Witches have a long history of persecution, often being the scapegoats of tragedy and natural disaster. In the grim, paranoid Middle Ages, many women and children were executed for practicing "witchcraft," which was actually just a term for alternative forms of worship and anything that fell outside the pale of the "normal" and dominant culture. The legacy of witches in pop culture also stirs up some trouble. Just think of the ways in which the dichotomy between good and bad witches mirrors the Madonna/whore complex.
Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West ring a bell?
At some point, however, witches went from being evil, dangerous outcasts to symbolizing the power in femininity. When? Well, some trace it back to second-wave feminism and then again to the Riot Grrrl era of the '90s. Whenever it started, we're definitely still here for it—especially with Halloween just around the corner, when broomsticks and pointy hats are on display on every aisle of every convenience store in America. Furthermore, we think it's time to get a little more creative, in true witch fashion.
To prove that witches come in all shapes and sizes, don't have to be all good or all bad, aren't always hideous and evil incarnate, and that their sexuality definitely isn't linked to said evil, we're celebrating our 15 favorites from mythology and folklore, retro-television shows, Blockbuster hits, and contemporary media. Some are scary, some are stylish, some are feminist icons, and some are even rumored to be real, so watch out. Read through to get to know them and then decide who you want to summon on Halloween (or conjure up their otherworldy strength, quit your day job, and start your own full-time coven).
Morgan Le Fay From King Arthur's Court
The Backstory: Though it's unclear whether or not Morgan le Fay existed in real life or not, legend has it that she was a powerful enchantress in King Arthur's court. The short version is that she uses her magic to attempt to defeat the good queen Genevieve, though she ends up helping Arthur get to Lancelot. She's an important figure in Welsh mythology and continues to reemerge in literature today. In fact, she's arguably the most well-known sorceress, healer, fairy, and dark magician in Western literature.
Summon her this Halloween with layers upon layers of velvet cloaks and throw a faux animal hide over your shoulders.
Baba Yaga From Slavic Folklore
The Backstory: Baga Yaga is another well-known witch in literature and legend. With Slavic origins, she's also sometimes referred to as Bony-Legs, as her diet consists of eating the bones of children in the modern folktale. The main message of most of these folktales is to not talk to strangers and wander off on your own, so it makes sense that she's a cruel and scary figure who preys on unsupervised kids.
Summon her this Halloween with a headscarf and a rubber chicken toy (her infamous house in the woods sits on stilts made of chicken feet).
The Legend of Mother Shipton
The Backstory: Legend has it that Mother Shipton was a healer and prophetess in medieval England. She's also one of the first iterations of the witch archetype as an unattractive older woman with warts (perhaps where the offensive synonym for witch, hag, comes from). If she really did live, it would have been between 1488 and 1561. Her name is linked to tragic events throughout history because of her reputation in her ability to predict them.
Summon her this Halloween with your usual witchy costume, except without the stereotypical broomstick and hat. Instead, focus on face paint (she's rumored to have a lot of warts), and then a wear a simple pleated maxi and a brown shawl.
The Legend of the Bell Witch
The Backstory: The Bell Witch is the antagonist in a 19th-century Tennessee folktale that may or may not be true. Legend has it that a local farmer, John Bell, and his family were being haunted by an evil being that was immaterial but had a voice. Then things escalated, and soon the entire town was being tormented and cursed. The case was covered by many reputable reporters, and you can still read the primary documents today. It's now become one of the oldest American folktales about witches.
Summon her this Halloween with a simple white nightgown, Puritan style.
Endora From Bewitched
The Backstory: Like all witches in the universe of Bewitched, Endora no-last-name is iconic enough not to need a last name. She's the mother of Samantha, the protagonist in Bewitched, and spends her days amusing herself (and us) by casting spells and playing tricks on her daughter's mortal husband. We knew we loved her the moment she said, "Okay… So my halo slips now and then, get over it."
Summon her this Halloween with a long lavender dress (popped collar encouraged) and a floor-length lime green vest. Bonus points for kooky eye shadow and a curly orange wig.
The Grand High Witch From The Witches
The Backstory: Roald Dahl's children's book is a classic, and the film adaptation is definitely nightmare-inducing potential with plenty of problematic representations of women, though the campiness makes it a fun watch. It's an imaginative tale about a little boy whose vacation gets a dramatic twist when he finds out there's a witch convention happening at his hotel, and the leader of the witches, the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston), is a very terrifying albeit powerful villain indeed.
Summon her this Halloween with velvet gloves, lots of bling, and a black dress, and that iconic haircut.
Alexandra, Sukie, and Jane From The Witches of Eastwick
The Backstory: This film adaptation of John Updike's seminal novel, The Witches of Eastwick packs in a lot of our favorite things: witchcraft, '60s style, and Cher. Seriously, the cast is epic, with Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Phieffer, and Jack Nicholson joining forces to stir up some serious magic. Set in Eastwick, Rhode Island, the three women become close friends and inadvertently create a coven when they each lose their husbands, and then each finds out that they're witches through a shared lover.
