A Hollywood Witchcraft Primer

From the Wicked Witch of the West to Harry Potter, Hollywood has been altering the public's perception of witches for decades.

BY: Ellen Leventry

 

In Hollywood, witches are either good witches or bad witches, to paraphrase "The Wizard of Oz," and there's very little in between. While several recent movies have been more accurate than past ones, representing actual elements of Wicca, the film industry hews to the stereotypes that seem to work like a charm at the box office: hexing, high jinx, and wicked stepmothers. What would practicing Wiccans--ones who do cast spells, but certainly don't worship Satan--have to say about famous witch movies? With "Bewitched" flying on to the big screen, Beliefnet looks at Hollywood witches through the decades--and how stereotypical silver screen sorcery stacks up to everday Wiccan reality.



1930s and 40s

Two of the Hollywood's witchcraft stereotypes were firmly established in these decades: the evil hag and the charming, attractive witch who wields love potions.



The Wizard of Oz (1939)

When most Americans think witch, they think Margaret Hamilton, Oz's Wicked Witch of the West. Transported to Munchkinland by a cyclone, Dorothy (Judy Garland) accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Her green-skinned western counterpart seeks revenge against Dorothy, and her little dog, too. Dorothy just wants to get back home and is helped on her journey by a Cowardly Lion, a Tin Man, and a Scarecrow.

What's Witchy:

The broomstick, the hat, the hooked nose, the green skin, the black dress... need we say more? And don't forget the flying monkeys.



Real-Witch Rating:

While the film established what a bad witch looks like, it also showed that there are good witches, too (this is a bit like saying there are good Presbyterians and bad Presbyterians). In real life, good witches don't all look like Disney princesses.



I Married a Witch (1942)

Considered by many to be the precursor to television's "Bewitched," "I Married a Witch" stars Veronica Lake as Jennifer, an accused witch of the 17th century. Burned at the stake along with her father (Cecil Kellaway), she casts a spell on the male descendants of her accusers, the Wooley Family. The first victims in a long line of silver-screen love spells, the male Wooleys are cursed to endure miserable marriages. Jump to the 20th century. Jennifer and her father return to wreak havoc in Senator Wallace Wooley's love life, but Jennifer ends up falling for Wallace instead.



What's Witchy:

Love potions made in cauldrons.



Real-Witch Rating:

Love Potion Number 9 may have been a pop song, but many real Wiccans do cast

love spells

.



1950s

While still exploiting the 'beautiful witch' angle, the 1950s also adopted the witch hunt as political allegory.

The Crucible (1957)

Jean-Paul Sartre proved that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned when he adapted this Arthur Miller play for the big screen. 17th-century Puritan John Proctor, played by Yves Montand, has an adulterous affair with lodger Abigail. Proctor and his wife Elisabeth soon turn Abigail out, and she seeks revenge by accusing Elisabeth of being a witch. Miller, who was himself questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, used the witch trials of Salem as an allegory for McCarthyism.



What's Witchy:

Elisabeth is accused of manipulating young girls with witchcraft; claims of "sending out spirits."



Real-Witch Rating:

An accurate portrayal of the witchcraft hysteria that plagued Salem in 1692.



Continued on page 2: »

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