Which Witch Is Which? Does Television Do a Disservice to Sorceresses?

It’s the season of the witch. At least on TV. Witches are hot, and producers are staking their cred on a current crop of witch shows, with new ones in the works. Right now there’s The Witches of East End [WoEE] and American Horror Story: Coven [AHS:C], with a reboot of Charmed being conjured. Coincidentally, Charmed just got dissed on AHS:C, when Queenie, played by Gabourey Sidibe, says:

I grew up on white girl shit, like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Cracker.

Honey, we all did. And Bewitched. And we’ve all had to deal with Stevie Nicks stigma. (Nicks’s music is the constant companion of swamp witch Misty Dawn, another of  AHS:C‘s fashionable friends of the Devil).

For the past six years, reality producers have been trying to get a “real witches” show cast. I know, I get casting calls regularly and even shot a teaser reel for one.  When I worked in an occult shop, I was featured on a few shows (Blind Date, where I showed a famous comedienne and her hapless, annoyed staged-date dude how to cast a passion spell; and some episode of a history show about a cursed dress for which I did a snazzy flaring cauldron routine and discussed curses).

Thing is, unlike TV witches, what “real” witches, sorcerers, sorceresses, and (non-stage) magicians do is not all that flashy. Sure there are  rituals, solo and in groups (I don’t belong to a coven and  I’m a witch, not a Wiccan–more on that later), but unless you are participating and know what’s going on, on it’s pretty boring, though the set dressing can be awesome.  Do we go “skyclad,” that is, naked? Uh, if I do do that, I wouldn’t on TV.

American Horror Story: Coven is way better than the tepid Witches of East End, which involves a mom and her twenty-something daughters–the sexy bartender daughter is engaged to a rich boy, but sexually attracted to his bad-boy brother; her uptight librarian, super-rational sister doesn’t believe in witches, even though she is one. Mom is trying to be normal, but she’s accused of murder (the soapy trope of the evil twin!) and the free spirited witch auntie makes peyote stew and walks around naked. WoEE’s cosmology is off, its spellwork is wrong, its characterization of witches is weak, of women is facile, and the acting and writing suck. It’s embarrassing. Like, the librarian witch decides to try casting a spell to help her friend get pregnant (even though she doesn’t believe in magic, but hey, here’s an old book, let’s do it because nothing else is working), and next day her friend gets the results on an over-the-counter pee stick that she is with child!  Biologically impossible, even with magic.  While it’s possible to test positive as early as seven days past ovulation, most likely a woman isn’t producing hCG at a high enough level to be detected by a home pregnancy test. The earliest you can test is 7 days after ovulation, and it’s recommended to wait until after you have missed your period. You can also be pregnant, not know, and have spotting that you mistake for menstruation.  So either the friend tested too soon, was pregnant before they did the spell and the pregnancy test gave a false negative which the next test read as positive, or she mistook spotting for her period, and retested after the spellcasting–surprise!

And the barely a tertiary character token gay guy, is just that, a token.

Joanna’s daughters on  The Witches of East End have been reincarnated since at least Salem–mom appears to have nine lives, or be immortal or something– and each time the girls are named Freya and Ingrid. No way in Puritan Salem would these names–especially Freya, the name of a Norse goddess–have been given! Those names struck such a strident note that, for me,  the whole plot fell to bits.

American Horror Story: Coven, created by Ryan Murphy (Glee) with James Wong (X Files) delivers a rich, engrossing storyline with beautiful cinematography and a stellar cast. Plus, unlike WoEE there’s an effort towards historical and ritual accuracy. Wong says they do a lot of research  (and it shows in the background of the evil Mme. Delphine  Lalaurie, played with intensity by Kathy Bates, and in Angela Bassett’s sublime and powerful Marie Laveau who now in present day works the same gig she held in the 19th century, a hairdresser). The rituals so far have been pretty well-grounded in magic. My friends and I did spot some glitches in episode three’s voodoo ceremony–red clothes would never be worn, nor would be underwear!  While there’s general acceptance in the occult community that rituals shown in fictional films and on television will not be 100% accurate in terms of words, signs and so on—kids don’t try this at home and if you do it won’t work anyway–the red dress was still way off base! We screamed at the wrongness. Plus it was sorta fugly.

Another inaccuracy: Characters constantly reference Tituba, the real slave who was tried for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials–she wasn’t hanged as many of the accused were, but rather imprisoned; she was eventually freed from jail and then from slavery. Tituba was not of African decent, but rather an Arawak, one of the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean. Her Arawak heritage is mentioned on AHS:C, but unless you know your tribes, the implication remains that she practiced West African magic. The magic, though, that Tituba has inspired on AHS:C is  voodoo, a West African diasporic religion, and there is also an error in implying that Western witchcraft gained its gifts solely from the voodoo root, which is not the case.

