The subject of celebrity crushes came up in a recent conversation, and I was forced to admit that my list was much shorter than most (it starts and ends with Eva Green, essentially). What I did remark on, however, was that, growing up and reading as much as I did, I developed a number of crushes on fictional characters. As I went through the list (Morgan le Fey, Serafina Pekkala, Hermione Granger…), I noticed something interesting: many of them were witches.
“Do you have a witch thing?” was the predictable follow-up question.
I paused, unable to answer right away. Do I? It certainly seemed possible. Even into my adulthood, characters like Yennefer of Vengerberg or Hannah Vizari still fascinate me.
In the couple days since, I’ve kept dwelling on the idea, and I’ve come to an interesting conclusion. It’s not that there’s something inherently about a witch that draws me. Rather, it’s that the types of female characters that I find myself drawn to, more often than not, happen to be witches, which I think raises more questions about witches than it does about me.
There’s a fantastic (if slightly dry and academic) book by Heidi Breuer called Crafting the Witch that looks at the figure throughout folklore and history, and how magic is linked to gender roles. Essentially, healing and/or protective magic is “feminine,” and offensive, destructive magic is “masculine.” Any witch that deviates from that pattern is evil. Think of it in terms of "The Wizard of Oz:" Glinda the Good Witch is shown using her magic primarily to transport herself via bubble and, in one instance, to protect Dorothy and friends by summoning a blizzard. By contrast, the Wicked Witch of the West throws fireballs, and puts sleeping poison on flowers, writes threatening messages in smoke, and tries to kill Dorothy with an enchanted hourglass. The Good Witch is protective, the Wicked Witch is destructive.
And no, I never had a thing for the Wicked Witch of the West. Or Glinda.
By Breuer’s logic, then, what witches represent is a deviation from (or even an open defiance of) traditional gender roles. Witches are powerful, and the powerful magic that they command is, more often than not, masculine in nature. Thus, their witchiness allows them to break from the traditional fairytale mold of the damsel in distress. Morgan le Fey, in addition to being one of the most famous witches of all time, is fiercely independent and self-reliant in a legend dominated by men doing manly things. Serafina Pekkala is bold, decisive, and wise. Hermione is smart and confident and isn’t afraid to let everyone know how bright she is. Sure, they’re all witches, but they’re also all complex, intriguing, and admirable women. It’s no coincidence that the label of “witch” has taken on a heavy feminist tone, not in the least because of the rise of religions like Wicca that place a greater emphasis on feminine power.
So, to return to the question that started me down this road: no, I don’t think I have a witch thing. I think it’s just a case of correlation rather than causation. As a kid, my reading habits consisted almost entirely of fantasy and mythology. It’s only natural that I would encounter a number of witches, and only natural that I would find them more interesting and engaging than their patriarchal counterparts, the damsels, who never had anything of much use to contribute to their stories.
In short, witches keep things interesting. Let’s have more of that.