The Antisemitic Origin Of The Witch's Hat

The Antisemitic Origin Of The Witch's Hat

September 06, 2018

In follow up to the Instagram posts I made over the weekend about the antisemitic origins of the witch's hat - these posts can be found under USEFUL INFO in my Instagram Stories Highlights - I decided to duplicate the information here, so as to give people something to refer back to. 

So here's the deal: the pointy hat people like to think of as the "traditional" witch's hat is in fact a long-lasting reminder of medieval antisemitism.  Yes, antisemitism existing long before our Austrian enemy A.H. came along and concocted the Final Solution.  In fact, antisemitism is often considered to be the longest running form of discrimination and oppression of all.  The hate that just keeps on hating.

In Europe in the middle ages, when Christianity was bearing down on people, Judaism was commonly considered to be evil and affiliated with the work of the devil/sorcery/witchcraft.  It was believed by some that all that went wrong at the time (the Black Death, children dying or going missing, fires, and anything else untoward) was a result of the Jews and their "devil worship"; so as a means of easily identifying them Jews were forced to wear conical shaped hats (Judenhut) and distinguishing robes.  DistinguishING, not distinguishED, as the Christians wanted only to be able to identify these individuals, not elevate them within society.

Why the conical hat?  It was thought to be closely related to devil horns.  It was also not that dissimilar to the hat worn by the court jester and other individuals for purposes of ridicule.

The discrimination displayed towards Jews pushed them out of villages into the nearby surrounding areas, serving only to further ostracise them.  Their lack of visibility led to tales of green-skinned hags and witches lurking in the shadows, people who would steal and eat your children or burn your village to the ground.  Countless 'fairytales' written since then have based their evil witch characters on Jews, exacerbating the false correlation between the two, with Disney being one party that is ESPECIALLY guilty of this.  [Note that the idea of witches being good is fairly recent, prior to which witches were thought only to be bad/evil.]

I believe the message we can take away from this is simple: stop misappropriating the pointy hat as witchy attire because it's *actually* a symbol of antisemitism, although whether or not this happens remains to be seen.

When I have previously raised this issue there were some common responses, which I'll preemptively address below:

1. "witches are/were also oppressed"

It's true, there has always been a great deal of prejudice towards witches.  We are taught to fear that which we don't know or understand - and to a lesser degree something that doesn't fall under the category of religion or science is often labelled as abnormal or immoral - so those who weren't privy to the practices of witchcraft automatically feared it and the practitioner.  For centuries those perceived to be a witch have been discriminated against and, in many instances, murdered in great numbers.  Moreover, such acts still take place today.  There are still parts of the world where communities regularly enact "civil justice", torturing or killing those whom they perceive to be a witch.  [Note that unsurprisingly a lot of these countries are those that have been infiltrated by far right Christian fundamentalists.]  It also remains illegal in a lot of countries to self-identify as or be a practicing witch.  Even in spite of all this, it doesn't permit the use of something tied to antisemitism.  You can't leverage one form of oppression as justification for perpetuating another.

2. "it's important to reclaim that which is ours"

The only individuals who can reclaim something are those who are subject to oppression at the hands of it.  Thus, if not a practicing Jew, you can't lay claim to being on the receiving end of antisemitism in order to reclaim something like the Judenhat.  Besides, as per all the information provided above, the hat didn't belong to witches in the first place.  To (re-)claim the Judenhat as something intrinsically important to witches is misappropriation.  Further, the hat wasn't something positive, then used as a tool of oppression, and now in a position to be reclaimed as something positive again.  It's origin lay in discrimination and this weight can't be shifted.

3. "perhaps we can use it now as a means to change people's perception of witches and witchcraft" 

The ever-present need to change people's perceptions, coupled with the rising interest in witchcraft, makes it imperative not to inadvertently perpetuate something problematic whilst promoting something positive.  The internet, and specifically social media, enables images and information to spread like wildfire.  If incorporated into imagery designed to promote the positive aspects of witchcraft, the hat will continue to be synonymous with witches and it's misuse will prevail.  Furthermore, we can't expect others to unlearn the lies they've been told about witchcraft whilst not unlearning the lies we've been told surrounding the hat.  Expecting others to shake the prejudice they hold towards witches whilst simultaneously perpetuating antisemitic imagery is both hypocritical and ignorant. The best part, however, is that the hat plays no actual part in witchcraft - either in the belief system or the practice - so it isn't of fundamental importance to the image or perception of witches and their craft.

There are clear parallels that can be drawn with modern day scaremongering and other hateful political tactics employed by those who want to portray certain groups of people as the enemy.  Whilst we've all inadvertently and unintentionally participated in furthering some of these political agendas at one point or other in our life, how we handle ourselves when called in or out for this says infinitely more about us than our initial mistakes do.

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