Underwings & Salem witch Hysteria.

Mothman617 mothman617 at aol.com
Tue Aug 17 21:41:13 EDT 1999

While I was out in the woods day searching for Underwing Moths (Catocala) This
past weekend. I was approached by a woman whom I never met before and she
referred to the moths I was collecting as "witch moths". Since I have never
heard or read of Catocalae being called this, I asked her why. She then
explained to me she was a retired high school teacher, an avid birdwatcher and
local historian. She said that when she was a young girl, her great grandmother
was very superstitious about moths resting on her house. Catocala are well
noted for resting on buildings particularly during rain, high winds etc. Her
great grandmother told her that the "witch moths" in question meant bad luck
and misfortune to anyone living in the home, and on a daily basis in late
summer-early autumn she would inspect the outside of her home and sweep away
any moths resting behind shutters or under eaves with a broom. The great
grandmother was a godfearing christian with puritan descent. The great
grandmother told her that  the bright colors of the hindwings represented the
fires of hell, hidden behind a dark cloak - the forewings. The great
grandmother also told her that  in Salem around the 1692 witch hysteria, some
people were accused of being a witch if these moths were present upon their
home. At first I thought this was a ridiculous and quite amusing bit of New
England folklore. OK as I sit at this computer, I am two houses down from the
Salem witch house. So I am quite familiar with local history, my fiance is a
history teacher and I have been collecting and studying this group of moths for
a very long time with some of the best and current literature on Catocala to
boot. Nothing is mentioned of a connection with underwings to witches in 17th
century Salem or of the huge hysteria in Europe. (Another part of the world
where Catocala are well represented). As I thought about this later, I wondered
if there 'might be' a connection however small or insignificant. If anyone has
seen a Catocala at rest, especially C. cara or amatrix, they do look a little
creepy. Something in a 'hooded cloak' hiding in a dark crevace only to show
their 'true' colors when the darkness of night descends. Superstitions about
moths are well known are well known throughout many cultures, in many parts of
the world. The Deaths Head Hawkmoth is an example. The horror movie "Silence Of
The Lambs" featured this. So what I am looking for is any information
connecting Underwings or any other moths to witches or witchcraft. I find this
quite intriguing and will welcome any comments or information.

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