Witchcraft is a crazy quilt of beliefs and practices. Not all witches practice Wicca, a 20th century sect, which is the most well-known of the many branches in the forest of non-Christian Western esoteric belief systems. (There are some people who call themselves Christian Wiccans, which is a major oxymoron, but hey…it’s their souls, not mine!) And not everyone who is Wiccan, or a Druid, or an occultist does magic. The syncretic African diasporic religions, like voodoo and santeria, while very interactive with the gods, have believers who don’t cast spells (Hoodoo, the American melting cauldron, is a more action-oriented system, with a lot of “work” being done, sometimes with Jesus, Bible verses, and/or the saints as the whammy). Some people have a belief system, observe the seasons or moon, light candles, say prayers, and that’s that. Spellwork involving herbs and oils, “barbarous names of evocation,” sigils drawn on  parchment, and such are not really everyone’s bag of tricks. Also, not all practitioners of non-Christian Western esoteric belief systems  re purely Goddess worshipers, though one or more female aspects are acknowledged along with male aspect/s. That’s the religion part.

The “work” part, the spell casting,  is not the nose twitching, the miraculous appearance of fur coats out of nowhere, or the sudden lighting of cigarettes from across the room seen on television. And it’s also not the positive affirmations of  The Secret. It’s called “work” for a reason, though sometimes there’s a certain amount of fun involved. Television witches have a lot of powers–they can toss people across rooms with a subtle gesture, pop in and out of photographs, turn into and talk to animals, bring the dead back to life, grant the incorruptibility of flesh, and do all sorts of Jedi mind tricks. In real life (aside from spellwork and ritual which take time, effort and talent to cause change to occur in accordance with will) the latter is the only thing that works, and that’s because some people, witches or not, can just out-think other people, anticipating and adjusting as necessary, seeking to create outcomes in which all parties benefit. And I’ve noticed that the people who apply themselves, reading and studying (and by those verbs I mean more than just books on “how to do spells and set up your altar”), focusing on mental and physical exercises, engaging in lively discussions, who travel, avoid petty social drama and chaos, and again seek outcomes that are mutually beneficial, are the people who succeed in being happy. Which is really what it’s all about.

Yes, it’s possible to do spells for money, for youth (or the money to look youthful!), for love (though the best spell for that is loving yourself), and for health (which is to a certain extent our own responsibility–eating right, getting exercise to start with!). Magic can (and often does) work. Does magic meet a scientific, rather than anecdotal, proof? I did A and B was the result. I did A again and B was the result. So A works. For me. Life is not a reproduceable experiment; we are individuals; circumstances change. My A may not produce B for you, and under new and different circumstances may not produce B a third time for me.

Television witches are fun to watch, but they have done a disservice to real witches and women, providing role models who have denied our self-determination. We are stuck with watching Bell Book and Candle on late night movie channels (Kim Novak falls in love with Jimmy Stewart and loses her power, her glamorous wardrobe, and her groovy African art gallery, becoming a shirt-dress-wearing drab who sells faux floral displays made from sea shells). On Bewitched, mortal moron Derwood stifles Samantha’s natural talents, and stews in a state of mutual resentment with her witchy family. The girls of Charmed, the Halliwell sisters, have a guardian angel, Leo Wyatt a “whitelighter,” (In the series, a whitelighter is a former human mortal given a second chance at life in order to serve under an angelic group as guardian angels for good witches and other future whitelighters, who helped them out scrapes; in real-life magic a whitelighter, aka a fluffy bunny, is an uptight, self-righteous goody two shoes). Leo is also the Charmed Ones’ handyman, further reinforcing that women (and witches) are helpless little creatures who need a man. The sisters Halliwell also get a lot of (at times meddlesome) help from their buddy on the San Francisco Police force, who was a childhood friend and becomes one of the sister’s love interests. The series’ story arc involve fighting evil, working at cool jobs, trying to meet the right guys, and having a baby…

Sabrina the Teenage Witch originally appeared in the Archie comics in 1962. Like Bewitched‘s heroine, Sabrina is blond, but unlike Sam, she is only a half-witch. Her powers manifested on her 16th birthday (witch genes are strong; Samantha and Derwood’s daughter Tabitha also could do magic). Sabrina lives with her two full-witch aunts and Salem, a talking black cat (shades of The Master and Margarita!), a male witch who had been turned into animal form by the Witches’ Council for bad behavior. Salem  gives Sabrina advice, often suggesting that she use magic to solve problems, usually with comically diastrous results.

