Ever notice how Hollywood separates Witches into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? (Like this documentary.)
Keep in mind that The Bad Witch and The Ugly Witch are hardly ever the same. Most are lovely. Case in point, The Huntsman. Who in their right mind would think Kristen Stewart “fairer” than Charlize Theron? Maleficent too; she’s far more striking than Aurora. Shall I go on?
I love to watch Witches on TV. I know it’s not real and I like the Fantasy genre as well as any. I may like Horror better in general – but they rarely have interesting witches. Demons, sure. Angels, heck yeah – angels are scary-ass-fackers. But for Witches, we have to look under “Fantasy.” Some favorite witchy movies on The Bad Witch’s shelves are:
- The Wizard of Oz: There are good Witches out there too! I have a warm fuzzy spot for this film as most people do; I used to watch it with my close-cousin every year, back when “they did that.”
- Bell, Book, and Candle: (Based on John Van Druten’s 1958 Broadway play of the same name) Kim Novak casts a love spell on
Jimmy Stewart and loses her powers. Jack Lemmon plays her “warlock” brother and Elsa Lanchester plays the daft Aunt Queenie – it’s great. And Pyewacket, to whom Novak sings while she “casts,” reminds me of my late Siamese.
- The Witches of Eastwick: Aren’t there always three women? I mean, every time I get into a triad of Witches, I know there will be cherry pits everywhere before it’s all over, don’t you?
- The Craft: I admit it, I love the first half of this film; I turn it off after the whales come ashore. Rumor has it, a “real” Witch was consulted on the film and they added the second half for entertainment value only – and to “throw off” the uninitiated. Whatever.
- Practical Magic: I’m not even embarrassed to tell you that I love this film. I mean, the scene with the PTA phone tree? Who doesn’t want Jillian as their slutty sister? And magical margaritas, circle dancing in the kitchen, and invoking Willie Nelson? What’s not Witchy about that?
Beliefnet has a post about “Hollywood Witches” — but the author does this thing that drives me nuts: the article repeatedly conflates Wicca and Witchcraft. Y’all know how I feel about this, right? Right? Beliefnet asks, “how stereotypical silver screen sorcery stacks up to everday [sic] Wiccan reality.” In the end, I say, “It can’t.” And then I ask, “Do we want it to?” One of the commenters on the post suggests that because:
Tv [sic] and movie portrayals of Witches, Wiccans and Pagans in general are often written by those who are not Witches, Wiccans or Pagans. . . . If accuracy in portrayal and image is what we want as Pagans then mayhap it is time we stopped leaving the telling of our history to cowans, came out of the shadows and tell our stories ourselves.
But there are plenty of “stories” told by “real” Pagans. Earlier this month, someone recalled for me The Occult Experience. This is a 1980s Australian documentary that I first watched back in college. I watched it again a few weeks ago just after having watched The Legend of the Witches, a spotlight on Alexander Saunders; made in Britain in 1970, this film, despite its gross inaccuracies, has some historical value as a representation of Alexandrian origins. I’m always tickled at the way Westerners viewed Magick, Occultism, and Witchcraft in the 1970s and 1980s. (Here’s a second opinion; make sure you have a look at the comments – well worth it!) What I can say about The Occult Experience is that it is a “true historical treasure.” I mean, it’s always good to look back and gauge how far we’ve come. For the most part, those who are well rounded, no longer conflate *everything* from folk magic to anti-establishment philosophical movements, like Church of Satan, under the “occult” heading; we recognize the historical inaccuracies that were formerly perpetuated as “scholarly” (per Temple of Set segment); we no longer represent Shamanism in the weird, grossly-inaccurate, and not-just-a-little-offensive light that this film shines; and I’d like to think that we realize not all Christians are ugly.
The Occult Experience is, to paraphrase a friend, really just a guide to who’s who in Wicca and Wicca-ish-ness. It’s fun to see the “Elders” of the Wiccan community in their natural habitat and youthful hair coloration. But, billing itself as The Occult Experience pisses TBW off a little. I wish it had covered other trads as comprehensively – or at all. Too bad they didn’t even touch Solomonic Magic or anything vaguely Golden Dawn-y. Or Native American. Or Heathen. Or Kemetic (aside from that pseudo-Egyptian-Wicca-blend thing). Or Hermetic. Or Alchemy. Or any Gnostic traditions. Or any form of Theurgy (including Goetia). Or Voudou or Santaria or any sort of Brujeria. I didn’t see much about the “occult” per se in this film supposedly dedicated to the experience of occult practice. In fairness to the documentary, I have to concede that in the 80s (like today, I guess) everything occult-y or Witchy is viewed as Wicca or at least in the Wiccan neighborhood. So, “everything Occult-y”? Hrmm . . . I donno. Everything Wicca – OK.
