Literature: Novels and Plays - Creative Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Literature: Novels and Plays
Creative Arts

Witches feature in literature of all kinds, from classical to Gothic to pulp fiction to fantasy to reality-based historic novels. There are so many witches featured in literary works that what is discussed here may be considered only the tip of the iceberg. Included below are some of the most historically significant, popular or influential literary works including witches. The only thing many of these works have in common is their inclusion of witches or witchcraft themes.

Obviously it is unfair to limit great works of art such as Faust, Macbeth or The Master and Margarita to discussions of witchcraft, however the interested reader will find a tremendous quantity of literary analysis devoted to these works. In general, the magical aspect in these analyses is ignored in favor of “greater” themes. However, as this is an Encyclopedia of Witchcraft the opposite tack has been taken. Discussion and analysis is devoted to each works’ witch or magical practitioner including how witches and witchcraft are portrayed. Significant metaphysical elements that may be overlooked or misunderstood by the general reader are also pointed out.

Warning! Spoilers! Unfortunately it is sometimes impossible to discuss aspects of literature and witchcraft without revealing important plot details, mysteries, and secrets.

It cannot be overemphasized that this is only the tip of the iceberg: given space, one could include literally thousands more books. An interesting phenomenon has been the rise at the very end of the twentieth century of the witch as a character in literature targeted to children and young adults. Several hundred years before, witches were banned and burned. Even up until the later part of the twentieth century, witches, pagans, and magical practitioners were perceived as disreputable, and hardly good role models for children. And yet, in the post-Harry Potter world, children’s books are filled with witches who are as likely to be positive or humorous as they are to be scary and malevolent.


Hanns Heinz Ewers (1871—1943) was a notorious, scandalous, commercially successful and very prolific German author, the bad boy of German popular literature. At the height of his popularity he was lauded as the “new Edgar Allan Poe.” Ewers specialized in supernatural tales of the occult, laced with lots of decadence, sex, blood, and violence. He wrote novels, stories, radio plays, and opera librettos. Ewers wrote the screenplay for the 1913 German silent movie The Student of Prague, whose story involves a student’s compact with Satan and which featured Paul Wegener, who would eventually star in a movie version of Alraune (see Films: Alraune, page 252).

Ewers was a fervent nationalist in the 1920s, although he apparently never actually joined the Nazi party. He mingled with Nazi bigwigs, among them Adolf Hitler, a social acquaintance who, according to Ewers, personally requested that he write an “official” biography of Horst Wessel, the Nazi “martyr.”

Although the Nazis initially found Ewers attractive, he soon fell from their favor. By 1935 his works were banned, existing copies were destroyed and Ewers was branded a non-person and reduced to abject poverty. (He died of tuberculosis sometime in 1943.)

Conventional wisdom suggests that various Nazi officials, initially impressed by Ewers’ celebrity, eventually actually read his books and found their decadent contents offensive and inappropriate. In addition, based on the content of his books, especially Vampire, some believe Ewers may have been a philo-Semite, rather than its opposite, which could also have been problematic. He traveled in the same circles as Erik Jan Hanussen the clairvoyant, who also fell from Nazi graces, albeit, in his case, fatally. Ewers also corresponded with Aleister Crowley who published his fiction. (See HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley; Erik Jan Hanussen.)

Alraune, first published in 1911, was the second part of a trilogy of novels devoted to the ubermensch Frank Braun, all of which have metaphysical themes. (Some elements are believed autobiographical.) The other two books in the series are The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1907) and Vampire (1921).

Alraune was a major commercial success and established Ewers as among the most popular supernaturalist fiction writers. “Alraune” is a German name for mandrake; it derives from “alrauna,” the title of ancient Germanic prophetesses. Alraune also eventually became a synonym for “witch” and so the title of the novel may be understood to imply “Witch.”(See BOTANICALS: Mandrake; DICTIONARY: Alrauna.)

Alraune inspired five film versions plus a silent film, Alraune and the Golem (1919).

Many legends explain the supposed origins of the mandrake root and Alraune is based on one of these. Men frequently ejaculate as they are hanged to death; allegedly mandrakes spring up where this sperm hits Earth beneath the gallows at a crossroads. Ewers’ novel is also believed influenced by the Christian writer Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225), who described the female genitalia as the gateway to Hell.

Burn, Witch, Burn!

The American author Abraham Merritt (January 20, 1884-August 21, 1943) was one of the most popular and prolific producers of a literary genre that goes by many names: “fantastic fiction,” “post-Gothic,” or perhaps most accurately “supernaturalist literature.” Many of his stories and novels were inspired by metaphysical themes, including witchcraft. His witches are powerful and magically charismatic figures of horror.

Burn, Witch, Burn! was published in 1933 and recounts the adventures of a mafia don and a prominent physician, strange bedfellows who team up to solve a series of perplexing murders. All clues lead to a mysterious shop selling extremely beautiful hand-made dolls. Its proprietor, Madame Mandilip, is eventually identified as a witch who kills via magical means. Her weapons are her magic powers and those cunning dolls.

Burn, Witch, Burn! was intended as a horror novel and Madame Mandilip is a terrifying character: brilliant and powerful but irredeemably evil. For most of the novel, she is also presented as physically grotesque and the opposite of the current feminine ideal: huge, ugly, imposing, sharp-tongued and -featured.

The movie known as Burn, Witch, Burn! uses Merritt’s title but has nothing to do with his book; instead it is a version of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (see page 280). The novel Burn, Witch, Burn! was made into a movie, directed by the legendary Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks), and named The Devil Doll (1936). Erich von Stroheim co-authored its screenplay.

The Devil Doll is not included among the films in this Encyclopedia for the same reason its evocative old title could no longer be used: there’s no witch left to burn. She’s been transformed into a mad scientist. The witch isn’t a woman anymore either: Lionel Barrymore played Madame Mandilip in drag. The entire plot was softened; Mandilip is no longer an evil witch plotting world domination but an innocent wronged man seeking justice and revenge, forced to hide disguised as a woman.

La Celestina

La Celestina, a Spanish novel written in dialogue, is considered the first true novel to appear in the West and a classic of Spanish literature. (English, French, German, and Italian translations exist.) Its title character, Celestina, a witch, dominates its pages. La Celestina was immensely popular: there were 80 Spanish editions by the end of the sixteenth century and 18 editions of the Italian translation appeared by 1551, although it is less well known in English.

Initially published anonymously in 1491, the origins of La Celestina are shrouded in mystery; the name Fernando de Rojas appeared in acrostics on the second edition (1501) and he is generally acknowledged as the author. De Rojas was a Jewish converso from near Toledo, Spain, a city renowned (or notorious) for its magicians, alchemists, and occultists.

The book was first published anonymously for good reason: La Celestina, published at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, mocks the gentry, while simultaneously expressing empathy for witches, prostitutes, and poor struggling women in general. In the novel, spells are cast; the witch mutters and uses herbs. Although Celestina the witch is responsible for these actions, characters don’t create themselves: obviously the author had some knowledge of the topic—or so the Inquisition might have said. Writing a novel like La Celestina was a risky proposition as the author was aware: witch persecutions are mentioned in the book; Celestina was once publicly punished in stocks.

