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Who's Afraid of The Not-so-Wicked Witch?
The witch in modern horror fiction
People have always been afraid of things that they don't understand. When things happen people always look for something or someone to blame. It's easier to blame something than it is to believe that things just happen. Historically, that something to blame has been witches.
Witches have traditionally been defined as a woman who works magic. There have been males witches too, but they have also gone under different names, sorcerers or warlocks. During the witch hunts both men and women were killed, but the majority of those who were accused of being a witch were women.
Part of that is because women were the healers and the midwives. There were wise women who everyone went to when they were sick and they needed something to feel better. They were often the first ones to get accused when it didn't rain, or the crops failed. The witch hunts started in the 1300s, and were over in the 1700s, but their legacy lives on.
Witches were portrayed as villains from early on. In the fairy tales the witch ate children and plotted to have girls killed. While there isn't any one definitive story about witches like there is for vampires, they have been used as fodder for horror writers for years.
In the early to mid 20th century people who identified themselves as witches, or Wiccans, started making themselves known. They said that the witches of the past were merely misunderstood people, and they claimed to be the direct spiritual descendents of those people who followed the Old Religion and were killed for their beliefs.
Because of that, the witch has come from being the evil woman plotting to do horrible things to being the person next door. Like vampires and werewolves, the witch has become part of the modern urban horror fantasy that has become so popular. One such series is the Rachael Morgan series, by Kim Harrison. It takes place in an alternate Cincinnati where magic works.