The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co are casting their spell over TV

Blog note:

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 King James Version (KJV) …

10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Ephesians 6:12 … For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Exodus 22:18 … Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

1 Samuel 15:23 … For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

2 Kings 9:22 … And it came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said, Is it peace, Jehu? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?

2 Chronicles 33:6 … And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.

Micah 5:12 … And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:

Nahum 3:4 … Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.

Galatians 5:20 … Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

(Emphasis added). End of note.

The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co are casting their spell over TV

Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist, our screens are full of witches who embody a new imagining of the original ‘nasty woman’

Charlotte Richardson Andrews. Tue 30 Oct 2018 05.00 EDT. The Guardian

The season of the witch is truly upon us. A remake of Dario Argento’s giallo classic Suspiria has just been released, while this autumn, TV will conjure up not just one but three shows featuring a witch as protagonist: Sky’s A Discovery of Witches, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina featuring Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka, and a reboot of Charmed in the US.

But there is something different about TV’s new coven. In Sabrina, Shipka doesn’t spend much time crouched over a cauldron or on a broom; she is the embodiment of a new type of witch: young, woke, liberated and likely to cast spells that are socially conscious rather than caustic.

It’s not just on TV where witches are working their magic. The witch is an Instagram mambo, or voodoo priestess, dispensing hoodoo know-how to thousands of followers. She is influencing Beyoncé, whose Lemonade took visual cues from Nigerian spiritual worship rituals; she is pro-sisterhood and anti-Trump, mobilising online and in the streets to form a modern-day incarnation of Witch (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), the anonymous socialist feminist collective who emerged in 60s New York to hex Wall Street.

The women mainly responsible for this surge in witchcraft are a young, creative and predominantly US-based community of black, Latinx and diaspora practitioners such as Bri Luna, the Hoodwitch, a “modern mystic” and entrepreneur who merges DIY spirituality with digital savvy. Occultural hubs such as Catland Books, a popular Brooklyn-based shop, have also helped to fan the revival’s flames. Then there are filmmakers like Robert Eggers, whose 2015 flick The Witch became a sleeper hit, authors (most obviously JK Rowling) and musicians from Princess Nokia and Lana Del Rey to Azaealia Banks, who have all embraced elements of witchcraft.

“The current upsurge of interest in witchcraft has actually been happening for the better part of a decade now,” says American author Pam Grossman, creator and host of the popular Witch Wave podcast. The fan communities that have sprung up around occult media such as the Witch Wave, which features interviews with witches, and Sabat magazine, an influential style magazine for witches, are further proof of a renaissance in full swing.

“In one sense,” says author and historian John Callow, “the resurgence of witchcraft in the west has been going on apace since the early 1950s.” Callow has written extensively about witchcraft and Gerald Gardner, the puckish, British founder of Wicca as we know it today. It was Gardner and fellow covener Doreen Valiente, dubbed “the mother of modern witchcraft”, who revitalised witchcraft in post-war Britain, stripping away its satanic associations to restore and rebrand it as a living, nature-based religion.

Valiente was a translator at Bletchley Park during the second world war. She and Gardner were radicals, practising a sex-positive, eco-conscious and proto-feminist spirituality in the face of traditional, patriarchal-Christian dogma and what Gardner called “smug respectability”. “Gardner identified as a witch at a time when such an appellation really took guts, and a preparedness to see your windows broken,” says Callow.

Heteronormative and centred around fertility in Gardner’s era, witchcraft has evolved in the following decades. “The craft’s strength is its diversity. Without a doctrine, a central hierarchy or ‘guru’ figures, it can adapt to suit new needs and new generations,” says Callow.

Witchcraft’s new generation is young, urban and woke, according to Christina Oakley Harrington, witch and founding director of Treadwells bookshop in London. “There has definitely been a revival in the UK over the last few years, particularly among queer, trans and non-binary people, and people of colour,” she says. Teens and twenty-somethings are most likely to purchase Sabat magazine, or attend the monthly practical magic workshop that Treadwells hosts for budding witches.

The witchy leads in this autumn’s TV programming seem to have been written and cast with this crowd in mind. Netflix’s Sabrina reboot claims to be a darker reimagining of the 90s teen favourite, while Charmed 2.0 has chosen to replace its original trio of white sisterhood with three Latina siblings: Sarah Jeffery (playing Madison), Madeleine Mantock as Macy, and Melonie Diaz as Mel, the show’s lesbian protagonist. In A Discovery of Witches, the adoptive parents of lead character Diana Bishop are a same-sex mixed couple who add a queer frisson to the show. Bewitched is also being rebooted by Black-ish’s Kenya Barris and will feature a black witch who marries a white mortal man.

“We had the hippy witch in the 70s,” points out author Gabriela Herstik, who has a column in Nylon magazine called Ask a Witch. “Then the cult witch in the 80s, the mall goth witch in the 90s, and the neo-pagan witch in the 00s. Nowadays, she’s like, this ultimate feminist force.”

The witch is, after all, the original “nasty woman” and it is no coincidence that she is back now, a black-clad, pointy hat inverse of Gilead’s crimson-decked, bonnet-bound handmaids. “Minority and oppressed people in the west have discovered that there is no liberation to be found in traditional patriarchal, capitalist or religious systems,” says academic, author and chaos magic practitioner Patricia MacCormack.

Despite this new modernised look, the spectre of the witch as hysterical, insidious and unnatural still lingers, says MacCormack. “This is on the cusp of changing though,” she adds. The wart-crusted, hook-nosed caricatures of old have softened and shifted in recent years, shape-shifting into a multiplicity of more familiar, loveable and accessible characters: Angela Lansbury’s Eglantine Pryce in Bedknobs and Broomsticks; Samantha Stephens in Bewitched; Sally Owens in Practical Magic, Morticia in The Addams Family. Even Disney is atoning, as witnessed in 2014’s Maleficent, recasting and reclaiming the witch as the misunderstood icon of female autonomy she has always been.

So will the interest in witches last or is it a passing spell? “We’ll have to wait and see,” says Oakley Harrington. “For some, it’ll be a fashion trend. They’re drawn to the aesthetic rather than the actual practice. But for a certain proportion – a small one, I think – it’ll waken something innate, intense and lasting.”

Even if she falls out of vogue – which doesn’t look likely, given this autumn’s TV programming – the witch is always with us, says MacCormack. “The occult never goes away. People are desperate for alternative paradigms of practice and activism because the current ones simply don’t work.

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