The witches are back (and why they were never gone)

The witches are back, not only in the 2020 movie by Robert Zemeckis based on the story by Roald Dahl. One may think that witches are a thing of the past. However, there are a surprising number of people who identify as witches on social media, stressing their individualistic, nature-loving, creative and sometimes reclusive natures. Check out #witch on . One post there reads:

And it’s true. In an enlightened age we know there was little to fear about witches, and yet kids grow up with scary stories about them, and we should certainly ask ourselves who were those cruel people who burned the witches? In the village I grew up in, there lived an old woman who we kids feared and thought of as a witch secretly. She was skinny, with a moustache and lived alone with her chickens inside her little house. She was very reclusive but rumoured to be highly intelligent. What she wasn’t: evil. However, she might easily have been considered an evil witch if she had been born a millennium earlier. What made people so afraid of witches and where did they come from in the first place?

Witches and witchcraft are old and date back to shamanism in prehistoric times. Shamanism is about healing: spiritual, mental and physiological, including herbal medicine. So, this pushes the question back to how did Shamanism originate. There is a very close connection between schizophrenia and shamanisms. Shamans become shamans in their late teens to early 20s, about the same age range that schizophrenia is typically diagnosed (17–25) in men (). Every shaman started with a crisis similar to those here who are called schizophrenic, psychotic. We encounter an interesting paradox here: Schizophrenia patients in developing countries seem to fare better than their Western counterparts despite much better medical infrastructure. This face becomes less surprising when considering that shamans are usually venerated for their magical powers rather than declared crazy and dysfunctional. They do have an important role in society, one that is denied to many neurodiverse people in Western societies.

This is not to say that every self-proclaimed witch and every witch in history suffered from schizophrenia. However, they certainly tended to have neurodiverse tendencies in the widest sense, including non-conformism, isolationism and most likely cognitive and learning differences that allowed them to perceive nature differently and to come up with their “magic powers”. Moreover, many of these witches were probably also socially awkward and failed to attract a partner. People, being people, feared those witches who were so different from them. I have argued before that most neurodiverse people are evolutionary hunter-gatherer types, whereas most neurotypicals are farmer-herder types. These types were identified in ancient Ayurveda as Vata (hunter-gatherer), pitta (herder) and Kapha (farmer). Of course, most people are a mix of these ancient “tribes”, but there are also often strong tendencies towards a primary type.

In Ayurveda people with Vata dosha (body type) are described like this ():

Face : The shape of the face of a person with a vata nature is oblong. The thinner the face, the greater amount of vata that is present.

Skin : The skin of a person with a vata nature tends to be dry and thin. The skin of the lips may appear chapped and the dry skin may lead to dandruff and flaky patches on the body.

Bones : the bone structure of a person with a vata nature tends to be narrow. Narrow is a relative term that assesses the circumference of a bone relative to its length.

Neck : The shape of the bones is often reflected in the neck. Vata types tend to have long necks that are narrow and not very muscular.

Hands People of vata nature tend to have long, narrow fingers. The longest finger is most often longer than the length of the palm. The palm itself tends to be long and its shape is rectangular.

Body Build : The overall body build of a person of vata nature or imbalance tends to be narrow, or ectomorphic. This reflects their light quality. They tend to be skinny without much musculature. Taken as a whole, it is observed that the length of their body is long relative to the circumference of their body.

Now imagine all these traits in an elderly lady and you get a picture that is uncannily close to the usual descriptions and depictions of witches: skinny body, long neck and face, as well as long spidery fingers.

Vata psychology is often described like this: lofty, airy (head in the clouds), creative, anti-conformist, prone to anxiety, depression, insomnia and gastrointestinal problems. All of these are typical “comorbidities” in autism. Little surprising that witches have always been interested in herbs that mitigate digestion problems that may stem from allergies to “farmer foods” (wheat and dairy). Last, but not least, it is also well-known that neurodiverse people often have special relationships to animals, who they often find easier to understand than their fellow humans. Such as cats, or chickens.

It’s not too hard to understand why witches were feared from this perspective. Farmer types love conformism and sameness and often misunderstood those poor creatures who were most likely even more afraid of them than the “neurotypicals” feared those neurodiverse witches. Perhaps it’s time to start celebrating witches rather than fearing them.

In case you would like to know more about hunter-gatherer type people check out our book:

Originally published at on March 3, 2021.

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