Society’s Perception of Witches: Feared to Famous


No one’s identity and reputation have undergone a more incredible metamorphosis than witches. Throughout early history witches have been vilified, misunderstood, and even burned to death as recorded in the Salem Witch Trials. Early society perceived the witch as a dark, wicked powerful being who was wrongfully identified as worshipping Satan.

Village Healers Were Accused of Being Witches

The stage classic The Crucible by Arthur Miller details these precepts of facing the consequences of false accusations and blind faith. Even though the 4 act play is based on the Salem Witch Trials Miller wrote it as an allegory to McCarthyism that was running rampant at the time. The reality of the early witch was that many times they were just the village’s healers creating poultices and tonics to relieve ailments or practicing midwifery to help women bear children.

Witches in Movies

Legend and lore of witchcraft and witches have proliferated thru oral histories and manuscripts. In the 1930s modern filmmaking gave us one of our first visual images of the classic witch. In The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West arrives in a cyclone of smoke riding a broom; she is green-skinned, donning a pointy hat, and clad in all black.

The Modern witch has evolved into many forms but all embody the mystique of feminine power. The ’70s brought us the luscious art house classic Suspiria. Dario Argento creates this lush, technicolor dream-like setting of a ballet house housing a sinister coven. Despite its weak plot, it remains one of the most visually beautiful witch movies ever made; it’s limb-twisting choreography and iconic rock soundtrack help make it a tour de force film.


A decade later we glimpse another version of the modern witch in the hilariously wicked trio of Sanderson Sisters in the cult favorite Hocus Pocus. This film is hands down the most popular witch movie ever made, it accrues new fans every year; thus giving it eternal life in the eyes of fans everywhere.

Polar opposites of the bright, funny witches of Hocus Pocus are the far darker foursome seen in The Craft. In this incarnation of the witch, a group of misfits finds their fourth that completes their coven. Each girl has her own personal reasons that push her to pursue power thru witchcraft. Even though the girls get in over their heads; they end up having a quest for power backfire in some fashion. The Craft does foster the feminist concept of breaking the bindings of being controlled and taking back the power to dictate one’s own life….echoing the premise that no one can bring you down unless they are given the power by you to do so.


Recent modern cinema introduces us to one of its newest incarnations of the witch; the beautiful, beguiling Owens Sisters of the film Practical Magic. This film once again shows us how the witch has to hide herself from her community and is misunderstood. In this film Sally is a sweet but strong force seen helping local women with potions and spells out of her store; she is the embodiment of healing, female power. When her sister Gilly comes home seeking refuge from a controlling boyfriend Jimmy; Sally helps her to take control of her life, and her body and to rid them both of Jimmy! Along the way, she finds love and community acceptance. This concept of community acceptance is one that will permeate into future film and TV versions of witches. It signals the beginning of society’s openness to the concept of witchcraft.

1999’s The Blair Witch Project; the grandmother of found footage films is kicking the witch genre on its head. This low-budget film with a relentless viral marketing campaign became a global phenomenon that kept fans wondering where the fiction started and stopped. Its use of hand-held filming was a totally unique and vomit-inducing concept at times for fans. It told the story of the search for an old crone in the woods that made fans use their imaginations and scare themselves by showing little to nothing of the searched creature. It ultimately grossed 250 million and was a sleeper hit that became one of the most successful indie films of all time.

The small screen has given us many iterations of the modern witch and helped drive the concept of mainstreaming the practice of witchcraft. This is seen in the series Charmed and AHS: Coven. These series show that sisterhood by blood or finding others with like ideologies can be a force to be reckoned with. They are well blended into their respective communities; thus helping solidify that witchcraft no longer needs to be practiced in the shadows.

With the introduction of social media, modern-day witches can reach a global community by offering card readings, spells, and much more. Many gathered legions of followers and achieved fame. The witch’s evolution has been a long, bumpy one that ultimately ends in acceptance and understanding.

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