Witchy Willow: A Teenage Transformation
Post by: Jessica
Music: Witchy/Selenophile Playlist on Spotify
This post is part one of a three-part series about Willow Rosenberg’s journey into the path of witchcraft. In doing research for the podcast, I have read a few articles about Willow’s journey and transformation over the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. I’m focusing on the various stages of her journey and how it has been impactful to other young women who have found an inspirational role model in her character. This is seen in the self-confidence and empowerment Willow develops as she becomes and embraces her natural talents as a witch.
When we first meet Willow in season one she is your typical geeky 16-year-old teenager who is outcasted by her peers. She dresses conservatively, and almost childishly, in comparison to Buffy and Cordelia. She is focused on her studies and being a good girl in school and could never imagine breaking a school rule or let alone the law. We all remember that adorable scene in season three ‘Faith, Hope and Trick’ when Willow talks about how now as a senior she could leave school property for lunch. However, it takes Oz and Xander to drag her away from school to make this happen. She is a tutor to her peers, who often take advantage of her good nature and desire to be included. She has a crush on her childhood best friend, Xander, and has no idea about how to approach moving their relationship to a more intimate level. Willow is your classic school nerd until she is thrust into the world of the Slayer.
In befriending Buffy, she is introduced into a whole other world of vampires, demons, the supernatural, and witchcraft. Her intelligence, sensitivity and advanced tech skills assist Buffy and the gang in many dangerous situations. Her quick and innovative problem-solving skills empower her as she helps to save her friends and the world time and time again. This helps her build confidence. She is exposed to paganism and spell crafting through her research work with Giles and then eventually her relationship with techno-pagan, Jenny Calendar. Willow then begins to experiment with magic and from this, we see something in her that even she might not have known existed, which is a strong, empowered woman. Something that all young teenage girls are searching for.
When I watch Willow in season one and two, I see a bit of myself. I was an awkward teenager that was focused on getting good grades and staying out of trouble. You would never catch me skipping class. I largely kept to myself and struggled daily with my self-confidence. What teenage girl didn’t? I immersed myself in a world of fantasy and anime to get by day to day. I also had an interest in witchcraft. This stemmed from my early childhood after being exposed to the Wizard of Oz and being a member of the horror book club that was created by Scholastic books. Also, my mother always seemed to call me a witch. Maybe that was her way of calling me out when I was being bratty, but it was something that stuck with me and I was always thinking, “Yes, I like witches and I am one”. As a teenager and having acess to the internet, among the many anime websites I would explore, I would also look up information about witches and some practices, particularly Wicca. However, all of this had to be done in secret, as I was raised in a semi-strict Catholic household (like Willow and her Jewish parents). If I did deviate in any way from religious teachings or challenge the belief system, there were uncomfortable consequences such as lectures, having to read biblical passages, and bedroom raids. I also went to a Catholic high school with a stepmother who was a religion teacher, so the expectation was that I was to remain a good Catholic girl. High school was suffocating. It was only in secret that I was able explore elements of witchcraft and breathe. While it was limited, I responded to the positive elements of feminine empowerment in witchcraft, just as I do today in my early thirties.
In season two and three, we see Willow begin to evolve more into a confident self-empowered teenager as her studies in witchcraft expand. While she has some fear and self-doubt around her abilities, she is still intrigued by it and wants to continue to advance her skills, despite the precautions and warnings from Giles. After Jenny’s death, Willow takes on the role of the spell-caster for the group and eventually becomes their resident witch. But this Willow is much different than the Willow of season one, as her style changes and she builds more confidence. As she connects with her inner feminine energy through witchcraft, she begins to build sexual confidence and starts a relationship with Oz, a musician and werewolf. This can also be seen in the brief fling she has with Xander in secret, after two years of secretly wishing he would notice her as more than as a friend. As she begins to develop her confidence as a witch, she is also doing so as a woman. She is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself when it comes to protecting the ones she loves. This can be seen when it is believed that Oz is escaping in wolf form to kill people and being open about her distrustful feelings towards Faith. A great example of her confidence is when she comes out as a witch to her mother and tells her it is not a phase, “but who she is”. In this evolution of Willow, we begin to see glimpses of the powerful witchy woman she becomes later in the series.
In Willow’s transformation through her interaction with witchcraft, we see her go from an awkward geek to self-confident witch. It is no wonder that the late 90s and early 2000s experienced a teen witch craze because we were able to watch a character like Willow absolutely transform herself. Her transformation represents the desire in all teenage girls to find an inner power that gives them confidence. She shows teenage girls that they are not defined by the labels their peers give them. That they can use their own unique talents to transform themselves into who they want to be and not who society thinks they should be. Willow does this by experimenting with magic and identifying herself as a witch. She creates her own identity which is only the beginning for Willow, as it is for all young woman moving from their teenage years to that of young adults. This is something I can relate to for as I moved away from high school and living in a restrictive home. On my own, I was able to explore my own identity as a witch as well as other elements in my life very similar to Willow’s journey in college.