The witching hour is a time of night when supernatural creatures are believed to be particularly active, making it a prime time of night for witchcraft. Many people think of midnight specifically as the witching hour, while others more generally associate it with the dead of night, the dark hours when few people are awake and about. The association of darkness and supernatural activity is quite ancient, although the term “the witching hour” itself only dates back to around the early 1800s; terms like “the witching time of night” were used prior to this period.
Darkness has had mystical associations in many human cultures, perhaps because it is difficult to see at night, causing skewed perceptions of the world. In the middle of the night, people are also presumably more tired, and therefore potentially susceptible to events which may feel supernatural. Traditional witch doctors, shamans, and other supernatural practitioners have often worked at night, belying the idea that only dark magic is practiced at night.
Many people historically believed that the witching hour marked a period of greater activity by witches, demons, ghouls, and other creatures who are not of this world. In some regions of the world, people still try to avoid going out at night during the witching hour, while people who are interested in supernatural events may make a deliberate effort to be out and about at midnight or thereabouts. While belief in the supernatural is generally on the fringes of many modern societies, even pragmatic people have been known to comment that the depths of the night do sometimes feel a bit eerie and mysterious, especially during a new moon.
Members of the neopagan community may perform ceremonies at a late hour to take advantage of the belief that the connection between the supernatural world and the real world is stronger during the witching hour. The witching hour also crops up in many fantasy books, and people may jokingly refer to it in the context of a late night out. In many societies, people who are out late at night are often viewed with suspicion, due to centuries of superstition about the things that happen late at night.
One certainly need not be superstitious to believe in the witching hour. The late hours of the night often do seem to have a different quality than the early evening and the daytime, perhaps because of the lack of people and the darkness. The witching hour often reveals lots of creatures you never see during the day, such as owls, bats, and other nocturnal animals, and this perhaps explains their traditional association with witchcraft in many cultures.