I was inspired to draw to above image after a wonderful visit with a patient a couple of days ago. She took one look at my herb wall (I have a shelf full of herbs for making medicinal teas) and asked happily if I was a witch. I laughed and said I get that a lot (usually it’s meant as a compliment), but she mentioned how witches were known for being healers and herbalism and I seemed to embody that energy. This comment, and of course Halloween, really got me thinking about witches and their original role in society.
When you think witch, you may identify with my drawing above – green skinned, pointed hat, flare for fashion and lots of black. Witch translates to “wise woman” – whom were revered in villages and kingdoms as natural healers and proficient in herbal medicine. Ironically, prehistoric medicine originated from herbalism before being modernized into treating infectious disease. The father of medicine was Hippocrates (5th cen. BCE), who acclaimed that the body has the ability to self heal and that food and plants should be the medicine of choice (Doctors still swear the Hippocratic oath to this day when being initiated into the profession). In ancient civilizations “witches” would be priestesses, servicing families rich and poor, delivery babies and helping with fertility issues. They were looked upon with respect and admiration, as they were integral in the health of the ancient household. Ultimately they embraced the virtues of healing with nature, celebrating feminity, and bringing harmony of the mind and body by educating and supporting their constituents.
It’s unsure of when the tide turned and wise women inherited the negative connotation of “witch” – an evil worshiper of the devil that brought havoc on whomever they were envious of. Scholars speculate it was initiated by the church, spurned by a German manifesto “Malleus Maleficarium” which was a manual on how to identify, hunt and interrogate witches (this is where “Maleficant” comes from Disney fans!). Many are familiar with the Salem Witch Trials in the US, yet the majority of witches were persecuted in Europe. Over 80, 000 to be exact, between the years of 1500-1660, 80% of them woman (and I’m speculating 100% of them innocent), and majority in Germany (where is actually the origin of Naturopathic Medicine). Ireland had the lowest amount of persecutions, which I speculate to the fact that herbalism and medicine is deep routed in Irelands history and they didn’t have the same fear-based reaction to a woman healing with herbs.
So how has the revered wise woman tumbled down into the marginalized and disgusting witch? It all about power, ego and control (all traits that should not be included in regards to medicine). Medical woman owned their wisdom in ancient (and now current) times, they celebrated their feminity, divinity, knowledge, and healing capabilities. They were confident in themselves and their intellect and intuition. This was seen as a threat. The confident woman was seen as provocative, as “using their mind and body for evil means. It’s a trend seen in today’s times (especially currently) – shaming woman for being confident in their feminity (or sexuality). Sexuality and confidence were seen as detriment, and those whom spoke their mind were chastised for their opinion. The very fact that they were a woman was used against them as a form of control. This trend remained in professionalized medicine late into the late 1800s (the first woman to be admitted into an American medical school was in 1849 and it was due to a joke ….. but Elizabeth Blackwell prevailed thankful). Woman were still monumental in medicine – they were just practicing silently more as caretakers rather than “doctors” (even though one can’t exist without the other).
Although the church was an avid enemy and spear header of witch hunts, an ironic tidbit is that within the church those who practiced medicine and ran hospices were woman – mostly nuns and volutneers. The major difference was that they were controlled within the convent and most times paid less than average house servant. Hence these trends of wage inequality and suppressing sexual confidence are rooted deeply in our history, in addition to the “witch doctor” stereotype.
Ever so often I am slurred the term “Witch Doctor” as a form of insult to somehow undermine my education and intellect. Honestly it doesn’t phase me because I don’t think it’s a negative term. Wise woman, or witches, were the original medicine practitioners, believing and utilizing the healing power of nature and vitality (innate ability of the body to heal itself). The main wiccan motto is to “harm none”, very similar to the first principle of the Hippocratic oath “do no harm”. Combine that intuitive knowledge and care taking archetype with proper regulated education in medical diagnostics and physical examination and you get a pretty wicked doctor…..