The Aesthetics of Witches : It's not so black and white... magic
Blog post by: Jessica
Often when witches are either prominent in a movie or a side story of a television show, they are women dressed in either all black “goth” attire or pastel, flowery gowns. This is to show the viewer that the witch’s style indicates whether she is a “good witch” or a “bad witch”. I am sure you can guess which is which! However, often this distinction leaves little room for interpretation or of understanding the complexities that come with being a witch. There is more to being a witch than just the clothes they wear and by separating them into literally black and white terms this completely disregards their personalities, beliefs, and how they practice their magic.
A perfect example of this is Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When she becomes a serious practitioner, she is seen dressing in a renaissance style with long flowy dresses, bright colours, she wears gemstones and even her hair is a light shade of red. This is her as a ‘good’ witch; she follows the laws of magic to help her friends in times of need. However, when we meet Dark Willow, she becomes the ‘bad’ witch and her attire shows this. She is dressed in a very dark and severe pants suit, with her hair a deep shade of red, almost black, and tattooed like veins on her face. Willow looks menacing, all-powerful and is now a threat to her friends and actually almost brings about the end of the world.
In this scenario, there is no in-between but a clear representation of a dichotomy that often comes when depicting witchcraft on the screen. When a witch dresses a certain way it is supposed to be seen as representative of her beliefs and practices - if she dresses in black (and listens to black metal) - she is evil. Or, if she dresses in white (and listens to Enya) - she is seen as good. And often these witches are set against each other because light and darkness are apparent natural enemies. I have also noticed that there is often a negative reaction to both types of witches. Witches who dress in black are labelled as unstable whereas witches who dress in light colours and wear crystals are seen as unreliable or generally distrusted. Both these women are made into a caricature of the witch and thus not taken seriously when they talk about their beliefs and practices.
The Craft (1996) is another example of this dichotomy. The way that Nancy Downs dresses is representative of the darker side of witchcraft: she wears all black, seductive gothic attire, has pale skin, piercings, black hair, and also wears silver jewelry. She looks like a “dark witch” even before she completes the rite of “Invocation of the Spirit”. Nancy is a goth girl and, of course,if you are a goth you have some sort of association with witchcraft, according to societal prejudices. She is a dark, spooky woman and as we see in the film, anyone who trifles with her or her coven will experience her power. She is not afraid to use sex as well to demonstrate that. But by the end of The Craft, she is seen as unstable and an enemy to her own coven as she turns against Sarah, who she sees as a threat to her power.
Yet while Nancy’s aesthetic is that of a dark and ‘crazy’ witch, we get the opposite in Lirio (as well as Sarah later on in the film), the owner of the New Age store where the girls gather supplies. She carries an air of light and peace, the ‘good’, or “white” magic. Lirio is dressed in long flowy pastel or light
coloured dresses, wears gemstones and her hair flows naturally down her back. While she is not the extreme “light and love” witch stereotype, she is representative of the light witch aesthetic. Lirio is a natural witch and takes Sarah under her wing to help her combat Nancy because she too is a natural witch just like her mother (mentioned in the film). They are the opposites to the dark side of magic and femininity. Where “light” witches tend to come off more passive, taking on the more “traditional” female role, the “dark” witch is active and the archetype of the rebellious woman.
I find these aesthetic choices are taken to the extreme and at times make a mockery of witches and our beliefs. There are various types of witches who all look different in various ways. Don’t get me wrong, some of these witches do dress in all black and take on the gothic outwardly attire, but others can also be light practitioners and like to wear the flowy dresses and light colours. But there are also many witches like myself, who are a blend of both and at times create our own witchy aesthetic that is characteristic of our craft.
Here are some examples of the different types of witches. Their aesthetic is a blend of however they feel comfortable showing their beliefs or traditions to the world. These witches are often not portrayed in movies/television:
Traditional Witch - These are historical witches who honor the ‘old’ ways that came before Wicca. They are quite traditional in their approach to magic.
Gardnerian Witch - This is an organized and more structured approach to witchcraft and Wicca. There are strong ties to nature and performing rituals is the foundation of this type of witches practice.
Solitary Witch - These witches practice alone without the support of a coven. They can be any type of witch.
Sea Witch - These have Strong ties with water, and ocean magic. They are often stylized after Sirens and mermaids.
Kitchen Witch - A home based witch that loves to cook/bake and brew/use herbs. Their home is sacred and they use everyday objects in their spells, rituals and magic.
Dianic Witch - These constitute feminist practices. They follow the cult of Diana and worship the Maiden, Mother and Crone aspects of her.
Cosmic Witch - These witches are focused on astrology and celestial energy. They follow the planets and alignment of stars for their spells and rituals.
These are just some of the types of witches that exist and if you’re interested I would recommend reading up about them to learn more! There is such diversity in witchcraft and it's this that I find so beautiful and inspiring. To get started, check out this resource What Type of Witch are You? For myself, when I started on my own path to witchcraft, I worked to find my personal aesthetic and tradition. I know I am a solitary witch and at first experimented with elements of Dianic witchcraft; however, I am finding that I am more of a Kitchen witch than anything. My home is my sacred space and I often incorporate spells and rituals when I am cleaning or making a meal. If you were to look at me, that is not apparent as I tend to blend the basic good/bad witch imagery in my clothing and household decor.
Sadly, these are not elements considered when witches are portrayed on the screen. Often in movies, various witchcraft traditions are blended together, diluting it, and the witch is in all black or white to represent her alignment and this is how the audience is supposed to relate to her. Unfortunately, this simplifies witchcraft and robs it of its history and character. Then when people who are unfamiliar with witchcraft, and meet actual witches in real life, they assume that the crystal they might be wearing makes them a “good witch” and while the pentacle on their jacket symbolizes that they are a Satan worshipper, or a “bad witch”. In case you didn’t know, the pentacle is a witch’s symbol for protection and when it is inverted (upside down) it makes the pentagram, a symbol of Satanism.
For myself, I wear black often with splashes of purple and pink, with sometimes white depending on my mood. I also often wear an amethyst crystal and a moonstone bracelet along with a pentacle tattooed on my right hand and a cross ring. I have a Baphomet pin on my jean jacket and I listen to both melodic death metal and Lana Del Ray. So what kind of witch does that make me? Whatever type of witch I want to be and “I do whatever I please - Hex the Patriarchy” (“I am a Witch”, Twin Temple).