Season of the Witch

We are in the darkest time of the year: Halloween season is upon us! The focus of the series story is repeatedly the witch - a mysterious, supernatural, powerful and feminist being, if the series creators allow it. Season of the Witch: A blog article about the portrayal of the series witch and the image of women it conveys.

Supernatural beings have always been a major fascination of serialized narration. And since Halloween is just around the corner, it's worth taking a look at the more sinister forces: Autumn has been the season of customs and rituals for centuries; supernaturalism, superstition and magic seem ubiquitous. The trees go through a dreamlike golden color change, but the gloomy night comes a little closer every evening.

The darkness, the cold and the howling wind invite you to snuggle up on the sofa and watch series, while on the coffee table a burning candle brings coziness and secretly casts flickering shadow images on the wall.

With the advent of televisions beginning around the 1960s, the supernatural also moved into living rooms: The Addams Family and Bewitched (both 1964) became hit TV series. Alongside the numerous Halloween creatures, one being repeatedly moved into the narrative focus: the witch.

According to the cliché, she is a white old woman, mysterious, a powerful and unpredictable being who threatens the natural order of the world. At best, she can fly with a broom, has a few warts on her face, can summon powerful spells from her demon book, curse enemies and brew the most poisonous potions with a few disgusting ingredients and a large cauldron.

This idea is always played with in the serial as well. In Bewitched (from 1964), the protagonist Samantha is sweet, blonde, American and, of course, white. But Samantha is also a wife and housewife, later a mother, and only tries to cope with the absurdities of everyday life with her powerful spells. Oh, the poor husband gets involved in the most impossible situations in the process! It is easy to see that the tale of a witch is also the reflection of the time. A powerful woman who, despite the strongest efforts, gets the magically untalented husband into trouble. Fortunately, he has understanding.

Since then, we have encountered the most diverse types of witches in serial stories. The end of the 1990s is the time of "Girl Power" and there is a real witch hype: First, in 1996, the teenager Sabrina Spellman (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) in her colorful sitcom, shortly followed by Willow Rosenberg as a somewhat shy sidekick who helps her friend Buffy hunt vampires and all kinds of monsters by learning the art of witchcraft (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from 1997). Finally, the "power of three" is awakened by the P-sisters Prue, Piper and Phoebe in Charmed (1998).

However, the witch has not yet completely made the transition to a positive heroine. Even in the 90s, some negative characteristics still cling to her: Sabrina is portrayed as a very overdressed teenager who, even in the intro, is mainly interested in a simple change of clothes. Willow is at first only a side character as a typical wallflower with many good grades and very few friends. If you look for pictures of the Charmed sisters (regardless of the constellation), you'll always see the three of them sexualized - with plunging necklines, bare bellies and bedroom eyes.

Of course, these 90s witches also had their good: Sabrina was able to cope with teenage problems together with her witch aunts in female solidarity, Willow gained self-confidence by increasing witch power - and she is queer (yesss!. After all, the three P's always fought the (mostly depicted as male) evil. Whether the portrayal was always correct is open to question, but the thematic of the portrayal allowed the witch image to evolve.

Having finally arrived in today, a new idea of witches seems to be emerging. On the one hand, more original ideas are being reworked - historical places, such as Salem in the USA, where the witch trials took place in modern times, are often important series settings (e.g. in "Motherland: Fort Salem"). The forces are also clarified as an ancestral tradition, and evil also anchors itself in the witch protagonists. The series themselves also gain depth: for example, Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision (2021, Disney+) becomes the strongest of all the heroines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe primarily because of her ancient genes, giving space to her post-traumatic stress disorder, repeated grief, and developing depression - for example, by reenacting the aforementioned sitcom Bewitched. This is reinforced by the evil boss Agatha Harkness (Agatha - Coven of Chaos starting in 2023 on Disney+), whose background is in Salem, who wants to deprive Wanda of her powers and who finally pulls Wanda to the dark side for good.

Sabrina Spellman finally got a dark series version in 2018, closer to the comic book original: it's about demons, hell, revenge and the ultimate power. The witch is still 16 and looking good, but Sabrina is now more about power and independence from old structures (aka the satanic patriarchy) than an OOTD.

And for those who haven't noticed, yes, there has been mostly a white witch image so far. The exceptions are supporting characters like Marie Laveau from American Horror Story (2011-ongoing, Disney+), whose being a witch is nonetheless not entirely straightforward, primarily due to the racially charged attribution of a voodoo queen. And also in Sabrina, the character of Prudence Night is a POC and an assertive witch - but unfortunately still only a minor character. At least there are now approaches to bring diversity and inclusivity into the witch landscape. In the reboot of Charmed (from 2018, RTL+), POC actresses embody the three protagonists and True Blood (from 2011, WOW) shows that there can be Witches of all genders and skin colors. We *summon* the series creators to do more of this!

Because we desperately want to see more of Witches! Looking at them all broadly, their portrayal shows us the following: Witches have been cis-women in the serial, embodying a feminist image: they are highly talented, brave, powerful, confident, determined, well-read, tricky, and mysterious. They have long represented an appropriate and equal image of women without having to explicitly say, "Hey, this is a series about feminism!" Of course, the Witches adaptation was influenced by contemporary events, from which, fortunately, more profound images could develop. More important, however, is where the Witches' continuing journey leads: Hopefully, more FLINTA*, POC, queer and other diverse characters will be included, hopefully the portrayal will become even more contemporary. Looking into our crystal ball, we are extremely confident.