Often the stereotypical Halloween “witch” is shown with green skin. Why green? How did this custom originate?
Some people associate the color green with sickness and decomposition. Others associate it with plants and life. Both groups have used these associations as explanations of why a Witch might have green skin. Some also point out that faeries have been associated with green and speculate a connection there. But the answer may be as simple as MGM Studios Inc. showing off its recently introduced Technicolor in 1939.
Some suggest that Witches executed during the Burning Times had unhealthy, greenish skin while they were being tortured and hanged. This Examiner has been unable to find anyone who believes that this possibility has led to the modern stereotype.
Writer Ruth Berman is quoted by “Wizard of Oz” fan Eric Gjovaaq as having written, “I’d make a guess that there might have been some influence from the discovery…of copper arsenate as a bright green color that was cheap and easy to manufacture. The dye was poisonous, based as it was on arsenic and in a lot of 19th (and early 20th) century fiction you can find references to arsenic green or even just bright green as a poisonous color.” (1)
Herbalist Susun Weed has an explanation that is more complimentary to Witches. Reviewer Jan Colloway Baxter relates: “Susun’s explanation, told to her by the plants, is very satisfying. The breath of life, which flows through our heart and lung combination unit, comes from the plants, as they breathe out oxygen for us and take in the carbon dioxide we breathe out for them… The green of the plants and the green of the witch’s skin remind us of this connection. Green gives us heart, in the most literal way.” (2) (See knotmove.com/pagan-in-boston/chlorophyll for this Examiner’s take on this biological process and the importance of green plants.)
Rev. Don Lewis HP, Wiccan and scholar of Witchcraft history, says, “The first time that I know of that a Witch is shown as being green is ‘The Wizard of Oz’ [in 1939]. It definitely doesn’t come from the book,” In the book, he explains, the Wicked Witch of the West was actually associated with the color yellow. “It was partly to show off the Technicolor, partly to carry the ‘emerald’ theme further. It isn’t the first instance of the color green being associated with Witchcraft, but it is the first instance of a green-faced Witch.” (3)
For more on this topic, see pe-eft.blogspot.com/2009/02/green-witch-of-oz.html.
Learn more about green and what it represents at knotmove.com/pagan-in-boston/symbolism-of-the-color-green.
(1) ozclubforums.yuku.com/topic/2691, a 5/2/11 post
(2) From an essay, © 2010 Jan Calloway Baxter, at www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/October10/healingwise.htm. To buy CDs with Ms. Weed’s original words, see www.herbalmedicinehealing.com/store/item_view.asp?estore_itemid=1000116. For more on Susun Weed, see www.herbshealing.com/SusunWeed.htm.
(3) Rev. Lewis owns the World of Witches Museum in Salem MA, which shows educational exhibits, conducts rituals open to the public, and will soon be participating in the reality show “The Witches of Salem.” For more information on the museum, see knotmove.com/pagan-in-boston/the-world-of-witches-museum-salem-ma.