I was a child angel for several consecutive Halloweens. Dressed all in white, with a halo attached to my head and gauzy wings sprouting from my shoulder blades, I smiled beatifically at the camera. It was what I wanted, in my heart of hearts, too: to be pure, angelic, and perfect.
I never would have been a witch for Halloween. Witches wore black, had tall pointy hats, warts on their noses, cauldrons in which they mixed up hateful potions. Witches are the antithesis of angels. At least until I grew a little older and started investigating my own feminism and realized: witches are just women with a bit of power. That’s why they’re scary. That’s why they’re “bad.”
Growing up, I was also under the impression that witches were merely fictional. That magic wasn’t real, and it only existed in TV shows, movies, and books. These days I know better. There are witches out there — I even know some — and rather than being wart-ridden, cackling wretches who exist to eat the hearts of pretty young maidens, they are genuinely some of the kindest, most caring people I’ve met. They just happen to have a deeper connection to nature and the spiritual realm than many of us. Though witches do not have to be women, many are (at least the ones in my circles) and I think that makes the fear glow brighter.
Witches are just women with a bit of power. That’s why they’re scary.
In America, we’re almost all familiar with the Salem witch trials. But it turns out people were being burned at the stake for witchcraft across the Atlantic even decades before those famous burnings. In Europe, over the course of approximately 400 years, as many as 60,000 people were killed for being accused of witchcraft. According to one theory, it was economically driven by the religious leaders of the day.
As someone who grew up in an evangelical household, I never questioned that negative view of witches, which was that anyone who did not follow God was, obviously, following the devil. It took years of unlearning for me to reach a place where I didn’t see the world through such black and white lenses. I’m now rather fascinated by witchcraft and witches. According to an article on History.com, “Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it.”
In my experience, witchcraft is often a pathway for people to tap into their deepest selves and to connect to the universe around them. There is also a legit religion, Wicca, whose believers practice witchcraft.
“Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it.”
In pop culture, witches are sometimes seen as evil. I can’t stop thinking about the witches in Stardust, a movie I must admit I adore, who were power-hungry and willing to kill and destroy anyone in order to preserve their youth. Evil is in the name of the Wicked Witch of the West, too.
Voting #ElizabethOlsen for #TheFemaleTvStar cuz she killed it in Wandavision!!! She was perfect. I cried feeling for her grief, pain, suffering, and cheered for her happy, delightful, and badass moments!!! ✨♥️ pic.twitter.com/oBt89BsAb1
— christophe (@superiorboyp) October 27, 2021
Of course, pop culture witches aren’t all bad. Take Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although she goes through a dark phase, she’s ultimately seen as fighting her evil urges in order to be good.
One of my favorite witches in pop culture is Wanda the Scarlet Witch of Marvel fame. To be fair, I’ve never read the comic source material, but the movie and TV show character, played by Elizabeth Olsen, holds a very special place in my heart. She does terrible things in her grief and pain, and frankly, I can relate. I watched (and sobbed through) Wandavision earlier this year because though I’ve never confronted the specific griefs Wanda faced, I have my own share of trauma I’m trying to deal with on my own, without hurting others.
Do you see the lesson we can learn from the way witches in pop culture navigate their powers? How their tales, whether fictional or real, can be relatable for all of us suffering grief, trauma, or depression?
I think, ultimately, that if you were an angel or a witch for Halloween, it’s fine, as long as you have respect. Respect for the choices of others that might be different from yours, and respect for the people populating our lives who look a little different, act a little different and connect a little differently.
Read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness!
For more Tempest History, check out our Ancient Practices series!