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Margaret Kim Peterson
Literary witches have been with us from the weird sisters of the Scottish play to the victims of Puritan persecution in The Crucible—from agents of fate to hostages of prejudice. So no one should be surprised when pop culture expands its embrace to include witches along with its friendly fuzzy angels. But while cultures formed by Christianity have traditionally taken a dim view of witches and witchcraft, recent television shows (Charmed) and movies (Practical Magic and The Craft, among others) present them positively. What exactly is the witchcraft they present, and what appeal does it exercise?
In all these shows, witchcraft is a sort of pantheistic nature religion. The witches in The Craft announce, "We worship everything: God, the devil, the earth, trees." One of the witches in Practical Magic explains that witchcraft has to do with being close to nature, and thus with making the soaps and bath salts that she sells in her boutique. In fact, witchcraft involves a lot of accessories: candles, occult symbols, brooms. All of the witches have books of spells, either inherited (Charmed, Practical Magic) or purchased (The Craft). These books sometimes offer recipes for potions (Practical Magic); more often spells that, when chanted in concert, bring forth desirable results accompanied by thunder and lightening. Numbers are important: Chants recited by the three witch sisters in Charmed emphasize "the power of three"; four witches are needed in The Craft in order to invoke the power of the four winds and the four elements; an exorcism performed in Practical Magic requires "a whole coven," which means at least nine and preferably twelve witches.
Witchcraft brings with it a variety of paranormal powers such as levitation, telekinesis, and abilities to see the future and to manipulate the thoughts of others, as well as the ability to perceive, confront, and destroy supernatural evil. Sometimes a witch exercises her powers in trivial ways: a coffee cup stirs itself (Practical ...