The past few years have seen the figure of the witch become a cultural touchstone for progressives and conservatives alike. From the resurgence of astrology, tarot, and natural healing methods to feminist rallying cry, the witch has never been more inclusive or divisive. Through analysis of two recent films, Andrea and Alex examine the witch’s new meaning in contemporary Western society, and why she remains a symbol of subversive feminism.
Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You. Lindy West’s New York Times Op-Ed on the misappropriation of the term witch-hunt during the rise of the #MeToo movement.
Why the Witch Is the Pop-Culture Heroine We Need Right Now – A look at why the figure of the witch has become so deservedly popular.
Satanic Feminism by Per Faxneld. Faxneld’s book on the Devil as liberator of women in the nineteenth century.
The Book of English Magic – An overview of the real and perceived magic used across the British Isles, with a chapter dedicated to witches and witchcraft.
Right click or option-click here and choose “Save Target As…” to download the mp3.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
I just watched the Love Witch this week before listening to this episode. I was curious if either of you had seen it yet and what were your thoughts if you so.
Love the show, you two do an amazing job.
I wasn’t fond of The Witch, but I loved The Autopsy of Jane Doe. As usual, your comments on both were insightful, but I think you made a leap of logic when you said that the 2 guys in Autopsy were good, compassionate guys, but “they had to pay” and followed it with a comment about uplifting feminism.
You didn’t explain why THEY had to pay and how this related to the point about feminism. They only way I could make sense of it was that Jane Doe suffered greatly due to patriarchal social norms and while her rage is legitimate, it’s not too discriminating. One could make the argument that her target isn’t “men” per se, but patriarchal society, which involves both male domination and some degree of female complicity. After all, she did set it up for the girlfriend to get an ax in the face, and who’s to say she hasn’t killed women? The way I take it is that society (amorphously defined) made her this way, and society is going to pay.
Anyway, great job, I look forward to the next episode.
I can’t speak for Alex, but my attitude was along the lines of the film adopting a retributive element to this persecuted witch and not just being like “aw, she was innocent, what a shame.” Her wrath can be read as the past return to bite us in the ass, innocent and guilty alike!
A couple of things that struck me after watching “The VVitch”:
So often, the superstitious are presented as foolish, uncritical and/or deluded. Here, they are RIGHT. The Devil *is* real, and witches *do* live in the woods. By extension, their entire belief system is validated. And yet…
What does God have to offer Thomasin? A life of misery and servitude, followed by an afterlife of certain damnation. It’s not that Thomasin is choosing temporary, Earthly desires over salvation; it’s that salvation isn’t even on the table. I would argue that in “The VVitch,” the Devil offers far more love than does God.
The filmmakers do a great job of giving their characters the mindset of a culture where belief in the supernatural was simply a part of contemporary ideas. I’ve not read widely on the topic, but that, and the relatively (to us) mundane things that Thomasin is offered in the film’s climax accord with the things I’ve read from James A. Sharpe and Darren Oldridge.
(Although the focus of both is on Europe, rather than America).
First of all, great episode! As far as The Witch, I agree with almost every observation you both made. If I may add to the conversation. Thomasin’s journey reminded me of Hester and Pearl in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. While Thomasin was born in England, she seems to be frustrated with her father’s choice to leave the settlement.Like Pearl and Hester, Thomasin finds liberation in becoming the “other” or an outsider.
As far as the Puritanical beliefs, I agree with Dave Thiel, the existence of the witch in the movie validates their fears. This reminded me of Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Brown walks through the forest and wonders what evils lurk there. He posits that there might be a “devilish Indian” behind every tree. Brown’s meeting with the devil, confirms his world view.
In the end, The Witch is a great film. I don’t buy the ergot scenario as an explanation for the family’s paranoia, but it is a folktale, after all.
Just listened to the second half of the episode. I hadn’t heard of “Autopsy,” despite having seen “Troll Hunter.” It sounds very interesting, but I think that the cat murder scene will keep me from checking it out.
