Your Weekend Creature Comforts: Installment Three Of Our Classic Halloween Creatures Brings You The Witch
“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” Ahh, the witch. Writing about this humanesque haunted villain makes me feel all nostalgic and fuzzy inside. Afterall, while witches can be of the male persuasion in some depictions, this monster is traditionally a member of the sisterhood. And while adolescent men might go through a more Salinger-inspired development, I think it is a rite of passage that most teenage girls will at one point experiment with witchcraft or Wiccan studies. Along with the smell of apple cider donuts, pumpkin pie, and freshly dead leaves, autumn also bring us images of spooky black pointed hats, green warty noses, and bubbling cauldrons. The witch is your perfect feminine representation of Halloween, and I just love her diabolical ways.
Now you might be thinking that spotlighting witches just isn’t creature-enough for you in this column, but I will make the argument that true witches are indeed inhuman. In fact, the actual definition of a witch as put forth by all the historians and anthropologists who study them is a person with an intangible inner quality giving them the ability to manipulate magic, which makes them distinctly unique from your ordinary humans. And let’s say that you decided to pursue that history degree despite the fact that you will pretty much be jobless or working at Starbucks the rest of your life after pursuing that revered and yet unusable diploma. Well, if you choose to specialize in the history of witches there are lots of options and time periods you can explore. After all, discussions of witches can be found as far back as the texts of ancient Egypt and Babylonia.
The conventionally female witch that we think of today is a result of early modern European folklore, and the pagan believe in the goddess Diana. It seems fitting, as Diana was in my opinion one of the most powerful and mystical of all the original goddesses we learn about from Greek and Roman mythology, a ruthless yet beautiful woman with a connection to nature and the earth more powerful than her twin brother Apollo’s connection with the sun. Sadly for those who wanted to worship this mighty witch deity, the Christian church began persecuting witches and pagan worshippers with tremendous determination in the 14th centuries, with the hunting and murdering of witches occurring up until the late 1800’s. And we all know about the famous Salem witch trials here in the United States, occurring in the late 1600’s, when over 300 men and women were accused of malicious witchcraft leading to the hanging death of over 30 of these individuals. This might not be something that America is particularly proud of, but luckily for us led to the wonderful farce in Monty Python and the Hold Grail.
Now there are many variations in the accounts of witches out there, with it being a flip of a coin as to whether or not that witch practices mostly good or mainly malevolent spells. And even though the European inspired version is what probably comes to mind for most of us when we picture a witch, there are documentations of witches in every continent on the earth except Antarctica. The most consistent commonality for these creatures is their ability to cast spells. There are hundreds of ways to cast a spell for witches, but the result culminates in the magic that witch needs to change things.
And now that I have given you all the background you could ever possibly want on witches, let’s move on to the fun part of this post: witches in modern culture and some of the more recent depictions of their species. Similar to last week’s adventure with vampires, let’s split this up in to those witches that fall in to the good vs. evil camp. I’ve reviewed my collection of witch-related pieces, and was pleasantly surprised that it was an assortment that rivaled my vampire obsession. Once again, let’s start with those witches that want to shine white throughout the world:
If you want to talk about an assortment of more witches (and wizards) than you can imagine, the obvious choice is to delve in to the world of Harry Potter. Whether you want to partake in the movies or the books, you will be overwhelmed with witchy-wonders. Some of these witches might be from the wrong side of the tracks, but the vast majority of them are good-eggs. Which witch is best? There is no right answer to that, but I don’t know how you can possibly dislike Hermione’s brilliance and quirkiness, Mrs. Weasley’s incredible motherly outside and amazingly strong and authoritative powers inside, or Luna’s bizarre bluntness and wisdom. Even Professor McGonagall’s sternness is not enough to deter you from wanting to get a letter to join the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I really think the series is one of the most well-written and enjoyable book series of all time, and I have to give props to the movies for doing a damn good (though not perfect) job of sticking to the books and portraying your loveable characters correctly on screen. I am sure you’ve already checked it out, but this story is timeless and is worth revisiting again and again.
