History in the Wild podcast: Witchcraft

Blog post and podcast by Devon Hartwig.

The inspiration for “Witchcraft” came as a combination of my love for all things fantasy as well as an interest in the Early Modern period. The history surrounding witchcraft in the world is a unique blend of fear of the unknown, mysticism, and more recently it has become a symbol of female empowerment. I set out to learn more about the intersection between these traits, and although I only scratched the surface, I think there’s something in here for everyone. 

Like many students that took HST 485 without doing proper research into the class, I was surprised to see the focus was on podcasting. For anyone who remains skeptical, historical podcasting is far and away the most accessible form of public facing historical interaction. In our increasingly connected lives many more people have access to a podcast than have the ability to visit all the wonderful museums we have available, podcasting relies just as much on the presentation as the information, but it is the premiere way to expose the public to a historical topic for the first time. 

“Witchcraft” is my humble attempt to contribute to the advancement of historical study by providing a ‘jumping off’ point for those with no other knowledge on the subject. Also I really just wanted to take Dr. Lazer’s “Witchcraft & Heresy in Europe” course but couldn’t fit it into my schedule, so this was the next best thing.

I’ve been both an academic historian and a history podcaster for about six years. I love doing it and I am constantly confronting the inconsistent (and sometimes conflicting) skill sets required for my parallel roles. I chose the topic of history podcasting for my HST 485 History in the Wild course and designed the course to be as collaborative and applicable as possible to their real-world needs. ASU’s humanities students deserve to take courses that harness their passions and natural curiosities so that building a wide variety of skills (our end goal) doesn’t feel like work. The podcasts that resulted from this course exceeded my expectations. –Dr. Marissa Rhodes, professor of HST 485: History in the Wild



Episode 1: In this episode we’ll cover what is a witch, the various regional differences, and where their power comes from. This episode serves as a foundation for the rest of the podcast.



Episode 2: In this episode, we go over some witch trials in history and the various acts that promoted them. Then we go on to talk about why someone would willingly become a witch.

Proposed logo of Witchcraft.

Tagline: Witches Throughout the Ages.

Title: Witchcraft!

Podcast Topic: General: The podcast will primarily focus on the origins of Witchcraft and the evolution of Witchcraft over time. Due to the many different topics available I think the best way to do this limited series over each section. So we might have a serious run of podcasts that discusses the historical beginnings of witchcraft. That would then evolve into runs about witches in Pop Culture, Witchcraft and Feminism (how witches have been used as a symbol against the patriarchy), Religions like Wicca, with the potential for other runs as they appear. 

Titles and descriptions of your two sample episodes:

Episode 1: What is a Witch?

In this episode we’ll cover what is a witch, the various regional differences, and where their power comes from. This episode serves as a foundation for the rest of the podcast. 

Episode 2: Witch Hunts and Power

Here we go over some witch trials in history and the various acts that promoted them. Then we go on to talk about why someone would willingly become a witch. 

Topic Ideas for an additional eight episodes:

Episode 3: Witch Familiars and where to find them

Episode 4: Wicca and it’s different forms

Episode 5: Witch Herbology and Folk Medicine 

Episode 6: Famous Individual Witches

Episode 7: Curses and Spells, which is witch

Episode 8: Russian and Far Eastern witches

Episode 9: Druidism and Witchcraft, Beginnings 

Episode 10: Salem Trial Breakdown

Format & Rationale: 15–30-minute episodes, like many podcasts there may be a need to extend the occasional episode or two for a topic that runs a bit long but not long enough for a two-episode break. It will feature the host speaking about the topics at hand and backing everything up with historical evidence.

POV/Approach/Style/Voice & Rationale: The goal here is to deliver an informative but entertaining analysis of Witchcraft through history, from its inception through early modern European times and finally analyzing it in its current state. It will be a semi-serious tone attempting to be as historically accurate as I can make it while also telling the story of how history influences popular culture.

Episode Frequency & Rationale: Due to the specific nature of the podcast this would be a limited run that would hopefully produce an episode once a month and have a definite end after a handful of episodes.

About the Host: My wife is a huge proponent of Women’s Empowerment and through her I’ve gained a viewpoint in all things that I didn’t have in the past. Combining this with my hobby of nerdy things I landed on the historical analysis of witchcraft which is represented in various media but also is a very real symbol for Feminism. The topic is interesting from a variety of standpoints, and I’d like to explore the historical analysis side of witchcraft from each of those standpoints and bring my audience along with me. 

