework of Christian mythology and works in direct opposition to god.

Back to Animals

Back to Ancient Animals

 

 Main

 Emblems 1

 Emblems 2


 
  Page copyright 1999 by -Theresa- and -Shirleen-. Email Us.

* This page created by Shirleen Selim