If you don’t live under a rock, or in a forest hut that stands on chicken legs, you’re seeing a lot of witches in books, TV movies, and movies these days. Sabrina, Maleficent, a Charmed reboot, a remake of The Craft, indie horror flicks like Hagazussa and Gwen, a new Blair Witch video game (and new versions of Witcher), plus a plethora of YA novels about witches, all point to a veritable obsession. And that’s not counting all the witchery seen on social media these days: Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest are awash in images of witches and witchcraft, from tarot and tea to cauldrons and cats (the original witch’s familiar).
Witchy media has a long history, though, going back to the silent film days, then of course The Wizard of Oz in 1939, and kicking into high gear with the TV series Bewitched in the 1960s. My own most significant witch media moments happened when I was a kid in the late 1970s. First, there was the made-for-TV movie Crowhaven Farm, in which Hope Lange plays a woman who inherits a farm in Salem and realizes she is the reincarnation of an accused witch, and then, there was the mini-series adaptation The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, in which Bette Davis plays a kindly-seeming matriarch in a pagan New England village where they keep the "old ways," including a gruesome legacy of human sacrifice. Both these TV stories affected me deeply and catalyzed my fascination with witchcraft that continues, obviously, to this day.
I asked 14 witches I know about their most significant media moments on their witch path, the first time they saw themselves or their style of witchcraft, the moments that crystallized their own witch identity. I got some beautiful and sometimes unexpected answers — and yes, three of them said Practical Magic:
Amanda Yates Garcia
"As a child I identified with Meg, the main character in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a clumsy dork of a girl, always behind in everything. One day, three witches come into her life, presenting Meg with a gift: her faults. I remind my clients that the things we resist most in ourselves are actually our superpowers. Longing for love, feelings of frustration, uncertainty about our path: these are all considered “faults” by the status quo. But witches recognize that these faults gift us with the power of resistance. Our inner beasts will drive us to create a more loving, just, and beautiful world, for everyone."
Brittany Bella Graham
"Most people wouldn’t consider the orphaned protagonist, Mary Lennox, in The Secret Garden a Witch, but Mary had an innate, intuitive connection with the Earth. In the novel, Mary’s sickly cousin, Colin, who couldn’t walk when the pair first met, healed himself via 'Magic,' but it could’ve also been called 'will' or 'intention.' One of my favorite quotes is: 'There must be lots of Magic in the world, but people don’t know what it’s like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.'"
Berta A. Daniels
"Simon, King of the Witches, a cheesy horror movie from 1971, was one of my earliest introductions to the look and feel of Ceremonial Magic. There’s even some useful esoteric theory on how witches use various tools to affect the universe, mixed in with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and set in the decadent psychedelic scene of San Francisco in the 1960s. On a more positive note, the Showtime series Robin of Sherwood portrayed magic, witchcraft and worshiping the Old Gods as part of daily life."
H. Byron Ballard
"The image that still rings true with me after all these years is the scene in the film Practical Magic where a ragtag group of women (called from the phone tree) assembled themselves in a circle, holding whatever cleaning utensil came to hand (including a hand vacuum). Their earnestness, curiosity and desire to help were palpable and something I've experienced again and again in groups of women."
H. Byron Ballard is a western NC native, witch, folklorist and writer, and senior priestess at Mother Grove Goddess Temple in Asheville, NC.
"When I was a kid, the book Wise Child by Monica Furlong meant the world to me. It's about a Scottish girl who is essentially abandoned by her parents, and so gets taken in by Juniper, the village witch. Juniper is extremely kind, but she is also rigorous in the magic lessons she teaches Wise Child. Herbalism, history, astronomy, tarot, and mythology are all part of Juniper's eclectic curriculum. It very much resembles my own practice, which draws from many different fields of study. Juniper's emphasis on maintaining a spirit of love and compassion even in the face of persecution also resonates with me, now more than ever."
Pam Grossman is the creator and host of The Witch Wave podcast and the author of Waking the Witch: Reflections on Art, Magic, and Power and What Is A Witch?
"Sailor Moon contributed to my magical development by introducing me to the planets and their attributes before I officially started studying the occult. Watching Sailor Moon transform into Princess Serenity is a powerful and witchy moment for me. I always felt like that moment portrayed Usagi becoming one with her higher self and hidden powers. That scene moves me so much that I tear up whenever I watch it. One of my favorite quotes is from Sailor Mars: 'The fire of passion and the power of prayer will defeat evil!'"
Ghia Vitale is a writer and senior editor at Quail Bell Magazine, who has been practicing witchcraft since she was 12. Although her beliefs have evolved over time, she now mostly practices Chaos magick, and focuses on the elements of earth and fire.
"Growing up, I was a huge fan of Bewitched. It didn’t present Witchcraft with a great deal of accuracy but it didn’t do a great deal of damage either. I loved that Samantha wasn’t demonized for her spell casting skills."
