People have been describing witches, wizards, and their unholy union with Satan long before
Harry Potter established the mainstream idea of what magical fashion might look like or the TV
show Lucifer revealed that the Devil does indeed have red skin.
But who decided that pointy hats and dark, flowing robes are appropriate witch attire? What
made people imagine that brooms and flying carpets are perfect for magical transportation? And
why does the Devil end up with horns and a pointy tail?
Every culture has its ideas about what magic and sorcery are supposed to look like. Every new
book or show alters how people imagine the unnatural. So, here’s a closer look at the origin of
some of the most popular elements of magical lore and their evolution through history.
Wands and Staffs
Magical wands are universally associated with any form of enchantments or sorcery and appear
in almost all sorts of fantasy media, from movies to games, and are even used by professional
“magicians” as a way to distract people from their sleight of hand. But where did the magic wand
Some of the oldest imagery of wand-like apparatus can be found with the Ancient Zoroastrians
(9th century BCE) used – a barsom- to represent certain aspects of creation. However, there’s
no established link between barsoms and magic.
The first written records of wands and staffs come from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey- many of the
Greek deities wielded staffs of which Hermes’ caduceus is most popularly known today. Circe
was also shown to have a wand that she used to turn men into pigs.
The idea of wands disappeared during the era of Ancient Rome and reappeared during the
Middle Ages. Grimoires from that time were very concerned with binding rituals, summoning
rituals, incantations, and curses – all of which required magic to be channelled through wands. It
is during this point of history that our current ideas of wands and magic began to form.
Thanks to Harry Potter and Disney’s Aladdin, almost everyone is familiar with brooms and flying
carpets being used as a form of transport. However, stories about them have existed for
Magic carpets are derived from actual stories about levitating carpets from ancient Arabian texts
and are most commonly associated with stories found in Thousand and One Nights, but they
have been mentioned in writings of different civilizations throughout history.
Magic carpets stories seem to have their roots in Persia – famed for its textile production and
their handmade rugs have always been a very sought-after and expensive luxury item. The
popularity of luxurious rugs in societies of yore probably led to tales about levitating carpets.
Flying broomsticks, however, have a slightly more notorious origin based on plant
hallucinogens. During the Middle Ages, alkaloids from several plants such as belladonna,
mandrake, hemlock, and henbane were used to make potions and salves for sorcery. At some
point, it was discovered that these hallucinogens would work much faster when absorbed via
rectal and vaginal routes.
These ointments were often applied using… broomsticks. Combined with the fact that they were
used to “get high” and induced a flying sensation, gave rise to the depiction of witches riding
The Witch Attire
Before the modern depictions of witches dressed in all black and pointy hats, their main attire
was believed to be nudity. The increasing popularity of the “witch outfit” is partly rooted in
antisemitism and the publishing revolution of the sixteenth century.
Witches were often used as scapegoats for the problems in society hence one of the theories
about the origin of pointed hats is that they were based on the cone-shaped judenhats that Jews
in Hungary were forced to wear in 1215 AD to distinguish them from Christians. Soon after,
during the European Witch Hunts, people accused of practising magic were forced to wear the
Jews and witches were often shown wearing pointed hats and performing satanic rituals or
being burned alive in mediaeval artwork and the image of the hat stuck. Chapbooks containing
images of witches wearing pointed hats were mass produced during the publishing revolution in
the sixteenth century further cementing the pointed hat and long, black gown image of witches.
Other popular theories include the hat being based on those of the witches of Subeshi (a trio of
mummies from China), the Phrygian cap of Mithraism (a Greco-Roman mystery cult), or alewife
The Bible never describes the appearance of Satan but Christian art since the 9th century often
depicts him with horns, hooves, a tail, and holding a pitchfork. All of these traits were derived
from older Pagan religions in an effort to demonise them. The cloven feet were taken from Pan,
the Greek God of the wild. The pitchfork came from Poseidon’s trident.
The devil was not always shown to be red- in the Middle Ages and in Islamic paintings, he was
depicted with black skin to symbolise his corrupt nature. The red skin is a recent development
possibly stemming from his description as the Great Red Dragon in the Book of Revelation.
By the sixteenth century, all these bits and pieces from old religions solidified into the current
image of Satan to portray him as a beast and the personification of evil who stood against the
Church and mankind.
The pentacle was originally a symbol of balance, protection, and harmony. They were magical
talismans believed to have power over angels, demons, and spirits which explains their
modern-day connection to summoning and banishing rituals.
By the sixteenth century, an inverted pentacle with two vertices pointing upwards came to
represent the two horns of the “Goat of Lust” (the Devil) and the symbol acquired its negative
connotations. The inversion of the pentacle came to symbolise the inversion of the nature of