Mom of 4: My kids think all witches are green with warts on their noses, as portrayed in cartoons and Halloween costumes. I’ve tried to explain to them that there are real witches among us who look nothing like that, but I don’t know much more myself. Please help!
Dear Mom of 4,
Ah yes. The Margaret Hamilton syndrome. Her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939) forever solidified in our minds what a witch is supposed to look like. Her character was certainly terrifying: Check it out next time you see the movie. Maggie steals every scene she is in – the rest of the characters just become so much wallpaper when she is on screen. Margaret also reprised the WW character on a 1976 episode (0847) of Sesame Street that resulted in so many complaints from the parents of traumatized children that the episode has never been shown again.
So the Wicked Witch character is so popular in our culture because it is SCARY. And people of all ages (cultures, backgrounds) love to be scared.
But none of this has a single thing to do with real witches, none of whom are green (except the day after a sabbat party), and very few of which have warts on their noses (certainly no more so than the general population).
In all fairness, it should also be pointed out that real witches are also nothing like the (so called) Good Witch of the North. Billie Burke’s portrayal of all that is glittery and ball-gowny and sing-song voiced is no nearer to the life of your average pagan than Maggie’s shrieking shrew cariacture. The Good Witch of the North is the cause of all the awful things that happen to the rest of the characters; she denies all responsibility; and she blithely uses Dorothy to do her dirty work, all the while withholding valuable information from her (“You’ve had the power to go home all along!”). Indeed, this passive-aggressive/denial/revenge paradigm makes The Northern Witch into the prototype New Age practitioner, come to think of it.
The sad fact is that a real witch just wouldn’t make a very interesting movie role or halloween costume. We’re really not all that spectacular. And your average child woudn’t be riveted by a character that gardens, prays with her candles, stares at the moon a lot, and makes teas for her friends that soothes their aches and pains.
I’m afraid Mom-of-4 that your children are simply too young to really grasp the sublteties that make being a witch so utterly captivating to those of us in the Craft. In a few years the older ones could come along on a nature walk or a beach clean up – or you can make a fieldtrip to one of your town’s occult book stores – and they can see for themselves what it is that real witches actually do.
P.S. Ironically, Margaret Hamilton was a lifelong and tireless advocate for the humane treatment of animals, which is a VERY witchy trait. But its hard to find the halloween costume of “Animal Shelter Volunteer”.
Dear Ask Angus,
Stephanie: What do you think of the new Pope? And in what ways do you think he will affect Paganism?
From what I can see the new Pope is an old, Roman Catholic man who toiled for years in the byzantine politics of one of the oldest, most Conservative, most repressive, most hide-bound, most bass-ackwards totalitarian states, before somehow rising to the top of this back-biting food chain and emerging as the Top Dog. I don’t think the Reform Train will be leaving that particular station anytime soon.
Pope Francis is from Argentina and is a Jesuit. Will this make any difference? (“difference” here defined as being able to have at least a smidgen of awareness of how an inkling of Progressive attitude could ease the suffering of millions of his flock.) It might. But its still too early to tell. My money says little to none, however. You don’t rise to the top of this reactionary heap by being any kind of radical.
Do I think any of this will affect Paganism? No. Catholicism is a rigid, top-down Heirarchy that seeks to control its followers. Neo-Paganism is a bottom-up, grass roots movement that allows for maximum latitude amongst its practitioners. The Witches are slowly gaining access to seats at the Grown-Ups table of religions, but we should not expect any sort of instant hand-up from a group that took until 1992 to agree that that Earth does indeed revolve around the Sun.*
My prediction is that Pope Francis will get better reviews than the newly demoted Bishop Ratzinger, if only because being a former Nazi who retired from the Papacy (the first since 1415!) under very mysterious circumstances, and now living out the rest of his rope under the diplomatic immunity of the Holy See – is a pretty easy act to follow.
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(Pics from daykeeperjournal.com, wikimedia commons, untilthelastrevel.tumblr.com, and Paul Gilligan)
*We’re now sorry for imprisoning Galileo for the rest of his life. Our Bad: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/world/after-350-years-vatican-says-galileo-was-right-it-moves.html