Celestina is not only a spell-casting witch: she’s a perfumer, midwife, herbalist, healer, a procuress, madam, and professional go-between. Her specialty is renewing female virginity via her sophisticated sewing skills. The novel’s plot involves a nobleman who hires Celestina to help him seduce a young noblewoman. The lovers are narcissistic, selfish, and empty headed, their lives manipulated by their servants. Celestina and her prostitutes are sharp, smart, and lively. Celestina is described as the center of merriment wherever she goes, although genteel, respectable characters are shown recoiling from the “Old Whore” or at least in public.

La Celestina examines the professional urban witch. Witchcraft, magical healing, and prostitution: all were illegal and disreputable but all ranked among the very few options then available to women who lacked male economic support. This is articulated in the novel; when objection is made to her professions, Celestina asks whether she’s expected to live on air.


This best-selling novel by Joanne Harris, published in 2000, begins with the arrival of Vianne Rocher in a French village during Carnival. Vianne decides to stay and opens up a chocolate store where she weaves enchantment.

Vianne’s mother was a witch, or at least she called herself one, as Vianne points out. She taught Vianne various magical skills, most notably the transformation of bad luck into good. Although Vianne avoids the label “witch” the neighbors assume that she is one and she is shown privately engaging in practices such as tarot card reading that would confirm their suspicions.

There is also another witch in the novel: an elderly neighbor Armande Voizin asks Vianne whether she is a witch. When Vianne asks why she asks, Armande says it takes one to know one. Armande has a reputation in the village as an old witch; she wears scarlet, the witch’s color. Reference is made to her red scarf and red petticoats.

Vianne opens her store during Lent; it is located directly opposite the village church and is kept open on Sundays, tempting church-goers with her chocolates. Its presence encourages parishioners to break their Lenten vows. And Vianne’s chocolate is not just any chocolate. The psychically attuned Vianne magically knows each customer’s desires and needs. People are transformed after contact with Vianne and consumption of her chocolate.

Among the themes expressed in Chocolat is witchcraft as resistance to the Church, a theme quite familiar to the witch-hunters who exerted their presence in rural France for centuries. However in Chocolat, this theme is expressed through the perspective of the witch. (In the very popular film adaptation, Chocolat’s spiritual, magical, and religious aspects were muted. Significantly, the character of the parish priest, Vianne’s primary opponent, was transformed into a mayor, a secular authority.)

Inspiration for the novel came from the author’s own family background. According to the biographical information on the novel’s jacket, Harris was born in her grandparents’ candy shop in France and is the great-granddaughter of a woman known locally as a healer and witch.

The Chronicles of Narnia

C. S. Lewis (November 29, 1898-November 22, 1963) was a scholar, professor, and author of many popular works. Fascinated by fairy tales since childhood, Lewis was a tremendous spiritual seeker. As a teenager, he was fascinated by Norse mythology and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, temporarily abandoning his Christian faith at this time. He eventually became a theist and then on September 28, 1931, following a conversation with his close friend, author J. R. R. Tolkien, himself a devout Roman Catholic, Lewis again deeply embraced the Christian faith. Christian themes are highly significant in his work.

The Chronicles of Narnia, his beloved adventure series, consists of seven novels written between 1950 and 1956. They may be enjoyed purely as children’s fantasy or as subtle Christian metaphor. A witch is a prominent character in two of the books.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) was the first book of the series to be published. The witch of the title is Jadis, the White Witch. Four children are evacuated from London during the air raids of World War II and sent to live in an old house in the countryside belonging to one Professor Kirke. While exploring the house, the children discover a portal to another realm, Narnia. Narnia suffers under a spell cast by the White Witch: it is perpetually winter. (This draws from the old theme of the witch as Snow Queen; the witch, a spirit of desolation, is represented as a force against fertility.)

Jadis makes a second appearance in The Magician’s Nephew (1955), something of a prequel explaining how Narnia fell under Jadis’ spell. Two children, Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke, live next door to each other in London. Digory is the title character: he lives with his uncle, an evil magician. The uncle straddles that razorthin margin dividing sorcerer from mad scientist; as a result of his magical experiments, Polly and Digory are transported into another realm—not Narnia but the desolate land of Charn, ruled over by Queen Jadis, already powerful but not yet the White Witch.

Although the Chronicles of Narnia may be read purely as an exciting story, it is Christian allegory: witches and magicians do not fare well. However Jadis has tremendous energy and vitality; although intended as evil, she is a lot of fun, particularly her detour into the real world (portals in the Chronicles of Narnia are presented according to conventional magical wisdom: they are accessible from either direction), where she creates havoc in London. Many consider Jadis their favorite character.

The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem

The conjure man is dead. Or is he? And if he is, who killed him? That’s the mystery at the heart of The Conjure-Man Dies, published in 1932 and thought to be the first published mystery novel written by an African-American. Its author, physician Rudolph Fisher (May 9, 1897—December 26, 1934) is considered among the principal writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

N’Gana Frimbo, the conjure man of the novel’s title, is a Harvard-educated African king living in 1930s Harlem who mysteriously chooses to work as a conjure-man, a fortuneteller and spell-caster for hire. (The sign on his door advertising his services reads “N. Frimbo, Psychist.”) Frimbo is not just any card or palm reader. He doesn’t pander to his clientele nor is he shown engaging in stereotyped behavior. Frimbo possesses unique, elaborate, and intimidating methods of consultation whereby he sits in complete darkness while his client is bathed in intense light, similar but even more extreme than old-fashioned police interviews.

When Frimbo is found dead, his clients come under suspicion. In addition to its historic value, The Conjure-Man Dies is a good mystery and offers a vivid portrait of pre-World War II Harlem, although Frimbo is clearly not your standard conjure-man. All characters, including the conjure-man and his clients, are treated respectfully. Frimbo is a man of superior intellect and insight. Consulting a fortune-teller is portrayed as being no different than consulting any other professional.

Conjure Wife

Fritz Leiber (December 24, 1910-September 5, 1992) is considered a pioneer of supernaturalist fiction and one of its greatest exponents. (He himself coined the term “swords and sorcery” to describe the genre.) Conjure Wife was his first novel. First serialized in the magazine Unknown Worlds in 1943, Conjure Wife was repackaged as a novel in 1953.

Conjure Wife envisions witchcraft in a university setting. It was conceived as a modern horror story: witchcraft is modern and contemporary, not antique, ancient or a relic from lost worlds. Conjure Wife’s witches are thoroughly modern and very well-educated women.

Its protagonist, Norman Saylor, is a rationalist professor of ethnology. (His papers include “The Social Background of the Modern Voodoo Cult” and “Feminine Element in Superstition.”) When he discovers Tansy, his wife, putting his fieldwork in “Negro Conjure Magic” into practice, he forces her to stop and burns all her protective charms and amulets. Hell immediately breaks loose: a student threatens him with a gun, another falsely accuses him of sexual abuse, and he is passed over for a promotion that appeared guaranteed.

Tansy reveals that she’s not the only witch on campus; her actions have protected Norman from other spell-casting faculty wives who are now exploiting the Saylors’ lack of magical protection. A bad situation gets worse and Norman is forced to resort to magic himself in order to save Tansy’s life. Witchcraft is the only solution.

Conjure Wife is considered the most influential of the supernaturalist novels having to do with witchcraft and was extremely popular. Three Hollywood film adaptations were made. (See Films: Burn, Witch, Burn!; Weird Woman; Witches’ Brew.) Conjure Wife was also adapted as an episode of the American television program, Moment of Fear, in 1960.

