WARNING: Contains spoilers!
When people hear the word “Witch”, the first image that comes to mind is this:
It’s the go-to costume for Halloween when all other options are not viable. Despite all the dress-ups and fun, witches have had a pretty bad rap over the centuries. Yeah, there are people out there who have claimed to be witches and gone and killed people, or animals even, “in the name of Satan”. Just so you know, even Satanism frowns upon animal cruelty.
It is even written in Exodus 22:18 of the Holy Bible (King James version), Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Ironically, the Christians appropriated all the pagan holidays and turned them into Easter, Christmas etc, even taking pagan symbols (the Easter bunny, the Easter egg, the Christmas tree etc) and claimed them as their own. This topic can be reserved for its own blog post in the near future.
Before the invention of the video camera and the creation of the first motion picture, there were plenty of occult grimoires in circulation, the most famous being the works of Aleister Crowley and Agrippa; on the other side of the coin, there were treatises on identifying, interrogating and convicting witches. The most well-known such treatise is the Malleus Maleficarum, first published in 1486. The persecution of witches continued over the aeons, with the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 among others.
The mantra of “witches = bad” continued into the modern age. Despite the foundation of modern Wicca (founded in the early 1950s by Gerald Gardner), horror movies such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria had evil witches at the crux of their storyline. Mention tarot cards to a non-Wiccan and they will try to convince you of how evil they are, when most tarot readers will describe the tarot as a psychic road map, rather than a means of telling the future – which in turn, they will tell you, is not set in stone. Although for the most part, modern society has stopped blaming witchcraft on their misfortunes or on their own misbehaviour, that’s not to say that it doesn’t still happen – because it does, no matter how few and far between the incidents.
On 3 May 1996, The Craft was released in the United States of America, and released 4 July 1996 in cinemas across Australia. The Craft is copyrighted, released and distributed by Columbia Pictures.
The Craft starred Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True and Assumpta Serna, and was directed by Andrew Fleming.
Since the release of The Craft, subsequent movies such as Practical Magic and TV Shows such as Charmed have helped with the good witchy PR, making witches look less scary and more like your next-door neighbour.
The Craft has been earmarked for a remake, and The Frisky have even listed their dream cast. However, no one will scrutinise The Craft remake as closely as the practising neo-pagans and Wiccans of the world, as they did with the original (as I am about to do in this blog). Given the film industry’s history of how witches have been portrayed in film and TV over the years (let alone the persecution of witches throughout recent history), can you blame them?
All things aside, I enjoyed the movie The Craft. I was pleased to see a movie that shone some light on what Wicca is really all about. The movie Practical Magic, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, is another movie deserving of its own blog post similar to this one in the not-too-distant future, as it also has a few underlying truths in relation to folk magick generally. And, like The Craft, Practical Magic can be found in my DVD library.
So, what’s The Craft about?
For those who have been living under a rock for the last 20 years, The Craft is a cautionary tale about a group of four teenage witches who use magick to manifest their desires or otherwise bring about change in an aspect of their lives. Their actions, and the consequences thereof, are testament to the saying “Be careful what you wish for”.
Okay, so what is it about The Craft that makes it so frustrating to Neo Pagans and Wiccans?
The Craft is one of the few movies about witches that gives an outsider a glimpse of what it’s actually all about. Far from the evil witches of Wizard of Oz, Hocus Pocus (despite this, I still enjoyed that movie) and B-Grade 80s horror movies, and the fluff of the Good Witch Glinda and the Good Witch of the North from Wizard of Oz, The Craft explains the basic tenets of witchcraft/Wicca as you would find in any book on the subject, with a liberal sprinkling of Hollywood magic (i.e. special effects). I will list some recommended books on Wicca and Wiccan authors at the end of this blog.
Here’s the lowdown:
#1. The Craft had a Dianic Wiccan High Priestess as their technical adviser
Who better to advise the filmmakers on all things Wiccan than an actual practising Wiccan? High Priestess Pat Devin was the technical adviser on the set, and she had a lot of input during pre-production (including input with the screenplay). Actress Fairuza Balk is also a practising Wiccan (or at least at the time of production) and even bought a magickal supplies store, Pan Pipes, in Hollywood shortly after The Craft was released. It is not certain whether she still owns the shop to this day.
