Since the beginning of time, witches have been around. In old civilizations they were known as the wise women, or healers. The word “witch” actually means “‘one who has knowledge of plants.” These healers were the first doctors of the village who diagnosed illnesses and healed with natural elements.
These wise women and men would create talismans, charms, potions, spells and spell incantations to ward off evil spirits; therefore it is ironic that these women would later be portrayed as evil, burned at the stake and persecuted for trying to heal people. From these medieval beliefs rose what we now see as a “wicked witch” green skin, warts and all.
Throughout the ages people have been fascinated by witches and have added to the lore of what we see now as a witch. Some very familiar nursery rhymes, plays and stories are said to come from the witches themselves.
Shakespeare seems to have had a hand in creating a witch, and the power of three. Meaning that witches spells are more powerful if three witches work together. A belief that exists today.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the scene starts with three witches chanting.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
The Three Witches first appear in Act 1.1 where they agree to meet later with Macbeth. In 1.3, they greet Macbeth with a prophecy that he shall be king, and his companion, Banquo, with a prophecy that he shall generate a line of kings.
The whole scene including the “caldron” the darkness, and chaos the witches represented, contributed to the witches current sinister look.
Today’s nursery rhymes are said to be early spell incantations that witches first uttered. These incantations were told so much they became a normal thing and eventually evolved into rhymes for young children.
Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over
This little rhyme was first published in the 18th century, and likely had something to do with the practice of jumping over fires, as is sometimes done at May Day (or Beltane) celebrations. In these instances, the leaper jumps over a bonfire in order to gain blessings-like fertility and an easy birth for women-or protection, or to purify one ritually. Afterwards, the ashes would be scattered over the fields to ensure a fertile crop. In its diminished form with a candle-stick, a person could leap the candle forwards and backwards three times (or nine times in some cases) while asking for such blessings, and if the candle remained lit, the wish would be granted.
Peter Pumpkin Eater
Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her!
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well!
This rhyme originates in North America because pumpkins were found in North America and was consumed by Native Americans as a prized fruit. So what is this rhyme all about? The legend is that Peter sought out the help of a witch to keep his wife faithful to him. He suspected she was unfaithful so to insure he keep her fidelity, the witch instructed him to put her underclothes inside a pumpkin shell, which as it rots, prevents her from being able to hook up with other men. So this rhyme was used as a binding spell.
The cauldron was probably first seen in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and all the ingredients including baboons blood and eye of newt. But where did the broom come from? Why do witches ride brooms at night? In the middle ages when people were becoming more urbanized, it was difficult for fresh bread to travel. The rye bread began to host a mold called “ergot”. Ergot, in high doses, can be lethal, but the small doses caused hallucinations, somewhat like LSD.
It was said witches would anoint themselves with Ergot and then would anoint their broom and fly into the night. The popular idea of flying with a broom most likely came from the country folk performing a dance around their fields to increase the rate of growth of their crops. Women would grab their brooms from the doors to participate in this ritual. The people would then jump over the broom, sing and dance to make their harvest grow bigger. With bread being what it was and mild doses of Ergot on the bread, chances are these people were all high. But that’s basically where the witch flying on a broom stick came into play.