Witchcraft is said to be the most widespread cultural phenomenon in existence today and throughout history. Even those who shun the ideas of witchcraft cannot discount the similarities in stories from all corners of the globe. Witchcraft and its ideas have spread across racial, religious, and language barriers from Asia to Africa to America. Primitive people from different areas in the world have shockingly similar accounts of witchcraft occurrences. In most cases the strange parallels cannot be explained and one is only left to assume that the tales hold some truth. Anthropologists say that many common elements about witchcraft are shared by different cultures in the world.
Among these common elements are the physical characteristics and the activities of supposed witches. I will go on to highlight some of the witch characteristic parallels found in printed accounts from different parts of the world and their comparisons to some famous fairytales. First of all, throughout many cultures, physical characteristics associated with witches ring strangely the same. Anthropologist Philip Mayer says that witches typically bear a physical stigma, like a red eye for example (Mayer 56).
In the Brother's Grimm fairytale 'Hansel and Gretel,' the witch shares this same beastly characteristic. Also, people usually cast off as witches are typically always old women. In Slovakia, Milan Mramuch accused his elderly neighbor of witchcraft and allegedly beat the old woman to death (Whitmore). In 'Hansel and Gretel' the witch who lives in the tempting, candy house is an old crippled woman and in the Brother's Grimm fairytale 'Snow White,' the witch who was an elegant queen, performs her craft disguised as an old peasant woman.
A second characteristic of witches - and what witches are most commonly known for - is that they cause horrible misfortune to their neighbors and others close to them. Death, sickness, and weather disasters are examples of natural occurrences that witches cause are often blamed for, especially when the occurrences seem strange or out of the ordinary. They can cause this harm simply by willing it to happen. 'The witch only has to wish you harm, and the harm is as good as done' (Mayer 56).
In Slovakia, Mramuch, who killed his neighbor Anna Tomkova, did so because he suspected the woman of casting a spell on his granddaughter. It was the only answer Mramuch had to counter his granddaughter's sudden suffering of epileptic seizures (Whitmore). In South Africa, Mmatiou Than tsa was accused of witchcraft and summoning lightning (Keller). Witches are often blamed for 'particular and unaccountable blows that seem somehow out of the common run' (Mayer 56). Thirdly, personality characteristics associated with witches are that they are private and quarrelsome people and they often are motivated to hurt others by malice or spite (Mayer 56).
The witch in 'Hansel and Gretel' led a private life. She lived alone in her house in the middle of the forest. When her young guests Hansel and Gretel did arrive, she was more concerned with eating them than greeting them. I've always formed my opinions about witches around this stereotype. Witches I've imagined live on the top of a mountain buried behind trees and hidden behind a locked door.
Regarding witches' typically envious and crabby nature, in 'Snow White' the witch was quarrelsome with Snow White with whom she was jealous of. The witch, Snow White's stepmother, sent Snow White away to be killed because she was more beautiful than she, the Queen was. Fourthly, witches are believed not to be entirely human. Their mystical powers are viewed as non-human. A human cannot use his or her willpower to kill or hurt someone, nor to wash the dishes or pick up the laundry. Because witches are believed to be able to use their willpower to cause calamities in the world, most believe they incorporate something non-human (Mayer 56).
Tying in with the physical characteristics associated with witches, witches are said to have a keen sense of smell comparable to that of an animal. In 'Hansel and Gretel,' the witch only knew the children were there when they were close enough for her to smell. Lastly, witches always work in reverse order. As often as one witch can cast a spell on someone, another witch can reverse that spell. Things commonly understood are that witches may talk backward or walk backwards. Christians who have accused people of being witches believed they have heard repeating prayers in reverse order.
'Even when they knock on your door they stand backwards; or when they ride on baboons, as the Pondo witches do, the face towards the tail' (Mayer 56). Witches even can reverse social standards as the rest of the public views it. Cannibalism is one example of a social standard that is not often spoken of because it is viewed as so anomalistic. In both of the fairytales 'Hansel and Gretel' and 'Snow White,' the witches reversed all common social order by wanting to eat human flesh.
In 'Snow White' the witch eats what she believes is Snow White's liver and in 'Hansel and Gretel' the witch captured the children with the desire to cook and eat them. In conclusion, witchcraft ideas and their parallels around the world are easily told when examining the tales and counts of the world's people. I agree that the ideas cannot be tossed aside as mere coincidences and because they are too numerous. Even more remarkable are the similar accounts that come from different corners of the world. Both the Pueblo Indians in Mexico and the Bantu Tribe in Kenya have told of witches traveling at night, carrying lights that mysteriously flare up and down (Mayer 55). These peoples have most likely never met and did not know about the similar experiences they share.
Separated by the Atlantic Ocean, their stories tell me there is some investiga ble truth to what they tell. Many things are strikingly similar in fairytales about witches and true accounts of people accused of witchcraft. Works Cited " Hansel and Gretel,' 'Snow White.' The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Vol 1. Trans. J.
Zines. New York: Bantam, 1987. 62-69; 213-222. Keller, Bill. 'Apartheid's Grisly Aftermath: 'Witch Burning'.' New York Times 15 Sept.
1994. Mayer, Philip. 'Witches' (1954). Witchcraft and Sorcery. Selected Readings. Ed.
Max Mar wick. 2 nd ed. New York: Penguin, 1982. 54-70. Whitmore, Brian.
'Letter from Slovakia: Killing Shows Slovak Belief in Mystics.' Boston Globe 2 Sept. 2001: A 20.