Although this is ostensibly a horror novel, witchcraft is treated seriously: its existence isn’t questioned and it may be understood as a necessity: since everyone else is casting spells, one must do so also just to survive. The witches are not treated as supernatural monsters as in other examples of this genre such as Alraune or Burn, Witch, Burn! (see pages 276 and 277) but are “normal” women with comprehensible motivations. The novel may be interpreted as mocking ethnologists, rather than magical practitioners.

The magical practices depicted in Conjure Wife are drawn from southern-style Hoodoo and Conjure. Norman discovers Tansy’s boxes of graveyard dirt, herbs, horseshoe nails, lodestones covered with iron filings, and old silver coins as well as squares cut from flannel with which to create mojo hands. These magical practices are real and authentic, but they are often a disappointment to those familiar with witchcraft only as fantasy who expect greater drama and more spectacular “special effects.” Although each of the three movie versions of Conjure Wife has retained the novel’s basic plot, each has also changed what it is that the witches do so as to appear more dramatic and sensational. None of the magical practices depicted in any of the films demonstrates magical reality as do some, although not all of the practices in Fritz Leiber’s novel.

Creep, Shadow, Creep!

Author Abraham Merritt returns to the scene of the crime last witnessed in his earlier novel, Burn, Witch, Burn! (see page 277). This followup was published in 1934.

Madame Mandilip, villain-witch of the earlier book, has been dispatched but her old sorcerer companion still lives, as does his beautiful daughter Dahut, and they have some nefarious plans of their own. The plot of Creep, Shadow, Creep! is closely based on the saga of the Breton witch-goddess Dahut (see DIVINE WITCH: Dahut) and the lost city of Ys, although Creep, Shadow, Creep! takes place in the modern era and Dahut has been reduced to an evil goddess-like witch. Other magical motifs include the goddesses’ hell-hounds and the standing stones of Carnac.

The Crucible

Arthur Miller (October 17, 1915—February 10, 2005) was already a successful playwright (Death of a Salesman) in 1953 when his play The Crucible was first produced and published. The play is inspired by the infamous witch trials that occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The initial Broadway production was very popular, winning a Tony award. There have since been two television productions, one made in the United States and the other in Great Britain, as well as two film versions, one French and one American.

Two questions invariably arise when discussing The Crucible:

Image Does The Crucible accurately depict what really happened in Salem?

Image Is The Crucible really about the Salem witch trials or is it actually about something else entirely?

Second question first: The Crucible is frequently understood to use the witch trials as a metaphor, although specifically as to what remains subject to debate. The most popular theory is that The Crucible is really about the United States’ Congressional investigation of political subversion during the late 1940s and early 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy was at the height of his influence. Another theory suggests that the play is really about the case of accused Communist spies, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who might have saved themselves from execution had they confessed.

The Crucible may also be understood as a more general political analogy, transcending specific eras and situations. Regardless how The Crucible is interpreted however, what is literally shown on-stage is the Salem witch trials. Names of characters and the events portrayed in The Crucible are all borrowed from historical events. However it is not a literal depiction of what actually occurred in Salem. Miller himself has said that he was writing a fictional story about a historical event and that what fascinated him about Salem was the personal integrity and heroism of the victims of the witch hunts.

Much of the play is fictionalized:

Image There are fewer girls in The Crucible than actually existed.

Image The Crucible suggests that the witchcraft accusations stem at least partially, if not entirely, from a love triangle between Abigail Williams and Elizabeth and John Proctor. This is not based on historical fact or even innuendo, nor is it very likely to be true as at the time of the witch trials Abigail was really only 11 years old and Proctor was over sixty. (In the play, Abigail is older.)

Image The magical practices that initially stimulated accusations of witchcraft have been altered, whether for the sake of theatricality or because it is inconceivable to modern audiences that simple folk magic could stimulate such hysteria. In The Crucible, young girls are accused of conjuring spirits in the forest. It is suggested that at least some of the girls danced naked. As far as is known and documented, the only magical activity in which the girls engaged was simple household divination.

Image Tituba, an enslaved woman from Barbados, a stranger from another culture, immediately fell under suspicion of witchcraft. The Crucible suggests that she led the girls in “voodoo-style” rituals but this too is more sensational than what actually occurred: Tituba entertained the girls with thrilling stories and also later baked a witch-cake, a magical method of determining whether the child Betty Parris had been bewitched and, if so, by whom.

The Crucible however does depict some of the Puritan anxieties that may have stimulated Salem’s witch hysteria: not only sexual repression but also their terrible fear of the forest, the wild nature that encircled them. Miller is able to make this point by moving the magical activity into the forest. The Puritans considered themselves God’s tiny outpost on the edge of the wilderness, which they perceived as the devil’s citadel, filled with heathens, the dispossessed Native Americans whom the Puritans feared were in league with the witches.

See WITCHCRAZE!: British Colonies.


The legend of the sorcerer and/or alchemist Dr Faust has served as the basis for many works of fiction. Further information about the historical Dr Faust and the legends surrounding him may be found in HALL OF FAME: Faust. Two basic themes, however, are central to the works that these legends have inspired:

Image The immortal human soul may be sold to the devil in exchange for something (and that something is negotiable).

Image Great occult power can be gained in exchange for the immortal human soul.

The first point was revolutionary: the legend of Dr Faust emerged in the midst of the European witchcraze. Witch-hunters accused witches of giving their souls to Satan, of dedicating their lives to him, but this was frequently understood as a one-way bargain: the witches gained little if anything from the compact. The witches were servants of Satan forced to do his bidding. Yes, they received familiars, but these familiars often bossed them around and sucked their blood. Yes, they could fly, but that’s because they were required to show up wherever and whenever Satan commanded. Satan’s final joke on witches, many believed, was his failure to rescue them during witch trials. Women were believed most susceptible to the wiles of Satan because women were believed to be utterly carnal, uncontrollably lascivious creatures. There was no logical reason to make a deal with the devil. Only women were believed stupid enough to offer themselves to Satan for nothing; most men were too smart to fall for the devil’s tricks, or so the witch-hunters claimed.

And yet, men were sorcerers—and not just any men either. Among the men suspected, accused and/or convicted of witchcraft were theologians, physicians and other exceptionally well-educated men. Men wrote, compiled, published, and studied grimoires. These men could not be dismissed as stupid or ignorant and yet they too were fascinated with occult, forbidden knowledge. The legend of Faust attempts to reconcile these contradictions. The immortal soul is not given away for nothing: instead it is the prize with which one can negotiate with Satan to obtain one’s heart’s desires or the solution to dire emergencies.

The second theme regarding the acquisition of occult knowledge is more subtle. At issue is the cost of knowledge and whether the thirst for knowledge is innately diabolical or whether it is a commendable, valuable, honorable pursuit.

The legend of Dr Faust as well as exploration of one or both of these themes has served to inspire various works of fiction and drama. The original Dr Faust was a magician and alchemist; stories that hew closely to the original legend possess an inherent metaphysical theme. Some works, most notably Goethe’s Faust and those that take their inspiration from it incorporate additional scenes of traditional witchcraft and magic. However, later works from the modern era frequently present the deal with the devil metaphorically rather than literally, and completely ignore witchcraft or metaphysics.

Works devoted to the legend of Dr Faust are listed below in chronological order:

Image J. Spies collected various legends of Dr Faust and published them in German in 1587 as Historia von Doctor J Faustus. The gist is that Faust sells his soul to the devil in exchange for wealth, power, and pleasure. Translated into various languages, it became popular all over Europe.

