Sunday, April 15, 2012

Are witches evil b*tches?

In fiction, women often get categorised. Men too, but I'll touch on that later. Also I'm not going anywhere near what happens in reality at the moment. In all but the latest wave of fiction, women are often made out to be saints, martyrs or whores. But the witch is often created and categorised as somewhere else entirely. In fact, for a very long time being a witch is one of the few roles outside of religion in which a female character could be truly evil, powerful and b*tchy.

The phrase "witch b*tch" probably comes from the fact that it rhymes more than anything but it does illuminate what witches are often seen as because of their supposed evilness. (Just to help: a b*tch, meaning a person and not a dog, is defined as a spiteful or unpleasant woman. I don't mean a person who is completely subservient to another or a sex slave.) Even amongst the so-called evil witches though, there are many who could be classed as simply b*tchy or just misunderstood.

On a side note, there are those witches who are purposely written or acted as good so they can be counterpoints to the traditional bad, evil, creepy, disgusting or threatening etc. witch but by doing this the good witches often read like saints. Having witches squished back into one of the top three boxes women are placed is a sad thing indeed. Only when they're given a little extra character than goodness do they come alive (as it were) in any way. At least as a b*tch or as an evil crone the witch has personality and a bit of freedom.

In the latest wave of books with witch characters written for women to appreciate there are many witches who are just women with powers. By 'just women' I mean believably constructed characters with the faults, flaws, drives and desires that women often have. But this type of characterisation of females and witches is a very recent trend in literature, leaving the vast bulk of known and popular witches written with a mind towards the roles of women in society, thus saints, martyrs, whores and the sometimes available role of the evil b*tch.

I took a little look at some of the more famous witches thought to be evil b*tches to see if they really should be interpreted as such.

The three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth are manipulative and secretive but they are more prophets than anything else. Macbeth's evils are all his own and just because they can see events to come doesn't mean they should stop them or stop him. A warning is adequate enough if you're on the side of the Fates. If it is meant to be then who are they to change Macbeth's fate? These witches just know their place in the scheme of things and have a little fun in bamboozling the bad man. I'd class these witches as neutral observers who wish they could do more but can't so they have their fun where they can get it.


The Wicked Witches of the West, East and South from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are all portrayed as ugly evil crones. The Wicked Witch of the West is only really known by what's been said of her after her death. Together, the three witches set about trying to take over Oz so they could rule it together, a plan that went awry when Dorothy appear to squish one flat. They were into slavery and torture with the remaining two wicked witches repeatedly attempted to murder Dorothy (now that's how you tell children's stories) out or spite, jealousy and revenge. Definitely an evil bunch of b*tch witches.

The Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl's The Witches is the leader of all the witches on the planet and so is the epitome of witchiness in this book. She is determined to destroy children and orders all her subordinate witches to do so. Failure leads to punishment. She likes trapping children in paintings, turning them into slugs or hot dogs. She is intolerant, demanding, impatient, volatile, aggressive, tyrannical and evil. She also doesn't mind turning adults into mice. She is scary and evil. But I don't know about b*tch unless intolerant, demanding and impatient with her fellow witches classes as such. She's definitely unpleasant. Let's just say, close enough. The Grand High Witch can be classed as a b*tch witch.

Morgan La Fey from various Arthurian tales is a strange character. She has been written by several different authors and so interpreted in several different ways. Because of this she has a legend of her own like Arthur does but few others of the Arthurian tales. Only Lancelot and to some extent Guinevere come close. Morgan is sometimes the evil, power-hungry witch, sometimes acting like Eve and bringing about the downfall of man's glory but the more interesting interpretations is where she is given motivations other than just to gain power or destroy the world. Morgan La Fay has been characterised as misunderstood, maligned and disregarded daughter of Arthur's mother, the Lady Igraine, and her first husband GorloisDuke of Cornwall. She's also been written in as a healer. In the another interpretation she's made out as an adulterer and so becomes the whore as well as the evil b*tch (she hates Guinevere because Guinevere kicked her out of the court for adultery). I think it gets a bit much at this point. In the end Morgan La Fey or Morgana is whatever we decide she is at the time and almost none of it comes from the earliest writings. In those, she barely has any character at all, just a mention. So to me Morgana is our perception of women through the ages, bad women in particular, and I have to say the picture isn't pretty.

Queen from Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. A true b*tch witch from start to finish. Every evil act she does is our of jealousy and envy and spite. Don't cross this witch, she'll kill you for an insult alone.

Endora from Bewitched came close to being a b*tch witch but I see her more as a disappointed mother, one frustrated that her daughter is squashing her true self just to be loved by one she sees as a complete nitwit. Anyone would crack under those circumstances and occasionally shrink the nitwit down to the size of a toy soldier. And she wasn't all bad because she'd listen to her daughter and eventually remove the spells. As to those fierce looks, as seen above, don't you get those on the faces of every mother? So wouldn't motherhood be more appropriate than the b*tch witch interpretation?
(By the way, I love the dotty Aunt Clara in Bewitched. A beautiful character and one you could forgive of anything.)

Helena Markos or the Mother of Sights from Suspiria is a truly hideous creation and appears as the epitome of the evil crone witch. Personally, I think she surpasses b*tch and evil and goes straight on to inhuman and that's what scares us the most about her. She is ancient and together with her two sister witches she manipulates world events. In this respect she's like Morgan Le Fay, invested in politics and the course of humanity. She acts mostly to survive, disguising herself and remaining aloof, faking her own death so she could act as her own star pupil and run the dance academy. She is only killed because of her frail state (something that doesn't quite make sense to me but that's fiction for you). Her sisters also die in the later films Inferno and The Mother Of Tears. Strangely though, despite being evil there isn't much of the b*tch in her at all. I'd just class her as evil incarnate or inhuman.

So are witches evil b*tches? Roughly even odds, I'd say, if you don't count the saintly ones. If witches were real and like this I'd steer clear for the sake of survival, until proven otherwise. It seems the best bet on living to see another day.

But if you are going to write a witch character I don't advise using this character to represent either witches or women as evil b*tches. It just doesn't equate either in fiction or reality or both. Witches can no longer be used as examples of women corrupted by power because they're weak willed, women being b*tches, women being evil or anything else.

Luckily, you probably wouldn't get printed even if you did write such drivel.

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