Some movies get it right, though. These movies about witches have one thing in common: female characters who struggle with their inner demons; as they awaken to their powers, there are consequences. Thou shalt not suffer another excellent witch movie to be unseen, so break out the Absinthe and have some witchy fun!Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Your art is spiritual and feminine, but it can also be really gritty and intense; what story do you want to tell?
A story that is real, human and natural. As women, we have been told for centuries to be either the fairy tale princess lest we be the old hag, the evil witch. Within my work I am trying to connect to the endless possibilities, to show that even for a fleeting moment what one can dream, can be real. It’s part of what draws me to photography as a medium. It all has to happen in some form of reality for me to capture it. I want to create a world where we are tuned in with nature, with the cosmos, a world where women can be beautiful, mysterious, wise, and most importantly human first.
Why do you think the figure of the witch persists (and haunts) in today's culture?
The witch, for myself and I think for many other women as well, is a symbol of feminine strength and a woman with agency over her herself. She is not afraid to grow old and be wise. It is in her wisdom and agency though that she became something for men to fear. I like to think that she still persists because she is a symbol of what it is to be strong, to be human, to be in touch with one's self, nature and what some might call magic. Sadly we still need this symbol, women all over the world are still subjected and are deemed less than due to their gender. We are still fighting so many battles for women’s equality, trans-equality, and battles for the preservation of our natural world and the witch is a great symbol that speaks to those battles.
You come from New England, a fascinating, natural, sprawling region. How exactly does location work its way into your work. Beyond literally being shot in nature, what does the essence of place to do you?
A place remembers, a place holds its own history in its earth, in its nature. There is something here in New England that I can’t totally articulate, but it’s dark and ancient. The landscape and nature here refuses to be ignored, but it’s subtle, like a vine tearing down a brick wall or the craggy cliffs cut from slow moving glaciers thousands of years ago. Something here just feels so cloaked in mystery, nothing here feel obvious, and that’s part of what always pulls me back here, there is always something to discover, some crazy beauty, some strange occurrence that I didn’t quite notice the last time.
How did you discover and explore your aesthetic? When did you understand your drive and, really, how did you learn to execute it so well?
Honestly, I am still discovering and learning. Although I thank you for that compliment. I have ever since I have been a pre-teen been interested in the occult, feminism, nature and folklore. I guess you could say I still am and I am still exploring them. I just have this internal unquenchable urge to create and shoot. It’s like an addiction honestly. It was through that that I think I got better at execution, practice, lots and lots of trying and failing. I once had an art professor tell me that the moment you create a piece of work you are happy with is the day you stop creating. I have learned to never be happy with my work, but to let it pass though me in a sense, to me all my pieces are good enough for now.
Which other artists challenge and inspire you?
I feel pretty blessed to be living in a time that connects so many artists all over the globe and can put just about any art at my fingertips. In truth, I am in constant awe of my contemporaries that, regardless of how hard it is to be an artist and thrive in this economy, persist and create beautiful works of art. This may not be the challenge you are speaking of but it’s the challenge that I think all of us artists feel, and that’s how to make a living with our work. I am also so humbled to be able to call so many artists my friends and collaborators, such as Gillian Chadwick of Elemental Child, Bill Crisafi, and Jamie Mooers or Burial Ground, Allison Scarpulla, Tea Leigh, Steffanie Strazzere, Emily Theobald and Sam Dere of Paper Bunnies -- to name just a few.
Read more about Courtney Brooke here.
BY TRISTA EDWARDS
I recently revisited an old childhood favorite, the 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I’ve been thinking about how much certain movie witches positivity influenced when I was growing up and this film was the first to instantly pop into my mind. I had not watched the film in over twenty years but what I remembered from being a child was that the film had a very foreboding nature; (although that wasn’t quite the language I had for it then but I felt it) and there were several terrifying yet tantalizing scenes of Nazi attacks and witchcraft. An exceptionally brief synopsis for those who have not experienced the film, (released by Walt Disney Productions and marketed as a musical fantasy)—
Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) is an apprentice witch living in the English countryside in 1940. She is learning witchcraft through correspondence school and receives spells, lessons, and potions in the mail from the school’s headmaster, Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson). She is awaiting the arrival of spell for Substituitary Locomotion, a spell that will enable her bring inanimate objects to life. With this spell, Miss Price is conceived she will be to help the British war effort and, ultimately, defeat the Nazis.
