Witchin’ Fiction

This season has seen more than its fair share of new “witchcraft” programs on TV. Hot on the heels of Beautiful Creatures, Oz, Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters—which wasn’t really about a witch in the end (but whatever)—and before the taste of Grimm, that ridiculous season of True Blood, the failed reinvention of Dark Shadows,[1] and other silly representations of witches can be cast from our mouths, we now have Sleepy Hollow, The Witches of East End, and American Horror Story: Coven.

I was excited about Sleepy Hollow. An American Lit teacher who spends a fair share of time with Washington Irving, I saw some great possibilities for Ichabod Crane: the near-comically egotistical, socially inept weakling. I mean I found a show with Ichabod—but it’s called Hello Ladies.

Stephen Merchant in HBO’s Hello Ladies

But then again, I had been excited about The Following too.

I’m looking forward to Felix Else’s Wear. IMDb says:

Against the backdrop of the late 90s Clinton scandal, the lives of Southern women are explored through the eyes of a young boy obsessed with an old fairy tale about a werewolf. . . . But as the Georgia countryside begins to look more and more like a bygone wilderness, Southern manners, medieval chivalry & savagery, and Catholic superstition intersect to explore what is wild, what is civilized, and what is worth preserving, from one age to the next…

and

Felix Else is a New York-based artist and filmmaker. Hailing from the Deep South, and sharing blood with seminal Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor, he grew up surrounded by a particular tradition of storytelling, and shares with his cousin a “high opinion of the comic and the terrible.” . . . Felix specializes in a synthesis of the surreal and the commonplace made curious; unfamiliar; transcendental.

I hope it sees the light of day.

I knew what to expect when I watched The Witches of East End, and I wasn’t um—disappointed—I mean, I got exactly what I thought I would get: muttering of fertility spells in Latin, curses of eternal youth (on women with surprisingly haggard faces[2]), gratuitous boob shots and boob jokes (“You only have one superpower and it’s your breasts”).

But I’m still excited about tonight’s premiere of American Horror Story: Coven. The first season was awesome and then the second was–well, less awesome. Which means the third season should re-awesome, no? Will it be great in its own right or will it rely on our developed devotion to Evan Peters and Frances Conroy? Will it matter?

I know that all the media about “witch schools” is hyperbolic and nothing like what goes on in my witchy education. But a little hyperbole can be fun from time to time as long as it’s not harmful. Which witch will this be?

I also know that there will never be a proper representation of what we do in popular media. Mostly because what we do is interior magic—not a lot of exploding roses and lazer-pointer-fingertips. These are great as metaphors. But, aside from the occasional item flung across the room when we reach pique, we don’t tend to chuck the entire bread aisle on unsuspecting shoppers every time we visit the grocer. Nevertheless, folks want to see shapeshifting a la Hemlock Grove rather than the less perceptible metaphysical shift some of us work with  or the (sometimes more insidious) glamoring that some use to shroud themselves.

I also know it’s not the first influx of witchy movies and TV shows.

But I wonder if this new flood of witchy entertainment is going to help or hurt us. More so hurt those who come to us for tutelage—even more so those who don’t go anywhere for tutelage. How long did it take us to shake the Charmed fallout—did we ever?

I ask this question because just yesterday in my Cultural Diversity class, two sets of students (one in each class) chose to give their religious diversity presentations on Wicca (another set chose Druidry—how cool is that?). One set approached it from the Gardnerian (by way of American Celtic Wicca a la Gavin and Yvonne Frost of the Church and School of Wicca since the assignment was to “focus on religions as they are practiced in America) and initiatory perspective; the other went with the “there are no rules and everything is catch-as-catch-can” perspective that so many interpret as “Wicca.” (See my post concerning “Wannabethans” for my imagination of the difference). Some of the things my students said—and the questions asked by their classmates—reflected the expected media-based misunderstanding about witchcraft and those who practice it.[3]

I asked them why they thought there were so many shows about witchcraft these days. One kid said, “Because it looks so cool.”

One of the girls who did the presentation said, “Know what? That’s prolly cuz it is cool. I mean, it’s so much more legit than I ever knew.”

That made me happy.

Happy to have broadened a young mind. Happy to see that solid education still trumps media hype. Happy that, in the end, no matter what bad face is placed on the craft, the truth will out for those who look for it.

Enjoy AHS3: Coven. I know I will.

~E

[1] 2012 TV, not Johnny Depp

[2] I mean, Freya Beauchamp is supposed to be in her 20s, right? She looks like she could use a nap.

At 32, Jenna Dewan is gorgeous but the lighting or the makeup does something baaaaad to her lovely face, weighing down the slightest of wrinkles (as heavy makeup often does). In the opening scene, I thought she and Julia Ormond (age 48) were supposed to be sisters, not mother and daughter.

[3] I had a student tell me last week that he once had a teacher who “looked exactly like a witch.”

I said: “Reeeeeally? Imagine thaaaat.

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6 thoughts on “Witchin’ Fiction

  1. Briliant post, thank you, can’t say I’ve seen many of the shows you mention (although I’m reading about them online) but sure will get the fallout over on yahoo answers and suchlike in the religion and spirituality section! Seekers over the years to our group have also fallen into two categories, the ‘we watched this show and it was cool and we wanna do that’ and those that have done some research lol.

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