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Does the modern depiction of witches as heroic in films and television shows affect the
number of teenagers practicing witchcraft?
Witches are described as women who are known to practice evil magic. The idea of
witches and witchcraft is thought to be mythical, but it is in reality true. The only problem is that
witches are extremely misrepresented and depicted in ridiculous and unrealistic ways.
Throughout history, different cultures have had various definitions of witches, with the main
connotation being people who could do extraordinary things. Witches in different cultures were
not always considered bad since some of them had abilities that included the mastery of herbs
which were used to cure or have positive effects on people (Berger and Helen 115). In the
Western culture, the idea of witches and witchcraft was mostly popularized by a German
clergyman namely Malleus who called for the prosecution and killing of witches as early as
1487. He popularized the idea that witches were bad and they were responsible for most of the
bad things happening to people.
This led to many witch hunts and massacres of women and a few men accused of
witchcraft which shaped the characteristics of witches being evil and ugly. Over the years this
depiction had been adopted by early films and television shows, but changes have occurred in the
modern portrayal of witches and witchcraft. While these witches were earlier depicted as the
villains in films, scripts have changed, and the stories have moved from demonizing witches to
making them heroines. We seek to analyze the changing trends in the depiction of witches in
films and television shows in order to understand how witches have grown from villains to
heroines. Understanding these changes will require evaluating the process of change and the
factors that may have influenced these changing trends. Analyzing the effects that the changing
trend has on teenagers will help answer the question of whether witches in modern depictions
have influenced the increase in teenage witchcraft practitioners.
History has been most unkind to women especially the witch hunt popularization by
Malleus. In a time where religion was the most powerful tool, Christianity and paganism were at
loggerheads and to ensure that Christianity dominated the clergyman wrote a very popular piece
on witchcraft and how to eliminate it. This was a direct attack on paganism and was mostly
targeting women since the definition of a witch fall under the classification of a female.
Following historical, social and religious constructs women were less valued in the community
and were mostly linked to evil. The issue of witches was a direct attack on women and a few
men; this served to ensure women did not challenge the inconsistencies brought about by the
Christian religion. What followed was many years of witch hunting, torture, mass murders and
burning of women accused of witchcraft (Levack et. al 1).
One of the most famous incidents in the USA was the Salem witch hunt which is
documented as the most deadly witch hunt. It involved a total of 200 alleged witches who were
arraigned and tried in court and those found guilty sentenced to death. With this historical
background, it is therefore hard to imagine that films would adopt a different approach and
depiction of witches. For the most part of history film and television like history has been
equally unfair to witches. The trend of portraying witches in a better light and more realistically
in films only started in the late 1990s which meant that all the years prior to this time have done
an injustice to witches. Before the late 90s witches were portrayed as evil and witchcraft was
related to satanic and demonic rituals and acts.
Some of the films produced in the 60s and 70s included “Satan’s School for Girls,” The
initiation of Sarah and Stranger in our House (Chryssides et. al 114). The characteristics that
were common in these films were that they depicted witchcraft as a dark art that resulted to death
and evil things, causing mayhem and in general bringing religious wrath to the community as a
whole. Some of the films that marked the beginning of a new era regarding the depiction of
witches were The Craft and Practical Magic. These films became famous in the late 90s for
changing the way films portrayed witches which led to the trend that moved from demonizing
witches to making them heroic.