Until this 2013 TV season, producers and their networks seemed to feel that TV witches needed a masculine authority figure. But so far, both the  Witches of East End and the witches on American Horror Story: Coven have shaken off that superstition. On WWoE , witches don’t even seem to need to have a man to have a baby. Joanne, WoEE‘s witch mom, played by Julia Ormond, has reincarnated her daughters into her womb over the centuries and it’s unclear so far, who, if anyone, was responsible for fathering the girls–the book the series is based on may pony up that plot point, but it remains to be seen how firmly the series will adhere to the source material.

As the seasons progress for these two new witch shows, we’ll see how far both the supernaturally-blessed and everyday women have progressed in the last decade. Because what witch TV programs show, in hyper-focus, is how the public is perceived as wanting to view women. This perception is formed by the views expressed, by actions and reactions, in daily life. And at the same time, television programs provide modeling for how women should or should not behave. And that goes for witches as well.

Rick Perry Voodoo Dolls: This Witch Says “Banish Them!”

I am a practicing witch, and I can laugh at my belief system; I do easily and often. It is just as goofy sounding as other people’s (Transubstantiation? Space lice from exploding volcanoes? Flying donkey?). But I do cringe at things like these Rick Perry voodoo dolls because they perpetuate dangerous, off-base stereotypes and do nothing to help either pro-choice factions or non-Christians.

When it comes to the Texas Legislature and Governor Rick Perry’s plans to shut down Texas abortion clinics [corset maker Michelle Sinched of Mr. Sinched] is the exact opposite of amused. Now she’s taking the fight to the man she calls “Governor Goodhair” in her own way; with voodoo dolls of the Governor complete with tampon pins to act out your anger and or hexes upon his person…

Each Perry voodoo doll is handmade by Sinched from materials left over from her many other projects. You can purchase a casual Perry doll in a anti-abortion coat hanger T-shirt for $25, or a suited version for $30. They are also available as a pair for $50, and each comes with a blank sign so you may write the pro-life slogan or Perry gaffe of your choice. The clothes are removable.

Sinched plans to give all profits to Planned Parenthood.

Earlier this month at an Austin, Texas  rally

the prolife side sang Amazing Grace. The pro-abortion side tried to drown them out by shouting “Hail Satan!”

Now granted those leading the chant might have been agitators. Or they might have been anti-Christian pro-choicers. Still, yuck.

Fundamentalists view the battle against abortion as a holy war, a Crusade. Those who are pro-choice have a variety of reasons for wanting abortion rights and access to birth control. Despite what the creepier areas of the interwebs would like to make you believe, very few, if any, of those reasons have to do with sacrificing babies to some dark force which would then uh make things worse than they already are. Here’s where the theology gets complicated and stops making sense. But basically, for fundies abortion– followed closely by The Gays–is the reason everything is wrong in America.

Fundamentalists want to make abortion about religion, about theocratic control of the individual. By countering with voodoo dolls and chants of

Hail Satan

pro-choicers are just playing into their hands.

Johnny Depp, Shane McGowan, Chrissy Hynde, Nick Cave: “I Put a Spell on You” for Haiti

Johnny Depp, Chrissy Hynde, Shane McGowan, Nick Cave, and Glen Matlock were among the artists who recorded this awesome version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” to benefit the Irish charity Concern Worldwide’s ongoing aid work in Haiti.

Excellent song choice! And check out Johnny’s awesome guitar playing!

You can pre-order the single by clicking here – http://bit.ly/bj2ieH. Or text SPELL (all in capitals) to 78789 (the text costs £1.50, under $3.00)

Shane McGowan and his long term girlfriend, writer Victoria Clarke made calls to friends and associates from which began the process of recording a track from which ALL proceeds go to Concern, a charity who have provided assistance to some of the poorest countries in the world including Haiti, even before the earthquake struck.


[HT webcastr.com]

Evangelicals Violently Disrupt Haitian Religious Ceremony

Full disclosure: I practice an African Diasporic religion, and after the Haitian earthquake, along with a donation to the Red Cross, I gave a small sum to help the voudou community. In other words, I have a religious opinion; and like Brit Hume, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the right to express it in the media.

Tuesday, Evangelicals violently disrupted a traditional religious ceremony in the Cite Soleil slum, located just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. According to AFP:

Police said a pastor urged followers to attack the ceremony, resulting in a crowd of people throwing rocks at the voodoo followers.

Throwing rocks? WTF?! Is this anyway for Christians to act? Are they all so sinless?

