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Rethinking the Role of Witches in Horror

Updated on December 21, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Recently, I was finally getting around to watching The Conjuring. All I knew was it was a paranormal film. So, I expected the cliches: Family moves into house, family is haunted through unexplained means, they get an expert to cleanse the house, and life is back to normal. What I wasn't expecting was it to link the background story to a witch hunt and the witch in question sacrificing a child to Satan. That was when I stopped watching it.

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Most have heard of the Salem witch trials, but Salem was not the only nor the last place to experience the corruption of government due to superstition. It happened earlier in Europe, and it continues to happen in Africa. Hopefully, because of the trials in the United States, Americans can grasp the terror of the events, but can they comprehend the absurdity? Americans, in particular, tend to see themselves as untouchable; however, we are far from invincibility, as shown in the events of September 11th 2001.

One of the worst events of European history was and always will be The Holocaust. According to Wikipedia, 11 million were put to death. It was a horrific time which lead to a high mortality rate. The good news is that it is over. Of course, genocides still occur, today.

Readers may be confused why someone would bring up The Holocaust, witch-hunts, and the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the same article, but they are related. They were inspired by corrupt religious people. Extremists have a habit of causing damage. Particularly, Christian extremists. It may offend some readers, but there isn't much I can do about that; except, hope some of the things I have to say will make the wheels turn in some brains.

After 9/11, many Muslims have been targeted because of what some followers did "in the name Allah," right? What makes this interesting is the fact those involved were not leaders of Islam, but solitary practitioners who took it too far. When was the last time Christians as a whole were shunned simply for being Christian because of what their leaders preach? In the past, it has been anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-anything that isn't Christianity. Christianity itself seems to be an all-powerful organization that can do no wrong, but its past and present have done a lot of harm.

Christianity is so powerful that its doctrine is ingrained in pop culture; especially, in its easiest form of propaganda—exorcism films. All exorcism films include the Christian point of view. The antagonist is always linked to the devil and the protagonist is always linked to Jesus. It is as though there is no other spiritual path in the universe that could compete with the light of Christianity, even though it is responsible for many wars, oppressive laws, mass murders and so on.

The Incorrect Belief about Pagan Beliefs

As a pagan, I find it offensive that so many exorcism films focus around the three elements: Satan, Christianity, and witches. Satan is a Christian character; therefore, it is fine for Satan to be Christianity's antagonist, but not to repeatedly claim witches have anything to do with it. Witches do not believe nor recognize Satan as an entity nor Jesus as a god. Both are purely part of Christian mythology. Ultimately, exorcism films promote the idea that there is only one universal way of believing—the fundamentalist Christian way.

"The manuscript was written around the year 1010 C. E."  Star of David. [Public Domain]
"The manuscript was written around the year 1010 C. E." Star of David. [Public Domain] | Source

The Offensiveness of Cliches

Creativity is a gift. I am not trying to stop the creative minds from working; however, this recurring theme is no longer impressive. My suggestion to those non-pagans who do not find the pairing of Satan with witches to be offensive is to consider pairing evil with a Jewish victim of The Holocaust. Why not make an exorcism movie about possession by a malevolent spirit of a Jew who was killed in Nazi Germany?

If pagans, Wiccans and witches are not to take offense to being told over and over that not only do we follow Satan, but that the stereotypes of the witch-hunts are true, then perhaps it's time creative exorcism scriptwriters chose victims of another tragic historical event to turn into monsters for a quick buck. In fact, Jews have a star, too. Just imagine if people associated the Star of David with evil.

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I realize there are Neo-Nazis; however, few people will honestly say they think Hitler was correct. Today, The Holocaust has not inspired most people to hate Jews, but what if it had? What if we lived in a society where whenever someone said "Jewish" it made most people think of someone who does harm? That is the social damage done because of witch-hunts.

Most people do not think of a healer when they think of the word "witch," even though that is what witches do. Originally, witches were healers the townspeople would go to for cures. Witches know about herbs and how to use them to help others. It wasn't until their knowledge made the leaders of society feel inferior that those leaders created the superstition that witches are "Satan's workers." Then, the Malleus Maleficarum was written to back up their allegations. As bad as the cartoons of Jewish stereotypes were, what if an entire book had been written to help the Nazis find out who was hiding their Jewish identity by using absurd ways to "detect" their accused Jewishness, and this is whether or not they are in fact Jewish. As we all know, even the given reasons against Jews were insane, but mass hysteria was created from both claims about Witches and Jews, alike.

Witches in a Positive Light

Why can't more exorcism films focus on the bad person doing the harm rather than on some connection to Satan to blame? One of my favorite mainstream witch films is Practical Magic. There is an exorcism, but no Christianity and no Satan! It's a mortal witch against the spirit of an evil man, and the pentacle is as powerful as the Christian cross is believed to be!

Non-pagans may not understand how beautiful it is to see a film use these elements; especially, considering only most pagans know what it's like to fear the public knowing of your spiritual path because of its reinforced reputation invented by insecure leaders, centuries ago. What if wearing a cross could make anyone look at you like you may harm them?

To clarify, I do not believe Judaism should be associated with evil any more than I think Islam should be associated with terrorism, but if we consider how implausible these stereotypes are we can realize how senseless they are in relation to paganism. Perhaps, people will understand how clichè and discriminatory this constant plot for horror films about exorcism has been; therefore, new creative plots can be written. Maybe, even plots which focus around the evildoer him or herself instead of supernatural Christian laws of right and wrong.

Many non-pagans will read this article as an overreaction or an attempt to block creative freedom. It couldn't be further from either. If witch-hunts had not been so ingrained in society as cause to harm non-followers, the incorrect use of witches in horror films wouldn't phase me; unfortunately, it is the reinforcement that witches are enemies that scares me. Stories like the one from this past Fall about two teens: one is a very religious Christian teen who murdered an innocent teen witch because his beliefs challenged the Christian's. Sure, this is an extreme case, but considering how many blindly follow certain political and religious agendas, who knows what the future could bring from smaller groups. I want people to help end this violence rather than laugh it off like it's just a spooky fictional idea.

© 2015 social thoughts

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  • social thoughts profile image
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    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Radical Rog,

    Thank you so much. That is exactly my point. Thank you for bringing up more wrong by the Church that conflicts with their image as innocent and loving.

  • Radical Rog profile image

    Peter Rogers 2 years ago from Plymouth

    You make a good point. In fiction witches are invariably portrayed as being wicked and evil while the Church and some priest is the good guy in the story. Yet in real life countless numbers of priests have been found guilty of child sex abuse, cruelty all all manner of deviation and the Church, in many cases, clearly guilty of covering up these offences. And as you point out, add all the religious wars, one sect against the other, in which millions have died.

    In real life, religion is the root of all evil while witches do no harm at all.

  • social thoughts profile image
    Author

    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you, Bill. I know you read my original post about this. I felt it needed to be revised. So, thank you for taking the time to read the updated version!

  • social thoughts profile image
    Author

    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you, WiccanSage!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    In all art, it seems to me, there are the ones who break ground rules and begin new movements, and then there are the ones who jump on the bandwagon and ride it into the ground. The true artists are in the first category.

  • WiccanSage profile image

    Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

    Interesting perspective. Personally I don't mind fiction, or the use of the generic term 'witch'. But I do agree that perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing prejudices is an important topic. There definitely needs to be some accountability for those who are claiming to depict Wicca, Pagan religions, or even modern Witchcraft realistically-- too many will exploit the popular interest in these things for profit by working them into their fiction to lend some element of realism. Books like Sweep and House of Night come to mind, or movies like The Craft. It's downright irresponsible. Great hub.