Witches have been a most intriguing and often depicted subject in art and literature. With their roots in ancient paganism, witches were looked upon as fascinating materials for literary endeavours. They have been shown as diabolical instruments, repulsive creatures, benevolent beings and have even been romanticized in some cases. From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, witches have had a long and evolutionary literary history. Here are some of the memorable ones:
The Three Witches of Macbeth
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air”
The “Weird Sisters” of Shakespeare’s play, with their beards, bizarre potions and rhymed dialogues, would easily make it to The Hall of Fame for witches. They are grotesque, symbols of temptation to evil and are indicative of the wicked influence of dark powers over mortal creatures. Macbeth possibly wouldn’t have killed King Duncan without the push given by the witches. And the usurper became King only to witness the irony of the prophecy made by the witches as Birnam Wood came to him and caused his ruin.
The White Witch (Narnia)
“I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?”
In The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we come across Jadis — the infamous white witch. Jadis was the one who forced Narnia into snow and ice for a century. While the witch is a fearsome creature in her own realm, her magic is of little use in other worlds. Like Medusa, Jadis can turn people to stone, though not by looking at them but by waving her wand. She is a breathtakingly beautiful woman, a powerful sorceress, highly arrogant, possesses superhuman strength and is a shrewd strategist. Though the white witch usurped power from the legitimate rulers of Narnia, her reign ended with The Winter Revolution. Tilda Swinton played the role of the White Witch in the Narnia films and won acclaim among fans and critics.
A deformed and fearsome looking witch from the Russian folktales. She is known to be a hungry cannibal who flies around in a mortar. Baba Yaga is thin as a skeleton and has iron teeth. She lives in a forest in a hut that seems to be alive. It stands on its own legs, can spin/move around, and has a fence made of bones and skulls with blazing eyes. Baba Yaga’s servants include some mysterious and reticent horsemen and a pair of scary hands appearing out of nowhere. Though mostly portrayed as a terrifying and vengeful old witch, Baba Yaga can be helpful to some, especially to people with a pure heart. However, she is a wild force and can’t be tamed.
The Bell Witch
The legend of the Bell Witch is a much disputed case. Brent Monahan, in his novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, claims that the book is based on true facts. It’s true that this is the only documented case in American history that deals with a spirit causing a man’s death. Old Kate or the Bell Witch was a terrifying and noisy spirit that tormented the Bell family in Tennessee. The witch gnawed as an invisible spirit at night and stood next to the sleeping people. She threw stones, slapped residents of the house and pulled a children across the floor by their hair. The strange events were witnessed by a local school teacher who recorded them. Mr. Monahan used the evidence to write this book. A truly spooky story of a spooky witch.
Circe (The Odyssey)
Circe was a witch and a goddess of magic in Greek mythology. She could transform people into animals using potions and her wand. Circe appears in Homer’s The Odyssey, where she is described as a perilous witch who transformed Odysseus’ crew into swine using her enchanted wine and magical potions. Odysseus used the holy herb moly to protect himself against the tricks of Circe and set out to free his men. Circe tried to seduce him but Odysseus, warned by Hermes, didn’t fall for the scheming witch, who would rob him of his manhood. Eventually, Odysseus could free his men and Circe suggested him roads to Ithaca.
If you were destined to encounter a witch (a literary one), who would you want it to be?