A New Children's Book Explains What “Witch” Really Means

Thinking about being a witch for Halloween? Consider forgoing the warts and pointy hat for a more historically accurate costume—like dressing up as Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn.

Throughout the ages, women who transgressed societal norms have been named witches and faced punishments like imprisonment and death. Author and artist Lisa Graves tells their misunderstood stories in History’s Witches, a engaging 32-page book for kids released by Xist Publishing last month. The book uses an engaging, illustrated infographic style to draw readers in. Graves also runs site History Witch, which updates frequently with the tales of both famous and little-known witches in history, complete with their own illustrations.

History’s Witches pairs very simple biographies of women who were persecuted for their decisions with the eye-popping illustrations, challenging the idea of what it means to be a witch that kids pick up from from pop culture. Here’s an excerpt from the page on Joan of Arc: 

As the book lays out, the name “witch” has historically been used a means of controlling women. Catherine de Medici was called a witch for placing her sons into powerful positions in the court. Oftentimes, elderly, poor, or mentally ill women were labeled witches and driven out of towns. Some, such as Agnes Bernauer, were called witches and killed simply for trying to cross class lines; in other cases, calling a woman a witch was the easiest way to get her money or land.

History’s Witches lends voice to these women who fell outside society’s boundaries, and gives the reader a historical context to the ideas of marginalization and bullying. I recommend checking it out for the young person in your life, just in time for a Halloween discussion.

by Arielle Yarwood
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Nice idea but poorly

Nice idea but poorly executed.

Joan of Arc was not tried for witchcraft. She wasn't even accused of witchcraft. This is a common myth perpetrated by historical fiction. A great deal of records from her trial have survived to this very day and apparently the author of this book did not bother to investigate them.


While I realize Wikipedia alone is not a very good source, the articles on Joan of Arc and the trial on Joan of Arc have been exhaustively researched and contain numerous references and sources.


It's funny that you're accusing the author of not doing her research when it seems that you didn't. No, Joan of Arc was not charged with witchcraft, but only because the court technically couldn't charge her with it. If you would have clicked over to the Joan of Arc wikipedia page instead of just the one about her trial you would have found this,

"From Christine de Pizan to the present, women have looked to Joan as a positive example of a brave and active female.[73] She operated within a religious tradition that believed an exceptional person from any level of society might receive a divine calling. Some of her most significant aid came from women. King Charles VII's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, confirmed Joan's virginity and financed her departure to Orléans. Joan of Luxembourg, aunt to the count of Luxembourg who held custody of her after Compiègne, alleviated her conditions of captivity and may have delayed her sale to the English. Finally, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford and wife to the regent of England, declared Joan a virgin during pretrial inquiries.[74] For technical reasons this prevented the court from charging her with witchcraft. Ultimately this provided part of the basis for her vindication and sainthood."

Just because she was not convicted under witchcraft charges, does not mean she wasn't being persectued because they thought she was a witch.

Joan and Witchcraft

Ummmmm, indeed.

Thank you, Anonymous, for clarifying the Witchcraft connection. It was an accusation that many wanted to use - because it was so often done with women who stepped out of bounds. Do I remember that after the English couldn't use that against her, they burned her for Heresy?

History is not only written by the "winners."

This book sounds great. It's important to learn the reasons for witch trials, whether personal or historical. I was surprised to learn how many women and sometimes men were killed so others could steal their land or because of personal vendettas (like Agnes Bernauer) including the Salem witch trials in America. Historical conflicts such as the 30 Years War between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and the conflict between midwives and early doctors also drove many of the accusations of witchcraft.

It is interesting to note that Joan of Arc is now recognized as a saint by Catholics. Although she was burned for heresy, many of her French followers considered her a saint in her lifetime. In 1455, in a church court retrial and she was found not guilty, although she didn't become canonized a saint until 1920. Growing up Catholic, I admired Joan's courage and wondered how anyone in France could have sold her out to the English who had invaded their country for over 100 years. Researching and reading translations of Joan's trial, I learned that some Burgundian French clergy and nobles in the court of Charles VII collaborated with the English army. They were more concerned with making a profit from war than restoring the rightful king and freeing their country as Joan was doing.

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