DAVENPORT -- With a tall, black, pointy witch's hat, Alison McCrary stood at the front of the room, her broom nearby and, beside it, a white pumpkin.
Dozens gathered at tables Thursday in the Putnam Museum in Davenport to hear Ms. McCrary speak on the history of witches during a tea for the Putnam Museum Guild Inc., an organization that raises funds and supports the museum.
In a flowing top and black skirt, Ms. McCrary -- a guild member -- said she spoke on witches, "not because I am one," but because her master's degree in theology has given her some background knowledge of them.
The subject of witches is "loaded," she said, noting that, had she told her audience she was a witch, there would have been "a lot of mixed feelings in the group." Some would think it was cool, she said, while others would be horrified.
Her presentation included YouTube clips on the many ways witches and witchcraft are interpreted.
She traced the history of witches in western society to Greek mythology's Medea, a sorceress who cast spells to help and protect her husband, Jason, the leader of the Argonauts. Medea also did some not-so-good things, too, such as killing her brother and scattering pieces of his body into the waters.
Using a "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" clip, she discussed the perception of witches in the 16th and 17th centuries. While some at the time may have worshiped the devil, Ms. McCrary said, everyone considered a witch was lumped into that category.
She said witches would be tested with "prickers," the pinching or poking of areas of the body thought to be the "devil's mark." If it was a true devil's mark, the pinching or pricking wouldn't hurt.
There also was a swimming test, she said. The accused were thrown into water, she said, and if you floated, "you're guilty."
By the 1690s, 144 people had been accused of being a witches and 54 confessed to it. Nineteen people were hanged and one person was pressed to death, Ms. McCrary said.
Today, witches who are pagan or wiccan have a "religion of originality," Ms. McCrary said. They are not associated with the devil, she said, nor is the religion one that has been passed down from pre-Christian times.
Ms. McCrary said she thought the history of witches was an interesting subject.
"I like the psychology of it," she said. "It tells us a lot about us as human beings -- good and bad."
Zoe, 7, and Seth Wanek, 6, of Moline, came to the presentation with their dad, Matt, because it seemed like a fun thing to do near Halloween. Zoe plans to dress as a witch for the holiday and said her purple and black costume includes a belt, a broom and a "black and pointy" hat with purple around it.
Witches are "cool," Zoe said, but she couldn't explain what made them that way.
Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000. 1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city. 1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association. 1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College. 1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.