By the end of the film Miss Price chants the incantation, Treguna Mekoides Tracorum Satis Dee, and erects a ghost army of medieval knights to drive the Nazis back to their U-boat. The many scenes of the medieval knights floating body-less, just shells of the past, still gives me the heebeegeebees to this day. When you think about it, this pseudo-occult film is pretty heavy stuff for a Disney musical and I loved it.
Now, some twenty years later, I realize how much this film, particularly witchcraft, played a role in how I see myself as a woman and as a writer. It was Miss Eglantine Price along with two other cinema witches from my formative years, The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (1989) and The Worst Witch’s Mildred Hubble (1986), that I bonded with and that gave me examples on how to be powerful woman.
Miss Eglantine Price
Miss Price’s obsessive quest to find the missing pages of The Spells of Astraroth instilled in me the power of words. I remember distinctly as a child fashioning my own spell book out of colored construction paper. I filled it with astrological symbols I saw in the film and gathered from horoscope section of the town newspaper. I made up words and my own spells of absolute gibberish. I indulged in the sheer enjoyment of language and the potential power it had. I would go out to the wooden swing hanging from a willow tree in the far corner of the yard with my spell book and my mom’s kitchen broom, place the broom on the seat of the swing, chant one of my spells, hop on and fly. Spells—language—could allow me to do anything. As a child this all seemed very literal in that I could make anything possible. I could fly. I could change shape. I could talk to animals. I could control the world around me all with an incantation even if it was all in the world of imagination. This carried on into adulthood and my occupation as poet. Language still allows me to do anything.
Ursula The Sea Witch
What intrigued me most about Ursula was her massive, rolling body. I thought she was beautiful and threatening. I was entranced by how she inhabited the entire space in which she existed. Much like the film’s protagonist, she was half-woman, half-sea creature—one resembling an octopus. Her lurching tentacles made her appear as if she gliding rather than plodding. This is my first recollected lesson that as woman you could have powerful body without it being sexualized. At the time of the film’s release, my chubby child body probably resembled Ursula’s more than the dainty, slim Ariel. I took comfort in this witch, albeit animated, corporeality. Even at a young age, I knew I would never look like Ariel but I could still believe in the authority of my body. Despite the fact that Ursula is the film’s villain and meets her demise in the end, I try to resist the urge to analyze the film as an academic—that Ursula had to die by the hand of Prince Eric as punishment for her body, which enlarged to giant proportions in the final battle. That she transgressed too far in her power and had to be silenced, to take the place of the role of silenced woman when Ariel found was allowed to have her voice back. I fight to resist this because villain or not, this witch gave me my first lesson in body positivity.
Mildred Hubble (played by Fairuza Balk and proving she has always been the best witch) is a young girl at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. The 1986 film is based on a series of children’s books by the same name. While not a bad witch she is deemed the worst witch at the academy due to many bumbling yet innocent mishaps. She falls victim to the many cruel pranks at the hand of bully and overachiever Ethel Hallow. Yet through the constant mistreatment from Ethel and the glaring lack of approval from her teacher Miss Hardbroom, Mildred still finds joy in being a witch (particularly at a ceremony in which all the little witches are given their first black kitten and Mildred, as the last girl awarded, is left with the only cat left, a white and gray tabby who she has nothing but love for despite the kitten’s otherness). Mildred, like me, was the shy and quiet girl who was always picked last. I felt that Mildred and I shared a level of companionship through my adolescence in that we both never seemed to get anything right for no apparent reason other than we were struggling to grow up and find our place in the world.
