Writing Witches: Not Just for Spooky Season

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It’s mid-October, and if your street is like mine, the neighbors are starting to decorate for Halloween. Our house is spooky too, and trick-or-treat activities are being planned at the school. In short, it’s spooky season. And that, of course, means witches are front and central in our collective minds. It’s a great time to talk about them in fiction too. If you’re looking to expand your horizons and move into speculative fiction, children’s, or any story that involves a morality tale, it might be time to start writing witches.

What Is a Witch?

A witch is generally, in our Western understanding, a powerful woman with supernatural abilities. This time of year, she’s old, ugly, clad in black, and may or may not be brewing children in her cauldron. She’s someone to fear and avoid.

For many, witches are a silly, fun Halloween-time entity. However, there are other witches in our society and other’s. Wiccans are modern day witches, and this belief system is considered a religion. Wiccans worship many pre-Christian pagan gods and believe they can manipulate their environment through spells and other supernatural systems. Males or females can be Wiccan, and they are not evil.

Cultures around the world, both historical and modern, believe in the power of witches and witchcraft. The Ashanti people in Ghana, West Africa, for instance, have an understanding of witchcraft too. They believe in the power of natural beings, and the capacity of people to use witchcraft against their neighbors. These ideas are part of a complicated religious belief system.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! The “evil eye” iconography, used in many different cultures, is a nod to the ability of people to “curse” others. My point of this little trip down witchy lane is to show you that there is a lot to mine from witches, that stories about them are common in non-Western cultures, and that all of their stories certainly haven’t been told.

Why Witches?

In the more Western context, witches are women with magical abilities. They can use this power in unpredictable ways, which can have bad results for the unassuming and innocent, or, sometimes, for the deserved. In my mind, the witch is an interesting figure precisely because powerful women are interesting figures. They might be evil, or they could be misunderstood. They have magical powers and can therefore create interesting, tense, conflict-filled scenarios. Because of these powers, the world around them suspects and fears them, potentially resulting in persecution (a la the Salem witch trials). The question of whether a witch is “guilty” of being evil is always juicy, and the potential for allegory is rich. In other words: why shouldn’t you be writing witches?

Upend Expectations

Not to get too sociological about it, but a lot of Western lore about witches is awfully sexist. First, these hated and evil creatures are childless, unmarried women…who are evil, hideous trolls. Need I go on? Okay, I will. They’re capable of getting by on their own with magic that overpowers the laws of the community. They don’t need men or kids to survive or thrive, which is a big part about why the public is suspicious of them. Maybe it’s time to upend these expectations. The branding is unfair—again, think Salem. Maybe they’re misunderstood—think Wicked.

There are many opportunities to upend expectations about witches, but to do so, you need to be well-versed in what the world thinks about them. As always, start by reading. What’s in the witchy canon? What’s been done before? What’s lacking? How can you put your own spin on it? Finally, have fun! When magic is added, the opportunities for excitement are endless.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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