With Halloween quickly approaching, I’ve been watching far more spooky, horror, and occult-themed videos of late. This may come as a surprise to some, but though many of the monsters in Halloween-themed films are fictitious, others have significant history behind them. For example, contrary to popular belief, witches didn’t always have this “creepy” persona that we see in the mainstream now.
Witches were once viewed as powerful women in society; women who were in touch with their personal power and were connected to their environment. They understood how to use the elements and certain herbs to their benefit, and were often well-respected members of their communities, not fearful characters!
The term “witch” was derived from the word wicce, which means “wise,” meaning that “witchcraft” actually translates to “craft of the wise.” Witches were simply empowered women who saw the Earth and themselves as powerful entities, worshipping Mother Nature (also referred to as Mother God and eventually Mother Mary when Christianity started to rule).
However, once the Roman Empire started to use Christianity as a means of controlling the masses, people were forced to begin worshipping an external, male God, stripping them of their personal power. Patriarchy began to rise and rights were no longer equal; thus, witches were frowned upon because they were ultimately just strong women who threatened the patriarchy.
Interestingly enough, the word “virgin” never referred to celibacy/chastity prior to the church taking rule, but rather implied that a woman was simply unmarried. A virgin was a woman who was independent of men, meaning she was “one-in-herself.” Of Latin origin, the word virgin was synonymous with powerful, strong, and skillful, which is very different from the innocent and sometimes weak contexts the word “virgin” holds today.
Then the witch trials and hunts began, resulting in far too many tragic deaths of strong, dynamic women. Women were tortured and killed because of their sexuality and independence, ultimately further fuelling patriarchy and a significant divide between the sexes.
One of my favourite authors, Rebecca Campbell, goes deeper into this subject in her novel Rise Sister Rise, in which she explains the history of witches and how the witch hunts contributed to gender inequality and ultimately led to the deep-seated mistrust that still exists between many men and women today.
So, What’s the Link Between Beer and Witches?
Now that we’ve established that witches were simply powerful, independent women, let’s get into their connection to beer! Up until the 15th century, when the witch hunts started, beer brewing was actually a woman’s job, and it was a highly respected one in some parts of the world.
For example, Sumerian women brewed beer for spiritual ceremonies and were considered powerful women serving as priestesses to the beer goddess, Ninkasi. The Sumerians believed the goddess Ninkasi had gifted the Earth with beer and associated that with preserving peace and well-being.
It’s interesting to note that both wheat and barley hold strong spiritual origins, as both are highly valued in different religions (beer is made by fermenting these grains). Barley and wheat are often depicted in religions as symbolizing love and charity, similar to the symbolism behind beer.
Once the patriarchy really flooded society and women started to be punished for being in positions of power, this art was mostly handed off to males, although it was sometimes still practiced by housewives. The unmarried brewsters, otherwise known as virgins and witches, were scrutinized for being so independent and making money for themselves.
Witches started to be viewed negatively as the witch hunts began, which is where their “spooky” perception originated. Many of the modern day depictions of witches are based off the witches who brewed beer, as they would do so using cauldrons, wearing pointy hats, and encompassing many of the other “witchy” stereotypes we see today.
The History Channel actually created a video depicting the relationship between witches and beer, which you can watch below!
It’s important that we reflect on the history of witchcraft, as these women were powerful people who had their rights stripped away from them. Witches are not the terrifying beings we view them as today — the result of centuries’ worth of propaganda — but rather empowering, kind beings who respected and praised nature as well as men and women alike.
By delving back into the history of witches, we stand to learn much about our connection to nature and the elements. We need to regain our respect for the environment and begin to preserve it rather than destroy it.
It’s especially important for women to reflect on the history of witches, as so many impressive women lost their lives because they weren’t afraid to express their personal power, sexuality, and independence. Though we have come a long way since then in regards to gender inequality, we still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to respecting ourselves as women!
With that, I encourage you to harness your inner witch and truly embrace your femininity, understanding, as witches did, that it is a strength, not a weakness.