When the 31st October comes around each year, people subconsciously await the time in which they see a witch costume, whether it be kids trick ‘or’ treating, at a neighbour's party, or at the local pub. This is because dressing up as a witch is a common, easy and well-known Halloween symbol. This article, however, aims to address the very real fact that the history of witches and witchcraft is an extremely precarious and sensitive subject. There will be an assessment regarding whether it is entirely ethical to impersonate something that initiated such a controversial and significant number of deaths hundreds of years ago.

From what history has recorded, the witch epidemic occurred in the Seventeenth Century. Witches were feared in the Old English era for the simple fact that it was mysterious. Witchcraft was considered to be the "devil's magic". It has been indefinitely concluded that no one really understood if dark magic existed, but they simply did not want to take the risk; and henceforth, sought to destroy anyone suspected of performing it.

The Salem Witch Trials

You may have already heard of the so-called Salem Witch Trials. Salem is a town in Massachusetts, and is still to this day, infamous for the most ruthless witch hunting epidemic between 1692 and 1693. The trials were a series of court proceedings that would bring forward townspeople accused of displaying black magic.

Witchcraft hysteria

To be even suspected of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Salem, you were as good as dead. At the time of these witch trials, Salem was a hugely protestant town; their strict conservative faith assisted the increase of fear towards the devil and his so-called worshipers. Because of this, suspicion and betrayal were rife.

Anxiety surrounding possible curses and hexes made on their family and crops by witches made many act rash; so much so that Salem villagers would report friends and neighbours for the most trivial things.

What constitutes a witch?

There were a number of things that deemed you a witch in seventeenth-century Salem. To give an example, you would have been deemed guilty of witchcraft if you possessed a simple birthmark or mole.

According to Montague Summers, moles or birthmarks were considered to be “the very sign and seal of Satan indelibly imprinted upon the flesh of his servant”. Another was the unfortunate and unavoidable fact that a person was old and a woman. Many elderly women were suspected of witchcraft for the simple fact that they seemed suspicious, lived alone, and to be so crude, were ugly.

Why are witches such a sensitive subject?

The subject of witchcraft is so raw because, especially in terms of the Salem trials, those who were found guilty were killed; either by "hanging or were crushed under stones." We in the twenty-first century understand witchcraft and black magic to be highly fictitious, and therefore can conclude that these people were killed unlawfully - thus increasing the historical anxiety surrounding this matter.

The reason as to why it is so important that the history of witchcraft is recognised is because that as the years go on, witches are understood to be a fun and creative dressing-up costume for the festive holiday of Halloween. In reality, however, the topic of witches is an extremely sensitive subject, where true History needs to be reiterated to the world so that these people who died because of it did not do so in vain.

Men, women and children's lives were lost due to the irrational fear of witchcraft, and in Salem alone, twenty people were killed, 14 of which were women. This article is not an attempt to ruin a festive spirit, it is simply asking the question should the characterisation and symbolism of a practice that caused so much suffering be included in our celebrations?