So, when you’ve got an actual Wiccan as a technical adviser on the set, you’ll get more than just the standard Hollywood magic on the set…
#2. The Craft used actual Wiccan rituals
The ritual on the beach and the initiation rite in the forest are actual Wiccan rituals. They’re not taken from some obscure occult grimoire – you will find them in most books on Wicca in any New Age store or online bookshop.
The Watchtower ritual which was used on the beach is generally used to cast circle. You can read a more detailed description here and here. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn version of the ritual can be found here. It interesting to note that Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, was reputedly a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis (and also reputedly a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He was also a Freemason). The Watchtower ritual is also used in ceremonial magick, and its purpose is the same – to clear the magickal space and create a boundary between that magickal space and the mundane world, and to contain the magickal energies within that boundary. The purpose of the Guardians at the four cardinal points is that of a gatekeeper, to keep out any uninvited entities.
The line “Blessed Be” and the mantra “As Above, So Below” are typically used by Wiccans, and you’ll find them used in any book or website on Wicca, to varying degrees.
“But what about the spells?” You ask… We’ll get to that, but before we do…
#3. The spells (or variations thereof) used in The Craft can be found in any spell book in a New Age store or website
The binding spell used in The Craft is a basic version of many that you will find on the Internet and in spell books in any New Age store. The wrapping of the white ribbon around the photograph is part and parcel to the spell. Its purpose is simple – to stop someone from causing harm upon another. In Cassandra Carter’s book Everyday Magic, she cautions the use of binding spells, summed up in the mantra as you bind, so you are bound.
Love spells – they are at a dime a dozen. All you have to do is a Google search on “Love Spells” and you will get approximately 1.8 million search results in 0.63 seconds.
A search on luck and money spells will also get similar results. Yes, I did an actual Google search above to prove my point on the abundance of love spells.
The glamour spells they perform in Nancy’s bedroom after she and her mother move to a new high-rise apartment, work more on the power of suggestion than anything else. There are magick potions available at your local hairdresser, supermarket or pharmacy that work on changing your hair colour (read: hair dye), and as for changing your eye colour, it’s called going to an optician and buying contact lenses.
Technical advisor Pat Devin made sure that the spells referred to in the movie were basic enough that they could be found in any commercially-available book found in any new age store.
But… but… things ended up going wrong!
Okay, before we go into the nitty gritty of why the girls’ spells went wrong, let’s continue with why The Craft is frustrating to witches…
#4. Lirio (the occult store owner) is, for the most part, a walking, talking encyclopaedia of what Wicca is about
Lirio is portrayed in the movie by Assumpta Serna.
While I take issue with Lirio’s comment to Sarah in the first scene, “Maybe you’re a natural witch. Your power comes from within“, she is pretty much spot-on with the Law of the Threefold Return, and her analogy on spellcraft when answering Sarah’s request for advice on how to undo a love spell: “When you open a floodgate, how do you undo it? When we unleash something in a spell, there is no undoing. It must run its course.” She also hits the nail on the head with her response to Sarah’s accusation of black magick: “True magick is neither black nor white. It’s both because nature is both. Loving and cruel, all at the same time. The only good or bad is in the heart of the witch. Life keeps a balance of its own.”
As to why I take issue with the comment of Sarah being a “natural witch”, magick, like anything else, is an acquired skill. Anyone can create an effect, if they put in the time and effort to hone their craft. But, they must also be able to control and balance the energies that they are working with. And that takes practice.
Okay, okay… but what about when things started to go wrong?
In the next few paragraphs, we shall explore the how, why etc of the things that went wrong with the girls’ spells. Sure, things initially looked like they were beginning to work in their favour. Then things took a turn.
Seeing as Sarah’s spell was the first to manifest, we’ll start with her…
Sarah is portrayed by Robin Tunney.
She cast a spell to get Chris Hooker (portrayed by Skeet Ulrich) to fall in love with her. She broke a cardinal rule of love magick with her spell – She focused her spell on a specific person, and thus interfering with another person’s free will – read about love magick on any website or in any book on the subject, and they will all offer cautionary advice on why it is not a good idea to focus your love magick on a specific person. Cassandra Carter’s book Everyday Magic has a very comprehensive chapter on love magick, and is recommended reading. Apart from the magickal no-no of interfering with another person’s free will, you could find yourself stuck with someone like Chris Hooker, or at least what he had become (whether it was because of the spell, or the magick revealed a hidden aspect of his personality, is anyone’s guess) – obsessive and possessive, not to mention the very real possibility of your own personal safety being jeopardised (Chris turns up at Sarah’s house at 3am after attempting to contact her by telephone, then later attempts to rape Sarah after deceiving her into accompanying him on a drive, making her believe that they were going to see a movie. Luckily, Sarah is able to escape and flee, seeking refuge at Bonnie’s house). The Wiccan Rede, An it harm none, do what thou wilt includes not doing any harm to yourself!
