Season of the Witch is a song by Donovan, released in 1966. Despite the witchy title and feel, it’s actually a song about paranoia, specifically prophecizing a drug bust Donovan was convinced was coming. He was right about the bust.
Over the years the song has taken on a life of its own, but the original theme of paranoia was more historically accurate than Donovan likely realized. For the history of witchcraft isn’t the history of witches. It’s the history of people’s fear of witches, which certainly dipped into paranoia. So much so that at least 50,000 people were executed between the years of 1400 to 1775.
As a child, I was reassured that there was no such thing as witches. And at the time, that was certainly true. Those 50,000 corpses weren’t witches, but innocents. However, the millions of people affected by the belief in witches was certainly real.
Today witches certainly exist. The number of practicing witches grow every year. But here’s the rub. The definition of a witch I grew up with has been taken over by a new breed. Today’s witches reject the darkness, reject evil and malice. These witches have a pedigree stretching back at least sixty or seventy years.
The witches I grew up believing in, despite my mother’s insistence that they didn’t exist, had a pedigree stretching back a couple thousand years or more. And for those witches, it was all about the darkness. Potions and poison. Baby fat coating the broomstick, along with hallucinogenic plants to send it to flight. Signing their names in the dark lord’s book, trading their souls for arcane knowledge and magical powers.
My mother was right. There was no such thing as witches. But the stories created a mythology, a mood so tempting and tantalizing, that Wiccans adopted the word because they want them to exist. Even if it meant changing the definition to something more suited to their modern belief system.
I wonder if in the future, the word witch will still give us the chills that we long for. What can provoke that chill when from the time you’re born, you’re taught that witches are fun, loving and full of white light. Will we be the last generation who hears Donovan singing on a moonlit night, who feels that chill running up our spines, that on one hand makes you want to put on the pointy hat, and on the other, pull the blankets over your head.