In our last post, dental implants provider Dr. Majors and the rest of his staff at MajorSmiles.com in Bryan, TX discussed how to best battle dry mouth throughout your day so you can help avoid future dental health problems. Today, with Halloween looming right around the corner, we want to talk about one iconic character associated with the season that has always seemed to have oral health problems; the witch.
A Little History on One of Halloween’s Most Iconic Characters
Halloween isn’t complete without the witch. To this day it is one of the most popular costume choices among young girls and grown women. As soon as stores pull out their Halloween decorations you are bound to see a green-faced woman with stringy hair and a gap-toothed smile stirring a bubbling caldron somewhere. There’s no escaping it.
However, have you ever wondered why the witch seems to be the most prevalent representation of Halloween? Where did this association come from? We hit the books in search of some answers to these questions and are pretty satisfied with what we found.
The Celts Started it
It turns out that Halloween is old. Very old. In fact, if you want to get technical, Halloween was actually started by the ancient Celts who, on October 31st, began a three-day pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which means “summer’s end). This festival marked the death of the present year and the beginning of a new one. It is for this reason that many scholars believe that the “Lord of the Dead” was honored during Samhain. Pagans honored this deity with reverence and not revulsion, believing he helped to not only usher the old year out in peace, but helped to guide deceased loved ones to the afterlife.
Samhain was celebrated with bonfires, an abundance of food, and ritualistic dancing. Take a moment to wrack your mental image file folder and see if any familiar ones are turning up. If not, let us help. How about an image of women with painted faces and black clothing all dancing around a fire and praising the “Lord of the Dead?” Immediately, what would you mentally assume those women are?
The Church Takes Grip of Europe and Changes Both People and Halloween
Now, don’t get us wrong. We have absolutely nothing against Christianity or Catholicism here at MajorSmiles.com. However, the truth is when you look very far back in history, there was a time when the church was quite corrupt and would use its association with God to strike fear into the minds of people, thus forcing them to agree to whatever agenda the church might have had at that moment or Face the wrath of God.
Pagans were a group of ancient people who practiced Polytheism, which is the belief in and worship of numerous Gods and Goddesses. Many Pagan Gods are associated with nature, which is why many of their celebrations gave thanks to the earth.
Catholicism and Christianity fiercely practice Monotheism, which is the reverence and worship of a single, all powerful and ever present God.
Around this time in history the Catholic church had taken part in a holy campaign to convert as many people as possible over to their belief system. It worked very well, as Christianity spread like wildfire across Europe. Those who refused, or chose to continue their pagan beliefs, were painted as being savages who, for lack of a better term, worshiped the devil and ate children.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved the religious holiday All Saint’s Day from its original date of May 13th to November 1st, which happened to also be the last day in the Pagan Samhain festival. Coincidence? Probably not.
Pagans are Declared Unholy Witches and Gain an Image
In many towns in ancient Europe, the inhabitants were poor and relatively uneducated. Each town usually had a woman, or a few, who followed ways of old and made money by selling healing salves, herb pouches, fortune telling and various “spells” for health, fertility, successful crops, etc. These women were often times very old for ancient European standards, and had spent a large portion of their lives outside in the sun searching for herbs and gathering various ingredients. As health and personal hygiene had not yet become a major concern in people, many older folks had stringy hair, a poor complexion, and various missing teeth.
By the 14th century, Christianity had spread so far, and gained such a following that the thought of even associating with anyone suspected of witch craft brought the crippling fear of retribution from God. Thus medieval Europe was seized by panic and suspicion, the witch hunts began, and trials and executions skyrocketed.
Due to this, many times those older folks in villages with the stringy hair, missing teeth and hunched over backs (most of the time they were women) who practiced pagan beliefs, but were otherwise harmless, were painted as a target for people to aim their fear at. People who used herbs, salves, or the like to heal ailments instead of prayer were soon looked upon with caution and suspicion. They were then often ostracized, ridiculed, hunted down or executed.
Without going into a ton of detail about the history of the medieval witch hunts, it is here that witches most likely gained an image and association with Halloween that has traveled through time and is still very prevalent today, as Samhain was initially the most celebrated Pagan Holiday. Though, no one can really say for sure. But, it’s a well-educated guess as to where the iconic witch image came from.
However, one thing that is always associated with a witch’s appearance, no matter the origin, is terrible teeth. As a dental office, we found this fact interesting and that’s why we decided to dedicate a post to the witches of Halloween and their terrible teeth. We wonder how different things would have been during the witch hunts if dental implants and modern dental hygiene had existed. Guess we’ll never know.
Until next time readers, have a happy Halloween and keep smiling.