Witches, wise women and menopause

Sun and Moon

Photo by Tiffany Combs / Unsplash

It was not that long ago that, as women severely struggling with the transient physical, mental and emotional symptoms of menopause, we would be seeking and using natural remedies to ease and manage the discomforts. (Price, 2021).

Some women, often older and wiser, would also use spiritual practices and spells. Would we have been persecuted, drowned, burned at the stake and seen as evil for being misunderstood? It was one of women’s life's natural stages and changes, yet men who did not understand and who also led the government didn't like the behaviour of empowered, aging women.

Did men feel threatened in the western world back then? 

Women going through what we know as menopause now were back then being controlled by men socially - society seeking youth and beauty in women as more acceptable and labeling older women as needing medical management and not supported though natural aging. Yet, here we are… almost 500 years later going full circle. We are being encouraged to be empowered, holistically and socially supported, and inspired to where possible, avoid medical intervention. Is it perhaps that we are living longer, have fought hard for equal rights, and the right to vote - or are we simply seeing the rise of the divine feminine

Since Adam and Eve

Women have always been on this planet, so why is there so much controversy over women going through the natural ‘change’ otherwise known as the menopause?

On average, women in the 21st century in western Europe are around 51 years old when they go through menopause naturally. It is expected, and it happens to all women across the globe. Also globally, we have seen improved health as western medicine advances, we are seeing  extended longevity, managing multiple illnesses and disease, later stage motherhood (Harper and Botero-Meneses, 2023) and sometimes medically enabled fertility. All of the latter now also at a later stage in their life.

Photo by Josh Bean / Unsplash

The average age in UK for a women to have their first child is 31 years, when only a few decades ago any female having a child over the age of 24 was regarded as a “geriatric mother”.     

Research has shown nowadays that 75% of women are symptomatic during the menopause of vasomoto symptoms and 25% of these women are severely affected, some may say cursed (Sarri et al 2017).  Whether this is naturally or medically  induced, not including surgical hysterectomy.  Nonetheless with hormonal changes come challenges. In the Western world women aging is regarded and reported as a loss of youth and beauty, low libido and mental health is being tested.

In the 20th century, the male dominated medical profession medicalised the menopause, a naturally occurring stage in a woman's life, and tried to manipulate this through various interventions. 

Even this was an improvement though. God forbid you were a woman in the 19th century going through the menopause, have a healthy sex drive, enjoy spicy food and alcohol, hell mend you as it was seen as your lifestyle and idleness that led you to this unlady-like behaviour and unnatural (Price , 2021). It was not that long ago that Witches in the UK were seen as women who were most likely peri or menopausal, who sought to treat themselves and others with herbal remedies, and potions to help them manage the symptoms. The Witchcraft Act from around the renaissance period was overturned a couple of times preventing initial persecution - often drowned or set ablaze, and/or jail; then reviewed going to a maximum jail sentence of a year and eventually the act was overturned.

In the Eastern world however, women as they age and go through the same menopausal changes are seen as wise, worldly and highly valued. Interestingly in the Eastern world there is more of a holistic approach to healthcare on the whole, and community support - generations often living together and a more spiritual approach. It therefore appears, to me, that now, when we look at western women, moreso in the UK, we have and see huge suffering amongst the age group of of roughly 40-54 years old (Shamalizadeh et al , 2023). 

Today women the UK women are living longer, until around the average age of early 80s (Scot PHO, 2023; ONS, 2021).

The average woman has their first child at a later age 31 years; and then 20 years later on average are going through the menopause, if not before. Many women have some type of symptom in menopause such as anxiety and  or mood alterations: loss of libido ( and vaginal dryness); lethargy; hair loss.Some may still have younger children or possibly empty nest; and around 50% women on average not having children at all (Harper et al, 2022). Women are putting careers first before entering motherhood,  often going up the career ladder midlife,  and now we are seeing more female entrepreneurs and female FTSE-100 board members (House of Commons, 2024).  A high proportion, approximately 80% of employees in the National Health Service (NHS) are female, and many women remain in  lower paid health and social  care,  and education , government led sectors too. Interestingly a recent study suggested anxiety in women is the “new norm” and not just linked to menopause (NCSR, 2022). More women are  struggling, more living as lone parents - 90% female; many alone , and navigating menopause and the symptoms solitary too. This is not great for the economy, for our future health care workers, and female-led government-led sectors - nevermind the women themselves. Research has shown there is a hidden crisis in womens workplace health too (BOHS, 2023). We are now seeing women at menopausal age having  increased alcohol intake, and alcohol related disease and death (House of Commons , 2021) . In Scotland an 8% spike  increase  of alcohol consumption  in women 45 years old and upwards, whereas the level in men remains stable (Scottish Government, 2023) . This is not good as specific ill health has been linked to postmenopausal and high alcohol intake among women. This is a symptom and not the cause of anxiety and self medicating stress. 

It has only been in the last few very recent years Witches were given acknowledgement they were likely suffering from the same menopausal symptoms and seeking a pardon by both the UK and Scottish governments for their persecution - sadly the pardons were overturned only a few months ago, in both November 2023 and January 2024 (UK Government and parliament , 2024;  Scottish Government, 2023). Around the same time, the UK and Scottish governments also launched a strategy for women, maternal health and the menopause. It appears within a recent series papers published in the Lancet March 2024, that female - led consultants proposed a series of 4 papers of managing menopause from:  empowering  women (Hickey et al , 2024);  optimizing early menopause (Mishra et al, 2024);  promoting good mental health (Brown et al , 2024); and managing menopause after cancer supporting mental health and cancer (Hickey et al, 2024).