Image An English translation began to circulate in England in the form of a chapbook in approximately 1587. The History of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor Iohn Faustus was translated by P. F. Gent and recounts the sins of the historical Dr Faust. It was published at a time when chapbooks (inexpensively printed pamphlets, the tabloids or pulp magazines of their time) featuring tales of witches and sorcerers were all the rage. This particular chapbook has two claims to fame:

1. It inspired Christopher Marlowe to write his own rendition of the Faust legend (see below).

2. In virtually all subsequent workings of the Faust legend, Satan is called Mephistopheles, a mysterious name of unknown origin. This chapbook is believed to contain the earliest reference to that name.

Image The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus. This was the first dramatized version of the Faust legend; it served as inspiration for Goethe’s now more famous drama. The Tragical History of Dr Faustus was Christopher Marlowe’s most often read and performed play. It is believed to have first been performed in 1589, although it is unknown exactly when it was written. The text was first printed in 1604, 11 years after Marlowe died. A second version is dated 1616; considerably longer, the tone has changed somewhat (many perceive Mephistopheles to be more seductive in the earlier version), and it is generally believed to have been extended by unknown hands following Marlowe’s death.

Christopher Marlowe (baptized February 26, 1654-May 30, 1593), the Elizabethan dramatist and poet, was vilified as an atheist, a Roman Catholic, a sodomite and a tavern-brawler with an unhealthy interest in unsavory subjects like the occult. He was also rumored to be a spy for the Queen’s Spymaster. At the time of his death Marlowe faced charges of blasphemy and heresy. (The man who accused him did so under torture.) Marlowe allegedly died, at age 29, following a fight in a London tavern, which may or may not have been related to espionage. Charges against those who killed him were dismissed. Some believe that Marlowe did not die but was forced into hiding, where he wrote plays under William Shakespeare’s name.

Faustus is described as a necromancer; he conjures and raises spirits. A large portion of the play is spent watching Faust enjoy his devilbegotten powers. “Sweet Mephistopheles” is Faustus’ constant companion. Although in other versions of Faust, the devil is ultimately cheated of his prize, Marlowe’s Faustus must pay the price and is quite definitely damned.

Image Goethe’s Faust: A Tragedy. When the average person thinks of Faust, this is the version most commonly considered. Faust: A Tragedy, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749-March 22, 1832) was written in stages, occupying Goethe for the best part of sixty years. The drama consists of two parts; the first part was published in 1808 but it was only published in its entirety after Goethe’s death.

Goethe was a poet, dramatist, politician, philosopher, humanist, and scientist. (He was among Charles Darwin’s inspirations.) It is impossible to overstate his influence over the nineteenth century, particularly in Germanspeaking lands. Faust, his masterpiece, is more than just a play or a piece of literature; it is considered the masterpiece of the romantic era. It is often interpreted metaphorically: selling one’s soul to the devil for immediate physical gain has been interpreted as referring to the terrible human price paid for technological and industrial advances. Goethe’s Faust also inspired many later works that equate deals with the devil with various twentiethcentury social and political situations.

That said, if you want witches and sorcery, this is the version of Faust that has them. Faust has an alchemist’s laboratory; he visits a witch’s kitchen. Faust creates a homunculus with Mephistopheles’ help. Moreover, Faust attends not one but two witches’ sabbats: a traditional Walpurgis Night sabbat at the Brocken Mountain (see PLACES: The Brocken) and a “classical” sabbat attended by figures from Greek mythology. Among the “witches” attending the classical sabbat are Baubo, Lilith, and Medusa. With Mephistopheles help, Faust enters into a love affair with Helen of Troy.

Marlowe’s Tragical History of Dr Faustus was popularly performed as puppet shows in Germany. This is how Goethe first encountered Marlowe’s work. Goethe was also inspired by the life of the magician Cornelius Agrippa. The drama may be understood to be about Agrippa as much, if not more, than about the historical Dr Faust. Many of the details seem taken from Agrippa’s life: Mephistopheles first appears to Faust in the form of a black poodle; Agrippa owned a very beloved black poodle, popularly rumored to be a demon in disguise.

Faust is not damned at the play’s conclusion but is saved and redeemed at the last minute. Mephistopheles is cheated of his prize.

Goethe’s Faust inspired many other works of creative fiction. Some of the most significant include:

Klaus Mann’s Mephisto (1936)

Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947)

Michael Swanwick’s Jack Faust (1997)

The Golden Ass, also known as The Transformations of Lucius

The Golden Ass, written in the second century CE, is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety and as such is very famous. Even though it is ancient, it is still accessible and highly readable. Much of The Golden Ass is devoted to tales of witchcraft.

Lucius, the hero of The Golden Ass (and the name of its author), is a young man completely enthralled by magic, witchcraft, and the occult. He travels to Thessaly where he hears horrible, shivery stories about the legendary Thessalian witches. Lucius gets his chance to see these witches, up close and personal. His host’s wife turns out to be the renowned witch Pamphile.

Lucius is warned not to pry and meddle but he’s determined to learn some magical secrets. He courts Pamphile’s maid, persuading her to let him spy on her mistress in action. He peeps through a crack in the door and watches Pamphile strip naked, apply unguents to her body, transform into an owl, and fly away. (She is literally a striga.)

Lucius begs the maid to steal the unguent for him; unfortunately she lifts the wrong box and instead of an owl, Lucius is transformed into an ass. The novel follows his adventures until the goddess Isis lifts the spell and he becomes her devotee.

The novel is believed to be somewhat autobiographical. Its author, Lucius Apuleius, was a Romanized Berber born in a Roman colony in what is now Algeria. Lucius studied in Carthage, Athens, Asia Minor, and Egypt. He was genuinely initiated into the Mysteries of Isis, was a metaphysical adept, and was brought to trial on charges of using witchcraft to gain the fortune and favors of a widow (her stepchildren brought the charges).

The witches in The Golden Ass are powerful, but although some are physically beautiful, they are not attractive. The book (or at least the first part; the latter half is more spiritually inclined) was intended as an entertaining tale of horror. Women’s magic and the magic of the poor was held in ill repute; many of the stereotypes popular in the witch-hunt era and that still exist today may be traced to the classical age. Of course, Isis, too, the compassionate savior of The Golden Ass, has her associations with magic and witchcraft: how much of The Golden Ass was meant literally and how much was meant as fun is subject to interpretation.

See ANIMALS: Donkeys; Ferrets and Weasels; Owls; DIVINE WITCH: Isis; PLACES: Thessaly.

Harry Potter Series

Harry Potter names a series of books devoted to the adventures of a boy-wizard, but it also names a literary phenomenon that has impacted the history of witchcraft.

Harry Potter is an orphan living with his abusive only relatives, the Dursleys. On his 11th birthday, everything changes, however. Harry receives information that transforms his life: he learns that he is not an ordinary person, but that he is really a wizard with innate magical powers that he can learn to enhance, control, and manipulate: Harry has been accepted as a student at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.

Harry learns that there is an entire alternative witch universe with various portals linking the worlds of witches and wizards with those of the muggles, the name given to non-magical folks. In the muggle-world, Harry is pathetic and deprived but he quickly discovers that in the magical world, he is a wealthy celebrity. Harry’s parents did not die in a car accident as the Dursleys have always maintained; instead they died protecting Harry from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord of the Witchcraft World, ending Voldemort’s fascist regime of terror in the process.