It just doesn't get any more iconic than this trio of big-haired women.
Summon her this Halloween with teased hair and bohemian caftans or printed silk robes.
Louise Miller From Teen Witch
The Backstory: Here's another fun Halloween throwback that always pops into our mind this time of year. Teen Witch takes place in Salem but takes that dark history and turns it into a light-hearted, kid-friendly, and empowering story rather than a sinister one (sort of like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who also deserves a shoutout on this list).
Summon her this Halloween with a striped tennis shirt, high-waisted shorts, fluffy bangs, a bucket hat, and a broomstick.
Nancy Downs From The Craft
The Backstory: This fun coming-of-age film is about four misfits who actually hold all the cards (and, in our book, all the coolest clothes) in their high school. Nancy Downs is the unofficial ringleader, and she's the one who famously said, "We are the weirdos, mister," forever capturing our hearts and encouraging us to let our inner freak flags fly, too.
Summon her this Halloween with all things '90s grunge and quasi-goth.
The Sanderson Sisters From Hocus Pocus
The Backstory: Who doesn't love Hocus Pocus? This Disney classic stars Bette Midler as Winnie and Sarah Jessica Parker as the world's most foolishly lovable witch. The movie itself packs in all of our favorite things, too, from teen romance, drama, and some Massachusetts fall vibes. Though the Sanderson sisters still embody that stereotype of witches who are spiteful of the young beautiful characters, they humor the actresses bring to the role makes them awesomely campy and undeniably epic. Sarah Jessica singing, "Come, little children, I'll take thee away" still haunts us.
Summon her this Halloween with ornate medieval princess gowns with a gothic twist. And just like the Witches of Eastwick, this trio is known for their distinguishing hairdos and makeup.
Sally and Gillian Owens From Practical Magic
The Backstory: If you're looking for a movie with witches in it that doesn't revolve around blood-sucking the youth out of children or winning over a man, look no further. Practical Magic is about the relationship between three generations of awesome women, and men only exist as supporting characters. Cool and smart sisters portrayed by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman who also happen to be magical witches is a dream come true. Plus, the fun-loving tone of the movie is refreshing.
Summon her this Halloween with some nostalgic '90s outfits and then just add a pointy black hat.
Lafayette Reynolds From "True Blood"
The Backstory: Bloodthirsty sexy vampires and witches in the American south… sign us up. But wait, the plot thickens. In True Blood, age-old folklore meets the slight future in Lousiana, and Lafayette Reynolds is easily one of the most lovable ones in this lineup of supernatural characters. He's the charismatic, hilarious, no-BS town medium and sorcerer. It's also nice to see some male LGBTQ+ witches of color on television since they usually fall within narrow, normative borders. This quote will give you a glimpse of his wry, wise, and charming personality: "Let me get this hetero straight.
You're a vampire who can come out in the daylight? Ah, now there go the damn neighborhood."
Summon him this Halloween with fun accessories, bold lashes, and a mesh tank top.
Marie Laveau in Real Life and American Horror Story
The Backstory: You can always count on American Horror Story for a fascinating period piece that dives deep into the underbelly of American history. And this one weaves the past with the present in New Orleans, where a coven of descendants from Salem are all sent to an academy to learn how to manage their dark powers. The real standout is Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau, the real-life Creole woman who practiced New Orleans voodoo in the 1800s. Since she said it best, we'll let her get the last word: "Well, maybe you haven't heard the news about civilization started in Africa.
We're more than just pins and dolls and seeing the future in chicken parts. You've been reading too many tourist guides."
Summon her this Halloween with fabulous silk pieces, like dramatic hoop skirts and bright shawls, and carry around a plastic snake.
Thomasin From The Witch
The Backstory: As the title implies, this movie is about a New England folk tale about a witch. But it's so much more than that. Though thoroughly horrifying and not for the faint of heart, The Witch can also be viewed as a period piece about early America or as a social critique on the policing, fear, and demonization of female bodies. While there is creepy naked dancing in the woods, spare and bleak atmospheric buildup, immaterial witches, and bloodshed, it's the sense of paranoid witch hunt culture and premature sexualization that's most disturbing.
And just for the record, we'd say yes too, if the devil asked us this: "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?"
Summon her this Halloween with a bloodstained skirt, apron, and bonnet.
Nokia Princess's "Brujas" Track
The Backstory: And last but not least, we introduce you to the witches anthem, "Brujas." Listen to this on repeat. In this track, Nokia Princess delves into the history of Wicca, humanizing it as a spiritual practice and community with a long history of persecution and destabilizing the stereotype of it as mystical and other. She pays tribute to Tibuta, an enslaved woman who was executed during the Salem witch trials, and says empowering things like, "If you hex me with hate, then I'ma conjure the light." Aside from being an important history lesson, "Brujas" is also a good pump up song to dance to with a visually striking music video to match.
Summon her this Halloween with an ethereal sheer blue cloth draped over your face, a slip skirt, and gold bangles. There's also a slew of cool yellow outfits later in the music video that are definitely worth checking out, for Halloween or not.