Witchcraft belief and practice in the USA has increased in recent times which can be
attributed to popular media including television, films, books, and the internet. The concept of
witchcraft and witches has been mostly popularized by television and films as these are the
largest mass media tools. The demographics of witchcraft practitioners in the US has
demonstrated that the highest component is teenagers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen
who seem overwhelmed and quite taken by this cultural and spiritual phenomenon. This group of
witchcraft practitioners is highly influenced by mass media and their growing interest in
witchcraft has been seen to come from fictional and nonfictional depictions of witchcraft
(Chryssides et. al 113)
Some of the modern television shows and films that have influenced the teenagers
include the Harry Potter sequels which can be found both as books and as films. The main reason
why the Harry Potter films are so appealing to teenagers and young adults is that they are written
specifically for this audience. The characters are young children in a school of witchcraft where
they learn the art of witchcraft as they mature and with every sequel. This book which the films
are derived from was a very controversial book that had many Christian based groups asking for
its ban claiming that due to its popularity it could potentially influence the children into the
The truth is that this book played a part in increasing the number of teenagers practicing
witchcraft. The practice of witchcraft in modern day is an open and legitimate thing with the
practice being classified as religious based. This is because it involves spiritualism as well as
faith and the practice is called Wicca. The Craft was highly received as the first movie to depict
witchcraft more realistically. In this film, it depicted witches in a more powerful light without
demonizing them. The witches in the film were self-aware and referred to themselves as “the
weirdos.” The fact that the characters in this film were beautiful teenagers went against the
norms where witches were ugly and evil which made it very appealing to teenagers (Chryssides
et. al 118).
Factors affecting the change
Several factors influenced the change in the depiction of witches one of them being the
changes in cinematic styles. Cinema has been seen to be an ever-changing industry where new
innovations come up every time. The cinematic changes that led to change in the witches’
depiction began in the 80s where filmmakers such as Spielberg and George Lucas popularized
films themed with extraterrestrial and outer space tales. These stories feature mythological
stories that reserved witchcraft a front seat considering witchcraft was associated with spirituality
and supernatural things. This paved the way for the introduction of films such as The Craft and
Conservatism in the 80s led to religious fanatism that saw most people strongly identify
with religion such as Pentecostal denominations, Evangelists and Southern Baptists (Berger and
Helen 127). These groups were very vocal in criticizing a lot of things including issues related to
sexuality. This however occurred at a time when a new era of more liberal and open-minded
people was growing. These were people who did not simply accept what they were told and
rather preferred to apply critical thinking skills to formulate their decisions. This new age group
gained popularity as it allowed different cultural and religious practices including Wicca (Berger
and Helen 128).
Feminism is another factor that affected the change in the depiction of witches.
Feministic activism was very vocal in the 70s where campaigns were seeking to bring awareness
to issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and victimization as well as child beating
(Berger and Helen 132). The decades that came after were characterized by stronger and more
aggressive activism events which affected film and televisions shows. In order to separate from
the victimization of women, films began to portray women as stronger, more intelligent, and
more socially appealing. This was shown in the film The Craft where instead of portraying
witches as ugly and evil people they were portrayed as beautiful, powerful and capable of
achieving great things.
Effects of the Change in Teenagers
With the popularization of witches and witchcraft in better light teenagers have gained an
enormous interest in understanding what witchcraft is all about. This is the reason that there has
been an increasing number of teenage witchcraft practitioners since the late 90s. This increase
has raised the popularity of the practice and the religion of Wicca which has further worked to
establish it as a religion. This popularity has also ensured that apart from film and television
shows other media forms such as books and internet web pages have continued to popularize the
This change has also served in a feministic way as a way to present witches as role
models for girls. With popular television shows and films depicting beautiful teenagers who are
practicing witchcraft, it has made witchcraft more appealing to teenagers. Most of the television
shows and films involving witches cast and target teenagers hence luring them to practice Wicca.
It is clear to state that the change in the way witches were viewed in the past and how
they are viewed now has played a huge part in increasing the number of teenagers practicing
witchcraft. The romanticizing of witches has removed the notion that the practice is evil and
replaced it with a realistic approach to the practice hence removing assumptions and biases.
Witchcraft being depicted in a clear light is, therefore, more acceptable and appealing to
teenagers. The use of film and television has influenced this increase since teenagers are highly
dependent on these media for entertainment and knowledge. Targeting the right audience has led
to this audience following the practice.
Berger, Helen A., ed. Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America. University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Chryssides, George D., and James R. Lewis. The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft
in Contemporary Culture. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2013.
Levack, Brian P. The witch-hunt in early modern Europe. Routledge, 2015.
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