The days of witches being seen as evil haggard old women and outcasts who were burned at the stake for their beliefs are long gone, according to research carried out by a Midland academic. Sophie Blakemore found out how Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch have helped turn witchcraft into the latest expression of ‘girl power’
Birmingham Post (England), Feb. 26, 2003
For centuries, the traditional image of a witch was of an old woman crouched over a cauldron cooking up spells and practising the dark arts.
But, thanks to a number of television shows, the image has undergone a transformation and witches have become alluring symbols of female authority, according to a study by a researcher at Warwick University.
Positive images of witchcraft portrayed by hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch have transformed the popularity of the occult figures, the study, carried out by film and television studies lecturer Rachel Moseley, claims.
More and more teenage girls are attracted by the glamour and power that now surrounds the ancient art and according to Ms Moseley’s study, called Glamorous Witchcraft, the key to the change in perception is sex appeal.
Although a belief in witchcraft has not been an integral part of mainstream Western culture for hundreds of years, Ms Moseley said witches were now seen by young females as alluring symbols of ‘girl power’ with more glamour than rapper Ms Dynamite.
They are no longer seen as evil but as magical sorceresses with the power to enchant, according to Ms Moseley.
The sexy trio of young witches in channel Five’s hit series Charmed epitomise the new image of witches as confident, independent women with the power to seduce.
With the rise in the number of spell and charm books in High Street bookshops and a new magazine spin-off from US show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Ms Moseley said witches were now icons representing ‘bewitching femininity’.
‘Teen witches usuallyacquire their powers at a moment which both marks adolescence and captures the moment of transition from child to woman – the potential attainment of adult femininity and sexual power,’ she said. For example, TV character Sabrina is introduced to her powers following her 16th birthday.
Sabrina offers a fantasy of teenage female power as her magic gives her a way of negotiating the emotional teen world of cliques and romances and growing independence, Ms Moseley said.
‘The teenage witch genre articulates a new powerful image of femininity,’ she said.
‘It’s not that the hag and herb potions have become hip, rather witchcraft has become synonymous with power and girly magic.
‘With the exception of Harry Potter, celluloid representations of witches are still typically female.
Many serious practitioners of Wicca/Witchraft see the media’s current fascination with their religion as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it helps people to “come out of the closet.” On the other hand, the media’s version of The Craft is often criticized as inaccurate.
‘Historically, witches have been outcasts and much of this unease clearly stems from a fear of female force.’
Witchery is about empowerment, dressing up and showing off, according to Ms Moseley.
Although not a witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is another screen character who is ‘redefining feminism’ according to Glamorous Witchcraft. Buffy, played by sex symbol Sarah Michelle Gellar, is a girl with magical powers chosen to fight evil.
The character flouts stereotypes and gives greater meaning to the phrase ‘girl power’ and female independence as she defeats the powers of darkness, killing vampires and demons in her high heels and feminine clothes.
It is exactly these kind of images that are enticing more teenagers into witchcraft as a hobby and empowering them, according to Ms Moseley.
The word witch comes from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘wise person’
Witchcraft means ‘Craft of the Wise Ones’ and is also known as the ‘Old Religion’
Its practices can be traced to Neolithic (Stone Age) cave paintings. In early times, the Witch was the local lawyer, psychiatrist, and doctor
In June 1692, the first of the witches of Salem, Bridget Bishop, was hanged in Massachusetts, USA, following the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials
Europe’s first school of witchcraft has recently been set up in southern Austria with the aim of demystifying magic
Witches believe in the Wiccan Rede – If It Harms None, Do What You Will – and the Three-Fold Law, which states that whatever you do, good or evil, comes back to you three times over
Male witches are known as witches, not warlocks, which is a Scottish term, meaning ‘traitor’, or ‘oath-breaker’
When shall we three screen again?
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
American actress Melissa Joan Hart plays teenage witch Sabrina who discovered her supernatural powers when she turned 16.
The now-trainee journalist uses her charms to do good in her home town in Massachusetts and root out wrong-doing in this teen comedy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The cult American TV show started out as a film and was adapted for the small screen starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Gellar plays Buffy Summers, whose job it is to overcome demons and vampires plaguing Sunnydale, California – which is built on a Hellmouth, or portal to the underworld – with the help of her superhuman powers and friends. She is sometimes accompanied by David Boreanaz playing vampire-turned-good-guy Angel. Each series has gradually become darker and more sinister, exploring sexuality, death and violence.
This series chronicles the conflicts and love among three vastly different sisters and their need to come together to fulfil an ancient witchcraft prophecy. The Halliwell sisters are described as ‘charmed ones’ with individual powers.
Phoebe, Paige and Piper, who all live in the family’s Victorian manor, fight warlocks and demons, using premonitions, levitation, time freezing and the ability to move things with their minds.