Harry’s arrival in this magical world coincides with the gradual emergence of Voldemort, who had been forced into hiding following the deaths of Harry’s parents—as had Harry in only one of many parallels between them. Voldemort wants his power back and Harry discovers that he is Voldemort’s primary opponent and target.

The first novel in the Harry Potter series was published in 1997; a total of seven books are planned, each book encompassing one school year at Hogwarts. According to author J.K. Rowling (born July 31, 1965) the Harry Potter story appeared in her head fully formed while traveling on a train between Manchester and London. A single mother of an infant, she famously wrote the first manuscript by hand in a café, one hand rocking the baby, the other scribbling. Following Harry Potter’s amazing commercial success, she is now a multi-millionaire.

The books in the series so far comprise:

Image Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US title)/Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK title) (1997)

Image Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)

Image Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)

Image Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)

Image Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)

Image Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)

It cannot be overstated: the Harry Potter series is a phenomenon. Books fly off the shelves at publication. Children who previously resisted reading won’t put it down. The books hit the top of best-seller lists and stay there, and they have been translated into many languages. Moreover, the books are just as popular with adults as they are with children. There is also a parallel movie series, complete with tie-in merchandising.

Not all the attention garnered by Harry Potter has been favorable. Fundamentalist Christian groups have objected to the series claiming that it glorifies the occult, and the books have been frequent targets of book burnings. This is somewhat ironic, as the books are clearly fantasy, written by someone outside the modern witchcraft community. Although witchcraft is portrayed as powerful and glamorous, in Harry Potter’s world, not just anyone can become a witch, no matter how badly you desire to be one.

Defining exactly who is a witch/wizard is part of the book’s plot; although witchcraft is hereditary, magical power is not guaranteed. Sometimes muggles are born with magic powers; with education and training, they can then become part of the magical world although many of those who perceive themselves as “pure-blood” retain prejudices against them. Witchcraft is a combination of training and innate ability; without that ability, one is doomed to remain a muggle forever.

Harry Potter is not about magic; witchcraft and wizardry are an entertaining motif. Thematically, Harry Potter may be understood as descended from Charles Dickens’ novels, just with added magic. (Poor, deprived, orphaned, noble youth, forced to live with terrible people who don’t appreciate him and oppressively make him labor until his true inheritance is miraculously discovered: this could as easily be Oliver Twist as Harry Potter. And to Oliver, the London underworld is, at least initially, a magical new world filled with danger.)

Harry Potter no more offers a realistic perspective of witchcraft than it does of boarding school. Superficial elements are borrowed from traditional witchcraft and sorcery (wardrobe, broomsticks, the concept of familiars and the animals depicted as such: owls, cats, snakes). However the series does offer an original vision of witches and wizards that is neither rooted in the traditional folkloric witch, nor in modern Wicca or Neo-Paganism.

Although the Harry Potter books do not contain a realistic depiction of either witches or magic, because the magical world it does depict is so interesting, fun, and attractive, because the witches and wizards are such magnificent characters and because many of the muggles in the book are either unpleasant or played as fools, the series of books offered a sense of pride to those who consider themselves magical rather than muggle, and is as popular within the magical community as without.

The Harry Potter series opened a doorway to discussions of witchcraft and magic that previously did not exist. For many it was a fascinating introduction to a topic that was previously considered somewhat unsavory. It also changed the perception of books about magic from marginal, often disreputable publications to bestselling blockbusters. Harry Potter opened the floodgates for countless other publications involving witches and magic targeted to both adult and juvenile audiences.

However, Harry Potter also introduced the notion that witchcraft and magic were topics intended for children. Because the series now serves as an introduction to magic for many, those who assume this notion to be true are often surprised and disconcerted at the adult nature of much traditional witchcraft and magical practice.

His Dark Materials

Witches are heroic, brave, fierce, and female in the trilogy of novels entitled His Dark Materials written by Philip Pullman (born October 19, 1946). The title of the series derives from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The trilogy comprises:

Image The Golden Compass (US title)/Northern Lights (UK title) (1995)

Image The Subtle Knife (1997)

Image The Amber Spyglass (2000)

The novels feature the adventures of the young heroine Lyra Bellacqua and her compatriots in an alternative universe populated by witches, angels, fearsome cliff ghosts, talking armored bears, and a mysterious tribal shaman.

This alternative universe (everyone lives in this universe, not just the witches) is somewhat recognizable as our own but also very different. Lyra’s hometown is a university town called Oxford but it’s not exactly that Oxford. The human characters are also very similar to regular humans but also very different, particularly as regards to their daemons. These are an intensive form of soul-sharing animal ally; everyone possesses a personal daemon, a life-long animal companion that is born with you and vanishes when you die.

The books’ heroes include witches, the “Gyptians” (a distinct ethnic group, whose name and various characteristic elements clearly derive from British Gypsy culture) and the armored bear (a shamanic animal).

The witches are a distinct species:

Image Witches fly on cloud-pine branches and wear strips of black silk.

Image Witches are not immortal but live extremely extended lives; the eldest is nearly one thousand.

Image Witches are exclusively women, like Amazons; men serve them or are their lovers or husbands.

Image Witches have their own goddess, Yambe-Akka, the joyful deity who comes to witches as they are about to die.

Yambe-Akka’s name resembles those of Saami goddesses, and Lyra’s adventures begin when she travels to the polar regions in a desperate attempt to rescue kidnapped children from the nefarious clutches of evil scientists and religious authorities acting in collusion.

The witches are fierce, beautiful, and righteous. They provide safety for children rather than attempting to harm them. Clearly in these novels, the witches fight on the side of justice and freedom.

His Dark Materials is notable for providing some of the most profound, realistic depictions of the divination experience from the perspective of the seer. Although the divination device (the “alethiometer”) is unique to the novels, the descriptions of the divination process will fascinate those familiar with those arts. One character also utilizes the I-Ching, the traditional Chinese method of divination.

Like the Harry Potter series, the books have been accused of being anti-Christian. Some have also suggested that His Dark Materials is a direct rebuttal of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Both series begin with a young girl hidden in a wardrobe or cabinet, and there are other parallels. However, the witches of His Dark Materials help rescue civilization, rather than freeze or destroy it, as does Narnia’s White Witch.

Because it is a fantasy-adventure tale featuring youthful heroes, His Dark Materials is targeted toward a juvenile market. However, even more than the Harry Potter or Narnia series, these are not merely “children’s books.” Although His Dark Materials may be read as nothing more than a thrilling adventure series, it does contain deep spiritual, magical, and theological content. His Dark Materials subject matter is deeper, darker, and more adult than that of the other two series.

The Jungle Book

What do you call a boy raised by wolves? How about a witch? Most modern audiences are familiar with Mowgli, the feral hero of The Jungle Book from movies and animated versions, however the aspects of the story relating to witchcraft are almost invariably deleted from these adaptations.

The Jungle Book (1894) is a collection of stories written by Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865-January 18, 1936), the British author and poet born in India (The Jungle Book, however, was written in Vermont). Kipling was immensely popular and influential at one time, not only on a literary level but also socially; he is credited with coining the phrase “the white man’s burden.” Among those inspired by his work was Gerald Gardner, father of modern Wicca.

