Forget the stereotype of wicked and warty, cackly crones, we reckon it’s all just bad press! Grab your broomsticks, girls 'cos good witches are seriously cool!
Since FOREVER, female deities were worshipped as powerful, life-giving, nurturing and healing. Associated with the earth, they represented fertility, motherhood and love. So far, so perfectly reasonable!
Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and fertility, Arianrhod the Celtic goddess of fertility, rebirth and fate. The famous cat goddess Bast protected pregnant woman and children. Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture and grains. And there were many, many more too!
Throughout history women have been healers – whether doctors, herbalists or midwives, they passed their knowledge from generation to generation. ‘Witchcraft’ was originally seen as a skill invoked to ensure good fortune, protection and to answer wishes. Folk healers, in England also known as ‘cunning folk’ or sometimes as ‘white witches’, practiced folk magic, folk medicine and divination (like Professor Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter).
And then men went and spoiled it all! With the advent of male-centred religion, feminine values and women’s power in their cultures was diminished. In short, witches got a raw deal…
Now witches were considered evil, making pacts with the Devil, engaging in all sorts of hocus pocus – flying, invisibility, murder and, of course, lots of naughty sex stuff and running around in the woods with no knickers. In 1200, the church in Rome said they could be killed and, in 1498, actually issued a declaration confirming their existence! Yes, people really believed in witches – but only the ‘bad’ ones.
And, it seems, it was all downhill from there.
Full-throttle witch killing was recorded in Europe and North America from around 1450 to 1750. It resulted in around 35,000 to 100,000 executions. In the UK, witchcraft ceased to be an act punishable by law in 1735 but in Germany it was still a crime into the late 18th century.
But it seems, somewhere in our hearts – or perhaps in our collective memories? – we’ve managed to hang on to a sneaky admiration and regard for the artful craft of witchery. We take a look at some good’uns!
1. The Wyrd Sisters
The late, great author Terry Pratchett created the quirky Wyrd Sisters – Esme ‘Granny’ Weatherwax, Gytha ‘Nanny’ Ogg and Magrat Garlik. They’re not exactly full of goody-two-shoes goodness – but their hearts are in the right place and you’d be happy to have them fighting in your corner. And little Tiffany Aching merits a mention as a Discworld witch-in-training, too.
Q: What do you call a witch’s motorbike?
A: A brrrooooommmm stick
2. Winnie the Witch
Here’s two fave storybooks with mini magicals everywhere. Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul, follows Winnie muddling along through her adventures with her long-suffering black cat Wilbur (whom she once turned green). And Meg and Mog star in a series of books by Helen Nicoll with pictures by Jan Pienkowski. They’ve got their own cartoon series, too, and even a stage play, starring Maureen Lipman as Meg!
Q: How does a witch know what time it is?
A: She looks at her witch-watch
3. Professor Minerva McGonagle
Ah, Harry Potter. Where would we be without JK Rowling’s magical world of Muggles, wizards and witches? There’s the firm, but fair (and rather scary) Professor Minerva McGonagle (aka Maggie Smith). SO love her green velvet robes…
Q: What did the witch do when her broomstick broke?
A: She witch-hiked!
4. Hermoine Granger
…and the ‘brightest witch of her age’ Hermione Granger, played by the talented Emma Watson. Emma herself studied at Oxford, graduated in English Lit from uni in the US, has a role as a UN Ambassador and is involved in women’s right movements.
Q: What is a witch’s favorite subject in school?
5. Sally and Gillian Owens
The Owens sisters – Sandra Bullock as Sally and Nicole Kidman as Gillian – have a hereditary gift for Practical Magic in the movie of that name. But the sisters’ magic carries a price – or a curse. The men they fall in love with are doomed to an untimely death. Considered weird, and perhaps dangerous, by folk in the little town where they live, they overcome their curse to be embraced by the townspeople in the end. Plus they have a special cocktail-making song! And they drink special Margaritas! And look just lovely while they’re about it!
Q: What do witches put on their hair?
A: Scare spray
6. Samantha Stephens
Samantha Stephens, played by Elizabeth Montgomery, was the witch all little girls wanted to be in the Sixties. In the long-running TV series Bewitched, she was pretty, had flicky-up blonde hair, she was smart, kind, had magical powers and crazy relatives, like her mum Endora, Uncle Arthur and Aunt Clara – but, oh, yes, she also had daft and drippy Darren as a husband. Hold on, though – isn’t persecuting witches supposed to be a thing of history? Seems not for, in the 2005 movie Bewitched, the part of Samantha is taken by Nicole Kidman – and the love interest’s WILL FERRELL! Unnatural cruelty!
Q: What noise does a witch’s breakfast cereal make?
A: Snap, cackle and pop!
7. Glinda the Good Witch
Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, is all that a good witch should be. She’s glamorous, wears sparkly dresses with big, pouffey skirts and sleeves, a fab crown-tiara number and she’s got A MAGIC WAND! Plus she sings.
Q: Why don’t angry witches ride their brooms?
A: They’re afraid of flying off the handle!
8. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Teen witches are bound to have all sorts of fun. And Sabrina Spellman – from the long-running TV series Sabrina The Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart – certainly does. She’s cute, lives with two batty, witchy aunts and has the coolest black cat ever called Salem. It’s not surprising she and her aunts don’t always see eye-to-eye, though, there’s a bit of an age gap. Sabrina is sweet sixteen – her aunts Hilda and Zelda are 600.
Q: How do witches order drinks in a hotel?
A: B-room service.
9. Willow Rosenburg
Buffy The Vampire Slayer has become something of a cult favourite. It first aired on TV in 1997 – a year after Sabrina – and is much darker. Best friend and semi-official sidekick of Slayer Buffy Summers, Willow started out as a meeky, geeky computer nerd, but developed into a powerful and authoritative witch. So there IS career progress in IT!
Q. What do witches ride in races?
10. Gillian Holroyd
Gillian Holroyd – Kim Novak – is a free-spirit, 1950s Greenwich Village witch in the movie Bell, Book and Candle. When she learns her mere-mortal neighbour Shep (James Stewart), is going to marry an old college enemy of hers, she takes revenge by casting a love spell on him. But her plans backfire when she falls for him herself and must face the fact that witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. Gil isn’t exactly good – but she, sort of, has good intentions
Q: What do you call a witch with one leg?
Which good witch did you want to be when you were growing up?