When I mentioned this in conversation, my friend reminded me that Wicca was the most prevalent and public face of Witchcraft in the 70s and 80s. Which made me wonder, has Wicca’s insistence on being so visible for over 60 years marginalized non-Wiccans who prefer privacy and secrecy? Would other occult practices have had to “come out” into public view if Wicca hadn’t exposed itself so publicly? I mean, some people *assume* that other trads were “inaccessible” because they were powerless to be otherwise – and that Wicca’s visibility “made it possible” for others to be visible. I wonder if that’s true at all. It seems to me that others “came out” to combat Wicca’s colonization of the “occult scene.”
At the time I was watching all of these documentaries, I also watched Poke Runyon’s Magick of Solomon: Lemegeton Secrets Revealed. It made me giggle. In the opening sequence (which focuses in on his Master’s degree in Anthropology, as if that means something – I mean, The Bad Witch has a PhD but that doesn’t make me qualified to summon demons), Runyon explains that the only reason he is making the documentary is based in a “leak” of information. This indicates, to me at least, that if chatty-Witches kept their secrets, the rest of us could too.
So here are my two big questions:
1) When does an academic degree of any sort matter in Witchcraft? Does the fact that I have a PhD from a fair-to-middl’in’ university matter in Magic? Sure, it makes me a reliable author in terms of logic, research methods, and execution – but does it matter when we start talking about Magic? Does the fact that I have a degree in Religious Studies from The Pastoral Ministries Institute of a private Jesuit university matter? I guess, only in terms of spiritual leadership training. What I learned about Witchcraft at that university comes with a sacred and secret degree – not one I can frame and hang over my desk. Right?
I mean, I suppose I could make up a certificate and such. That kind of self-aggrandizement is not uncommon among Pagans. I could give myself a title. I know plenty of “title whores” who created their own traditions and then anoint themselves High Priest/ess. (Hell, it’s done. We all know it’s done. We just look the other way. OK, OK, sometimes we snicker. All of my “titles” have been conferred upon me – sometimes at my own reluctance. None of my titles have paperwork – except my Reiki lineage credentials. Those are tucked in a folder . . . somewhere.)
Do we want certificates as evidence of education? I mean, do we want to adopt a system of accreditation for Magical training? Isn’t that like inviting appropriation? The prospect of being reviewed for “validity” by outside sources seems terrifyingly invasive to me. Sure Pagan seminaries have a system of accreditation – but that’s a little bit different. Or is it?
2) Do we want TeenFiction, TV, and film to portray “real” Witchcraft, Magick, and Occultism. Or are we happy allowing the term “Wicca” (if not actual Wicca) to star in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, Soul Eater, and True Blood? Do we want our sacred secrets capitalized upon? Are we happy to let our “real” Wiccan brethren and sisters expose themselves to the attenuation of Pop Culture? Is that fair? (Did they bring it upon themselves in past generations?)
Before I proceed, my disclaimer: I’m not Wicca-bashing. Wicca is valid. Wicca is awesome. Wicca is, however, not for me. Wicca is also not the end all be all of Paganism. Wicca is, regrettably,culturally pervasive. That last item is the item at which I balk.
I have to lament that Wicca – both the real kind and the fake kind, is still the most visible form of Pagancraft in Hollywood and therefore, unfortunately, in legitimacy. Wicca may not represent all of us, but its elders do sometimes try to speak for us in political arenas. Is this an effect of Hollywood exposure? Or is it just the nature of the beast? Is the only way to combat this by exposing ourselves? Do we want to expose our secrets the way Wicca has? Do we want to be culturally co-opted the way Wicca has? Or do we simply allow Wicca – so very different from many of our paths – to be our Hollywood face? Are we hiding behind Wicca?
It’s a conundrum.