The Jungle Book was followed by The Second Jungle Book (1895), where the witchcraft theme is further expanded. In the story “Letting in the Jungle” Mowgli is accused of sorcery and driven out of the village. He eventually returns to discover his adoptive mother Messua and her husband have been charged with witchcraft because of their relationship with Mowgli. They are about to be executed but Mowgli rescues them.

Lives of the Mayfair Witches

A witch is a person who can attract and manipulate unseen forces, or so witches are defined in the pages of the trilogy of novels known as Lives of the Mayfair Witches.

Their author Anne Rice (born October 4, 1941) is most famous for her very popular series of vampire novels, most notably Interview With The Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned.

The individual novels of Lives of the Mayfair Witches include:

Image The Witching Hour (1993)

Image Lasher (1995)

Image Taltos (1996)

The Witching Hour introduces a dynasty of powerful witches beginning with Suzanne of the Mayfair and culminating with her descendant, Rowan Mayfair, a witch of the thirteenth generation.

Suzanne conjured up a spirit that she named Lasher; Lasher becomes passionately attached to the family, choosing an individual witch in each generation as his consort, although some maintain marriages or relationships as well. Whether Lasher protects the Mayfairs or drives them to their doom is subject to interpretation and debate. (The Taltos of the third novel belongs to a race of supernatural beings; other than the name the concept has nothing thing to do with the historical taltos, the traditional Hungarian shaman. See DICTIONARY: Taltos.)

Lives of the Mayfair Witches offers readers a tour of Western witchcraft history, beginning in Scotland, traveling through Europe (Holland and France), and then on to the Caribbean, Louisiana, and California. Two witches are burned, one in Scotland, the other in France. The descriptions are explicit: Rice accurately depicts how witch-burnings served as popular Church-sanctioned mass entertainment.

Some of the witches’ powers are innate; witches heal and kill via magical means. Doll magic is prominently featured (see MAGICAL ARTS: Image Magic), as is telekinesis. Methods depicted of raising and conjuring spirits are not traditional and some of the witches’ magical experiments verge on mad science that would not be out of place in Alraune or Burn, Witch, Burn! (see pages 276 and 277).

Merrick, a later novel by Anne Rice (2001), may be read as a continuation of Lives of the Mayfair Witches. Merrick, described as a “voodoo-witch,” is a distant relative, descended from the wealthy Mayfairs and their Haitian slaves. Merrick is extremely beautiful, tough, harddrinking, and maybe the most powerful witch of all. Rice merges two of her genres: Merrick is a witch/vampire novel. Some of Rice’s most beloved vampire characters (Louis, Lestat, Claudia) make guest appearances.

Different witches possess different skills. Suzanne, the first Mayfair witch, is a Scottish healer; Stella, a New Orleans witch, is described as a “real voodoo queen” familiar with powders, potions, and ceremonials. She also tells fortunes with cards. (Magical arts, in general, are described rather than witnessed; there are no depictions of true Vodoun or traditional witchcraft.) The witches are powerful, brave, beautiful, glamorous, alluring, and tragic. Their characters are complex: whether they are evil, heroines or victimized is subject to interpretation. There is also a male Mayfair, Julien, who may or may not be among the 13 Mayfair Witches.

Lord of the Rings

The wizard Gandalf may be considered a peer of such magical masters as Merlin or Dr Faust and yet unlike those legendary characters, Gandalf is not based on a historical personality but is the literary creation of J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892-September 2, 1973). Tolkien was a university professor, scholar, etymologist, and prolific author. Although his works do not contain witches, several prominently feature powerful, archetypal wizards, especially Gandalf the Grey.

Gandalf makes his first appearance in The Hobbit (1937) initially targeted toward youthful readers. He then reappears, alongside his sometime ally and sometime rival Saruman, in The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy of novels comprising:

Image The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)

Image The Two Towers (1954)

Image The Return of the King (1955)

Tolkien was a master of etymology, the study of words and language, so it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that although explicitly identified as wizards, Gandalf and Saruman are also linked to witches:

Image Wizards are known as Istari “the wise ones” in the Elven tongue.

Image Saruman’s Elvish name translates as “man of skill” or cunning-man.

Gandalf may be crotchety and secretive at times but he is good and righteous and fights exclusively on the side of justice. He does not allow himself to be tempted by the forces of Sauron, the Dark Lord, as does his compatriot wizard Saruman. The wizards resemble Merlin-type magicians; they possess magic swords and staffs. Great books of power and crystal ball-like “seeing stones” also appear in the trilogy.

Gandalf appears most frequently as a dusty, elderly traveler, an old grey-bearded man wearing a grey cloak. In this guise, he is reminiscent of the Norse warrior-shaman deity Odin, himself a master magician. (Odin, too, has alliances with dwarves and elves.) Gandalf, like Odin, is also occasionally mistaken for a simple conjurer.

The Lord of the Rings inspired a highly successful trilogy of movies directed by Peter Jackson, beginning with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Each of the two subsequent films was released one year later. Sir Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee respectively starred as the dueling wizards, Gandalf and Saruman.

Love Medicine

The Ojibwa (also known as the Anishinabe or Chippewa) are the third largest Native American community in the United States. They live in the Northern United States as well as in Canada. Love Medicine, published in 1984, is the first of several novels by Louise Erdrich (born June 7, 1954) that take place in the Ojibwa community over an extended period of time. Although the novels are not officially a “series” they feature many of the same characters and may be read in the manner of a series. These other novels include:

Image The Beet Queen (1986)

Image Tracks (1988)

Image The Bingo Palace (1994)

Image Tales of Burning Love (1996)

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2002)

Louise Erdrich’s novels are often categorized as “magical realism,” however they are deeply influenced by the extensive and sophisticated system of traditional Ojibwa folklore and spiritual and magical practices. Many of these practices are respectfully incorporated into her novels.

Erdrich herself is of French, German, and Ojibwa ancestry. The novels’ characters are equally complex: some embrace their ancient traditions, while others, now devout Christians, fervently reject them.

The books are not written in chronological order, which lends a magical dizzying effect. In other words, Love Medicine was the first book written and published but in terms of chronological events it could be the third book: the witch character Fleur Pillager is an elderly woman, whereas she is young in Tracks, which recounts earlier events.

Fleur terrifies people; she has a reputation of placing powerful spells on those who’ve crossed or wronged her. She is not above playing tricks of all kinds; magic is shown as both real and illusion. Fleur is wild, defiant, and autonomous. She appreciates the power of her reputation as a witch and cultivates it.


By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…

Macbeth’s Weird Sisters are among the most famous, influential literary witches of all time. William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564-May 3, 1616) composed his play Macbeth in approximately 1605; it had its stage premier in 1606. Macbeth did not appear in print until the First Folio version in 1623.

Macbeth was inspired by the need to court royal favor; Shakespeare had been successful under Elizabeth I and wished to maintain this success under the reign of her successor, James I. James came from Scotland and was passionately interested in witches and witchcraft. He himself composed a book of demonology, a rebuttal to Reginald Scot’s rationalist view of witchcraft, and also personally presided over several witchcraft trials, especially those of North Berwick. (See BOOKS: Witch-Hunt Books: James I.) James believed that the North Berwick witches had attempted to kill him via magic. A Scottish play that made favorable reference to his ancestry and that featured scenes of witchcraft was believed able to please the king. Macbeth remains among Shakespeare’s most beloved and most frequently staged plays.