While I don’t think they are specifically called witches, when I think of a witch I picture “the change” of Mrs Which herself. Who is that? One of the three supernatural beings of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs Who, Mrs Whatsit, and Mrs Which. While not the most talented at interacting with children, these three witches accompany our group of main character children in one of the most enjoyable quests you could possibly imagine. Even though I have not read this book since 6th grade, I can still imagine Mrs Whatsit making the announcement that she is going to change and getting nervous she was going to change clothing when in fact she then uses her power to transform in to a centaur-like being. It might have been written for a younger audience, but if you have not read this amazing novel I recommend checking it out regardless of your current age.
I’ve recently come across a few more recent novels featuring virtuous witches, and enjoy some more than others. In my last creatures post I mentioned Sunshine, a story of a young, naïve witch paired with a rehabilitating vampire in a quest to defeat a murderous vampire. While I was a little bored by the witch’s monologue, the book got great reviews elsewhere. And I also recently purchased The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane while at an airport for some plane-reading. This novel is about another witch that does not know her true powers, though she is pursuing a PhD in history with a thesis about American witchcraft. The book did not blow me away, but it did have a nice mixture of historical references with mystery, and I would recommend it to those of you who are historically inclined. I’ve also talked about Women of the Underworld in previous posts, so it’s worth mentioning there are quite a few powerful witches in these novels. The last of the novels I stumbled across was The Nameless Witch, which I am happy to report was a mostly unknown wonder. This book is short and sweet, but deliciously delightful. It features a witch with no name that pretends to be diabolical for her sidekick, sarcastic demon-duck pet, but in reality is strong, beautiful, and kind. Of course, thanks to a curse in her family she also has a strong desire to eat human flesh. What ensues is a story of action-packed hilarity. This novel left me laughing out loud and smiling from ear to ear on multiple occasions, I strongly recommend it.
Though Vampire Diaries centers on our blood-sucking friends, the stories also star quite a crafty group of witches, including a goddess-like woman who created the original vampires. These witches overall work for good, with the occasional lapse in judgment to help a broody vampire.
Well now we get to the malevolent terrors of the witch world, which I am happy to report seem to outnumber the goodies by quite a large amount. Where to begin?
Hocus Pocus is not necessarily the most amazing witch flick out there, but I think these three are a classic representation of the breed. Stealing from Salem and witches of ancient folklore that loved to eat children, these three women on screen are worth enjoying at least once a year even if only in homage to the holiday of Halloween.
Sticking with the theme of child-ingestion and destruction, Roald Dahl wrote quite the creepy child’s story when he wrote The Witches. In fact, a lot of Roald Dahl’s novels are full of horror, but we’ll just have to pursue that with another post some day. This novel follows a boy and his grandma’s attempt to thwart a society of witches plotting to destroy children worldwide, though the main character accidentally gets turned in to a mouse during the process. These witches are described as quite ghastly creatures, with baldheads, clawed hands, and toeless feet. And though it is a little old now, the novel was converted in to a movie in 1990, which I remember being terrified of the witches on the big screen as much as I was turning the pages of Dahl’s book.
My introductory quote featured the wicked witch of the west, which I am sure everyone recalls from The Wizard of Oz. But my favorite portrayal of our green-faced wonder is from the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Though it was more recently converted in to a musical that I have not seen, this novel centers on Elphaba, the very green-skinned witch that later grows to be thwarted by Dorothy. Starting with her birth and ending in her demise, this novel takes a whole new approach to understanding the Wicked Witch of the West, and I just adored it. Among other interesting discoveries, Elphaba happens to be an animal rights activist, so I can’t help but feel some camaraderie with her. Though The Wizard of Oz is considered a classic, I would argue that Wicked should also be compulsory reading for anyone trying to watch the original movie.
