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Witchcraft in Hollywood: a One-Way Affair

Author: EarthandAsh
Posted: August 21st. 2011
Times Viewed: 3,362

Casually curious and sick in bed, I watched The Craft the other day. Acceptably entertained but more seriously disturbed by its theft of Wiccan words and ritual, I have slowly realized the sorry state of Witchcraft in the media. I always knew it was bad, but not this bad. Be warned, I might ruin the story for you!

If you have not seen it, The Craft follows a teenager named Sarah who moves to a new town with her parents. At her new high school, she meets three young women who identify as Witches, and are hated/feared by the other students. Sarah joins their circle, and strange things happen, especially after they cast some spells against those who have hurt them.

Now, you could say that filmmakers are free to portray witches however they like, and that one cultural aspect of witches has certainly been the broomstick-flying, potion-brewing evil old ladies version. We have to allow that to a degree, because censorship is dangerous. We need to protect free speech for all. But we can still examine the bits of culture that precede us. Remember the movie Hocus Pocus? Evil resurrected women need to be defeated before they steal a young girl’s soul, Bette Midler sings, etc. Classic Halloween movie. Ignore that, from a larger perspective, we are told that these powerful women are cruel, selfish, and unnatural, that young women will be consumed if they go near, let alone join, them. Remember the nature of the soul in Christianity, how it can be corrupted or saved. These women will take it, and the young girl will be destroyed. Peel back the Halloween glitz and see the archetypes beneath. When the Crone is twisted towards evil, we have forgotten the wisdom she holds; to turn away in fear is to lose what we could gain. Movies, as a part of our culture, are not separate from the fears and ideas prevalent in it; it is well known that they can embody those ideas, as a thermometer for where our society places things. Hocus Pocus may just be a movie, but when put next to others like it, it can indicate damaging cultural ideas.

For an optimistic break, look at Practical Magic, the kindest to us of them all. The witches are simply misunderstood, magic is serious, and older women are allowed to be wise. Hollywood can’t help but add the final flying scene and the possession by an evil spirit, but the movie version of the book still leaves some of its women-positive aspects. Spells are still supernatural, reserved for the few who have the power; and the characters make some mistakes with their magic. But the older Witches are there to help, and other women join in to create a bigger circle for the most intense magical moment – even if they aren’t particularly endowed with power. Perhaps unwittingly or only because of the original book, the filmmakers preserved some respect for the women’s capabilities. Unlike The Craft, which thought it was, and failed.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the filmmakers actively incorporated Wicca into The Craft – with the help of self-identified Wiccans. Even a cast member, Fairuza Balk, is Wiccan, and plays the girl deemed the crazy one. To deny those people their religious identification, as if I was some authority on what it means to be Wiccan, would be destructive. But I question the wisdom in making the movie so blatantly Wiccan, with key, destructive, changes.

We are teased with the potential of young women, only to see that it follows traditional patriarchal thinking. Seemingly empowered individuals and true friends, we watch them fall apart. It is a bastardized form of Wicca, where the motions and words are stolen and injected with the dramatic, violent, anti-women desires of Hollywood. If the movie was focused on aspects of witchcraft left largely to commercial Halloweens, it could align itself more with Hocus Pocus. But when the four teenagers turn to each other, declaring that they enter the circle in perfect love and perfect trust, we see how they have been advised by the Wiccans. I remember how stunned I was when I read Caryl Churchill's 1979 play, Cloud Nine which similarly uses Wiccan words in a scene, as characters play at doing magic and then have an orgy.

But where is the power in this movie? Only in Sarah, who is a “natural” Witch and in Manon, the male god that they worship, indicating that this movie will definitely miss the mark when it comes to Wicca. At one point, they describe Manon as nature around them, but in practice, he is a lot like the Abrahamic god: he gives and takes away, he punishes, and he is the only deity mentioned by any of them. Their spells lead to extremes – terrible things happening to the people who hurt or insulted them, even death. Don’t be misled, though, this is not a tale of how to use respectful magic, even though it seems like that. If they had specifically asked for these terrible things to happen, perhaps; but their words were too general, even similar to what I might say in ritual, words that could be easily interpreted as bringing peace and self-respect. You could even argue that they were meant as only affecting their outlook, not as going out and damaging others. But in the hands of the filmmakers, chaos ensues.

The message we get is that things go wrong when women have power. To invoke the spirit is to be given supernatural powers by Manon – I guess the deep spiritual experience of drawing down the moon did not translate well to film. Instead, women go crazy when they feel such power to change, earth religious communities can never be healthy or genuine, and, for salvation, a prone, weak woman must ask Manon to come save her. Manon, separated from nature by the supernatural effects of his invocation, is nothing like my god.

It’s July 2011 – the last Harry Potter film has just come out. I’ve been asked if magic is real “like in Harry Potter.” The movies change, the problems don’t. Although it has been more than fifteen years since it was released, if The Craft is the only access people have to Wicca, I’m afraid of what some people must think if they mistake the veneer of modern Witchcraft on that movie for my spiritual practice.

Don’t even ask me about The Da Vinci Code.

The Craft, directed by Andrew Fleming
Hocus Pocus, directed by Kenny Ortega
Practical Magic, directed by Griffin Dunne
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 directed by David Yates
The Da Vinci Code , written by Dan Brown
Cloud Nine, written by Caryl Churchill



Location: Sutton, Massachusetts


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