The story of Macbeth derives from various sources, but mainly from Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, a popular history book of his day. Shakespeare, however, combined, altered and embellished several of the stories recounted by Holinshed.

The question posed of the Weird Sisters since Macbeth was first produced is do the witches foretell the future or do they actually set the future in motion?

The witches open the play with their words, “When shall we three meet again…” Macbeth’s witches are active at night. They have a cauldron full of eerie ingredients. They invoke Hecate as their goddess and conjure up apparitions for Macbeth as requested. The three witches resemble Fate goddesses or Norns; “Weird Sisters” names the Anglo-Saxon variation on that theme. (See WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: Spinning.) Some understand Lady Macbeth to be a fourth, solitary witch. Her speech requesting spiritual assistance (“Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts!”) might be understood literally, although contemporary audiences rarely interpret it this way.

Macbeth features several scenes of witchcraft; however, how many of these you are able to enjoy depends upon the theatrical production. Back in the seventeenth century, witches were a huge draw: there is some scholarly belief that someone, not Shakespeare, added extra scenes of witchcraft. Although some may find this unbelievable, others feel that these extra witchcraft scenes detract from the plot and pacing and so they are most often deleted. Two songs, in Act 3, Scene 5 and Act 4, Scene 1, are believed to have originated in Thomas Middleton’s play The Witch and to be later interpolations. The scenes in which Hecate appears are also believed to be interpolations.

See Films: Macbeth, page 263, and WITCHCRAZE!: England; Scotland.

The Magician

W. Somerset Maugham (January 25, 1874-December 16, 1965) met the magus Aleister Crowley in Paris. They traveled in the same circles and dined at the same restaurant Le Chat Blanc (the restaurant appears in the novel). Maugham disliked Crowley but was fascinated by him and he was thus inspired to write his novel, The Magician.

Maugham wrote the novel in the first half of 1907 but his publisher then declined to release the book as its subject matter was deemed excessively shocking. A new publisher was found and the book was eventually published in 1908.

Crowley served as the model for the magician of the title, Oliver Haddo, although he merely inspired the character. When another character humiliates Oliver Haddo, who claims to be a powerful magician, Haddo wreaks revenge by magically stealing and destroying his enemy’s fiancée. The book has nothing really to do with Crowley, with whom Maugham was only slightly acquainted, and the story itself is fictionalized—although the character of Margaret Dauncey, the erstwhile fiancée, is allegedly based on that of Crowley’s wife, Rose Kelly.

See Films: The Magician, page 265; HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley.

The Master and Margarita

The devil visits Moscow in the 1930s and masquerades as Woland, the Master Magician, a theatrical conjurer who carries a poodle-headed cane, reminiscent of the black poodle that transforms into Mephistopheles in Faust. He is accompanied by an entourage including Hella, a naked red-headed witch, Behemoth, his huge, talking, vodka-quaffing, chess-playing black cat, and the evil but sometimes helpful angels, Azazelo and Asmodeus. As they say, all hell breaks loose.

The Master and Margarita, written by Mikhail Bulgakov (May 15, 1891-March 10, 1940), draws much of its inspiration from Goethe’s Faust (and from Gounod’s opera, which derives from Goethe). It is Margarita who makes the deal with the devil in order to rescue her beloved Master, an author who has been pilloried for daring to write a novel about Jesus Christ in the officially atheist Soviet Union. (The Master and Margarita contains two parallel novels: one recounting a dialogue between Christ and Pontius Pilate, the other the Faustian bargain.) By making this deal, Margarita is transformed into a witch.

Margarita is the heroine of the novel; she is not damned or evil. She is instead perhaps the kindest, most sensible character in the novel. Whether Woland and his entourage are evil is subject for debate: certainly they are not gentle but dispense punishment to the rude, greedy, stupid and/or bad-mannered Muscovites they meet. They are dangerous figures and not to be trifled with, but when compared with some of the human inhabitants of the book, it’s debatable exactly where evil lies.

The Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy for the Devil” with its devil who demands sympathy and taste was allegedly inspired by The Master and Margarita.

The Soviet novelist and physician Bulgakov was from Kiev, near Bald Mountain, famed home of Slavic witches’ sabbats. He was briefly Josef Stalin’s favorite playwright, which may have saved him from the dire fate that awaited many of his contemporaries. Several of Bulgakov’s works mocked the Soviet regime and he eventually fell out of favor. In 1929, all his works were banned. He couldn’t publish anything and was refused permission to emigrate.

Bulgakov started writing The Master and Margarita in 1928. He completed the manuscript but continued to revise it until his death. A censored version was published in 1966—67. It was finally published in its entirety in Moscow in 1973 and it is considered a classic among modern Russian novels. Four English translations are available.

The Monk

First published in 1796, The Monk was a scandalous novel full of sex, sacrilege, and violence. It is considered among the first and finest of the genre of Gothic novels and was so popular that its author, Matthew Lewis, is still sometimes called Monk Lewis.

Lewis (July 9, 1775-May 14, 1818) was the son of a wealthy landowner in Jamaica who eventually became the British Deputy-Secretary of War. Matthew’s mother, Frances, left her husband and children to run away with a music master, causing a major public scandal. Matthew grew up to be the intermediary between his parents. The Monk is characterized by his sense of compassion for women in tight situations. The vulnerability of women and their reputations as well as women’s economic dependence on men are major themes of The Monk.

Lewis graduated from Christ Church, Oxford in 1794, determined to pursue a theatrical career. He traveled extensively in France and Germany, where he met Goethe. (The primary character in The Monk, the monk Ambrosio, sells his soul to the devil, as did Faust.) He eventually became a Member of Parliament.

The Monk was extremely popular but also extremely controversial and scandalous. Many perceived it as a work of blasphemy. It is as much or more about the dangers of celibacy and sanctimony as it is about witchcraft. The British author held negative opinions regarding Roman Catholicism and the Spanish Inquisition and these were expressed in the novel.

The Monk features magical books of power, necromancy, magic circles, and mirrors plus a poisoner-witch. Sorcerers conjure up spirits in the crypt. They summon, command and compel no less than a reluctant Lucifer to do their bidding (and The Monk features a beautiful Lucifer; there’s no hairy horned goat.) The witch compels Satan to commit the crime. Ambrosio the monk is primarily guilty of pride, hypocrisy, and lust. Tellingly, having already confessed to rape and murder, the monk can’t bring himself to admit sorcery, despite torture.

The Secrets of Dr Taverner

Dion Fortune (December 6, 1890-January 8, 1946) wrote six books of metaphysical, esoteric fiction but The Secrets of Dr Taverner was the first, published in 1926. Many consider it to be her finest work of fiction although all her novels have their adherents. Fortune was among the most influential and significant occultists during the first half of the twentieth century. She was a prolific writer and published books and pamphlets on many subjects including magic, psychic self-defense, vegetarianism, and contraception.

The Secrets of Dr Taverner consists of one dozen short stories recounting the psychic adventures of a detective similar to Sherlock Holmes. Taverner is a healer who nurtures ailing souls using esoteric techniques. Many of Fortune’s characters were based on real people; Dr Taverner was allegedly based on Dion Fortune’s teacher, Dr Theodore Moriarty, who specialized in what she described as astro-etheric psychological conditions. The short stories are dictated by Taverner’s assistant Dr Rhodes, who plays the part of Dr Watson.

