Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Many Incarnations of the Red Witch in History, Dolls, and Popular Media

Who is the Red Witch?
The phenomenon of the Red Witch came to my attention after I noticed a common motif in vintage Halloween greeting cards. These images have always served as a wealth of ideas for my mini making and are a little window into folk practices long forgotten in America. Halloween now is much associated with children or horror movies. In the past, the American holiday was an adult affair with many romantically related games… sort of like a spooky Valentines day. Well, that’s a subject for another day.

Back to the Red Witch. In these vintage images this figure is often a whimsical young girl with her kittens and jack o’ lanterns. She may have red curls, a red hooded cape, or a red cone hat, which at the time was not always pointed but looking more like a pilgrim’s hat. The little Red Witch was a beneficial and sweet natured figure in contrast to the dark hag beings.

Above are several examples, from the exemplary Vintage Halloween collection of Dave ie “riptheskull” on Flickr. To see numerous examples of his vast collection go to:

Another aspect of the Red Witch is the Sexy Sorceress. This is possibly a more modern incarnation, taking on the less than impure attributes of the Scarlet Woman. Red is danger, fire, change, blood, and fierceness. This is the magical practitioner in the bloom of her womanhood who bends others to her ways. Often the secret mistress of a king, she helps him toward his own goals but ultimately exacts a high price. This version of the Red Witch can be quite fierce, although not necessarily evil. One of my favorite portrayals of this was Tia Carrere as Akivasha in the uhum… less than good movie “Kull”, supposedly the son of Conan played by Kevin Sorbo.

Sci-fi and fantasy books, games, and comics have recycled the Sexy Red Witch stereotype countless times:

Fashion dolls, such as Tonner’s Wizard of Oz dolls, have dabbled with the Red Witch. To read more about these amazing dolls and where to purchase them:

Digging deeper in time, the Red Witch ultimately has ancient Gaelic roots. She is Bridget a multi faceted figure in Irish folklore. As an ancient goddess she was variously known as Bhrid or Bridget. From her name are derived the words “bride” and “breed”, terms associated with fertility and family.
This fiery haired lady was the patroness of metal smithing, music, and animal husbandry. Her three fold nature is a common motif of Celtic goddesses, however Bridget was herself trifold rather than being a member of a triple sisterhood of associated beings. Bridget’s priestesses later converted to Christianity and she became a much loved Saint associated with a historical Irish Nun carrying her name. Now her wonders are discussed in terms of ‘miracles’ rather than ‘magic’…

Further investigation produced the Red Witch Hazel plant, Hamamelis intermedia, also called the ‘Red Diane’.
The Roman goddess Diana was said to be a red headed woman of great beauty and wildness, dedicated to the wilderness. Her daughter Ariadne or Aradia was known as the Queen of Witches in Tuscan regions.

This beautiful winter plant resembles their wild red hair, with scarlet or orange blossoms, and has long been associated with witchcraft, midwifery, the land of fairy, & folk medicine. The Red Witch here blends with the Fairyfolk, and she becomes the Autumn Fey.
Ouphe & goblin! imp & sprite!Elf of eve! & starry Fay!Ye that love the moon's soft light,Hitherãhither wend your way;Twine ye in a jocund ring,Sing & trip it merrily,Hand to hand, & wing to wing,Round the wild witch-hazel tree.

Hail the wanderer again,With dance & song, & lute & lyre.Pure his wing & strong his chain,And doubly bright his fairy fire.Twine ye in an airy round,Brush the dew & print the lea;Skip & gambol, hop & bound,Round the wild witch-hazel tree.

The beetle guards our holy ground,He flies about the haunted place,And if mortal there be found,He hums in his ears & flaps his face;The leaf-harp sounds our roundelay,The owlet 's eyes our lanterns be;Thus we sing, & dance, & play,Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
-Elfin Song, by Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820)

Links to gardening information:
Links to herbal usage information:
Well now, you should have plenty of new ideas to work with on your next project!

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