2016-06-30
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.

Bell, Book, and Candle (1958)
Based on John Van Druten's Broadway play, "Bell, Book and Candle" is also considered a precursor to TV's "Bewitched." Kim Novak stars as a young witch, Gilian Holroyd, whose specialty is casting love spells. Irked by her neighbor Shepherd Henderson's (played by Jimmy Stewart) fiancé, she decides to cast a spell on him to make him fall in love with her. However, she ends up falling for the engaged publisher and could potentially be "dewitched," since falling in love is one way for a witch to lose her powers. Jack Lemmon plays Gillian's warlock brother.

What's Witchy: The heroine has the required cat, though it's a Siamese one, not a black cat. She does magick and wears the most lovely black dresses. Coven couture, anyone?

Real-Witch Rating: The film depicts an underground society of witches and warlocks. Wiccan communities do exist, though thanks to today's tolerance, they're no longer underground.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
A Manhattan couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (portrayed by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, respectively), find the apartment of their dreams. They befriend their elderly neighbors, who happen to be a part of a coven of witches. Soon Rosemary is tangled up in their nefarious plans. On a more sociological level, the film is "concerned with the presence of evil surrounding us in the alienated, everyday, mundane city environment."

What's Witchy: Rosemary is given a smelly "good luck charm" filled with tannis.

Real-Witch Rating: While tannis root is fictional, Wiccans do sometimes use amulets filled with herbs, resins, and essential oils.

1970s
The seventies saw very divergent views of witchcraft. Some films offered pure fantasy, while others championed female empowerment. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
An Oscar winner for its stunning visual effects, "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is often compared to director Robert Stevenson's earlier film, "Mary Poppins." Angela Lansbury plays Eglantine Price, an amateur witch who uses her powers to thwart a Nazi invasion of England. Her fantastical magic bedstead rides help win the hearts of three sibling refugees of the war who are put in her care.

What's Witchy: Correspondence-school spell books; spells with great names like "Substitutiary Locomotion."

Real-Witch Rating: There is such a thing as a novice, or apprentice, witch.

The Wicker Man (1973)
This cult classic stars Edward Woodward as a devoutly Christian police sergeant who is sent to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. None of the locals will cooperate with him and, in fact, many deny the girl ever existed. The sergeant soon discovers a coven of witches, headed by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). More of a thriller than a horror movie, the film focuses on the religion of witchcraft and the role of sexuality and femininity within it.

What's Witchy: The film's characters sing, dance, and circle around fires and maypoles.

Realistic Witch Rating: Maypole dancing and leaping over the Balefire are Beltane traditions. Building and burning the Wicker Man is a Litha, or Summer Soltice celebration. The film is considered to be one of the most realistic portrayal of witches... if you leave out the human sacrifice bit.

1980s
The era of "Murphy Brown" saw the rise of independent women--and witches--in film.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon play three single women--two divorced, one widowed--living in New England. Decrying the lack of good men in town, they conjure up their idea of the perfect man. The very next day, Darryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) buys the town's mansion and proceeds to woo each woman. The women soon grow wise to this handsome devil's ways and send him back to hell, from whence he came. Set in the 60's, John Updike's book, on which the movie is based, is far more explicit in its feminist politics and portrayal of psychosexual tensions.

What's Witchy: Famous scene in which a tennis ball is magically manipulated; the gals use a wax figurine to summon Van Horne. And did we mention cherries?

Realistic Witch Rating: There's not much in this film that a Wiccan would find realistic, but Jack Nicholson makes a very convincing devil.

1990s
Traditional witches with evil powers were still around in the nineties, but they were quickly being usurped by scrappy, attractive teen girls. Anyone remember "Teen Witch"? In her book, "Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture," writer Susan Hopkins says that "In popular discourse the teenage witch is emerging as another Girl Power icon of the times." The Craft (1996)
One of the best portrayals of Wicca on film, "The Craft" is the story of four troubled teenage girls who form a coven and use magic to seek revenge on the cool kids who picked on them. The girls learn that revenge is not so sweet when the Rule of Three -- Three times what thou givest returns to thee -- comes into play in horrifying ways. Sarah (Robin Tunney)--a natural witch and the most powerful one in the movie--leaves the coven to set things right.

What's Witchy: Lots of great black clothing, usually of the leather variety. The girls read the tarot. The Athama, a Wiccan ritual knife, plays a prominent role.

Realistic Witch Rating: The ritual knife is used to focus and direct personal energy (not to cut). A real witch was consulted on the film. While some Wiccan practitioners felt the portrayal became too Hollywood and inaccurate as the film went on, rumor has it that the consultant included those inaccuracies so the uninitiated couldn't harm themselves trying them at home.

Practical Magic (1998)
Playing two sisters whose loves are doomed to untimely deaths, Hollywood heavyweights Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman help mainstream Wicca in this chick flick. When Gillian's (Kidman's) boyfriend becomes abusive, Sally (Bullock) comes to the rescue, but accidentally overdoses him with belladonna. Things get complicated when a cute cop, played by Aidan Quinn, starts investigating.

What's Witchy: The sisters celebrate the solstice and use herbs, but not always the right one (hence the husband's accidental death).

Realistic Witch Rating: Wiccans do celebrate the winter and summer solstices. They also use herbs in magickal and mundane ways. For the most part, though, the film offers only warm and fuzzy stereotypes.

2000 and Beyond
The new millennium ushered in a different kind of witch: the hero witch. A welcome change for modern practitioners of Wicca, witches are being portrayed as positive protagonists fighting evil (that is, until "The Chronicles of Narnia" comes out in December 2005).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Orphan Harry Potter and his friends Hermione and Ron, all possessed of magic powers, attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Marked by the wicked Lord Voldemort, Harry battles evil in many guises. A perfect bookend to the "Wizard of Oz," since the film pits Harry, the Good Wizard, against Voldemort, the bad one.


What's Witchy: Hogwarts students wear cloaks, use wands, and ride broomsticks. Owls, rats, and toads are their pets. Using cauldrons and incantations, they mix potions and cast spells.

Realistic Witch Rating: While there's nothing authentically, religiously Wiccan about these witches, many practitioners don't seem to mind, since the pagan-ish protagonists are portrayed as normal members of society. In real life, some Wiccans do have familiars, or spiritual animal companions. Additionally, some Wiccans do use tea leaves and crystals to help them with divination, but not quite the way students in Madame Trelawney's class do.



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