Everyone wants to be with someone [*Citation needed]. To what level of commitment is a personal choice. Love is indeed profitable, as evidenced by the abundance dating websites and dating apps. Florists are well-stocked on flowers for Valentine’s Day, and weddings can cost a small fortune too, depending on the extravagance of the bridal gown, the ceremony and wedding reception, or lack thereof. I think Johnny Cash sums it up best:
Bonnie is portrayed by Neve Campbell.
Bonnie wanted to rid herself of severe burn scars across her back and shoulders, because she felt that she would be more beautiful without them. There is a lesson in her journey as well. If anyone were to think less of her simply because of her burn scars, that says more about the person judging Bonnie than Bonnie herself. While there are cosmetic surgery procedures for burn scars, gene therapy was the form of treatment referred to in the movie – and it is a thing. Burns treatment has come a long way since 1996, with hydrogel and spray-on skin revolutionising the way burns are treated. In the movie, the gene therapy treatment worked for Bonnie (with a bit of magickal assistance), and afterwards, she becomes completely narcissistic. Sarah notices the first signs when the girls visit Nancy in her new condo. As they stroll through the common property towards the main entrance into the complex, worrying over whether their magick had facilitated the death of Nancy’s stepfather, Bonnie spies an attractive man passing them in the opposite direction. She then says flirtatiously, “Hi. Don’t be shy…” then turns back and coos, “Hmm… nice ass.” while the subject of her desires turns his head with a bemused look on his face. Later in the movie, Sarah calls Bonnie out on her behaviour, to which she responds, “Excuse me, but I spent a big chunk of my life being a monster and now that I’m not, I’m having a good time and I’m sorry if that bothers you.”
Bonnie is testament to the saying, beauty is only skin deep. But she can hardly be blamed for her way of thinking. We live in a world that seems to value the aesthetic of a woman’s brain-case more than its contents, and is adequately summed up when Bonnie said, “Except me” when Nancy tells Sarah that Chris Hooker “comes on to anything with tits”. We see images of photoshopped ideals of beauty, splashed across billboards and magazine covers, in a society that worships youth. Teenage girls feel pressured to conform to this ideal that appears to be imposed upon them by the bombardment of these images on our billboards and in fashion magazines. If only someone told Bonnie that her scars were beautiful – that they told the world that one day, Death had come for her but she fought him and said defiantly, “Not today!”, and lived to see another day. And if only Chris Hooker and his friends could see that too.
I now present to you, a shining, real-world example of inner beauty shining through from beneath the burn scars. Below is a 60 Minutes interview with Turia Pitt, who survived horrific burns after being caught in a bushfire while running an ultramarathon in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Turia Pitt’s partner had bought an engagement ring while she was in intensive care, and they are now engaged to be married. Hmmm. That just made the Chris Hooker character look like an even bigger arsehole.
Before we move on to the next one, we will have a little intermission with this fun fact: Brenda Strong, the actress who portrayed the surgeon in The Craft, had previously appeared in Spaceballs as a nurse – you know, the one who assisted the plastic surgeon Darth Helmet hired, so he could hold King Roland of Druidia to ransom if he didn’t give Darth Helmet the combination to enable the Spaceballs to deplete Druidia’s atmosphere. He threatened to perform a rhinoplasty on Princess Vespa to restore her old nose if King Roland didn’t give in to Darth Helmet’s demands. Yes, Brenda Strong was the sexy nurse! Since The Craft’s release, Strong appeared in the movie Get a Job as psychiatrist Emily LaCrosse, and in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode Overload as a doctor. Another notable role in which she didn’t play a doctor, was in Starship Troopers as Captain Deladier, breaking away from the medical professional typecast.
And, back to the witchy stuff…
Rochelle is portrayed by Rachel True.
After dealing with nasty comments and taunts from Laura Lizzie (portrayed by Christine Taylor) over what seems a prolonged period of time, Rochelle finally confronts Lizzie and demands an explanation from her as to why she is being so mean, to which Lizzie casually responds with, “I don’t like negroids. Sorry”, revealing herself to be a bit of a racist. So, Rochelle seeks a bit of revenge.