Jane Hash, a Certified Natural Health Professional, is an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities and other underserved populations. She is a co-founding Director and spokesmodel for the nonprofit organization Classy Little Fashions Foundation.
K. A. Laity
"One resonant moment on screen for me was in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. There’s a scene where Norrell refuses to deal with a ship that’s run aground. Jonathan Strange offers suggestions for magical solutions, all of them dismissed with horror by the naval officers. Strange asks what the place is called and receives the haughty reply, 'Horse Sand.' He plunges his hands into the sand to create horses from it, which carry the boat safely into deeper water. It’s such a beautiful evocation of simple creative magic: what do I have? What can I make with it?"
"The Color Purple is my favorite depiction of the underlying superstition and rootwork/hoodoo/folk magic that has been practiced by my ancestors since they were brought to these shores. Two scenes in particular resonate: When Ms. Celie is combing Mister’s daughter’s hair and the little girl’s hair is snarled. Mister says to cut her hair and Ms. Celie replies 'It’s bad luck to cut a girl’s hair.' I also find the scene when Ms. Celie puts roots on Mister to be powerful. She pronounces a curse: ‘til he does right by her everything he does will wither and die. I identify with Ms. Celie using the tools of hoodoo to empower herself to be free."
Nadira is a tarot reader, dance studio owner, belly dance teacher, and performance artist. A creator, a lover and a life giver, she walks her path with the strength, dignity and love that is the legacy of her ancestors.
"Although it's not a very accurate depiction of the true Craft, the film that resonates most with me is Practical Magic. Sandra Bullock’s depiction of Sally Owens was spot on. She took the taunting of the locals with stoic grace, and used her gifts to make potions and products to help people. My favorite line is when she tells the sheriff, "There's no devil in the Craft." When her sister Gillian is in trouble, she drops everything to go help her. This is my experience with Witchcraft: helping people, protecting them, making useful things with plants. And who doesn't love the Aunts, with their whimsical lifestyle and midnight margaritas?"
Elizabeth Koelle, a photographer and writer, has been a Witch for 30+ years, trained in the Alexandrian tradition of British Traditional Witchcraft, now practicing a less formal, nature-based tradition.
"Two scenes with Willow from the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer really resonate with me: when she sits by a tree and makes an exotic flower bloom in front of her, and the “Oh. My. Goddess” moment as she charges up the Slayer’s axe. Also, Charles de Lint’s books show how music is inherent in magic. We’re all part of the same song, seeking harmony."
Nanci Moy is an is an organizer of NYC’s Pagan Pride Day, and an Elder of Strangers’ Gate Coven of the Temple of the Spiral Path, which offers classes and public rituals.
Lauren “Madame Onça” O’Leary
"Finding depictions of unapologetically witchy society meant everything to me. Books like The Chalice and the Blade and The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk nurtured the hope in Young Witchy Me that maybe patriarchy, dogma and systemic oppression aren’t inevitable! My sense of the possible was transformed by these books, and with it, my practices as a witch and artist.
The Wicker Man (1973) remains my favorite neo-Pagan film! Compared to the formal, remote expressions of monotheistic religion I had known, the pageantry, music, and uninhibited relationship to sex and death expressed by the inhabitants of Summerisle felt so alive. It left me thirsty for immersive, mystical community."
Lauren “Madame Onça” O’Leary is a career performer, artist and event producer, and creator of the inclusive, multicultural World Spirit Tarot, block-print images crafted in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition.
"Reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley inspired me to dedicate my life to the Goddess when I was 16 years old.
'For all the Gods are one god,' she said to me then, as she had said many times before, and as I have said to my own novices many times, and as every priestess who comes after me will say again, 'and all the Goddesses are one Goddess, and their is only one Initiator. And to every man his own truth, and the God within.'
And so, perhaps, the truth winds somewhere between the road to Glastonbury, Isle of the Priests, and the road to Avalon, lost forever in the mists of the Summer Sea.
But this is my truth, I who am Morgaine tell you these things, Morgaine who was in later days called Morgan le Fay.
I felt a powerful stirring deep within me, reading these stories from the perspective of the priestesses, like I was remembering what I once knew. I went outside to my suburban back yard under the light of the full moon and performed a ritual inspired by this book."
"The portrayal of witchcraft in the movie Practical Magic is mixed with darkness, humor, practicality, and love. To me this is what life truly is. We find darkness and joy, humor, love and magic in every corner of our lives. It showed women coming together to banish a foe, and wanting connection to others who truly see you! Even as the Aunts describe dancing naked under the full solstice moon, the scene isn’t a dark spectacle of worship, but one of feminine power and nature, that defines what they, and I, do. And yes, I too would love to jump off the roof as they did!"
Raven Moon is an Eclectic Strega Witch with over 25 years practicing. Originally from Brooklyn, NY she now resides in Western PA with her own Metaphysical shop, Raven Moon's Oracle.
These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.