Thousands of women were slain after being accused of witchcraft. Don’t they deserve more than the evil cackling hag stereotype? A powerful new book blows away the satanic baby-eating myths

We all know what a witch looks like. A gnarled old face full of warts with teeth missing and bright green skin. Then there’s the long black coat, the tall black hat and let’s not forget the sizable crooked nose, sniffing the fumes rising from a bubbling cauldron in a room festooned with cobwebs.

But that’s not what witches look like at all, or at least not according a hefty new art book being published in time for Halloween. In this compendium of witchy women, from Renaissance paintings to modern Wicca, the caricature of the evil hag is turned upside down. Witchcraft, the latest volume in Taschen’s Library of Esoterica, finds evidence from artists as diverse as Auguste Rodin and Kiki Smith for its revisionist view that witches are typically young, glamorous practitioners of highly sexualised magick. The cover painting, by Victorian artist JW Waterhouse, depicts the ancient enchantress Circe in pale, red-lipped pre-Raphaelite ecstasy – and the fun just keeps coming. The witches here are powerful feminist sex goddesses whose rites and incantations are joyously subversive.

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