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Origins and design
The origins of the witch hat as displayed today is disputed. A common theory is that it is an exaggeration of the edgeless hats associated with the Welsh and later the Puritans, or an exaggeration of the conical hats believed to stimulate the brain of the wearer. These "thinking caps" are the precursors to the modern dunce cap. Church despised pointy hats given that the points were often related to those of the devil's horns. The witch hat is a more brimmed version of the cone-shaped hats commonly worn by male-gendered wizards and magicians, as the hat was more brimmed for it to be female-appropriate. As of the Victorian era, fairy tales began depicting black-colored conical hats and crones as symbols of wickedness in their illustrations. Another possibility is that in Luna, a town of the Etruscan civilization, there were coins on one side depicting a goddess commonly associated with witches, named Diana, wearing a brimless, cone-shaped hat.
Many woodcuts made during the Middle Ages show witches wearing a variety of different hats, such as headscarves, or witches not even having any head-wear at all and instead showing their hair being windblown. In a lot of modern art, witches are often seen bareheaded or wearing headbands with religious symbols printed on them, such as crescent moons. In religious art, priestesses of the highest power wear a headband as their crown, while the highest-power male priests wear helmets with horns or antlers.
The conical hat has historically been associated with both men and women of high status, especially those in religious positions. The priests and priestesses of the Ancient world frequently donned high conical head gear as part of their priestly regalia, presumably to symbolize their connection to heavenly or divine powers. In Ancient Egypt, the crown associated with Pharaohs served to symbolize their priestly roles as well as their position as absolute rulers. In Asia this was also true with women, the best example being that of the Queens of Mongolia. The higher the hat or boqta, the higher the status. In early Medieval Europe, conical hats had a similar history. First they were most often associated with priestly functions among both men and women, and then as a mark of scholars, learned or wise women. Similarly, the conical hat made the transition from religious to secular significance in Europe. It became a mark of high status as the lives of the elite came to be more separate from those of the rest of the population. This was reflected in the fashions among nobility and royalty. The hennin or high conical hat became associated with high born ladies and a clear indicator that the wearer was someone who need not labor. In Galicia, it is considered by its people as a symbol of luck.
How did the conical hat go from being associated with high status, religious or learned women to being a symbol of scorn or evil? By the late Middle Ages, centuries of war and feudalism began to take their toll on societies. With economic and political unrest, social unrest followed. Fearful of what a disaffected peasantry could do to challenge their power, the Catholic Church along with the Noble families of Europe found convenient scapegoats for the ills of society in their pursuit of witches. It also proved quite profitable. It was during the Inquisition that the conical hat first became associated with something shameful. Those who were accused of heresy, teachings that went against church doctrine, were made to wear the capirote to humiliate them. It is thought very likely by many scholars that the Church deliberately chose this symbol in order to undermine the authority of those in European society who were respected for their knowledge when that knowledge came from any source other than the Catholic Church. Women, particularly, made easy targets. High born women were then attacked for their vanity and sinfulness. Those who made dresses too ornate were punished, and the conical hats quickly disappeared from fashion as being sinful indulgences. Having already successfully reduced an ancient symbol of wisdom to one of vanity and then to shame, it was not such a far step for the Church to further turn it into a symbol of evil and magic.
This hat has been worn by the following fictional characters:
- The Wicked Witch of the West, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900
- Gandalf, from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, 1937
- Jennifer (Veronica Lake), from I Married a Witch, 1942
- Samantha Stephens, from Bewitched, 1964
- Orko, from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, 1983
- Minerva McGonagall, from Harry Potter (the story includes a character that is itself such a hat), 1997
Depending upon the material in which the hat is made, the crown may regularly be observed in a flexed, bent or crumpled condition.
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- Guiley, Rosemary (2010). The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca. Infobase Publishing. p. 396.