BY ALAINA LEARY
As a kid, I was enchanted by Salem at Halloween. Growing up just outside Boston, Salem was one of the hottest travel destinations for Halloween night for kids, teens, and adults in the area. Grasping my mom’s hand, I felt that I was a part of something larger – something magical.
I’ve always been sympathetic to the plight of those harmed by the witch trials in Salem in the 17th century. As a child, I saw these people as mere outsiders, those who maybe came off as quirky or different in society. Not all who were accused were even experimenting with anything occult. Jenny Rogers sums it up in her essay in Autostraddle: “A few young girls from well-to-do families allegedly experimented with trivial fortune-telling — the kind of folk rituals that claim to tell girls who their husband will be. Afterwards or around the same time, children in the village began to fall ill with alarming symptoms — convulsions, claims of pain all over their bodies, fevers and hallucinations. Witchcraft was suspected.”
According to Rogers, people think the real life probably causes ranged from ergotism from hallucination-causing fungi, biological illness, true mass hysteria, or simply an easy way to kill off women and men who were “disliked, too powerful or inconvenient.”
Two years in a row, I’ve gone to Salem around Halloween. Not exactly on the weekend that the holiday falls, but sometime when it’s nearing in October. What was on my mind while I was there was this: is Salem a good place for those who are genuinely interested in witchcraft and the occult, in the way that they are practiced today, to visit? Or is it simply a tourist city, filled with too many black cat mugs and cheesy professional witch photography?
As someone who actually did Salem Vintage Photos with my girlfriend’s family during one of my two Salem visits this year, I can say this: there’s a fair amount of both hokey and legitimate to be found in Salem, and it all depends on what you’re looking for.
Salem capitalizes on its reputation to foster tourism, and I can’t blame them. It probably brings in enough revenue just in the fall to profit the local economy year-round. If you’re into cheesy, spooky tourism, there’s plenty to be found in the area, from the Harry Potter themed store selling Butterbeer and wands to the hokey haunted houses to the vintage white dress-up photos, it’s a prime destination for kids with families who just want to gawk. To be fair, the witch photos are a great way to get a laugh out of everyone involved, even if they’re super cheesy, with poses on broomsticks while a fan blows your hair out of your face.
The slightly-less-hokey tours are one way to connect past and present. It depends on the tour, since there are quite a few, but many of them seamlessly blend the history in a way that is factual and pays tribute to the people who were tortured and killed during the trials. The Bewitched After Dark Walking Tours, Salem Witch Walk, and Candlelit Tours are known for being detailed and informative.
There’s also plenty to see if you’re interested in learning more about modern witchcraft and the occult. Magic Parlor has a lot of gags and jokes, but there are items like candles, herbs, incense, and oils in the back of the shop. It’s also less expensive than a lot of other frequently visited tourist stores. Pyramid Books offers psychic readings, stones, candles, jewelry, and everything ranging from Wicca to Reiki. Artemisia Botanicals is an apothecary filled with over 400 herbs, 100 teas, and more magick. Crow Haven Corner is said to be Salem’s first witch shop, and hosts classes in addition to readings with Tarot, palms, and mediumship. My friends and I found that it matched its quality items, such as smudge sticks and hand-mixed spells, with its tourist items.
I also attended a psychic reading last year, and a spell casting this year. The psychic reading had me more skeptical, as a lot of what was said seemed very general and like it could easily apply to anyone. The spell casting was a lot more interesting, and was held by a woman who said she’s a practicing witch. She left us by saying “Blessed be,” to everyone, and we cast powerful, positive spells under all the elements and with the power of the spirits. I felt a palpable energy in the room as we all chanted, “So mote it be!” as we held our spells in between the palms of our hands.
A few weeks later, I buried the knotted string, the source of my spell and positive energy, into the ground at the base of a beautiful tree in a Boston park. I spoke my desires aloud as I buried it, because giving voice to your spells is said to make them more powerful. Everything that I cast was in hopes of a brighter future for the people I love, so even if a lot about Salem has the potential to be cheesy, I feel this is one experience that I really want to believe in.
I’m giving my spell a chance to settle its roots and grow.