Here’s a metaphor – you knew it was coming. I live in the South. I spent every summer of my childhood in North Alabama before I decided to move here in my 30s. My Chicago friends would poke-fun at The South. I’d just say, “It’s not really like that you know.” After moving here, my reply became, “Yup, you’re right. We’re all rednecks.” (Not in those words, mind you.) As an adult, I see that to non-Southerners (including Texans and Floridians, sorry folks) the Hollywood-image of the Southerner holds true no matter how I protest. And quite honestly, Southerners don’t take too kindly to interlopers. Ever notice street-signs in The South? No? There’s a reason for that. It’s not that we are too dumb or ill-equipped to hang signs right. We just don’t want strangers lurking around where they haven’t been precisely directed. Ever take driving directions from a Southerner? We don’t use street names – we use landmarks. If you don’t know where the old Lowes used to be, you don’t need to be snooping around on the second left after it.
Are we like that with Witchcraft? Should we be? I’m of a mind that we should. But I’m not sure I’m of a mind that we should allow Alyson Hannigan and Alyssa Milano to be the face of our religion. (That reminds me – Magic is not a religion. Not all Witches “do Magic,” I understand this. Wicca is a religion. Witchcraft is a religion. Heathenry is a religion. Not everybody’s doing Magic. TBW is a Witch and I does do Magic. This is what I’m talking about. Spread religion like wildfire. Magic? Maybe not so much.)
Maybe I’ve answered my own question. Maybe the religious aspects of various paths are OK to proliferate in media. Not the secrets. Not the Magic. That, we should allow Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling to have at. I don’t want the real-thing available on Netflix or OnDemand, do you?
And I ask this last question for a real reason. I recently “passed” on the invitation to represent “The Contemporary Witch” in a documentary/reality series for a major cable channel and a newbie production studio (the studio produced a reality TV show that I loo-v’d – but it was also one reason I didn’t want to do the show). Should I have taken the opportunity to introduce non-Wiccan Witchcraft to American TV audiences?
The producer seemed nice enough but she didn’t know a whole lot about Witchcraft: “Tell me what it’s like to be an English Instructor by day and a Witch by night!” *sighs* Apparently, the world wants to see an “educated witch” – whatever they think that means. But with producers that don’t know we don’t sleep in coffins (anymore, tee-hee) how is a production company to know if they’ve got a Witch with a PhD who doesn’t know squat about Witchcraft, a whack-a-doodle with self-fashioned “degrees” and “titles” and a maternally-proclaimed-neo-messianic-offspring, just another “Wicca-esque” Witch who doesn’t see that neo-Pagan Witchcraft is neo-Pagan Witchcraft whether you call it Wicca or not, an Engineering student who doesn’t know Lemegeton from WoW, a fluffy that believes there’s a such thing as “Black Magic” and “White Witchcraft” (in the way Hollywood portrays it), or if they’ve got an honest to goodness non-Wiccan Witch, Sorceress, or Magician?
Rather than “starring,” I offered to consult. After all, it’s what I do. I seem to find some bad Witches and field reporting sounds like a fun change of pace!
Blessings, Quarks, and 93,
The Bad Witch
P.S. Sorry this one got wordy, ya’ll. I had a lot to say. And the power-line by TBW’s house caught aflame leaving me nothing to do but write. And garden. And play with my chickens. Sucks, right?
This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project is “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . . The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet.”
 Runyon rubbed elbows with the likes of Oberon Zell and Frederick M. Adams, both notorious to TBW (one based in personal experience) as being Wicca-centric. Lord, the BS I’ve heard spewed by “Elders.” In the end, it all sounds like bigotry and power mongering to lil ol’ non-Wiccan me.
 Other things do, but not my PhD. Plus, anyone with a terminal degree knows that there is a difference between an MA and a PhD (and an EdD for that matter). I’m not being snobby about it, it’s just true. OK, fine. I’m being snobby about it. That doesn’t make it less true.
 But, that said, I have some information to share about Runyon – seeing as lack of information is still information. All Wikis say that Runyon “specialized in Magick.” E-hem. Northridge only had a course in “Supernatural in The Modern World” in 1980. If he had written his thesis on Folk Magic, that’d be one thing. “Specializing” in a subject is, um, quite another. However, he didn’t even write his thesis on Folk Magics. His thesis, A History of Magical Cults and the Rise of NeoPaganism in Southern California, is – based on the title – a historical chronology of his own movement, not a theoretical approach to magick that has been peer reviewed and defended It has also been removed from the school database as well as Google Books. I have an Interlibrary Loan Request for it. I’ll let you know what’s in it.
 Hee, hee. I said, “exposing ourselves.”