Okay, so I’m a dude, and therefore I go into this next bit knowing that I’m on shaky ground. I’m all for the idea of women taking vengeance on their oppressors (hey, I’m currently reading “The Power”), but from what you described it sounds as if the male characters in this film are decent people. Why is it okay that they suffer and die for the crimes of others?
I promise, Autopsy is worth the momentary cringe of the cat murder scene. As for your point on the witch’s vengeance, see my response to Fanshen above! Thanks for listening!
And thank *you* (and Alex) for producing such a fun and thought-provoking podcast!
Admittedly, I’ve managed to watch “Drag Me to Hell” a few times despite the (thankfully off-screen) kitten murder.
Thanks for clarifying your stance on the retributive aspect of “Autopsy.” Perhaps Jane is more like Samara or “The Woman in Black;” she’s pissed off and doesn’t particularly care who suffers.
Okay, so my (veterinarian) horror fan friend and I watched “Autopsy” Friday night. We covered our eyes during the cat scene. (My cat was also watching, so I covered her eyes too.)
Anyhow, thanks for the recommendation! Despite having been thoroughly spoiled beforehand, I found it good, spooky fun.
Was it just me, or did Jane’s face seem more malevolent near the end? I don’t believe that the actress changed expression; it struck me as a clever switch of camera angle.
I did indeed come away feeling like Jane was like The Woman in Black: she didn’t care whom she tormented, and she didn’t stop once she’d been given what she seemed to want. (There was at least one dead woman in the opening scene, so as Fanshen wrote, she was perjaps not too discriminating.)
If I had an issue with the movie, it was with Brian Cox’s massive infodump near the end. And I felt he easily leapt to a pretty bizarre conclusion: the Salem “witches” were innocent girls, ergo her persecutors had inadvertently turned her into a witch. You know, as you do.
Leaving aside historical reality—after all, this is a story about supernatural forces—wouldn’t the more likely explanation be that she was a witch from the start?
I would venture to say that Autopsy, The VVitch, and Lords of Salem are about the witches WE (Puritan American society) have made, reflected back on us. Instead of the empowered 90’s version of witch movies – The Craft, Practical Magic, etc. – this is a more brutal and radical witchcraft that throws the image of the baby-killing demented hags used by everyone from the middle ages to the 1980’s and even beyond, right back in our face.
* Used by everyone from the middle ages to the 1980s and beyond to persecute people
Just to jump in here, these two guys had been cutting her up for a few hours. The film either states or heavily implies that she could feel every excruciating moment of the autopsy. Pretty sure that would make her angry.
I hope the link comes through, but you guys both mentioned you loved Goya. I too have the Prado Museum in Spain on my bucket list. Nerdwriter1 recently did a great youtube video on Goya and more specifically his “Saturn” painting. Good watch
This has been killing me since I finished the episode. WHAT IS THE ENDING SONG???? I cannot make out a word that chick sings, but it’s amazing and I can’t find this information anywhere. Help!!!!!!!
Also, Jane Doe is my new favorite movie thanks to this episode, and it’s not easy to bump Cabin in the Woods out of first place for me.
The closing track is “Carrion Flowers” by Chelsea Wolfe. Alex and I went to see her when she was in Toronto – we highly recommend seeing her live if you can!
Came here just to ask that, thanks!!
Have you ladies seen “Eyes of Fire” from the ’80s? It has a very similar vibe to The VVitch and I would recommend it as a companion watch. It’s hard to find, but it’s on Youtube in its entirety if you’re so inclined.
This podcast and the two films blew my wheels off. Thank you so much. I totally agree that they are feminist films. I studied evil during my Ph.D. work in psychology. Found three categories (Natural evil, Moral Evil and Supernatural Evil). It was depressing to say the least. I bought and read the Satanic Feminism book and holy sh*! -what an amazing volume – called my Wiccan friend for dinner and passed it on to her – she is into it now – fu*#ing brilliant – thank you for that gift! Watched Jane Doe 3 times and get more chills each time -as if it is proper justice and not going to be stopped til she hits the Trump whitehouse and beyond – GO JANE!!!