Today the Washington Post reported that a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows

American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights.

While our foreign policy at a governmental level may be “handicapped” by secularism, the private sector is screwing up by pushing their religious agendas, retarding efforts to actually do a greater good.

In the wake of January 12 earthquake, hundreds of religious groups headed to Haiti bringing food, water and aid, some including solar powered Protestant bibles and their own religious tracts in their care packages. Some called themselves “Volunteer Ministers” and interfered with medical personnel in attempts to recruit.  It’s a huge dog pile as minsters of God ply  Haitians with various versions of salvation.

Religious tensions have increased and accelerated. Dr. Christos Kioni, the Florida-based vodou expert profiled in Christine Wicker’s Not In Kansas Anymore wrote us:

The violence fundamentalists have engaged in upon the practitioners of Vodou in Haiti is fueled by a sectarian demon. It is the same spirit that spurs Muslim radicals to engage in terrorist activities in the Name of Allah, it is the same spirit that fanned the flames of the Inquisition and Crusades. Christians have long ago abandoned their faith in the authentic teachings of Christ that God is Love. They have also forgotten that Christ said to his disciples “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold.” These radical evangelicals show no religious tolerance nor the Fruit of the Spirit by their rhetoric and actions. Such acts of violence reveal just how far Christianity has backslidden.

Earlier this month, as reported in the New York Daily News Max Beauvoir, vodou’s supreme leader

believes Christians in Haiti are taking food and supplies, and not allowing them to reach needy people outside Port-au-Prince.

“They take everything they get to their own people,” he said, “and that’s a shame.”

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recommended:

Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.

Local and regional should mean traditional and indigenous, not just the missionary groups and those they convert.

Catholicism and vodou are the Haiti’s traditional religions.  Vodou, more commonly spelled as voudou or voodoo, is a syncretic faith combining various West African religions carried by slaves with the colonizing French’s Catholicism and aspects of the Northern European folk faiths. A voudou ceremony held by escaped slave and hougan (voudou priest) Dutty Boukman was the catalyst for Haiti’s 1791  slave rebellion that led to the island’s freedom.

Pat Robertson–who later backpedaled after a public outcry–had harsh words about Haiti’s history and blamed the country’s troubles on their faith:

They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal.

That sort of intolerant thinking is what leads to actions like Tuesday’s stoning in Jesus’ name. AFP reported:

Rosemond Aristide, police inspector in Cite Soleil, said he has since spoken with the pastor, who agreed to allow voodoo ceremonies to take place there. However, Aristide could not explain why no arrests were made nor provide further details.

Beauvoir claimed hundreds of Protestant Evangelicals along with other people they hired attacked the ceremony, causing a number of injuries.

KWTX reports that the attackers were Haitian Christians.

Praying and singing, the group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on Voodoo symbols.When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and Voodoo offerings of food and rum.

Christians supposedly follow the Prince of Peace; unfortunately, their hostile behavior could lead to some repercussions. Max Beauvoir  told AFP:

It will be war — open war. It’s unfortunate that at this moment where everybody’s suffering that they have to go into war. But if that is what they need, I think that is what they’ll get.

Dr. Kioni added in email:

I agree with my friend and colleague, The Supreme Servitor of Vodou, Ati Max Beauvoir, that this attack by the evangelicals is a declaration of war. These Bible Thumpers have no idea how powerful Vodou is nor how lethal it can be.

We are mobilizing our forces to meet this demonic spirit head on; bullets nor pious, hypocritical prayers have no power where Vodou is concerned. Vodou will be recognized and accepted as a valid and legitimate system of spirituality just as the Wiccan and Pagans have been accepted. Freedom of Religion is a right and no man nor religious organization has a corner on God nor salvation. There is only ONE God and His Universal Name is Yawe.

The Chicago Council’s Richard Cizik (from the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, who ought to be taking those rock tossers to task!) said:

Some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.

It’s also a form of  imperialism to proselytize and try to convert people during a disaster when they are at their most vulnerable. Note that the pastor who incited the stoning “agreed to allow” traditional religious ceremonies on native soil. WTF? Talk about imperialism.

I deplore the actions of those Evangelicals in Cite Soliel–all thinking and all loving people do–and pray that the Haitian people will not return ignorance and violence with more violence.

As an American, I ask my fellow Americans, whatever faith they may be, to act with grace and dignity, respecting the religious traditions of those to whom they bring aid.

Oh ministers and pastors and your flocks, do unto others as you would have them do unto you–and really, in a disaster aid situation, would you want someone trying convert you to say Islam or some arm of Christianity that doesn’t jive with yours? May peace prevail in Haiti.


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