Who better to weigh in on movies about witches than actual witches?

By Sam Reed
Oct 26, 2020 @ 5:20 pm
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Credit: Kelly Chiello/InStyle.com/Getty Images, Shutterstock

Aesthetically, I’ve always been partial to witches. Poofy black dresses? Voluminous skirts? Pointed toe black boots? Anything that could be described as “Morticia Addams-chic?” Say no more. 

It wasn’t until 2020, though, that I began to realize that witchcraft was so much more than the Victorian goth moodboard of my dreams. At the beginning of quarantine, I found myself on TikTok, which led to WitchTok (witch TikTok), which I followed up with a deep dive down the rabbit hole of explainers about what it means to actually practice magic, the power of hexing Brett Kavanaugh (and the limitations), and why messing with the moon is a bad, bad idea. Until these discoveries, I was ignorant of the fact that there are real, practicing witches in the world — and have been for centuries, if not millennia. They’re living among us, right beneath our noses, and no, they’re not all wearing black lipstick and robes and big, bushy hairdos a la Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the Witches of Eastwick, or the powdery makeup of Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy in Hocus Pocus.

As we inch closer to Halloween, I’ve been catching up with the witch movies of pop culture infamy, from Netflix's Sabrina to Bewitched to The Craft. But which witch films are pure nonsense, and which are the most realistic portrayals of coven life? 

To find out, I reached out to three New York-based witches for their takes on films like Practical Magic and The Wizard of Oz. Here’s what they had to say about how these movies stack up. 

Pure nonsense: The Witches, Hocus Pocus, any film where the witches are out to get little children. And Bewitched. 

Witches Sarah Potter, Rosemary Cipriano, and Lisa Stardust all made it clear that all of the movies we discussed erred on the fantastical — which makes sense. First and foremost, they're movies meant to entertain, not documentaries meant to depict a day in the life of a witch, and all the mundanity that follows.

But when it comes to movies made for children — like The Witches and Hocus Pocus — all three said these films were as absurd as they come. "I always laugh, because they always say that witches hate children, [but] a lot of people I know who are magical have children," says Stardust. "So, I would say that that [those are] totally farfetched."

"Hocus Pocus is about taking youth out of children — which is completely based in nothing," adds Cipriano.

"Most witches are working for the greater good," says Potter, "not eating children or trapping them in schools." 

The one exception of children's movies, though, is Halloweentown. "It's a tinge more realistic, because there's a belief there," says Cipriano. "Like, you're better at the magic if you believe in it really hard and set your intention."

And while Bewitched (the 1960s TV show, not the 2005 remake starring Nicole Kidman), was certainly ahead of its time in that a strong female protagonist, Samantha, is constantly cleaning up the messes of her bumbling idiot of a husband, there's nothing particularly accurate about Sam's practice.

"Bewitched is just totally unrealistic," says Stardust. "That nose twitch?" adds Cipriano, "not a thing."

Not not accurate: Sabrina (Netflix), Witches of Eastwick, The Wizard of Oz

Both Cipriano and Stardust praised Sabrina (the Netflix show starring Kiernan Shipka, not the Sabrina the Teenage Witch series starring Melissa Joan Hart), for doing its research and attempting to accurately portray specific rituals and spells. Though, like many of the TV shows and movies portraying witches, it does lean a bit indulgently into the dramatic.

"I would say that a lot of the spells that they do in Sabrina, a lot of the ingredients — they actually are correct," says Stardust. She adds that the exploration of Lilith, or Madam Satan, who is described as the first witch, is similarly well-researched, diving into a far-reaching history of magic with Biblical roots. "It's interesting in Sabrina how they focus a lot on this archetype of Lilith — 'Is she the demon, or is she a good person?'"

"The whole basis of Sabrina, in my opinion, is how all the women have power," Stardust says, "which goes into the central theme of all the other witch movies, too."

That said, while magic history and religious history have some obvious overlap, it's important to note that witchcraft is not equal to Satanism. "Worshipping Satan is not witchcraft," Cipriano reminds viewers. "Satanism is an actual religion."

The Witches of Eastwick explores similarly dark themes (hello, Jack Nicholson as the Devil), but that's not why Potter loves the film. "The first thing I think about is the hair," she says, relatably. "Glamour magic is such a real thing — it's how we present ourselves, and what we do for empowerment."

"There are such iconic looks in that film," she continues. "[Glamour magic] is about working with your allure, it's almost an armor as well. It's how you dress, how you do your hair and makeup, it's this presentation. There's such a ritual to getting ready — whether it's to go out, or for ceremony; whether it's for outright magic or not. Glamour helps a witch portray themselves in a way they desire others to see them. It's like a transformation."

Stardust adds that, like The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick also accurately portrays the strength in numbers. "The one thing about magic is that when three witches come together, or maybe even two witches, or let's just say you're just an intuitive person who's not even a practicing witch, when you connect with people who are at a higher vibration than you're at, everyone's powers get elevated."

Additionally, unlike some of its more PG peers, The Witches of Eastwick fully embraces sex magic. "[The movie] is just about owning your sexuality and power as well, which is what a lot of patriarchy and religion are against. In The Witches of Eastwick I believe the newspaper boss, his wife is very religious. So, she's the one who has the biggest problem with the sexuality and everything going on there."

In the Wizard of Oz, sisters Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West both exist in a fantastical, unrealistic world, but they do have a few relatable traits.

"Glinda, she’s frustrating to me because she’s on a high horse," says Cipriano. "She reminds of the gatekeepers who try to keep people out of witchcraft." 

Potter has a different take on the Good Witch. "Glinda was a style icon for me as a child. She arrives in a pink bubble — and that's literally how I imagine myself arriving everywhere."

Runners up: The Craft, The Love Witch

Both Potter and Stardust put The Love Witch on my radar, noting that it was among their favorite witch movies to date. "The reason why I always put this one in my roundup is because it actually is a really well-researched movie," says Stardust. "The premise is so crazy — it's a witch named Elaine who's had it with all of these men who have done her wrong, so she wants to do love magic to find someone who's really in love with her," she explains. "While all this craziness happens, they discuss a lot of the patriarchal history surrounding magic."

"They talk a lot about how the patriarchy is so anti-magic, so anti-witchcraft, because it basically gives women power and encourages them to embrace their sexuality," she continues. "It talks about menstruation being a really powerful, magical time for a woman, which it is."

A common thread between both The Love Witch and The Craft is the idea that, no matter how tempting it may be, you really shouldn't be out there casting love spells on specific people. If anything, says Potter, you should cast spells inviting love into your life, and "working with the universe — not being selfishly manipulative." 

Potter adds that the depictions of binding — or preventing another witch from hexing others, shown when Sarah (Robbin Tunney) wraps a ribbon around a photograph of Nancy (Fairuza Balk) — in The Craft, as well as the idea of strength in numbers are also accurate. And the scene where they play "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board?" Extremely accurate.

"Every little witch plays that," she says. 

The Most Realistic Witch Movie: Practical Magic

“Practical Magic is a movie that I absolutely love," says Stardust. "I do think that Practical Magic teaches people a lot about the sisterhood of what it means to be a witch, because, for good or bad, once you kind of blend your energy with someone, you're united no matter what." 

"The sisterly bond is so on point," adds Potter. "It's so on point with how I feel with my coven sisters." 

"The whole thesis of [Pracitical Magic] is that of belief," adds Cipriano. "[Witchcraft] is not there if you don’t believe in it."