Target Audience: The goal would be to make this podcast equally attractive to history buffs, those who want a better view of the historical role of women, actual self-proclaimed witches looking for more info on the topic, and maybe never nerds who like to base their knowledge off real word events. To break this down further:

A.) Explain why your podcast topic, format, POV/style, episode frequency, and host identity are attractive to your target audience 

While I personally enjoy much longer styled podcasts I understand many users enjoy a shorter listening experience. Instead of releasing hour long episodes I intend to release 15-20 episodes in a series, similar to Hardcore History but much shorter. In this way I believe I can capture the widest demographic of potential listeners.  

B.) Describe two ways you will reach your target demographic 

There are multiple avenues we could explore, advertising on DnD shows could capture us more fantasy/nerdy audiences (Being on critical role would be amazing). Local Ren faires could get us listeners who are more keen on the historically accurate side of the story. 

C.) How will you develop a sense of community and belonging among your listeners?

We could do twitter polls on episode themes; I’ve mentioned nerds I could adapt Dungeons and Dragons material to be witch themed for patreons. A short series of guest interviews would be abnormal to our proposed format but could certainly occur on a limited basis. 

D.) What kinds of folks do you anticipate will object to or dislike your podcast? 

The internet is full of contrarians, as long as the historical accuracy of my show is up to snuff the rest of the mistakes I make along the way will just be building blocks for the channel. Normally I take the stance of not interacting with detractors unless they’re providing constructive criticism in good faith, I would definitely adopt that stance moving forward. 

E.) What are some ways you can market your podcast to steer away folks who expect something different and will be disappointed? 

Hopefully by being upfront about the topic and mission statement of the show we drive away those who are uninterested. I’ve never heard of the term “hate listener” before but hopefully we’d be able to either adapt their issues into a way that builds on the show or tune out those voices. I am inexperienced with the idea of actively steering an unwanted audience away from a show so I would likely have to ask more experienced podcasters for help in that regard. 

Why is your podcast needed? Though it has been increased in visibility I think the realm of women in history is an important topic and through Witchcraft we see a very interesting emergence of women’s issues and a source of female empowerment. I’d like for the show to be an enlightening experience for all involved. 

Spotify has a number of Witch themed podcasts, “Cats, Tea, and Witchcraft”, “Seeking Witchcraft”, and “Herbal Witchery” are the top three, but these don’t have the heavy focus on historical analysis the way I’d like to show. 

Many of the reviews for these podcasts feature people just getting into the topic who are excited to learn more about the topic. Seeking Witchcraft seems to focus on “Gardenian” witchcraft while we aim to focus on the historical relevance and focus less on individual sects of the Wiccan faith, though series on those sects would be great episodes. They all seem to have overall great reviews though, many focus on the sound quality. Were I to aim in drastically increasing the listenership I would need to invest much time in recording and audio production efforts alone. 

What auxiliary components would you launch alongside the podcast?

I really appreciate the way Dan Carlin lists all the materials used in each show, I would definitely bring that forward and host a website with merch, a blog that is less about historical accuracy and more quick musings about Witchcraft and the world around it, as well as bibliographies of all the sources used in each episode. Transcripts would be big for accessibility which would also be a large focus, reaching any interested listener regardless of disability would be worth all the time necessary. 

Describe some of the feedback you received in your peer reviewers and what you did to address these criticisms:

While I did not have the time to overhaul the episodes the way I would have liked I have noted them for posterity. 

Including more information about the trials, due to the time constraints of the course I was unable to go as in depth as I would have liked, but adding more primary sources and making a very richly detailed account would definitely be a great improvement to the show. 

Being mindful of those with Wiccan faith. I tried to add a few fun flourishes throughout the episodes but was correctly noted as potentially treading of the faith for those witches who practice Wicca as faith and not for fun. In order to prevent any issues in the future I would attempt to learn more about the formal side of the religion and potentially interview those of the faith for their opinions and find out what is “taboo” and what things might be allowed. 

Describe some of the feedback you received from the instructor and what you did to address those criticisms:

The above note about more detail came from the instructor. I have the sources in my bibliographies for more information but unfortunately I was unable to dig deeper into specific court cases to get the real meaty details that we all would have loved.