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Friday, August 5, 2022

Hold My Beer: Story of Alewives and Witches ~ Sherri Easley

 These long, unbearably hot and dry summer days are draining my energy and making me long for cooler damper weather. I constantly look at the weather app to see if there is any rain soon, just to be disappointed.

So, I came across an article a while back on a news site called “Weird History” that made me think of fall, so here goes:

Per the Article:

In medieval times, the job of feeding the family was “women’s work,” and beer was a central part of the peasant diet since it was consumed instead of potentially tainted water. Inevitably, nearly every medieval woman knew how to brew beer.

This was a fermented ale from grains with a low alcohol content, which their families drank daily. Most medieval families downed multiple gallons of beer each week, so women sometimes sold extra beer to neighbors who didn’t have the time to make their own, even inviting people into their homes, which served as an informal tavern.

These entrepreneurial women who made their living brewing and selling beer from their homes were called “alewives.”

These alewives spent hours stirring bubbling cauldrons, while wearing their tall, pointy hats, which were popular in this era, to make them stand out in the marketplace, so customers could identify them.

Alewives promoted their business by placing a broomstick outside their door. The broomstick, also known as an ale stake, signaled that the latest batch of beer was ready for customers.

These women understood herbs and plants they used in their concoctions and often had cats running amuck to take care of those pesky mice in their grain.

Men who saw alewives as temptresses, swindlers, and deceivers could easily imagine a witch's brew boiling in their cauldrons and by the 16th century, men grew suspicious of female brewers, who had their own income source. One community banned young women from selling beer. In others, the tools of female brewers became the symbols of witchcraft.

Churches painted with images of alewives in hell with demons cemented the association between female brewers and demonic magic.

According to the Catholic Church, alehouses were dens of sin that seduced men into gluttony and lust.

The witch trials were only one part of a larger movement to promote stricter morals and eliminate disorder and targeted independent women, and in Europe, that included women who made a living selling beer.

So… the conclusion? Our modern image of a witch likely came from alewives. 

Am I the only person who did not know this?

Mother Louse was an Oxfordshire alewife in the 17th century. But today, she looks more like a witch than a brewer. That’s because the pointy hat, cauldron, and black cat we associate with witches today were all used by alewives. 


  1. I didn't know it, either, but it's interesting! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. That's fascinating. Never read any of that before. Thanks for sharing.


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