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.

Madonna and Satan vs the Exorcists, Plus a Pro-Inquisition Cruise

Oh Madonna, first it was the critics and tabloids, and now it’s the exorcists.  The pop star/actress/director/rich lady will be the subject of a discussion at a Polish exorcist convention.  Father Andrzej Grefkowic–an exorcist and one of the organizers of the conference, held every two years at the Jasna Góra monastery–said:

Part of the conference is dedicated to the hidden subliminal message in communication, and the choice of this subject was inspired by the woman who dares to call herself Madonna.

Poor Father Andy must have missed the 1980s (and every decade afterwards), never bothering to read even the flimsiest biography on Madonna: It was Madonna’s parents who “dared” to bestow that name on their daughter.

Father Andy also will  warn the 300 or so clergy and lay people expected to attend the five day conference of a growing risk from Satan, citing the increasing popularity of tattoos, body piercings, horoscopes and magic shows as ways evil could corrupt people. Because Christians don’t get tattoos or body piercings. Oh wait, whoops, they do!  And magic shows! Oh teh horror! Teh horror! David Copperfield is scary and will make you worship Satan. (And barbecue babies!) I would have expected a more up-to-date scintillating sin-posé, like how the “LOL” in Lolcats Cats means “Lucifer On Line” but maybe Father Andy is still using dial-up and AOL.

Okay, in all fairness to the Polish exorcist convention and their tenderly held convictions, if one felt so inclined, one could analyze the lyrics in Madonna’s hit “Lucky Star” as a hymn to Lucifer, in that it refers the the first star to show at night and in the morning, Venus.

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations![Isa 14:12-15]

Meanwhile in arcane theological and conspiracy circles, there is some debate about whether or not Satan and Lucifer, the morning and evening star, are even the same being, but that is on a par with how many angels–or devils–can dance on the head of a pin (blame John Milton and Paradise Lost for that one). Just gets more confusing, in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Morning Star. Maybe Madonna means Jesus and not Lucifer and/or Satan. You decide. Oh, but wait there’s MOAR!  Check out the lyrics for “Beautiful Stranger,” in which Madonna croons:

I looked into your eyes
And my world came tumbling down
You’re the devil in disguise
That’s why I’m singing this song

Oh yeah, that’s clear evidence:::snort::that Madonna is league in with the Devil.  Holy Xenu’s toenail, seriously Madonna stopped being (superficially) transgressive and thus controversial in the flyovers after her book “Sex” came out, so I hope she feels honored to be recognized as a relevant force of evil these days.

But actually even with its creaky retro themes, the Exorcist Fest sounds way more fun than the “Defending the Faith” Caribbean cruise:

The special focus of this cruise will be defending the Catholic faith, something all of us are going to need to get better at in the days to come…Our apologists can arm you with the knowledge and the methods that you need to answer the challenges you encounter to your Catholic faith – on any topic, from the basic to the advanced….

  • Learn to defend your faith using the Bible, the Church Fathers, and the official documents of the Church.
  • Explore the link between faith and reason so you can confront the militant atheism sweeping our society.
  • Practice debating skills that few outside the world of professional apologetics know

Not only do you get daily Mass and a chance to see Hairspray in the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Sea theater (wait, is Hairspray too blasphemous?), you’ll have the early seating at dinner so as not to miss exciting programs like this one offered by Catholicanswers.com‘s director of development, Christopher Check:

On the cruise, I’ll be defending the Church against the charges that the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are events for which we Catholics need to apologize. [emphasis mine]

Oh, no of course there’s no need to apologize for torture and murder of thousands, for forced conversions, expulsions, the seizing of property. And Malleus Maleficarum, ignore it. That handy guide to barbaric torture and hideous ways to kill women suspected of witchcraft was written by German Inquisitors. Chris Check will be defending the Spanish Inquisition, not the German one. WTF? Cabins are still available if you’re interested in trolling the blue water of the Caribbean this November to ask how these apologetics plan to explain the physical and sexual abuse of children by clergy members.

 

68% of Registered Republicans, 49% of Registered Democrats Believe in Demonic Possession

Why wasn’t demonic possession addressed in the Presidential debates?! Demons are obviously as important an issue as low/no taxes, denying reproductive and LGBT rights, and keeping semi-automatic rifles in the hands of God (and demon) fearing Americans, since according to a  poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, 68% of registered Republican voters believe in demonic possession. And it’s not just the GOP– 49% of Democratic voters also believe that demons can possess us.

Granted, one could argue that “demons” are negative impulses, psychological aberrations, mental illness etc., but in theology demons are disincarnate entities which occupy people and places and cause all kind of havoc. However, demons can be controlled and mastered, but this should only be done by individuals with proper training, not by anyone hanging out their shingle as an exorcist-or by depressed metal heads who have played Black Sabbath records backwards one too many times.

Nutbags are all too ready to blame anything and everything they dislike, fear or can’t explain on demons, witchcraft, voodoo, curses, and related supernatural concepts (which in all fairness, I believe in some of that stuff, too, though I use Occam’s Razor,  lex parsimoniae, first, before exploring other worldly causes, since resorting to “Curses! Witchcraft!” as the go-to for everything from lost keys and flickering light bulbs to a bad date is exhausting and silly. Usually there are simple, mundane explanations for stuff).

Some major questions that should be explored regarding demonic possession: How many politicians do believers feel are possessed? Is outsourcing of jobs caused by demonic possession? Can Wall Street be exorcised? And what strange malignant force, what ancient unnamed evil controls Dick Cheney?


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