The exact origin of the witches hat is unclear to us. In images of witches drawn by artists, especially in those aimed at a younger audience, we often see witches depicted as wearing cone shaped hats. While these may seem to be comical attire, which are part of artist designed costumes for the intent of entertaining the viewer of the image, there is actually a deeper symbolism behind them. One of the earliest images of the witch wearing a pointed, cone shaped hat can be seen in 13th century artwork in the form of woodcuts in which the witches are depicted as being naked with nothing covering their heads. Other clothed images with other various head-wear such a head scarves were much more common than that of the cone shaped hat.
Bronze age ceremonial headdresses have been found in Central Europe, one of which was found in Switzerland and was studied in the Berlin Museum. Their appearance is of a hollow cone made from gold. Historians have made the conclusion that they are indeed headdresses due to the remaining material left inside the hats, which include what looks to be a chin strap to make wearing the hat more comfortable. Before this discovery it was thought that these artefacts were vases of sorts. The golden headdresses were thought to have been worn by king-priests, or oracles, who were priests who were believed by the people of the time to have magical powers, including the power of prophecy and divination.
There is some speculation that the pointed hat holds its origins in the peaked caps that were worn by Jews in the 13th century. Pope Innocent III decreed that all Jews must wear this pointed hat in 1215. This anti-Semitic ruling, among other anti-Semitic sentiments, lead the people to associate this particular pointed hat with many things the church taught them to fear and to view as evil or against God. This did not stop wealthy noblewomen of the 15th century wearing tall peaked hats called hennins in the name of fashion, who wore these hats despite protestation from the Christian Church who greatly disliked the conical hats, possibly due to its horn like shape, which in turn may have reminded them of the Christian devil. While both of these hats were pointed or conical, they were quite different in appearance which is likely why they were not associated with anti Semitism by 15th century ladies. Pointed hats were still in fashion among commoners until 1600’s.
These pointed hats were also associated with the dunces hat in this century. However the dunces cap dates back as early as the 13th century and was devised by John Duns Scottus, a Scottish scholar of theology, philosophy and the metaphysical. The original purpose of which was not as a humiliating punishment to children, as it was used in the 19th century but rather to help children who had difficulty in learning to read to focus. This was done by asking them to focus on the point, which was situation behind the head in an elevated position. This was meditative and allowed the children to focus long enough to grasp the reading material. The halo with which saints are painted wearing is situated in the same position as the point. When working with magic, or the energies of the universe, it is important to be able to focus in order to direct those energies successfully. While it is unclear whether witches of earlier centuries did indeed wear pointed hats, it is clear that they would have understood the importance of focus. This also links in with the dunces hats previous association with scholars of the highest quality. The knowledge needed to practice witchcraft needed equal, if not more dedication to study that scholars gave to their pursuit of knowledge in various fields which may have influenced. There is also some speculation that the wearing of the conical hat not only helps the person to focus, but traps the metaphysical energy in the hat, near the head, making it easier to draw upon in ritual.
It was not until the 18th century, that artists, which the increased popularity among the population, of the dark and mysterious, began to create art showing witches wearing cone shaped hats. Often these images were part of chapbooks aimed at children and other literature in later years, most of which were illustrated fairy tale books in the Victorian era.
The cone of power is also linked the witches hat. This is a visualisation, and energy raising technique used by pagans in ritual. This energy is drawn from their surroundings. The energy, as the name of the rite suggest, is directed from the middle of the circle into a cone shape. The witches hat is thought by some to be a physical symbol of the direction in which this energy is raised. Using the cone of power in ritual can greatly improve the working that is done, which makes the witches hat a tangible symbol of successful work achieved by employing effective techniques. The cone of power and witches hat also symbolises masculine and feminine energy in equal parts. When in an upright position it becomes a phallic symbol, taking on the masculine and when in an upturned position it can represent the womb, giving it feminine energy. It is theorised by some that the witches hat can be seen in parallel with the Lingam- Yoni, a sacred object in Hinduism. It consists of a basin which resembles a vagina and another conical object set inside it. This is symbolic of fertility and creation between the God Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. It is a rite that is very like the Great rite in Wicca. Overall, the witches hat represents balance, which is important in ritual work. This however is very likley to be a concept devised by modern witches due to the more intense hostility witchcraft faced in previous centuries. Going back to masculine symbology, there is also some resemblance in the shape of the conical hat, to horns of the horned god, which are a symbol of power. While there is little evidence that the witches hat was used in ritual by witches of the past, there is more solid evidence that horned helmets, which were made materials too soft to be used in battle were worn in ritual in the 12th century BC, a practice which continued into the first century BC
Wherever the witches hat holds it origins, and whether or not it holds symbolism for the majority of pagans, it certainly has become an iconic image of the witch flying high in the sky, shrouded in mystery and magic.