Witches in Pop Culture

Witches in Pop Culture

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Witch has become a familiar figure in pop culture. Many rock bands identify with the image, from the early Black Sabbath (whose music emphasized the "black" part of their name) and Coven to more recent bands using such names as Coven 13, Blood Coven, Two Witches, Seven Witches, The Witches, and even a British band called Morgan le Fay. The group Godsmack recently caused a furor in the Wal-Mart and K-Mart chains because of an album's content, which features a Wiccan pentagram on the cover. The recording was immediately labeled satanic by various Fundamentalist Christian groups.

The Witches is a women's rock and roll trio in Israel. The Two Witches is a Gothic rock band in Finland, and Seven Witches is a heavy metal band in the United States. Blood Coven was formed in 1993 and recorded such songs as "Midnight Offerings," "Dark Harmonies," and "Statuary."

Black Widow did an album called Return to the Sabbat in 1969. But the original band Coven, formed in the 1960s, was one of the first, if not the first, to focus almost exclusively on occult-oriented music. They recorded lyrics dealing with Satanism, Witchcraft, magic, and good and evil. Coven's LP Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls was a big success at the time. A Miles Davis album from 1969 was titled Witches Brew. Apart from Frank Sinatra's recordings of "That Old Black Magic," "Witchcraft," and one or two other isolated recordings, magic and witchcraft had not otherwise been dealt with extensively.

Coven 13 is a band based in Massachusetts and is part of a new wave of positive, Craft-oriented music makers. Several of the band members are practicing Pagans and Wiccans. Their music has such titles as "Haunted" and "Book of Shadows." Since their start in 1997, the band has toured and produced a number of successful CDs. They are becoming very popular with Wiccan and Pagan groups and individuals and are marking the trend of pop music moving away from the Satanic to the true Wiccan. Another such Wiccan/Pagan group is Moonstruck, who have produced a couple of CDs, one titled Witch of the Wildwoods, and most of the titles and songs are Wiccan oriented.

Marianne Faithful wrote the lyrics to "Witches' Song," the soundtrack to the television series The Craft. Stevie Nicks, who is believed to be a Wiccan, wrote and recorded such titles as "Sorcerer," "Rhiannon," and "Enchanted." In Australia, Fiona Horne is a popular singer who is also a very public Wiccan figure.

According to a PRNewswire report, the band Godsmack's lead singer, Sully Erna, is a practicing Witch who has been active in Wicca for about ten years. The band is doing a video for their new album, Voodoo, filming it in Massachusetts with Laurie Cabot. Supposedly, they are including an actual Wiccan ritual in the video, which is directed by Dean Carr.

In the world of comic books, witches make frequent appearances and, again, the trend points away from the medieval ideas of witchcraft and toward modern Wicca. There are comic book series titled Witches (published by DC/Vertigo), Books of Magic (featuring a Harry Potter type of hero, published by DC), and Tales of the

Witchblade (published by Image). From 1951 through 1954, there was a series called Witches Tales. The Witchcraft series features the three Witches, known as the Kindly Ones, from the Sandman series. This series feature elements of mythology, medieval history, Victorian romance and contemporary gender politics. It is basically a story of revenge over the ages for murder and rape that took place in Roman times. Initially there is a sacred rite performed to Hecate.

Television is the most notable canvas for the presentation of Witchcraft as pop culture. See the separate entries for Bewitched, Charmed, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch

, for example. Instead of movie presentations perpetuating the witch image of the Middle Ages, we now can enjoy fairly realistic portrayals of Witches following the Craft. Regrettably, there are still throwbacks like The Blair Witch Project

, but it is hoped that such fare will be presented less and less as Wicca establishes itself more firmly as a straightforward, alternative religion.

Television miniseries have included the spectacular Hallmark Entertainment presentation of Merlin in 1998 with Sam Neil in the title role and Helena Bonham Carter as Morgan le Fay. The movie was directed by Steve Barron. Executive Producer Robert Halmi was also responsible for the miniseries Jason and the Argonauts, with Jason London in the title role. The gods of ancient Greece, including Zeus (Angus MacFadyen) and Hera (Olivia Williams), made this a favorite among present day Pagans and Witches.

The various Walt Disney animated productions are a category in themselves. Fantasia (1940) held a wealth of paganism, not least of which was the appearance of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. (There had been an earlier use of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in 1930 by Hugo Reisenfeld and the Artcinema Association, and a few years later in Der Zauberlehrling by the Compagnie Français des Films.) The sorcerer was an imposing figure, demonstrating the power of ceremonial magic. In the Pastoral Symphony segment were centaurs, Pegasus, Bacchus, Zeus, Vulcan, and a wonderful figure of Diana shooting her bow, which was the crecent moon. Iris, goddess of the rainbow, and Apollo also made brief appearances. But perhaps the most moving episode of the film was the Night on Bald Mountain sequence, which had the Black Mountain Chernabog creating figures from flames that came from his fingers and a procession of necromantic figures crossing the sky that has been described as both evil and erotic.

In sharp contrast to the emotive Night on Bald Mountain is the lovable character Witch Hazel and her broomstick Beelzebub in the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat. Good Witch Hazel was a combination of the (later) characters Eglantine in Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Worst Witch in her bumbling working of magic. In contrast to Witch Hazel is the evil witch represented by the Wicked Queen in Snow White, released in 1937, three years before Fantasia. Here, all of the misconceptions of witches are brought together to give a true parody of the Wise Woman with the ugly old hag figure, sporting talon-like fingers, warty nose, pointed chin, and humped back.

The Snow White of the new breed of Disney animators was The Black Cauldron,

released in 1985. It was based on the five books of Lloyd Alexander: Chronicles of

Prydain, with the Horned King, the old wizard Dallben, King Eidilleg of the Fairy Folk, and the Witches of Morva: Orgoch, Orddu, and Orwen, who are keepers of the cauldron. Two of these witches are in the "ugly old hag" mold, while the third, Orwen, leans more toward the plump Witch Hazel type but with voluminous breasts and the belief that she has tremendous sex appeal. The saving grace of these three witches is that they are in no way frightening.

Cartoon witches will probably continue to be presented in something akin to "traditional" form, but hopefully with a humorous side. Such was the point of the newspaper comic strip witch Broom Hilda, created by Russell Myers and distributed by Chicago Tribune Syndicate. She first appeared on April 19, 1970, as a green, cigar-chomping, fat witch whose best friends were a troll and a buzzard. In 1971, Archie's TV Funnies introduced an animated Broom Hilda on a Saturday morning show, but she seemed most effective in the newspaper.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.