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Witchcraft vs. Religion
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It's Hollywood - What Were You Expecting?
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I confess, I love “witch-shows.” I grew up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch and reruns of Bewitched. One of my favorite movies ever is Practical Magic. My family and I can’t get enough of Charmed. I can’t help it if I find these shows to be great entertainment. I’ve always been a fan of the fantasy genre, and always will be.
But some in the Pagan community, it would seem, take offense to such shows and media. I can understand the worry to some degree. Though Wicca and Paganism are tolerated in America to an extent, we are far from being 100% accepted as mainstream religions. We still hear flak from some Christian fundamentalists about how the media is portraying us in a positive light, which by their definition is a bad thing. So it seems only natural that we as Pagans want to have a positive image in the media.
However, it would seem that sometimes we forget where our image ends and regular Hollywood entertainment begins. Movies like The Craft and Practical Magic sometimes get slammed by the Pagan community because they don’t portray Wicca and Paganism accurately. The Witches in these films are shown either misusing their magic, having less than admirable goals, or both. Some Wiccans feel threatened by such inaccurate depictions about what the modern Wiccan or Witch was, and so they make a big hullabaloo over it.
The WB drama Charmed also gets a huge amount of flak from Wiccans concerned about public image. Here, we have a cast of three sister Witches who possess supernatural powers, which they use to fight demons, warlocks, mythical creatures, and other such nasties. They also show a rebellious side when the “Elders,” who serve to protect Witches, restrict their personal lives. And all this time, these three sisters have to struggle to maintain some level of a normal life. Not to mention that for the first three to four seasons, the words “Witch” and “Wicca” were used both interchangeably and liberally. My, if that was supposed to be a sincere portrayal of what Wiccans really were, then their producers went way off course.
But that’s the thing – the producers in these shows weren’t trying to promote or portray Wicca at all. That was not their intention in the slightest. All they were trying to do is come up with a new show, with a new type of plot and storyline, which would hopefully land them nice ratings and a fat paycheck. It’s no secret that Wicca and Paganism may have influenced these shows. But that’s as far as they go – influence. The creative writers took over from there. And in my mind, they did a great job.
So why are we bemoaning these shows? Because they aren’t 100% true to what Wicca really is? Well then, let’s think on that for a moment. Let’s brainstorm over what kind of show we would get if we were trying to be politically and theologically correct about Wicca. We could have a coven of young teenage Wiccans who try to manage their daily lives with their religious beliefs and magickal practices. The only flashy effects would be possible psychic experiences, but no visual aid – we wouldn’t want to freak anybody else by showing a premonition-flash-forward and have them go, “That’s not how it works!” You get the whole struggles with love, high school drama of social cliques, the family issues, blah blah blah…and before you know it, you have yet another teen sitcom clone. Something tells me I’d rather be studying than sitting through another one of these shows.
How about for the older crowd? Well, how about a reality show where you throw people from different religious backgrounds, Wicca included, together and force them to live with each other and overcome their prejudices? Interesting, yes, but it’d get old fast, especially with the plethora of reality shows that exist now. How about a comedy about being a Wiccan in a Christian world? A sort of “Hex and the City”? I don’t think so either, mainly because it wouldn’t really appeal to the majority of the world’s viewing audience.
What am I getting at here? Well, simply put, Hollywood isn’t looking to focus a show on accurately portraying Wiccans as it is. Not that they have a problem with Wicca, but let’s face it – the majority of their viewers aren’t Pagan. In fact, with our current issues with the Far Christian Right, a show that focuses on Wiccans would probably get pulled off the air at the risk of losing a viewing audience. But the main point is that the large majority of viewers in the world wouldn’t find any real interest in watching Wiccan shows, because they don’t really have a way to relate to the characters in said shows. At the risk of losing ratings and viewers, I’m pretty sure Hollywood isn’t going to try to explore such shows at the current time.
Yet if that is the case, then why are shows that don’t portray Wicca and Paganism accurately so successful? Well, that may be the reason – they aren’t trying to be real. This may be personal preference, but there are also many viewers out there who prefer these shows because they are packed with drama, have a good storyline, and great writers, but also because it’s an escape from reality. It gives the viewer a place to imagine, a world where they have no idea what is coming next, a show that keeps them on edge because it has escaped the constraints of predictable reality. Shows that try to be politically correct are limited in which direction they can go. In fantasy shows and films, the possibilities are endless.
Now some of you may be concerned that these incorrect portrayals of Wicca may lead some people, especially teens, to believe that this is the way it really is, and try to form their religious beliefs around that show. And that is a valid concern. Charmed got quite a bit of controversy in its first three seasons, where the words “Wicca” and “Witch” were used rather interchangeably, and often inaccurately (from the fourth season onward, the word “Wicca” has since been dropped, and now the main characters are simply Witches). A few kids can and do end up forming covens and religious beliefs off this show in the beginning. That sort of trend, however, is short-lived and dies off soon after the show begins to lose steam.
Of course, it’s not like fantasy shows haven’t spawned religions in the past. The fans of the Star Wars films saw the philosophy behind the storyline, and by blending beliefs from other religions, formed Jediism, and its antithesis, Sithism. A more disturbing example is Matrixism, which is heavily influenced by, wild guess, The Matrix trilogy, and bears similar views to Scientology on the subject of psychology, but also promotes the use of designer drugs. Some of these will survive, while the rest are eventually shrugged off and left to die.
But honestly, the people who form Pagan beliefs over shows are few and far apart. This isn’t something that needs to be fretted over. Eventually, they will grow out of it and move on, either to being real Pagans or by finding another religious path.
In the end, we shouldn’t worry as much about the portrayal of Witches in fictional shows and movies. Now if it were nonfiction, such as a documentary, and the portrayal was inaccurate, then by all means, raise some hell about it. But leave the fantasy stories to the writers and directors, sit back and enjoy the show. Stop worrying about our image in these types of media. They have rarely, if ever, kept true to the original draft and reality. I mean come on, it’s Hollywood – what were you expecting?
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