Samhain is considered by many to be the most uniquely witchy holiday of the year. There are many images that are associated with the holiday: the jack-o-lantern, the ghost, and the stereotypical witch — the woman, with her green skin, broom, and black conical hat. She resembles the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz, or perhaps Shakespeare’s hags in Macbeth. Some consider the image of this witch to be offensive — but I personally find it empowering. I have two reasons for feeling the way I do.
First, I am a student of history and I did the research into the origin of the caricature (Schroeder, Fred 5000 Years of Popular Culture: Popular Culture before Printing, 1980.)
Second, I believe that the widespread use of the image solidifies society’s belief in the power and mystery of the witch – by looking at this effigy, even those oddly rational people who do not believe in magick are confronted with the possibility of the reality of magick, even if it is only through childhood recollection.
You might be asking yourself why it matters if society believes in witches. After all, my own beliefs do not depend on the beliefs of the neighbors or the beliefs of the guy down the street who passes out the religious pamphlets instead of candy, my beliefs are self-supporting, and my validation comes from an internal rather than an external source. This may be true – but your eyes are already open to the possibilities. By putting the image – even if it is a negative one – into the stream of popular consciousness, you are creating an awareness and tangible connection to the act of witchcraft — which is reinforced in the collective unconscious of the society. (The idea of a collective unconscious was coined by Carl Jung, it is essentially the theory that there exists a “system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.” Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1996, 43) It has been proven on a small scale that the collective unconscious of a group of people can be manipulated based on their experience and exposure to particular stimuli. (Owen, Iris Conjuring Up Phillip: an Adventure in Pyschokinesis 1976)
To me this means that any focus on the act and art of witchcraft – even if it is silly, is based on centuries of fear, or appears disparaging — reinforces the power and energy of any act of witchcraft, because it creates an unconscious predisposition in the collective unconscious towards the belief in the power of the craft. As Jung explained all members of the society have access to and contribute to the collective unconscious, and this collective is passed down to future generations. This means that any image or representation in the popular culture brings with it access to this collective storehouse of energy, experience, and memory.
I ask you to consider for a moment the images of witchcraft and magick you find most powerful. Ask yourself, where do these images come from and why do they affect you so much? It is likely that the image has some social underpinning which triggers the effect that it has. Incorporating these images into magickal workings can be very useful because they provide a mental shortcut into the ritual head space you must attain during the ritual. Another side effect of using these types of images is that by using them you are accessing the collective unconscious and transforming it with your own experience. As each individual transformation of the stereotype occurs, it is added into the collective and thus over time an image once caricature like and disparaging becomes a symbol of power, triumph, and connectedness. It is all in how you choose to see it.