Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out last week, and it’s pretty safe to say that most of the universe has witches (and wizards) on the brain. The blockbuster success of the Harry Potter franchise is not all that surprising, though, considering that humans have been obsessed with witchcraft both real and imagined for millennia. One of our favorite things to do throughout history has been to accuse social outliers of one form or another of being witches, whatever exactly that means. Usually it has meant “making me and mine totally uncomfortable and disrupting the status quo and thus inviting persecution, torture, and death upon yourself as a witchy-type person.”
So let’s break that down a little bit. You know those stickers that say, “Well-behaved women rarely make history”? Well, they also rarely get into the history books without getting called a witch at some point along the way. Go figure. This week, I’ve rounded up some historical figures of varying degrees of renown who would, according to their detractors, have fit right in at Hogwarts with Hermione, Ron, and Harry.
Many have heard of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring was a game-changer in the use of DDT and other toxic chemicals in the treatment of water, plants, and even people as insect repellent. She died seven years too early to see her environmental work reap political benefits, but she is the reason DDT was banned in the 70s by the U.S. government, and Silent Spring remains essential environmentalist reading in this country and abroad. So, let’s add this up. Woman? Check. Trying to change massive American industry (chemical engineering)? Check. Mentions nature in her argument? Check. CONNECTION TO OCCULT: OBVIOUS, said her opponents. Her book was called “sinister,” and the pesticide industry called her “a hysterical woman,” “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature.”
My guess for Rachel? Ravenclaw. Clever, brave under pressure, independent thinkers.
Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi physician, writer, and feminist icon who is currently blacklisted in her home country, and has had fatwas (a price on her head) in several others. She has never stopped writing, and has gained a following in the last two decades while she has lived in exile. After the publication of her first book, Shame, posters went up around Bangladesh that said, “Taslima Nasrin is a filthy, nasty witch, a bitch, a sinner, a sex-lover, a prostitute, an anti-religious and anti-Islam atheist! All are warned to stay far away from this filthy woman.”
Taslima would be a Gryffindor for sure. Bravery, distrust of authority, and an insatiable desire for truth-telling in the face of corrupt, dangerous adversity.
Joan of Arc
No talk of historical with-hunts would be complete without mentioning Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc; Frenchwoman, voice-hearer, army-leader, Church-defier, literal latter day saint. (That is, it took the Catholic Church a few centuries to decide she was NOT a satanic demon child and was in fact a martyred saint.) Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of 19.
Joan would have been a Hufflepuff, I think. Hard workers, compassionate, and loyal to the death. Although she probably killed a bunch of English knights, and might not be too welcome at Hogwarts. Maybe Beauxbatons for her, after all…
There are many, many more women through the ages that have been labeled witches for their rabble-rousings. Tell us some of your favorites in the comments! (Hogwarts House guesses encouraged, though not required.)