Rochelle’s spell involved using a lock of Laura’s hair, which Sarah obtained while she casually strolled past Laura, and reaching out and yanking out a few strands of hair as Laura walked in the opposite direction. The lock of hair was then braided into Rochelle’s hair, and the spell began to manifest at the swimming centre as Rochelle took to the diving board. Laura Lizzie’s usual taunts were silenced when she noticed her hair falling out as she took off her swimming cap. Not to be perturbed, Rochelle performed her dive, for the coach to see, finally. Later in the movie, it is revealed that all Laura’s hair has fallen out and she has to wear a wig. She approaches Rochelle and just says “Hi, how are you doing?” – then the camera cuts to the bedroom, but not before we hear Laura begin what we can only assume is an apology, with “Listen…” while Rochelle understandably appeared a little defensive.
In the movie, it looked as though Laura’s scalp had been burned, and chemical burns from hair dye is known to happen. Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease by which the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out.
It was difficult to feel any kind of sympathy for Laura, especially because of how nasty she was to Rochelle (and why). Rochelle’s acknowledgement of her spell quickly descended into schadenfreude when she boasts about how Laura has to wear a hat to hide her patchy scalp. But, Laura’s attitude could possibly be attributed to her upbringing.
“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”
– Denis Leary
There are studies that have shown that racism is a learned behaviour, mainly from parents and/or family members. If Laura Lizzie’s casual racism was a product of her upbringing, and her racist attitude was indeed learned (I am going to go with learned behaviour because she later approaches Rochelle to make amends), did she really deserve to have all her hair fall out as some sort of punishment? This falls into a grey area. As Sarah said to Rochelle while she braided the strand of Laura’s hair into Rochelle’s, “If she leaves you alone, nothing will happen to her” after Rochelle asked what would happen to Laura. Obviously Laura had continued to taunt Rochelle, given that the spell had manifested, and Rochelle probably didn’t think it all through, as hair may or may not grow back through burn scar tissue, depending on the severity of the burn (going by the chemical burn theory).
And last, but not least…
Nancy is portrayed by Fairuza Balk.
Nancy is probably the most complex character of the four girls. She has a dominant personality, and is very much the alpha of the group, even before Sarah joined them, but this dominance becomes more apparent as the story moves on. Her spell was simple – she wanted “All the power of Manon” (it should also be pointed out that “Manon” is a fictional deity – Pat Devin advised against referencing a real deity for the movie). Nancy didn’t state her intent or purpose for this power – she just wanted power for its own sake.
Taking in that kind of power into a physical body and a mental state that are already in a state of chaos (that being puberty and sexual awakening, and a mind that has been impacted by living in a dysfunctional household) would invariably create chaos, and we could see how it affected Nancy after her spell began to manifest. The results of her spell were indeed tragic – her stepfather suffered a fatal cardiac arrest, but he had left a life insurance policy that made her mother rich, enabling them to move out of the hovel of a home that they were living in and into a new, swank apartment with new furniture. When they performed the Watchtower ritual on the beach, the next morning the beach was awash with sea creatures that had beached themselves.
And then things get worse…
She uses her glamour spell to take on the likeness of Sarah, in order to seduce Chris. When Nancy calls out Chris for his atrocious behaviour towards women (again, another learned behaviour that he probably observed in the interactions between his parents), Chris utters a feeble “sorry”. Nancy, of course, doesn’t believe him. So, with a bit of magickal assistance, the french doors swing open and Chris is sent to his death over the balcony. And then Sarah is on the receiving end of her magick, subjecting Sarah to night terrors and then the little stunt at the occult shop, then Sarah’s home.
Things ultimately didn’t end well for Nancy. I won’t say what became of her, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.
On the surface, it appears that Nancy was nothing more than a wicked witch. I disagree. She wasn’t inherently evil, but appeared to be motivated by revenge. Look at all the people she targeted – her obnoxious stepfather, who in one scene in their home, lifted up Nancy’s nightgown, saying “Look at that, you can almost see through that thing!” We only get to see the tip of the iceberg as to the extent of how he treated her (and her mother). In her stepfather’s case, did she break the Wiccan Rede of “an’ it harm none, do what thou wilt”?
