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A History of Magic - notes, part 8

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

The Greeks and Romans viewed witches as generally maleficent beings that would curse people, use poison, and play cruel pranks. These witches worshipped virgin goddesses or goddesses associated with the underworld; specifically, the book mentions Hecate, Diana, Persephone, and Selene.

Witches used perfumes, ointments, poisons, herbs-- basically all the trappings of a stereotypical witch. They could shapeshift and turn their victims into animals. They were associated with owls and terms meaning "screech owl" were used to mean "witch" as well.

The most well-known witches of Greek literature are Circe and Medea, Canidia, while lesser known, is in several of Horace's poems and seems to have been based on a real person.

I'm sure it will come as a surprise to no one that witchcraft was generally associated with women, especially women who broke societal norms, The witch was a disobedient woman to the Nth degree. She was sexually motivated, powerful, angry, mischievous, and not one to listen to her father or a husband. In a male-dominated society, of course, these qualities in a woman were painted as inherently evil. Magic and divination were actually very common in these societies. It's just that when men did it, it was fine.

Next time we'll talk a bit about omens and divination.

Stay safe!

- me

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