The Nigh-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches

Mehdi Maghsoodnia
9 min readApr 15, 2021

This article was written by my daughter Elena Maghsoodnia while studying at NYU. It took many centuries for male dominated political institutions (often under the flag of religion) to create and control the narrative around the role of women in society. It will take many generations of strong leaders like Elena to undo the damage.

The concepts of witches and female deities are long entrenched in cultures worldwide, appearing in literature and art time and time again, though the implications often changed. From wise women to evil demons, the perception of women that stood outside of the norms of society rose and fell through history, reaching points of incredible persecution at many times. As polytheistic practices weaned throughout Europe, and religious missionaries spread the churches ideals, acceptance for women who lived independently of others, or practiced old rituals rapidly declined, until there was an international agreement that such women were clearly workers of Satan. Henry Fuseli’s The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches, once renamed to Lapland Orgies by Fuseli, stands as a clear representative of such. Meant to depict a representation of the goddess Hecate amidst a clear act of ritual witchcraft. Unmistakably a work of horror, meant as such by Fuseli, it paints a dark reality for modern audiences. A culmination of anti-witch sentiments of the 1400s and on, the pervasiveness of Christian influence, and the raging misogyny of the time, the painting gives a glimpse into the place of women in history, particularly powerful ones.

In Ancient Greece and many surrounding societies, the goddess Hecate was a revered part of the pantheon. Most often titled as the goddess of magic, witchcraft, and the crossroads. She was a beloved protector of the oikos, a household goddess, among Athena, Zeus, and with women often keeping shrines to her in return for safety in their homes. “Hekate was worshipped in five primary roles … Propylaia (Guardian), Propolos (Guide and Companion), Phosphoros (Light-Bringer), Kourotrophos (Goddess of Women), and Chthonia (Goddess of the Underworld)” (Rose, 2001, p. 174). Commonly depicted as a beautiful dark haired woman, or in a triple goddess form, Hecate was nearly equal to the King of Gods in standing and power, though she functioned as a watcher remaining on the outskirts of worship. Yet with the fall…