I stumbled upon this cartoon by Tim Hamilton recently. It was an eye-opener of sorts.
Society has habitually portrayed witches as these socially ostracized, spooky characters who are out to do no good. You are expected to eye witches suspiciously and doubt their every motive and move. In the past, women who were declared witches were tortured, shunned, or killed. It still occurs in remote areas. This is in contrast to the new-age magic practitioners, who are vocal about their practice and comparatively more accepted.
Makes you think – what if the term “witch” was originally coined to insult powerful, independent women? Those women who knew how to fly on their own, did not need others, and had an irresistible charm that was hard to ignore but perceived as “evil” by the orthodox out of spite or jealousy. Society is scared of her because she is not following tradition; she has to deal with leery eyes and face many a taunting word.
Sometimes, witches are portrayed as someone with deformed feet, probably a reference to the fact that these women were adept at walking a path opposite the norm. In the modern era, if a witch were to roam around in the same manner, exerting her freedom and rights, she would be called a feminist in a disdainful tone by misogynists. Feminists are often mocked, their ideologies questioned, their intentions slammed, and considered problematic if they decide to take the road less travelled. Maybe witches were the first feminists the world has ever seen; maybe they were the first set of women the world couldn’t control.
The cartoon raises the question: was the conventional image of a witch as a frightening female figure riding a broomstick used as a metaphor for female independence in the past? It might be why to be called a “witch” is considered derogatory, but not a “wizard.” Was this someone’s attempt to chain and deface an autonomous, free, self-governing woman?
How many powerful characters have been disparaged and labeled in the past solely due to their failure to adhere to societal norms? We might never know.