Where are the witches?

Great question from Twitter this past week, wondering about witches in literature. This is far from an exhaustive list, and any others you’ve come across please comment and share! The study of witches in history is a study of misogyny, feminism, politics, patriarchy and power. It may include the creation stories where childbirth comes from armpits and Lilith rejects Adam.


Thinking about this topic is an avocation for me: when I was sixteen (remember, long before the internet…in a galaxy far, far away) reading about the Salem Witch Trials and wondered are there actual witches, and what might they say? I looked up witches in the yellow pages, (an ancient grimoire of slick ink on cheap, thin yellow paper full of names and places), and found my way to an occult shop in downtown Denver. The women were incredibly nice, just explained Wiccan and its tenants. They didn’t try to “convert” me– it was educational and calm. That was forty-one years ago, and to this day I’ve kept their advice with me: don’t harm to others. And being a lifelong feminist, this amateur pursuit of this archetype is one of my passions.

Books and Texts

This is a curated list of texts I’ve read or are on my #TBR list:

  • Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici
  • Google Folder of Salem Resources
  • Salem Witch Trials and Crucible Resources
  • Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies (The American Social Experience Book 19)
  • I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature Translated from French) Paperback – February 5, 2009

Media, Tropes, and Archetypes

Film and television have no shortage of witches. However, consider some other representations of witches, like the Mean Girl or the Cool Girl. Here are some examples of literal witches (Practical Magic and Witches of Eastwick were novels before they were movies) and not-so-literal, like the Mean Girl story. Witches typically come in groups of three and then a fourth is added, and causes chaos and imbalance.

Witches in Art

This was curated by @kasbahsalome; there are many more than this, of course. I chose these for literary connections as well as more modern pieces.

William Blake: The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (sometimes referred to as Triple Hecate)
Paul Devaux: At the Door
Henri Fuseli – Macbeth, Banquo and the Witches, c. 1793
Francisco De Goya: Witches Flight: this paininting is also a prop in the show The Order
John William Waterhouse: Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses
Leonora Carrington: The Revival of the Witch as a Muse
Remedios Varo: Witch Going to the Sabbath
Three Women Plucking Mandrakes by Robert Bateman

There is no “ready-to-go” lesson here– but some things you might want to put together depending on what texts you’re teaching — if you’re teaching Macbeth witches play a starring role, and examing the archetype across time and cultures may lead to some rich conversations. Also, The Crucible by Arther Miller demands a clear need for understanding this archeypte, and Tituba’s story through racism and misogynoir.

We never know where our curiousity will lead us. For example, I played an owl I recorded in my backyard over a year ago, and a student told me about La Lechuzas, (little owls) who are disguised witches. Enjoy putting your own lesson together, and have no fear!

Postscript: Hansel and Gretel is really about parents giving their children permission to fend for themselves.