Dion Fortune remains beloved in metaphysical circles but she can be difficult to read as her work frequently expresses the ethnic and racial bigotry common to her time. Her other novels may be described as metaphysical romances, for example, in one book the heroine is rescued from being sacrificed at a Black Mass. Fortune’s heroines would be understood today as witches; however her novels were written before the repeal of the witchcraft laws and the emergence of modern witchcraft, and so these heroines are identified as priestesses. Roots of Neo-Paganism may be observed in Fortune’s books and much magical information is incorporated into the texts.

Her other esoteric fiction includes: The Demon Lover (1927); The Winged Bull (1935); The Goat Foot God (1936); The Sea Priestess (1938) and Moon Magic (published posthumously in 1956; incomplete at the time of her death, the last section of the novel was channeled by a medium).

The Tempest

One of William Shakespeare’s last plays The Tempest was performed for the first time on November 11, 1611 in London. It recounts the tale of the sorcerer Prospero, formerly the Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda who have been banished to an enchanted desert island, where they are served by the spirit Ariel, summoned at will by Prospero.

The witch Sycorax, who had also been exiled to the island but who had died before Prospero’s arrival, was responsible for enchanting the island (and Ariel). Her son Caliban is compelled to labor as Prospero’s servant. Prospero treats him harshly because Caliban lusts after Miranda.

The character of Prospero is believed to have been inspired by Dr John Dee, who served as Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer and advisor. Her successor King James was rather less tolerant of the occult and although not officially banished, Dr Dee’s retreat from court to the safety of his home at Mortlake may have resembled exile.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Although the movie and book versions of The Wizard of Oz remain extremely popular, many find them puzzling and frustrating. Why, for instance, is the Wicked Witch of the West called wicked? What exactly is it that she does to be characterized that way? The Wicked Witch never lies, unlike say “the Wonderful Wizard of Oz” or Glinda, the Good Witch, who at best plays fast and loose with the truth. These musings inspired Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995)—an exploration of the nature of evil and how “wickedness” is defined.

Maguire draws his inspiration from both the literary and cinematic versions of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, however he uses them as a jumping-off point for his own original vision. The Wicked Witch has previously been nameless. Maguire bestows upon her the name Elphaba, derived from her creator Baum’s initials.

The characters and events of Baum’s books provide the framework for Wicked. The anti-witchcraft bias of the older book and movie is made clear: Dorothy and her companions make brief appearances, wreaking havoc wherever they go: they kill Elphaba’s beloved dogs, crows, and bees. Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose (another witch) is also killed, as is eventually Elphaba.

Elphaba’s green skin and various other unusual characteristics were perceived by her fundamentalist religious father as being punishment for her mother’s sins. Elphaba eventually goes to college in the Emerald City where she rooms with the shallow but beautiful Galinda, not yet Glinda the Good Witch. The Wizard has taken over the government of Oz in a political coup; indigenous people are exploited and oppressed. Their land is raped for its resources; an ancient goddess-oriented religion has been suppressed. Elphaba becomes involved in animal rights and eventually in the underground political resistance to the Wizard of Oz. From the perspective of the oppressor Wizard and his collaborators, Elphaba is wicked and, because she is powerful, she must be eliminated.

Wicked also includes brief, mysterious but evocative appearances by Yackle, a character who more closely corresponds to the traditional image of a witch than does Elphaba.

Witch Hammer

In 1680, the midwife in a Moravian hamlet discovers that her cow is dry. She fears it’s been bewitched and pays a local beggar-woman to steal a Communion wafer for her so that she can use it in a spell to counteract the malevolent spell. The beggar-woman is caught and this small incident touches off a murderous witchhunting frenzy that lasts two decades.

These incidents form the basis of the Czech novel Witch Hammer by Vaclav Kaplicky (1895—1982), first published in 1963 to popular acclaim and commercial success in Czechoslovakia. An English translation was published in 1990. Witch Hammer derives its name from the infamous witch-hunters’ manual The Malleus Maleficarum or The Hammer of the Witches (see BOOKS: Witch-Hunt Books: Malleus Maleficarum). The novel is based on real events that occurred in seventeenth-century North Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic but then an ethnically mixed, heavily German-influenced area. Kaplicky derived his source material from actual witch-trial transcripts.

The protagonist is a kind, tolerant priest who watches in horror as witch-hunters are invited to the small town to examine the witch. The witch-hunters’ motivations are selfish: they are well aware of the power they exert over all inhabitants, including the wealthy and noble who initially see no danger for themselves.

As the witch-hunters’ web tightens around the inhabitants, the book is almost painful to read. Although people engage in folk magic, no one corresponds to the witch-hunters’ vision of diabolical witchcraft, although the witch-hunters have methods of making anyone confess to whatever charges are brought.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written by L. Frank Baum (May 15, 1856-May 6, 1919) in 1899 but published in 1900 to coincide with the new century, perceived as a new age. It was intended as a new kind of fairy tale for a new nation on the brink of a new century, completely independent of the standards of older European fairy tales, their enchantments and cruelty. The book’s first illustrations were drawn by W.W. Denslow.

In his introduction, Baum wrote that “…the time has come for a series of newer ’wonder tales’ in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf or fairy are eliminated…” But not, apparently, time for the stereotyped witch to disappear.

Those only familiar with the MGM musical The Wizard of Oz may find the book upon which it is based very surprising. The book features two good witches and two wicked witches, four witches all together, but there is no Miss Gulch, who was an invention of the 1939 movie’s screenwriters.

Image The film’s famous ruby slippers were originally silver.

Image Dorothy is identified as a sorceress because she wears white and, according to the book, “only witches and sorceresses wear white.”

Image The Wicked Witch of the West has but one eye, “as powerful as a telescope and could see everywhere.”

The premise of the story is that the Wizard of Oz will not send Dorothy home to Kansas unless she performs the service of killing the Wicked Witch of the West. No one questions why and no explanation is given. It seems natural that the wise and powerful should wish to exterminate a wicked witch. The Wizard asks for a wicked thing but since the Witch is a “wicked witch” no one questions his actions.

The Wicked Witch of the West is served by talking wolves, crows, and bees. They do not survive Dorothy and her friends: the Tin Man kills forty wolves. The scarecrow kills forty crows (he wrings their necks). The bees are killed by trickery.

A nameless witch of the north kisses Dorothy at the beginning of her journey leaving a protective mark, something like the Mark of Cain. No one will touch her including the Wicked Witch, although Dorothy is not made aware of this.

Dorothy is forced to labor for the Wicked Witch, in the same manner that Vasilisa must labor for Baba Yaga. (See FAIRY-TALE WITCHES: Vasilisa the Wise; DIVINE WITCH: Baba Yaga.) Dorothy must keep the witch’s fire fed with wood, except that, unlike Vasilisa, Dorothy is really a saboteur. Dorothy throws water on the witch because through trickery the witch has stolen one of Dorothy’s silver slippers. She puts an iron bar in the middle of the kitchen floor, casting a spell over it so that it is invisible. Dorothy trips over it and one shoe flies off which the witch immediately puts on her foot. The motif of having one shoe on and one shoe off links both female characters to the archetype of the limping shaman. (See Dance: The Step of Yu, page 248.)

The Wizard is a charlatan with no magical powers but witches are described as able to do “wonderful things.” “Good” witches, however, won’t harm the wizard.

Baum intended for readers to see Oz as a real place, an alternate realm where a real child one day discovered herself. (The movie transforms Oz and Dorothy’s adventures into a dream.)