Redheads and Witchcraft: A History of Red Hair

Posted by Posh Goth on

Redhead and witchcraft

(Posh Goth) - Redheads have a somewhat sordid past. Depending on who you ask and what century they hail from, you'll find that throughout history, redheads have been feared, adored, loathed, shunned - and in extreme cases killed just for possessing this rare genetic trait. (It is estimated that a mere 1-2% of the world's population has naturally occurring red hair.) 

Soul Suckers

We've all heard the common stereotypes involving redheads: fiery tempers, highly sexual, can't go in the sun, thieves of souls, etc. While some of these stereotypes ring true in my experience, it still doesn't soften the sting of us being cast in a negative light for centuries. 

The persecution of redheads goes as far back to medieval times. During the Middle Ages, anyone who had red hair and green eyes got the scarlet letter. They were cast away as vampires, werewolves, and at the very least - witches. 

Isolation from society was widely reported on during the Spanish Inquisition of 1478, where anyone in Christian Europe who had red hair was shunned entirely from society, and left to lay with other wrongly-deemed cockroaches (such as the Jews).  

In modern times, redheaded children are mocked, taunted, and bullied in the school-yard. 


Maybe She's Born With It. Maybe it's Witchcraft.

In medieval Germany alone, it is estimated that 45,000 people were burned at the stake just for having red hair. Across all of medieval Europe, the total numbers of those burned at the stake for being witches exceeds 60,000. Many historical records cite a high number of those burned as being red heads. (It couldn't possibly be due to Scotland acting as host country to a large proportion of the medieval witch trials now could it?)

As discussed in the Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, there are historical reports of ancient Pagans dying their hair red to partake in certain rituals. It was a widely accepted notion among the ancient Pagans that red hair bestowed upon the person certain magickal powers.

 The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and WiccaView on Amazon

It would be easy for one to surmise that when Christianity marched its destructive path towards the ancient green Isles, the fiery-haired and equally fiery-tempered Pagans who fought back against the Christian invaders became themselves the victims of a wildly popular smear campaign launched by the Romans. 

I'm happy to report that society at large has come a long way from the dark days of burning folks alive because of hair color. However, society still has a long way to go in regards to the persistent stigmas surrounding not only hair color; but skin color, disabilities, eccentricities, etc. I could go on all day here. 

As for us redheads, we don't steal souls, we are not all ill-tempered, and we are not vampires. I will say that I'm a left-handed, green-eyed ginger, and I'm glad to exist in the 21st century.

A Tad Salty

Maybe we are a little pasty and sun-averse, and maybe we are a little bit temperamental - but can you blame us for being a little salty about what society has done historically to our ancient ancestors?


Famous Redheads

  1. Lilith - In Jewish mythology, Lilith was the flame-haired wife of Adam. She was banished from the Garden of Eden because she essentially wasn't going to let Adam wear the pants in their relationship. She pretty much got a bum rap after that, and was accused of being a baby-stealing sex witch that had an affair with the demon Samael.

    LilithLilith (1887) by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery

  2. Eve - The first woman of Earth - handpicked by God himself -  was a redhead. All historical depictions (i.e. paintings, Biblical interpretations) of both Eve and Adam portray them as redheads. Eve - whom was convinced by the Serpent to eat forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil - subsequently convinces Adam that it's a great idea for him to do the same. Well word gets back to God and he condemns The Serpent, Adam, and Eve from the Garden of Eden, thereby banishing them from eternal life.
    Creation of Eve Michelangelo
    The Creation of Eve, from the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo

  3. Mary Magdalene - Mary Magdalene started her career trajectory as a prostitute, and ended it with becoming a Saint. Talk about turning over a new leaf! She is widely accepted as an important figurehead in the spread of Christianity. She was Jesus' sidekick, and accompanied him throughout his travels spreading the good word across the land. It is reported that she was by his side when he was crucified and buried, and she is noted as being the first person to have witnessed his resurrection. She has been embodied as a redhead in numerous works of art throughout history.
    Mary MagdaleneMagdalene Reading (c. 1500–1510) by Piero di Cosimo
  4. Queen Elizabeth I - Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from November 1558 until her death in 1603. Her virginity was a source of celebration across her kingdoms, and she was the last Monach of The House of Tudor. Much like Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth found herself a sidekick in a man by the name of John Dee. John Dee was a kind of mysterious character; he claimed he could talk to angels and he was peddling some pretty blasphemous stuff (astrology, occultism) for his time. He was renowned for his book collection on all subjects - history, art, alchemy, astrology were some of the genres in his collection of over 3,000 books. It's unclear when his path first crossed with Elizabeth's, but what is clear is that she ate his bullshit up. She drank his Kool-Aid and lots of it. The Queen made him her personal advisor and astrologist in no time. He would hold seances for her, and would perform rituals and spells at her beckoning. After the Queen's death in 1603, this well-learned man was largely painted by scholars as a mere fool; a hired court jestor in the House of Tudor's History.  

    Queen Elizabeth John Dee
    John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I" (Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913), Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

    Further Reading 

    This section contains affiliate marketing links.

    Red: A History of the RedheadView on Amazon


    Witchcraft in Europe
    View on Amazon

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