The Witches Brew is a potion (from Latin potio “drink”) or a liquid that contains medicine, poison, or something that is supposed to have magic powers. Potion derives from the Latin word potus which referred to a drink or drinking.
The term philtre is also used, often specifically for a love potion, a potion that is supposed to create feelings of love or attraction in the one who drinks it.
However, instead of brewing malevolent potions, women were mostly busy as everyone to make a living from what they cooked and supplying what was in demand: bier.
Humans have been drinking beer for almost 7,000 years, and the original brewers were women. From the Vikings to the Egyptians, women brewed beer both for religious ceremonies and to make a practical, calorie-rich beverage for the home.
In Baltic and Slavic mythology the beer goddess was revered. The Finnish credited their goddess Kalevatar for bringing this divine drink to man, and the Vikings allowed only women to brew the “aul” that fueled their parties after victory.
In fact, the nun Hildegard von Bingen, who lived in modern-day Germany, famously wrote about hops in the 12th century and added the ingredient to her beer recipe. Her work Physica Sacra pharmacopeia was the first mention of the preservative benefits of hops.
Up until the 1500s, brewing was primarily women’s work – that is, until a smear campaign accused women brewers of being witches. Much of the iconography we associate with witches today, from the pointy hat to the broom, may have emerged from their connection to female brewers.
Protestantism, which originated in the early 16th century, preached stricter gender norms and condemned witchcraft. Male brewers saw an opportunity. To reduce their competition in the beer trade, some accused female brewers of being witches and using their cauldrons to brew up magic potions instead of bier.
Alewives or brewess were forced to go out of business for fear of being trialed and condemned for witchcraft. Today, most of the bier industry, from large companies to small breweries, remains in the hand of men.