You can read these articles here, here, here, here and here about children who killed an abusive parent or step-parent. How is Nancy’s use of magick to cause death to her abusive stepfather any different to how the children in the linked articles killed their abusive parent? Note that it all happens after Nancy’s stepfather raised his hand at her mother. And before anyone throws around the bible quote “Honour thy mother and thy father”, why should anyone, let alone a parent or step-parent, who abuses a child be worthy of being honoured? There is no honour in child abuse.
When Nancy warns Sarah about Chris, we get an insight into the psyche of Chris Hooker. A young man who uses young women for his own pleasure, with little regard for their feelings or desires. When Nancy warns Sarah that he “spreads disease”, it becomes apparent that Chris is promiscuous, and picked up an STI from one of his “conquests”, then passed it on to Nancy, which is revealed when Nancy says quietly, “I’m talking from personal experience”. Teenagers, this highlights the importance of safe sex. If you’re going to engage in sexual activity, “It would be much sweeter if you wrapped up your peter“. The contraceptive pill only helps prevent pregnancy, but condoms and other barrier prophylactics help prevent the transmission of STIs. But coming from a dysfunctional household, Nancy would have likely complied with any request from Chris not to use protection in order to keep the peace, not wanting to make a scene, and blindly trusting Chris (who probably told her “but I don’t have any diseases”). But did Chris deserve to die? In Chris’ case, after getting the mother of all earbashings from Nancy, he had every chance to change his ways, if only Nancy listened to Sarah and just walked away. But no. Had Nancy let him live, he would have been given ample opportunity to redeem himself.
Then when Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle began to invade her dreams, find out what was inside her head, we could see the effects it was having on Sarah – anxiety, nightmares and night terrors, among other things, can keep people from having a good night’s sleep, and there has been study after study on the effects of sleep deprivation on the human body, and the consequences of not getting a good night’s sleep. So absolutely, Nancy was causing harm to Sarah. As to why Nancy targeted Sarah in the first place, Sarah was the only one of the other three girls who dared to challenge Nancy’s authority, and Nancy didn’t take to the criticism too kindly. Sensitivity to criticism is a trait you’ll find in a child from a dysfunctional household. Nancy was abused, neglected and exploited, and sought revenge against the people who had wronged her instead of focusing on improving herself and her self-worth.
The ending wasn’t a case of “and they all lived happily ever after”. The girls all had to deal with the consequences of their actions in their own way and (hopefully) learned something from it.
Okay, but isn’t witchcraft dangerous? I mean, look what happened to Nancy?
Fire is dangerous, but people still use fire to warm their home and cook their food, and people still light candles in their home. Electricity is dangerous, but people still use electricity to warm their home and cook their food, and power their electronic devices that provide hours of entertainment. But, if used with the proper care, consideration and precautions, witchcraft can enhance and enrich our lives, just as the use of fire and electricity has enhanced and advanced our society.
Recommended further reading:
Encyclopaedia of Spirits: the ultimate guide to the magic of fairies, genies, demons, ghosts, gods and goddesses by Judika Illes, HarperOne ISBN 978-0-06-135024-5
A Witches’ Bible: The Complete’ Witches Handbook by Janet and Stewart Farrar, Robert Hale Publishers ISBN 13: 0-978-7090-7227-0
Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium by Vivianne Crowley, Thorsons ISBN 0-7225-3271-7
The Grimoire of Lady Sheba, Jessie Wicker Bell (Lady Sheba), Llewellyn Worldwide ISBN 0-87542-076-1
Spellbound: The Secret Grimoire of Lucy Cavendish, Lucy Cavendish, Rockpool Publishing ISBN 978-1-925017-15-1
Witchcraft Theory and Practice, Ly De Angeles, Llewellyn Worldwide ISBN 978-1-566718-782-3
Any book by Christopher Penczak, Raymond Buckland or Scott Cunningham
If you find tarot cards rather unsettling, these oracle card decks are recommended alternatives:
Messenger Oracle by Ravynne Phelan, Blue Angel Publishing ISBN 978-0-9872041-1-0
Gods and Titans by Stacey Demarco and illustrated by Jimmy Manton, Blue Angel Publishing ISBN 978-0-98087 19-2-0
Goddesses and Sirens by Stacey Demarco and illustrated by Jimmy Manton, Blue Angel Publishing ISBN 978-0-9808719-5-1
Wisdom of Avalon Oracle cards by Colette Baron-Reid, Lifestyles Publishing ISBN 978-1-4019-1042-6
The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky and illustrated by Hrana Janto, US Games Systems Inc ISBN-13: 978-1-57281-546-9 & ISBN-10: 57281-546-9