WORDS BY CAMILLE VIOLLET
In the year 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, a Reverend’s 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old niece, as well as another young local girl, began experiencing bizarre symptoms. They would throw tantrums and spontaneously start to convulse and contort their bodies. Shortly after, the Reverend’s slave Tituba, a homeless woman named Sarah Good, and a woman with a reputation of acting out named Sarah Osborne were all accused. This began the infamous Salem Witch Trials, an approximately four month long period where almost 200 people were accused of being a witch. Accusations could arise from a simple bodily mark such as a wart or a mole, having beef with someone, or being generally unpleasant (I would’ve been accused for this one in a heartbeat).
After the Salem Witch Trials calmed down, the fascination with witches dissipated until the 1900s. The idea of the witch was commercialized and beautified, appearing in women’s magazines to promote throwing proper Halloween parties. The witch became a strong symbol for the “New Woman”.
In the late 1960s, an independent feminist group formed and called themselves W.I.T.C.H., utilizing the letters to spell out a myriad of things (i.e. Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and Women Inspired to Tell their Collective History). Their first movement as a group was Halloween of 1968, where the members marched to New York City’s Wall Street in full witch garb and performed a hex on the financial district (causing the Dow Jones supposedly to drop significantly the following day).
Witch collectives became more common and organized more openly. It didn’t take long for witches to seap its way into popular media. From Bewitched to The Love Witch, streaming services and TV Guide begin to fill up with potions and pointed hats as we ease into the chillier months.
Over the past week, I watched several witch movies in order to get into the spooky spirit. Little did I know, these films would be therapeutic in such a trying and triggering time.
Practical Magic, based on Alice Hoffman’s book of the same name, follows sisters Gillian and Sally Owens (played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, respectively). As Gillian galavants and enjoys her life as a free spirit, Sally moves back into her aunts’ home with her daughters after the death of her husband - caused by a curse placed on any many who loves an Owens woman. Her quiet life is interrupted by a phone call from Gillian, asking to be saved from her vampiric and abusive boyfriend Jimmy. However, things go awry when Sally tries to save the day, leading her to kill Jimmy in order to protect her sister. As the sisters worry about the consequences, they cast a spell to revive him, inadvertently releasing his evil spirit which will soon possess Gillian’s body.
As Gillian becomes weaker and more tormented by Jimmy’s spirit, the Owens women reach out to the townswomen, most of whom expressed significant disapproval of their witch neighbors. However, in this time of need, they overlook their differences and assist in an exorcism. Despite the incredible toll it takes on Gillian (and her desperate wimpers to have the women sacrifice her to save themselves the trouble), the power and bond between the coven not only banishes him from their lives but also prevents anyone from any future harm. He was stricken down not simply with spells, but by the extraordinarily powerful magic that arises when women come together.