Are Green-Skinned Witch Decorations Offensive?

Are green witches ugly? Not necessarily. Image by Lauren Bates/Moment Open/Getty Images

A reader asks, “I’m not sure if I’m overreacting or not. Every year at Halloween, there are green, ugly, warty witches everywhere and my son keeps asking me to buy one. I don’t want him to think that witches are ugly – after all, his mommy is a witch – but it seems like it’s all over the place at Halloween. On the other hand, I know it’s meant in the spirit of fun and silliness, and I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that’s small. How can I figure out a way to talk to my son about the stereotypes of the ugly witches, without making him feel bad about liking silly decorations? Should I even be offended about this?

You know, I see this come up periodically each fall as the Samhain season rolls in. First of all, understand that it's not up to me or anyone else to tell you how sensitive or offended you should or shouldn't be about anything. That's a matter of personal choice.

People tend to fall into different camps on this topic. There’s one group that flat out believes that green, ugly witches at Halloween are just as offensive as caricatures of Jewish people or African Americans, and we should just stamp all of it out, because it promotes intolerance and bigotry. There’s another group of people that recognizes that it’s meant in fun, and that everyone knows witches aren’t really green and hideous, so it’s perfectly okay. Like you, a lot of folks are somewhere in the middle – it may be bothersome, but it’s not deliberately intended to offend people who are practicing witches.

For me personally, I’m not troubled by the green witch decorations – and yes, a full disclaimer here, I own a nine-foot inflatable green witch in a purple dress, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, because I think she’s hilarious (she does tend to drunkenly fall over during high winds, though).

I’m also not offended – again, this is my own personal experience and opinion – by the green witch décor, because I know that my own skin is quite lovely, and not the least bit green. Because of that, it’s hard for me to get upset about this. Now, just because I’m not bothered by it doesn’t mean that other people can’t or shouldn’t be; I’m simply stating my own experience here.

I'm certainly never going to tell anyone that they have no right to be offended by something.

The first documented imagery of a witch with green skin isn’t in any sort of ancient esoteric text – in fact, it comes to us from Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. While the Wicked Witch is definitely an unpleasant sort in that film, author Gregory Maguire puts a completely different spin on the same character, in his novel Wicked. The stage version of Wicked shows a young Elphaba – she who would later become the Wicked Witch of the West – as a sympathetic character. As played by Idina Menzel and a number of other accomplished performers, Elphaba is anything but hideous.

Here’s what I would suggest – and there are a couple of different responses you can use, depending on whether you’re one of our readers who is bothered by the green witch thing, or whether you’re not:

  • If you find green ugly witches to be stereotypical and offensive, here’s a conversation you might have with your child: Some people like green witches, but I don’t, and here’s why. Mommy is a witch, and I’m not green or ugly. When people hang up those green ugly witches, it bothers me, because it says something about witches that isn’t true.
  • If you don’t really care much about the decorations with the ugly, warty witches, then tailor your approach likewise: Well, I’m not bothered by those, because I’m a witch and I’m not green/ugly/warty, so if you’d like to have one hanging up as a decoration, that’s totally fine.

It’s also important to keep a couple of other aspects of this issue in mind. First, remember that while some people interpret the green witch stereotype as a slam against their religious beliefs, the vast majority of non-Pagan people don’t typically think of witchcraft as a religion at all, so it's rooted more in ignorance than in willful maliciousness. And even among practicing witches, there are different interpretations as to whether witchcraft itself is a religion, or whether it’s merely a skill set that is utilized within a spiritual context.

Second, keep in mind that not all of the green witch images are ugly – consider the aforementioned Elphaba, for instance. Angelina Jolie looks pretty hot as Maleficent (although she doesn't appear to be green all the time - perhaps it's just the lighting?), and every year at Samhain there are memes that come out with some decidedly sexy witches who happen to be green-skinned.

The bottom line is it’s your home, so you get to decide what Halloween/Samhain decorations you’d like to have. If your son wants a green witch and you’re not bothered by it, go for it. If you feel like it promotes negative stereotypes, choose some other décor instead.

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Wigington, Patti. "Are Green-Skinned Witch Decorations Offensive?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/green-skinned-witch-decorations-2562665. Wigington, Patti. (2016, August 31). Are Green-Skinned Witch Decorations Offensive? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/green-skinned-witch-decorations-2562665 Wigington, Patti. "Are Green-Skinned Witch Decorations Offensive?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/green-skinned-witch-decorations-2562665 (accessed November 22, 2017).