Published by Icy Sedgwick on January 19, 2017

What Is The Witching Hour And Does It Exist?

If you’ve hung around folklore for long, you’ve probably heard of the witching hour.

In the occult, it’s apparently that time when witches and demons are at their most powerful.

It does also have usage in different areas. So the time your baby might cry every night, or even stock market volatility, is sometimes called the witching hour.

But for the purposes of this post, we’re sticking to the occult version.

Popular culture puts the witching hour in the dead of night - and it's a time for all sorts of shenanigans. But what is it - and does it really exist?

Big black cats howl as naked witches ascend into the night by by T.A. Steinlen, c/o Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So when is the witching hour?

Some people believe it begins at midnight with a new day.

But yet others believe it to be 3-4am. So it’s a time when most people are safely tucked up in bed, fast asleep and ostensibly dead to the world.

3am is sometimes known as the Devil’s hour. Christ is believed to have died at 3pm, so naturally the Devil is an inversion of that. Or could it be the fact that the demonic likes to do things in 3s to mock the Holy Trinity?

Commentators noted the fact that Butch DeFeo (of Amityville Horror fame) murdered his family at 3:15am.

While researching this post, I did find some people disputing the time. The rather terrible New Zealand horror comedy Deathgasm even sees the hapless heroes ask if the Devil observes Daylight Savings Time.

But we’re not going to split hairs about the time of day. We’re just going to look at what it is.

So where did it gets its name?

Some believe it was because witches were more active at midnight (or 3am). According to this theory, the forces of darkness are more active during the night. They make it a more powerful time to do magic.

I’d venture to say “hogwash” to that. Given the persecution of those labelled as ‘witches’, it’s hardly surprising they’d conduct their activities under the cover of darkness. Not to generate more power – but to simply work without interruptions.

Popular culture puts the witching hour in the dead of night - and it's a time for all sorts of shenanigans. But what is it - and does it really exist?

John Downman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you were mixing up a love potion for a client, would you want all and sundry gawping at you?

(Read Willow Winsham’s Accused to learn more about the persecution of witches)

Also, patterns of sleep were very different in earlier times. The concept of going to bed and sleeping for 8 hours is relatively recent. Many might sleep for 4 hours, get up to do some chores for a time, then go back to bed.

So many people could have been up and about at 3am, doing very mundane things indeed!

Does it affect ghost stories?

Sometimes. Many believe that ghosts are more active that this time because the veil between the worlds is thinner.

Popular culture puts the witching hour in the dead of night - and it's a time for all sorts of shenanigans. But what is it - and does it really exist?

Henry John Stock [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Apparently mediums are more active during the witching hour. Precisely because the ghosts are.

Perhaps that theory might have more credence if ‘psychics’ like Sally Morgan held their seance stage shows at 3am, instead of 8pm.

But I digress.

It’s possible that ghosts are more active at this time purely because people notice the time when they’re startled during sleep.

When I did paranormal investigations at sites like Newcastle’s Castle Keep, we often finished up at 3am. We often had the most ‘activity’ between 1am and 2am.

So does the witching hour actually exist?

Popular culture would have you believe that it does. Personally? I don’t think so. When even Martha Stewart is getting on the witching hour bandwagon, you have to start asking questions.

Time zones make things difficult, as they always do. Although that could lead to some comic encounters among the dead.

“Oh Stan, you went out early again! Did you forget to put the clocks forward?”

But I don’t think supernatural entities restrict their activities to a certain time of night. I also don’t think that witches were only active for an hour.

The folklore is surprisingly scant. Much of it relates to the activities of witches, demons and ghosts. But I did find one incredibly interesting reference in American folklore. Candi K. Cann discusses La Mala Hora, translated as ‘The Evil Hour’. Naturally, that becomes ‘the witching hour’.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The Evil Hour is not a time of day, but rather an evil spirit. She wanders country roads and haunts lone travellers late at night.

La Mala Hora often appears at the crossroads, and seeing her is apparently an omen of death. She doesn’t actually kill anyone – she just reminds people that they will die at some point. La Mala Hora is essentially a warning to avoid lonely places late at night.

I think I prefer that interpretation of the witching hour. And there’s a lesson there to be learned by us all.

How about you? Do you believe in the witching hour?

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  1. Katherine Hajer
    January 19, 2017 - 3:31 pm

    I’ve always been told the witching hour was the safest time to celebrate pagan rituals/do pagan work during the burning times, as you described. The stuff about the devil just sounds like religious propaganda.

    • Icy Sedgwick
      January 19, 2017 - 5:40 pm

      I always quite liked the wee hours because it’s so quiet. It’s hardly surprising others might choose such times if they don’t want to be disturbed.

  2. gdwest123
    January 26, 2017 - 1:39 pm

    How about Friday 13th? My grt grandfather is supposed to have died on the thirteenth hour of Friday the thirteenth. I usually try to avoid doing dangerous things on Friday 13ths!

    • Icy Sedgwick
      January 26, 2017 - 2:26 pm

      Friday the 13th would be another blog post entirely!

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