I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
1. The Boiling Cauldron
We have all seen the images in books and on film of witches gathered around a steaming metal pot, stirring away at the ghastly concoction that is brewing inside as they cackle maniacally. If this ever actually occurred, it probably had more to do with a hearty stew than black magic, but that didn't stop the spread of rumors to the contrary.
Ancient Celts believed that witch's cauldrons contained souls that had been sent from Hell to await reincarnation. At the behest of their lord and master, witches were tasked with keeping these unsavory spirits viable by constantly stirring them until they could be returned to the world of the living.
Another slightly less disturbing explanation was that the oversized pots held the ingredients necessary to create potions that would later be used for both good and evil, depending on the circumstances. These fixings could consist of such benign offerings as herbs foraged from nearby forests, or as distasteful as the innards of woodland creatures who were sacrificed for the sake of the spell being fashioned.
In the end, whatever was brewing, be it souls, spells or a tasty vegetable soup, the bubbling cauldron became synonymous with the witch and vice versa.
2. The Things They Lack
In the olden days, a female who wore gloves and refused to remove them when asked was viewed as having something to hide. In the times when people feared that a witch lurked around every corner, a woman's reluctance to show her hands could be a death sentence.
According to lore, instead of fingernails, witches were said to sport claws. Since exposing these features to the world would give away their true identity, witches were forced to keep their hands covered at all times lest their secret be revealed.
It was also believed that witches lacked ten very important appendages, namely, their toes. Since this made walking exceedingly difficult, they were gifted shoes with turned up points by their creator that allowed them to get around without exposing their anomaly to an unforgiving public.
3. Hairless Wonders
Besides lacking fingernails and toes, witches were also supposedly unable to grow hair on any part of their body. If this was truly the case, it would explain their fondness for wide-brimmed, pointed hats that, while not flattering, helped to keep the wigs they were forced to wear secured to their heads.
The absence of eyebrows was easily taken care of by using a steady hand and a piece of charcoal to simulate the real thing. Fortunately for them, drawn-on brows were popular then just as they are now. It would seem that even the much-maligned witch caught a break every now and again.
4. The Devil's Marks
The notion that those who practiced witchcraft were minions sent to do the devil's bidding took hold during biblical times. Along with this belief came the assertion that each one of these agents of the netherworld boasted a mark that had been bestowed upon them by their nefarious leader.
The most prominent of these identifiers was a wart strategically placed on either the tip of their nose or on their chin. Any woman seen with a wart jutting from her face was given a wide berth, unless of course there was a hair growing out of it since, as was previously mentioned, witches can't grow hair.
Along with the ever-popular wart, it was believed that witches were also branded somewhere on their person with a mark that became known as the 'sign of the witch.' This skin discoloration was said to be oblivious to pain and completely devoid of blood.
During the Salem witch trials, if a birthmark or any other unusual blemish was found on a suspected practitioner of the dark arts, a pin was used to prick the site. If it bled, this helped the beleaguered woman's case. If it didn't, this was regarded as irrefutable proof that the accused had been marked by Satan.
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5. Feline Companions
Witches have a reputation for surrounding themselves with a wide variety of non-human companions, their most-favored being cats. Some believe that this is due to the feline's purported ability to easily navigate both the world of the living and that of the dead. In times gone by, although innocent on the surface, this alliance was seen as having ominous undertones.
In the 17th century, a woman who kept company with a large assortment of cats was viewed with a mixture of fear and contempt. Many who saw evil where none existed assumed that this collector of felines was plotting something diabolical.
Rumor had it that cats who congregated around a witch were not cats at all, but rather the captured souls of those who had crossed her path and not lived to tell the tale. These victimized spirits, returned to earth in feline form, were fated to spend eternity at their tormentor's beck and call.
Today, a woman or man with an affinity for cats is not given a second thought. Centuries ago, in areas where overzealous imaginations ran rampant, a person's love of felines would have been enough to put them on the radar of those hell-bent on sending suspected witches to the gallows.
6. Fear of Money
The saying "Money is the root of all evil" is one that witches of old apparently took to heart. So potent was its power that it was once believed that witches would cower in the presence of currency in any form.
So prevalent was this belief that villagers in parts of Europe and the Thirteen Colonies would often scatter money around their beds at night in order to keep witches from hunting them as they slept. The theory behind this was that a witch would be rendered powerless in the presence of this ultimate symbol of evil.
This method of fighting fire with a greater fire seemed to work. Spying the offensive items and finding herself unable to ply her trade, the dejected she-devil would beat a hasty retreat. Down, but not out, the night prowler would go in search of a home in which the occupants were lacking in funds, leaving their souls ripe for the picking.
7. Their Kryptonite
While witches were thought to have strong bonds with cats, their relationship with dogs was another matter entirely. If stories are to be believed, back in the day, no practicing witch could be in the company of a canine for any length of time. Dogs, it seems, could not only identify a witch on sight, but were also not shy about outing her to the world.
It was for this reason that people would turn a suspicious eye towards anyone for whom their dog had an aversion. Sensitive to the ways of evil, canines were said to be able to sense the essence of those they encountered. If an individual was pure of heart, the dog would accept them without protest. If, however, the animal smelled the stench of the devil on someone, they would react with apprehension, and on some occasions, outright aggression.
Since dogs, those most accepting of creatures, could supposedly detect malevolence in all its forms, their keen instincts were once used as tools to flush out witches masquerading as maidens. It was a time, to be sure, when falling out of grace with a dog could potentially land even the most pious of souls in hot water.
8. They All Float
During the witch hunts that took place in various parts of Europe and America in the 1600s, several methods were used to expose suspected practitioners. One of those was to take a woman who was accused of dabbling in witchcraft to a nearby lake or pond and submerge her in the water.
If the victim sank to the bottom, this was viewed as a favorable sign. If she rose to the top, her fate was sealed. Puritans believed that witches, owing to their roles as disciples of the devil, could not be baptized. Since their souls were not saved, the water would reject their physical forms, sending them to the surface. If a targeted woman had the misfortune of floating to the top of the water, this was taken as confirmation that she was indeed a witch and thus unworthy of the life she had been given.
9. Their Favorite Mode of Transportation
My apologies in advance for this final entry which some might find a bit risque. The image of a witch riding on a broomstick is the product of folklore at its finest. Although it's a pretty sure bet that witches throughout the ages utilized the same methods of transport as everyone else, somehow they gained a reputation as broom riders.
Most people would agree that, realistically speaking, the only way to make a broom airborne is to throw it or drop it from a substantial height. The thought that someone, no matter their hidden talents, could take to the skies while sitting astride one of these cleaning implements is preposterous by anyone's standards. Even so, depictions of witches riding brooms have been around since the 1400s.
Although many theories have been batted around as to how this notion came about, one stands out from the rest. As strange as it sounds, it makes as much sense as anything else.
Since witches were viewed as independent spirits who refused to take guff from anyone, their penchant for broom riding was said to be rooted in their need to establish dominance over a patriarchy that sought to rule, not only women, but anyone they viewed as inferior.
In an attempt to assert their power, it was believed that witches would straddle these long wooden sticks as a way of announcing, without ever uttering a word, that they were the ones in control. While this action had absolutely nothing to do with flying, it certainly explains the imagery behind it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.