February will mark 9 years since the Passing of Alan Eames, the “Indiana Jones of Beer” or “Beer King” as he was often referred. Alan dubbed himself a beer anthropologist, traveling the world digging up the history of beer, he owned and operated Three Dollar Deweys in Portland, Maine and Brattleboro, Vermont and was a founding director of the American Museum of Brewing History and Fine Arts in Mitchell, Kentucky. He penned seven books and many articles on beer.
I stumbled across an article in reprint, Mike Caprio pulled a cached copy of Alan Eames article titled “Of Witchcraft, Brewsters and Beer” and placed it on his blog to keep it alive. I though, considering the subject matter and the time of year it would be fun to dive into Alan’s article and share his take on the iconic Halloween Witch, feel free to bounce over to Mike’s blog to read the original article, I’ll be breaking it down here with quotes but Alan’s original work is worth a read.
“Some 10 years ago on a warm Vermont autumn afternoon I saw the witch.” But it wasn’t a real witch, Alan describes a Halloween decoration in a shop window, a jig saw cut out in the form of an old and ugly woman bent over a bubbling caldron with her broomstick and black cat. The Witch we all recognize but not the witch history recognizes. In many cultures the Witch isn’t the hideous creature we associate with Halloween but “a witch was always a creature of outstanding beauty. Ancient witches seduced men, not with spells but through drop-dead good looks.” Alan credits the Christian Church for changing popular perception of the Witch in the mid-15th century as an attempt to “muscle in on the beer business.”
Secret Female Stuff
Alan saw the cut out for what it really represented, a Brewster. “Her black cauldron – impossible to mistake – was a brewing vessel, its shape unchanged for thousands of years. There was even barm – yeast – bubbling over the top” Women were traditionally the brewers “In all ancient cultures, beer was believed to be a gift from a goddess – never a male god.” Prior to Louis Pasteur nobody understood what was happening in the fermentation process “Before Pasteur, it was all goddesses, spirits, and magic. Secret female stuff.”
Alan set out to dig up information on Witchcraft in old archives in France, Germany and Scotland, this is where he found records on accused Witches including last known occupation. “I was stunned to discover that some 60 percent of those who had occupations referred to themselves as brewster, alewife, or midwife.” Which he then associates with the rise of the early Church, the birth of male-run breweries and the creation of guilds for Physician and Surgeons. Basically it’s “a suppression of women and all things feminine”.
Alan then goes on to break down the classic image of a witch, the Cauldron having already been explained above as her brewing vessel, let’s look at some of the other items:
The Broom – Brewster’s with a surplus of beer on hand would sell their product, to signal they had wares to sell they would place a broom in the road in front of their house. When villages began to grow to increase their chances of being seen they would hang their broom over their door “In time, houses became so crowded together, some enterprising Brewster hung her broom – cantilevered – over the door – thus was born the first of all trade signs.” And Why a broom? “By the 10th century, the ubiquitous broom had become the quintessential symbol of a woman’s household.”
The Hat – we all know about that tall pointy black hat with wide brim, it doesn’t need to be perched upon a head to be recognized as a witches hat, but why? “Our witch/midwife has her best days selling ales at fairs and festivals” Serving a dual purpose, wearing a hat outside would protect the Brewster against the elements and being a large hat would make them stand out in a crowd “Looking down an endless line of booths, a brewster was easy to find towering over everyone with her two to three foot high “witch” hat.”
The Cat – No Halloween Witch worth her salt would be caught without a black cat, but why would our Brewster need one? “Anyone who has had stores of grain in the house will know. Rats! Rural women whose livelihood depended on the reputation of their ale protected their costly ingredients.”
There you have it the Modern Halloween Witch is an amalgamation of the Brewster and Midwife. Alan considers how it would appear, a woman widowed or never married, living alone and independent, making money by selling beer or acting as a healer with herbs and plants gathered from the woods, the beer, mushrooms and herbs having mind and mood altering powers. This happening at a time when the church is rising in power, men are starting to establish commercial breweries, physicians are establishing guilds, taverns are opening and tax collectors want their piece, “it was inevitable that these eccentric brewster/midwives would feed the fires of an inquisition that would claim the lives of tens of thousands of women.”
Alan concludes his article with:
“Now, only the faintest echo lingers from the voices of these doomed women. Once a year, in October, the image of these unfortunate women emerges – at Halloween.”
And a dedication:
“This article is dedicated to the memory of my ancestor, Rebecca Eames of Boxford, MA. She was condemned to death for witchcraft on September 17, 1692. Rebecca Eames was unique – not only confessing to having had sex with the Devil – but worse – having enjoyed it.”
I thought this was a fun article, his original piece is a great read, far more in depth for those who want more details on the matter, I hope you enjoyed this and that the truth about Witches and the memory of Alan Eames, The Indiana Jones of Beer, live on.