The long, elaborate history of our besties, the witches…
by Alastair Sooke (BBC Culture)
“Images of alluring young witches and hideous hags have been around for centuries – but what do they mean?
Ask any Western child to draw a witch, and the chances are that he or she will come up with something familiar: most likely a hook-nosed hag wearing a pointy hat, riding a broomstick or stirring a cauldron. But where did this image come from? The answer is more arresting and complex than you might think, as I discovered last week when I visited Witches and Wicked Bodies, a new exhibition at the British Museum in London that explores the iconography of witchcraft.
Witches have a long and elaborate history. Their forerunners appear in the Bible, in the story of King Saul consulting the so-called Witch of Endor. They also crop up in the classical era in the form of winged harpies and screech-owl-like “strixes” – frightening flying creatures that fed on the flesh of babies.
Circe, the enchantress from Greek mythology, was a sort of witch, able to transform her enemies into swine. So was her niece Medea. The ancient world, then, was responsible for establishing a number of tropes that later centuries would come to associate with witches…”
For the rest, click here.