While some of the witches of The Southern Vampire Mystery series and True Blood are your more modern Wiccans with good intentions, the witches that really grab our attention are those with an evil streak. In the books we actually come across a clan of hybrid witches that turned themselves in to werewolves for more ultimate power, and while the TV show was stupid enough to leave this scene out, the books features a stellar battle scene between these monsters and our assemblage of vampires we have grown to love. In the show, True Blood has a whole season centered around Marnie, a once harmless witch possessed by a long dead vampire-hating witch that uses her body to harness her power and massacre as many of the fanged ones as she can. I do enjoy both witches for different reasons, but if I had to choose I would still choose the books’ version.
Of course I also have to give some props to my long-lost sister the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This woman is ruthless, and both the book and the movie do a decent job of showing her in all her glory. Those of you familiar with the stories know that Lewis, the author, was a devote Christian, and his depiction of the witch maiming, torturing, and then murdering Aslan the lion was a representation of the killing of Jesus. This woman embodies evil, and I love her for it.
Another close relative to the White Witch is our infamous witch, Queen Ravenna, from Snow White. While most of us probably saw the Disney version as children, I do have to acknowledge a more recent depiction of this classic story: Snow White and the Huntsmen. This movie as a whole was probably grade B, but Charlize Theron’s interpretation as the wicked witch definitely deserves two thumbs up, as does the amazing CGI and makeup effects used in scenes featuring her. One of my favorite scenes occurs when the dwarves and Snow White’s friends have injured her, and she quickly takes the form of a flock of crows and flies back to her castle to recuperate. As she arrives the crows fly in to the ground as a group of decaying tar, and slowing her tattered body emerges. I do think this movie is worth the watch even if it is just for the eye candy.
If you are looking for some good old fashioned high school horror, The Craft was quite a popular movie during my teenage years, probably because most teenage girls want to yield power like the witches it centers about. Of course, the movie does feature quite a bit of bullying and good old fashioned teenage drama, which might be a drawback. In which case if you are just looking for a scare, The Blair Witch Project was also an extremely popular film for its time. This masterpiece follows some college kids trying to investigate the legends of the Blair witch, leading to their terrifying demise in the forest. Some things are best not meddled with kids.
Ok my gracious followers, now comes the highlight of the post: my personal favorite witch. I am going to have to pick Diana Bishop of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, Diana is named after the goddess of all witches.
This series takes place in present day, and a world where witches, vampires, and demons exist, all trying to cohabitate with humans without them discovering their hidden identities. Our main character Diana is a famous historian who has shunned her witchy roots but stumbles upon a hidden book that holds the origins of all supernatural beings. As she falls in love with a heroic vampire against the wishes of the supernatural order, she digs herself deeper and deeper in to a plot set against her and many supernaturals. She also discovers that despite a lifetime of suppressing her witch heritage, Diana is quite a formidable witch taking power from her namesake. Diana is a spell weaver, which is a witch that can create spells from scratch rather than have to memorize the incantations like so many others. And while most witches have a connection to one element (earth, air, fire, or water) Diana seems to have some connection to them all in her genes. As she and her vampire-mate Matthew travel through time to set things right with the supernaturals, Diana learns from some of the greatest witches of history how to harness her power and become triumphant. I thoroughly enjoyed time and time again seeing Diana put in a moment of peril, and even when her super-strong immortal husband thought she might be in harm’s way, she pulls through to save herself and all those she loves with some phenomenal spell weaving. Additionally, Diana’s family features some of the most powerful descendants of the Salem witch trials, and I loved how they embraced Halloween with their classic witch costumes while none of their human neighbors suspected their true identity. Now this series is so recent the third installment has not been released yet, so we have not yet witnessed the culmination of Diana’s power, and I am thoroughly looking forward to it. This is by far my favorite depiction of witches, and you have lots of time to go check out the first two installments before the final book in the trilogy is released.
Ok folks, that’s all for this weekend’s creep-tastic Halloween creature special, tune in next week for a spotlight on my favorite Classic Halloween monster.
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Posted on October 19, 2013, in Creature Comforts and tagged creature comforts, Diana, Halloween, queen, Salem, Salem Witch Trial, Wicca, wicked, witchcraft, witches. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.