The Neuroscience of Witches


Toads, spells, potions, flying brooms, and witch’s brews–witchcraft is all about neuroscience.

Witches have thrived through the centuries, and today many women still practice witchcraft. I’ve met a few. Peering by flickering candle light at dimly lit Tarot cards a self-proclaimed witch read my fortune one foggy night in New Orleans years ago. She predicted that one day I would write for Huffington Post. No, just kidding about the Huffington Post part, but she and her fellow Wiccans were an intriguing group of right-brained ladies. Cloaked in a cloud of patchouli vapor, adorned with crystal pendants and clutching strange totems, these sensitive women fully embrace the supernatural mysteries of the natural world. Witches worship and harness the mysterious power that is unique to the female sex (and brain). But listening to her divine my fate that night, it was clear to me that neuroscience, not the supernatural, are what witches, witchcraft, and witch hunts are all about.

To begin with the obvious, witches are women. Male and female brains differ in interesting ways to carry out the traditionally different roles of men and women throughout the course of evolution, which has given us the brain we have today. While prehistoric men roamed in bands armed with stone weapons to battle wild beasts, bring home raw meat, and to brutalize and plunder other tribes; women, saddled with pregnancy and the demands of child care, were confined to the vital domestic chores of gathering, gardening, grooming, cooking, and babysitting. Superior spatial analysis and memory, for example, was essential for the caveman to hunt and then find his way back home. Neuroimaging shows that the female brain is better at instantly divining social cues and threats from facial expressions. The impulsive, warring and confrontational male brain gave us tribes —> Read More