Boo! Halloween has come once again, with its assortment of ghouls, goblins and witches. My question is: Why are witches considered scary Halloween characters? Wouldn’t the creepier ones be the Inquisition boys, especially the ones with matchbooks? Maybe Spanish Inquisition costumes are just too darn hard to come by. I know they would scare me a lot more than a witch, my little pretty.

I’d also be frightened if I saw Proud Boys, Incels or KKK goons at my door. And the costumes are so easy to make! It takes minimal effort to cut holes in a white sheet for eye sockets. How about that Jan. 6 insurrectionist with the face paint and Viking horns? Anyone can quickly put that get-up together and be a simultaneous laughing stock and object of terror. Take a look at any of those guys (the gals? not very creative), and you can create a costume that sends chills down decent citizens’ spines. Not a witch among them.

It’s interesting to me that witches have been portrayed through the ages as terrifying creatures. In truth, the women labeled witches were often aging wealthy widows or bachelorettes (now there’s a medieval term for you) who made their living practicing herbal remedies and home medicine. These women also knew the secrets of midwifery, birth control and stopping unwanted pregnancies. Midwives often had their careers born of necessity because almost all other paying work was verboten. And since newts and toads were free and plentiful in the medieval European woods, who could blame them for adding a slight markup to their pharmaceuticals? A gal’s got to eat.

Here’s some other “enlightenment” about heretic barbecues. While it’s estimated that around 80% of the victims of stake burnings were females, Jews, Romanis and other “undesirables” of both genders were executed as well. The source of these tortures and death? Greed and religious fervor; problems we still deal with today. Religious intolerance has been deadly for anyone who does not hew to the dominating religion. This was true in the past and continues in the present: The future is up to us.

Do you really think that the rabid, right-wing Christians will stop at ending abortions? Really? Nope, they will not. If they succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, they will next attempt to ban birth control. Of course, they will leave condoms and vasectomies alone because, you know, men aren’t scary, but unbridled women are. Most modern Catholics use some type of birth control regardless of what the Catholic hierarchy preaches.

As enforced by the Spanish Inquisition, the medieval Catholic patriarchy — other countries also had their own Inquisition — were ambitious in their drive to find/destroy mother/goddess worship. They spread terror to those who practiced the ancient mother ways to coerce the relatively new father worship on everyone.

Now here comes the really chilling part about the so-called witches. Guess how many were burned in Europe during the Middle Ages? Most people I ask guess 1,000, maybe 6,000. Well, have I got news for you… four-centuries-old news. Some contemporary historians place the number at as much as 8 million… but definitely in the hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions. Burning women at the stake is an ambition squelcher for sure.

Please understand that I genuinely don’t mean to make light (pardon the expression) of such an incredible tragedy. Still, there are many centuries between these woman burnings and now, so I’m able to make a few observations without naming names, pending notification of relatives, of course. Because traditional historians don’t seem to think millions of women are worth mentioning, we’ll leave it to a humorist to bring light (there’s that word again) to the darker side of things.

Many people I’ve told about this can’t believe there’s been no mention in the big history books of the multitude of women burned as alleged witches. I maintain that we do remember — at a primitive, collective consciousness, cellular level — which explains why it’s the men in our culture who barbecue; ask a woman to light up the grill, and she’s apt to suddenly have the urge to mop the kitchen floor, bucket of water at the ready.

Oh yes, the inquisition had quite a nasty reputation with women in those days. Even sympathetic men had a hard time relating to women. The most well-meaning man could ask a woman if she needed a light, and she’d be a half-mile down the village path before he could scythe another stalk.

So, this Halloween, if cheesy costume companies can come up with a Drumpf costume, how about going with a “sexy” inquisition outfit? Witches are so old hat. Cackling witches? Yawn. The crispy inquisitor could be a hit at costume parties by including “snap, crackle, and pop” sound effects. If you see them… run!!


Ellen Snortland has had a burning desire to write a gender column for decades. Contact her at authorbitebybite.com