The image of a witch dressed in black with a big pointy hat riding a broomstick is an iconic Halloween image. But why are witches so closely associated with Halloween? There are a lot of reasons why the image of the evil witch became associated with Halloween, and most of them are rooted in Middle Age Christianity.
When the Christian Church in the Middle Ages started to take over as the dominant religion throughout Europe the leaders of the Church needed to find a way to get people to stop believing in old Pagan traditions and embrace Christian beliefs. In order to convince people to convert to Christianity they waged a negative public relations war against anything associated with Paganism. One of the things associated with Paganism was the practice of Witchcraft, or manipulating energies and using plants, herbs, and other natural materials to heal disease and to help growth. Usually witchcraft was practiced by women who worked as natural healers and were seen as being very wise and educated. In order to convince people to turn against Paganism the Church began a campaign against witches saying that witches were evil people who worked with the Devil and were using herbal potions and other mixtures to harm people, not to help them. The campaign worked and witches were hunted, tortured, and vilified.
When the Church wanted to stop the celebration of Samhain it used the same tactics that it had used against witches to make the celebration seem evil. Samhain was described by Church elders as the night when witches and the Devil would roam the Earth killing the innocent, stealing souls, and causing havoc. The stereotype of the witch that has come down through the centuries to modern culture developed from various practices and stereotypes throughout the years. The image of a wicked witch that most people have today was derived from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West with her long black dress, black pointy hat, green skin, and mole. For many modern people the image of a wicked witch flying through the air on a broom with a pointy hat, black dress, and green skin like Margaret Hamilton in the Wizard of Oz movie is the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “witch”.
Witches are almost always ugly because they are evil, and evil is ugly. Unlike the vampire cult in literature and film which makes vampires seem like sympathetic, attractive, misunderstood creatures who still have human feelings and emotions witches are always portrayed as ugly, mean, evil creatures who want to harm humans. Witches will always be associated with Halloween because they are supposed to be minions of the Devil, and Halloween is the Devil’s holiday for some Christian sects. Even though today Halloween is considered a secular holiday when Paganism and Christianity were both fighting for control as the dominant religion in Europe Halloween was a religious holiday. The Church tried to end the holiday by scaring people into not celebrating so that the witches wouldn’t get them but they never quite succeeded. Their image of the witch as an evil force to be reckoned with who flies out on Halloween in search of victims still endures though.