Witches: Evolving Perceptions

Because there is confusion about the meaning of the word "witch," our guided exhibit examines the changing interpretations over time while also looking at the stereotype, the practice of witchcraft today and most importantly the phenomenon of witch hunting


You are invited into the exhibit space by a picture of Macbeth's three witches, examples of the stereotype. Next you see nine images on a wall - all can be labeled "witch" but by their variety you conclude that file definition of the word has changed as our beliefs and customs have evolved. The images range from the witch in Hansel and Gretel to the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz to Joan of Arc and John and Elizabeth Proctor of the Salem trials.


How have these changes occurred?

To trace the evolution of the word, figures in sets tell their stories - starting with an ancient Celtic midwife. She speaks about her role in society as a respected healer and guardian of the stability of the community. In the next set a hag dressed in black with pointed hat and green face flies across the moon on her broom. She is the transformation of the strong Celtic woman, diminished and demonized by the church fathers in the middle ages. She speaks of her role as the troublemaker in society on whom all evil things are blamed.



Along a wall adjacent to the stereotypical witch figure, a time line of dates and images from western and pagan history illustrates the gradual change from midwife to mischief-maker. The most recent dates show an understanding of the mistakes of the past.


 Around a comer stand a male and female figure. They are practitioners of Wicca or witchcraft and they talk about the ancient origins of their beliefs and their role in society today. They are the descendants of the Celtic midwife, looking to the earth mother for healing and for spirituality.

Finally, a large picture of Senator Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Welsh asks visitors to consider the phenomenon of witch hunting. The formula for a witch hunt - fear + trigger = scapegoat, is written across the photo: Contemporary examples of witch hunts - the Japanese American internment after Pearl Harbor, the McCarthy hearings on Communism and the persecution of the gay community at the start of the AIDS epidemic - bring the lessons of stereotyping and prejudice full circle.