The witching hour was once a fairly specific idea, back in the days of Yore
when people could be openly superstitious without incurring the ridicule of the public, but, in these modern days, it has become more and more nondescript. The witching hour was once thought to be merely midnight, every night, the time of day in which all supernatural beings are at the height of their power. The term has now degraded where it can currently be used for almost any late hour of the night. In the 2005 movie The Excorcism of Emily Rose
, they describe the witching hour to be 3:00 AM, simply as a perversion of 3:00 PM, the time in which Christ was believed to be crucified, and a way to mock the Holy Trinity
. In neopaganism
, it is only known as the hour of midnight which occurs during a full moon.
But almost everyone knows that - or they can pretty easily assume. What most people do not
know is that the exact phrase first appeared written in 1835 by Washington Irving
, a popular short story writer from the early 1800s, most known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
. One of the last lines of a less well-known story was:
"Two pairs of eyes are watching me now, from the couch and the ledge by the window. Faerieland shines in those eyes. And I must leave you, for it's the witching hour and a full moon is rising. . . ."
But, just because that was the first appearance of the the actual phrase, the idea was popular long before that. In Hamlet
, probably the most famous play in the english language, Shakespeare
makes a reference to 'the witching hour' in one of Prince Hamlet's many monologues. It as written in the early 1600s, long before Washington Irving's father was a glint in his father's eye:
"Tis now the very witching time of night
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero
enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!"
I suggest you memorize that little soliloquy poste-haste
, not just because it's an amazing piece of literature, but because it's a nifty party trick to be able to shout something about contagion and drinking hot blood in the midst of a conversation. Anyhow...
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, the witching hour happens to be mentioned in one of my favorite poems. John Keats
, one of those you-must-be-illiterate-if-you-don't-know-him poets, mentioned the witching hour in a poem that he included in a letter to his brother:
"'Tis the witching time of night
Orbed is the Moon and bright
And the Stars they glisten, glisten
Seeming with bright eyes to listen
For what listen they?
For a song and for a charm
The poem continues on for some time, but the witching hour is not mentioned again. I would not be surprised if the witching hour is mentioned several more times in the romantic era, in a method similar to Keats
- it seems to be a very popular turn of phrase - but if it is, it is done rather obscurely.