More holistic methods, social non clinical communities, mindfulnessm possibly likened to the ways the Witches themselves managed a naturally occurring life stage, empowering, supporting  and treating women through, not necessarily an illness back in the renaissance period and beyond. This, along with more recent UK and Scottish government strategies and reviews of women and maternal health and women and the criminal justice system  (UK Government, 2024; Scottish Government 2021) makes me hope that perhaps the male dominated government is turning, learning... or could this just be seen as another way to reduce the pressures off our ailing health care system? 

Personally, I am a big believer in the eastern ways of naturally based holistic care, and a softer approach where possible. Working in Partnership and a person-centered approach to health and wellbeing, particularly for the women facing menopause, is crucial; and for women through each of their life cycles, really - maiden, mother and crone.

It has been 120 since the suffragette movement and the right for women to vote over the age of 30 years. It is time our voices and our bodies were heard, as well as  respected and listened to. 

How are you navigating the menopause, have you considered some more holistic and natural ways, and found a community of empowering women with amazing support? Or are you still looking to seek empowerment? 

Louise - Mind Body Soul Scientist


British Occupational Hygiene Society 2023. BOHS Uncovering the Uk’s Hidden Crisis in women’s workplace health. August 2023. Available at: https://www.bohs.org/app/uploads/2023/08/Uncovering-the-UKs-Hidden-Crisis-in-Womens-Workplace-Health.pdf (Accessed: May 2024)

Brown, L., Hunter, M.S., Chen, R., Crandall, C.J., Gordon, J.L., Mishra, G.D., Rother, V., Joffe, H. and Hickey, M., 2024. Promoting good mental health over the menopause transition. The Lancet, 403(10430), pp.969-983.

Harper JC, Botero-Meneses J (2022). An online survey of UK women's attitudes to having children, the age they want children and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hum Reprod. 2022 Oct 31;37(11):2611-2622. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deac209. PMID: 36210721; PMCID: PMC9619608.

Hickey, M., Basu, P., Sassarini, J., Stegmann, M.E., Weiderpass, E., Chilowa, K.N., Yip, C.H., Partridge, A.H. and Brennan, D.J., 2024. Managing menopause after cancer. The Lancet, 403(10430), pp.984-996.

Hickey, M., LaCroix, A.Z., Doust, J., Mishra, G.D., Sivakami, M., Garlick, D. and Hunter, M.S., 2024. An empowerment model for managing menopause. The Lancet, 403(10430), pp.947-957.

House of Commons, 2021. Alcohol Statistics : England. Research Briefings. Available at : https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7626/CBP-7626.pdf (Accessed : May 2024). 

House of commons library 2024. Women and the UK economy. House of commons library research briefing  March 2024. Available at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn06838/ (Accessed: May 2024)

Mishra, G.D., Davies, M.C., Hillman, S., Chung, H.F., Roy, S., Maclaran, K. and Hickey, M., 2024. Optimising health after early menopause. The Lancet, 403(10430), pp.958-968.

National Centre for Social Research  2022. Press release - Women twice as likely as men to be extremely worried about life in the ‘new normal’. Available at: https://natcen.ac.uk/news/women-twice-likely-men-be-extremely-worried-about-life-new-normal (Accessed:  May 2024)

Office for National  Statistics 2021.  Census 2021. Families and households in the UK: 2022

Trends in living arrangements including families (with and without dependent children), people living alone and people in shared accommodation, broken down by size and type of household.

Price, R. (2021). Wicked or Wise? Menopausal women in popular history. Economic and Social research Council. August 2021. Lancaster University.

Sarri, G., Pedder, H., Dias, S., Guo, Y. and Lumsden, M.A., 2017. Vasomotor symptoms resulting from natural menopause: a systematic review and network meta‐analysis of treatment effects from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline on menopause. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 124(10), pp.1514-1523.

Scottish Government , 2023. The Scottish Health Survey 2022 – volume 1: main report, 6 Alcohol.  Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-health-survey-2022-volume-1-main-report/pages/10/ (Accessed : May 2024)

Scottish public health observatory 2023.  Health and life expectancies: key points. Available at https://www.scotpho.org.uk/population-dynamics/health-and-life-expectancies/key-points/ (Accessed:  May 2024)

Shamsalizadeh, N., Rouhana, N., Pierce, C.S. and Swain, M.A., 2023. Formation of Diverse Meanings of Menopause: An Integrative Literature Review. International Journal of Women's Health & Reproduction Sciences, 11(2).

UK Government and parliament, 2024. Petition -  Legally pardon those convicted in Great Britain for offences of witchcraft. Available at : https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/640686#:~:text=The%20Witchcraft%20Act%201735%20repealed,innocent%2C%20they%20were%20never%20pardoned. (Accessed : May 2024).

UK Government 2024. Press release - Health Secretary announces new women's health priorities for 2024. Problem periods, women’s health research and support for domestic and sexual abuse victims are among the government’s priorities. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/health-secretary-announces-new-womens-health-priorities-for-2024 (Accessed : May 2024).