A more irreverent thought: I was one of those kids who just loved to scare the crap out of people (my sister, my friends). I could always take as well as I could give (my daughter is like a Ninja and scares the bejesus out of me at least a couple times a month). Anyway, If there were a Satan or Black Phillip, he would never run out of laughs. I am thinking of the father in THE WITCH. He is such a sad example of hubris – he really thinks he knows what is right about a topic that is in essence unknowable. The scene where they are praying/screaming over the son and two littlest kids are bouncing off the floor like rabid groundhogs struck me as both terrifying and hilarious – talk about everything coming apart! Granted not all share my warped sense of humor. After watching THE EXORCIST, my friend and I created a whole other film where Regan never gets excorsized and just grows up as the demon winning friends with the head-spinning trick at parties.
On a more sincere note, the father did recognize his hubris before being gored which is more than I can say for most humans. I am finding if age brings wisdom, it is a germ of wisdom blanketed by a pasture of humility. Anymore, my brain (Jimmie – our brains are milliseconds ahead of our sense of self so I named mine to have someone to blame) is constantly overwhelmed with awareness of what I don’t know and of course the implied things I don’t know that I don’t know. On the up side, it makes it easy to be a decent listener.
Another thought about Religious Reality Tunnels. They are ripe for the horror genre particularly when bifurcated into good and evil. I’ve been in and left two “think tanks” that had great promise then went screamingly over the edge as a result of god-talk. BS like “consciousness is evolving” and “we are evolving consciousness by mindfully participating in it.” My response was alway “Huh!?!?” Evolutions time scale seems to be millions of years; not a human lifespan. But, because we are dealing in assertions that are not falsifiable, the nonsense goes on.
Like both of you have shared, I can accept socially constructive uses of religion but the bifurcation in Abrahamic religions always (always!!)begs the question of the socially destructive and it always rears its head in the ugliest, least conscious of ways usually as projection onto those perceived as “other.” The “other” can be society as you noted in discussing The Witch when the family leaves.
This could be a cool thread/series of episodes: The mind-fu$! of cults and cult-members – when any group keeps projecting their crap, “othering” gets closer and closer until they are accusing each other (like the siblings in The Witch). Some cool films that this could be explored in include “The Devils,” “Going Clear,” “Martha Macy May Marlene,” and the recent “Faults.” Sorry for the long message – me and Jimmie on a roll.
What’s interesting about “the VVitch,” as David Thiel says in his comment, is how little the family is rewarded for their embrace of their rigid Christianity.
From the outset, it’s clear William and Katherine are not just Christians, they are zealots, even beyond the norms of the rigid community that throws them out. Leaving aside Calvinism for a moment, it would seem logical that William and Katherine would be rewarded by god even more for their zealotry — they’ve practically made themselves martyrs for their faith, and doesn’t god reward martyrs?
Instead, William, Katherine, Thomasin and the others are punished mercilessly, even though their “sins” are largely imaginary. When the devil finally appears to Thomasin, she makes the deal because, frankly, it’s worlds better than anything Christianity ever offered her.
But, about that last scene …
While Thomasin does exercise power, at least the power to choose for herself, when she signs the devil’s book, does that give the movie a “happy” ending? In a way, yes, because at least Thomasin is free of the oppressive (and oppressed) life she led under her devout Christian parents. But the final scene reminds me very much of the final scene in “The Descent,” where the final survivor is hallucinating a happy outcome that is clearly not going to happen in reality. In other words, Thomasin has escaped … but perhaps only into fantasy or insanity.
Of course, even fantasy or insanity were better than the real life of religious misery Thomasin was destined to lead, so perhaps the ending is “happy,” regardless of whether you believe the deal and the coven are real or not.
Hey Andrea & Alex,
I’m slowly working may way through all the previous episodes…just started listening a few months ago.I loved this episode! My real question though…what is that bada** song at the end of the episode?!?!?!
Love the Simpsons reference and Alex’s reactions to Andrea reading the different W.I.T.C.H. meanings! Another great episode!
Also, it’s so great to hear someone talk about The VVitch who actually likes it! I think I’m the only person I know who does.
Also, what is the song at the end? I wanna buy it, maybe the album.