Witch’s Hat: Ancient & Medieval Origins + Magical Uses Today
Next to the broom, no other object evokes the powerful image of the witch than the witch’s hat. At Halloween real witches and pretend witches don a black pointed cap, tall as the heavens. But, surprisingly, the witch’s pointed hat isn’t an ancient concept – it seemingly emerged in the 1700’s. So why is this accessory so ingrained in witch lore? Learn all about the history of the pointed witchy’s cap PLUS how to use one for magical purposes today.
The Witch’s Hat in Antiquity
No one is quite sure when and why witches began being depicted wearing the pointed hat. There are many theories, of which we will discuss a few here. My opinion is this – the true origins may never be known but it’s more complex than one simple explanation. It has many origins.
The Cone Heads in Ancient Egypt
Between two thousand and four thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians wore tall, cone-shaped hats. These cone headed Egyptians show up on everything from ancient murals to reliefs and coffins. Archaeologists first believed the cone-shaped hats were only worn by the dead, a belief that would be discredited later. Another theory was the cone hats were filled with herbs and perfumes, that as the Egyptian went about their day, would perfume and cover any body odors. This was also discredited.
The truth is the cone-shaped hats served a similar purpose to the shape of the pyramids. Pointing to the heavens and potentially serving as a “cone of power” to absorb divine energy from above. The cone hats might also relate to the Sun god Aten. The cone hat similar in appearance to the sun god’s pyramidal sun rays beaming down from above.
The Witch’s Hat Worn by the “Witches” of Subeshi
Another example of the “witch’s hat” in antiquity is the pointed hats worn by the Tarim mummies. A series of mummified humans have been found in the Tarim Basin in China in a lost city called Subeshi. Three of the female mummies wear tall, black pointed hats. One of the “Subeshi witches” also wore a thick, black glove indicating she hunted with raptors (something a shaman or mystical woman might have done during Iron Age China). While we don’t know if these women were witches, we know their hats look an awful lot like the traditional witch’s hat.
Medieval Origins of the Witch’s Hat
The pointed witch’s hat emerged in illustrations in the 1710’s-20’s, long after the Medieval Period had ended in the 15th century. Yet it looks just like hats from the Dark Ages.
The Medieval Hennin
In the fourteen hundreds, tall conical hats called Hennin became a popular fashion choice for European nobility. Some were pointed, truncated, or fixed with a veil. The Hennin was popular in England, Hungary and Northern European countries among queens, princesses, duchesses, etc. which gave way to the modern Princess costume we see at Halloween. According to Laurie Cabot (the official witch of Salem), the witch is depicted with a pointed hat because it was the fashion at that time.
The Alewife’s Hat and the Dunce Cap
Two other potential origins of the witch’s hat include the alewife’s tall hat and the dunce cap. The alewife’s hat, as shown here, is a tall, black cap similar to the pointed witch’s hat but a truncated version. Alewives were women who brewed beer in the Dark Ages. With a tall black hat, alewives stood out in a crowd and quicker to sell their wares.
The dunce cap is named for the Scottish philosopher John Duns Scotus. Scotus rubbed Protestants the wrong way and they began referring to un-intelligent people as a “Duns”. The dunce cap became a punishment in schools to show someone who is incapable of learning…or a “Duns”.
Or is it Anti-Semitic?
A particularly popular theory circulating social media this past Halloween was the witch’s hat as a symbol of anti-semitism. In the Dark Ages, in places like Hungary and other countries in Europe, Jewish men were required to wear a tall, pointed “jews’ cap” when out in public to distinguish them from other men. Originally, Jewish people chose to wear the pointed hats, but it became a way of persecuting and segregating the European Jewish population.
The Witch’s Hat: A Complex History
Just like with any other symbol, the pointed cap has been and can be used for good or evil. While this hat seems to be anti-semitic or insulting someone’s intelligence (dunce cap), history shows us it’s much more complex than that. I don’t believe we can claim one single origin for the witch’s hat. Nor do I believe it’s racist or wrong to wear a pointed hat with your witch costume for Halloween. If someone tells you it’s wrong, remind them the pointed hat has been around since ancient Egypt.
Enchanting a Witch’s Hat for Magical Purposes
We know a witch’s broom isn’t just an accessory, but what about the hat? Is it a magical tool? Of course! If you have a witch’s hat, consider decorating it with things that match your personality and/or intentions. For example, if you have a strong connection to air – add some feathers, bird charms, and ribbons. If you’d like to wear your witch’s hat during tarot reading sessions to increase intuition, choose a purple hat and add a ribbon with amethyst crystal charms. The witch’s hat, no matter the origins, acts as a cone of power. It connects the crown chakra with universal energy above.