Saturday, November 17, 2018

witches and spells and the writerly imagination

At the conclusion of our Beautiful Monstrosities film roundtable last month, the panelists gave voice to something I had been thinking about for a while, of how witches, always a staple in the popular imagination (particularly around Halloween) are experiencing a sudden pop culture popularity, or maybe its always there and only once in a while I'm like--wow, there sure are alot of witches in entertainment happening now.  I was thinking about American Horror Story, and though the chief witch storyline happened 5 odd years ago, the writers brought it back, and not only brought back some of the best AHS characters, but had them, ya know, defeat the apocalypse (and re-affirm the fact that I believe AHS to be one of the most feminist shows on television--not only from its female dominated and led cast, but also its plotlines.  Think of last year's Cult finale, if you have any doubts. )

So I finished up the season last night--and while there were threads I wish they'd fleshed out more and turns I wish they'd taken in the scope of the season--I was very satisfied by the ending, as I usually am.  But it got me thinking about the witch in the popular imagination--post 2016 election and even leading up to it.  The amount of witch-focused culture--reboots like Charmed and Sabrina, the many writers I know who are writing and talking about spells and magic a lot now, seems to be swelling.  I was also thinking about how, right after 9/11 I had a dream, actually a good one, which was rare in those months, about the witches from Buffy, Tara and Willow, and a group of women were planning to save the world from armageddon through spellcasting. Also the talk of the witches intent on putting a hex on Trump after the election.

In the mid 90's, things were similar--the popularity fo the first rounds of the above shows, movies like The Craft and Practical Magic.  I was trying to make a correlation in my head between a feeling amongst women of a lack of power and then, but actually the 90's, under the Clinton era, should have been less dire for women (but then I think about how on the surface maybe, but the media'streatment of Monica Lewinsky and women in general was still probs not so great.)  By that extention, the Bush era would have had more witches, the Obama era less.

My sister was moderately into wicca in the 90's, being a few years younger than me, she was in high school in the 90's, peak witch time,  and I remember reading some of the books she bought at B&N.  I am pretty much an agnostic, but with a few pagan leanings perhaps, so while I found the idea of weilding power via magic and ritual interesting, I wasn't down with the whole goddess worship part that seemed to be kind of important. I am also fascinated by the phenomena of the Salen witch trials and the group dynamics that caused it to go so horribly wrong. Have, in fact, written several poems over the years about Salem witches. And isn't all religion in some way about yeilding control (or asking protection from) the horrible or beautiful randomness of the unverse--prayer or luck -that keeps us safe and free of danger?  It's a nice idea, but I'm not sure I can believe it wholeheartedly.   Like the idea of an afterlife, it's a nice thought.

And so much of this power, unlike most things, is so very women focused.  When I watched The Witch initially, I thought, like many horror movies that capture the popular imagination, it was overhyped.  I thought it was a decent film, but I thought the show Salem, (seriously you need to watch that show) dealt with same themes in a more wrought and weird way. On facebook a couple weeks ago, a fellow poet mentioned she'd been eating too much ice cream and "living too deliciously" and I giggled all day over Black Phillips temptation in that movie--the idea of sacrifice and indulgence and what is expected of women--that we not each too much, draw too much attention, talk too much, have too many feelings lest we be crazy, irrational, or threatening in some way.  And was this not the problem with witches throughout history--not that they were in league with the devil, but that they transgressed in some way that the men did not like, that other women feared or hated them for?  And at the end, why would you want to suffer in a very landscape and community that was hostile and not claim some sort of power, even if it was the devil offering it.

But with being villainized, maybe comes power?  With being outside of something comes the power to change it?  (Though Salem would seem to argue that the most successful maneuvering happened as long as the witches flew under the radar and were still considered part of the community.)   It also comes to mind becuase of my plump series of Hansel & Gretel poems, which casts the witch a little bit anew, with Gretel becoming the witch in the end, even if it means she eats her brother.  That fine line between acceptance and ostracization that would dictate whether you were able to work inside a system or be cast outside of it.  Stealth witches like Sabrina or Samantha Stevens in Bewitched.

It also brings to mind spells--mostly since they are a matter of ritual and words-and now much of writing, whatever it is, creative or uncreative, fantastical or mundane is a sort of magic.  A way of exerting influence on the world, be it creating new characters and stories (a friend at work and I keep laughing over the tulpa--the thing created from nothing just becasue it exists in the imagination in regard to the haunted library hijinks for the murder mystery.)  Or the non-exciting writing does that leads to good things--raises and position elevations, grants, awards. All a sort of magic that is influenced by words, and sort of closest to the only thing I do that could be considered magic.

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