Originally Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2013, 7:11 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 24, 2013, 10:08 pm

Putnam speaker explores history of witches

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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Holding a broom and wearing a witch's hat, Alison McCrary, of Davenport, a member of the Putnam Museum Guild who has a master's degree in theology, talks to members and guests about the history of witches at the Putnam Museum on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Trying on a witch's hat, Alison McCrary, of Davenport, a member of the Putnam Museum Guild with a master's degree in theology, talks to members and guests about the history of witches at the Putnam Museum on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.

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.

"I like all of it," she said.