How witches have been displayed in the modern media has been a contentious issue among modern Neo-Pagans and witches alike. There have been a ton of shows and movies that have tackled the witch as a character, some good, some bad, and some very comical. Seeing yourself reflected in the media you consume is an important part of how we all interact with or feel about media, whether it be TV shows, movies, books, or comics. It’s been a contentious issue within the discussion around how people of color are represented, and I think it’s an equally valid discussion to have around how pagans and practitioners of conventionally non-abrahamic religions are represented. Over the years, there have been various revivals and years where we see more interest played towards the supernatural and that eventually makes into our modern media. I think these last couple decades have definitely been another kind of revival of a sorts, if a slow burn kind of one. The Good Witch is a great example of this modern revival and the kind of show that really makes an effort to discuss and display New Age thoughts and magic in a positive light for its viewers.
The Good Witch is a series of movies and now a TV show created by the Hallmark Channel starting back in 2008 with its first movie. Over the next seven years, they would produce seven more movies, and then in 2015, the Hallmark Channel launched the TV series. It is still currently running and is in its 6th season. The story, as the New York Times describes it, is “a gentle, sentimental prime-time fable set in an idealized Middle American small city” where a mysterious Cassie Nightingale appears to take over the run-down, and maybe haunted house termed “the Grey House”. Throughout the series, we see Cassie fix up Grey House into a fantastic bed and breakfast, open an eclectic New Age-type store called the Bell, Book, & Candle, and mysteriously predict and solve the problems of the town and its residents, earning her place as an integral member of the town.
The series has done surprisingly well for itself considering the subject matter, but I think the heartwarming feel with a touch of magic is what the Hallmark Channel does best. In 2017, the New York Times noted that for most of the month of May, The Good Witch had been in the number two slot for most viewed scripted cable television show. It was averaging more than 2.5 million views on Sunday nights, beating shows like Pretty Little Liars and Silicon Valley, but has never once been nominated for an Emmy. The main problem being that it’s not very appealing to advertisers and appeals more to an over-50 demographic. But, I think this toned-down, heartfelt show about a mysterious and witchy woman finding her place in a small town is just the kind of show we Pagans need in a time when shows like “The Thrilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “American Horror Story” paint magic and witchcraft in a general negative light.
The whole series is devoid of any specific religion, but you get the sense that the general culture of the town is Christian in nature due to their reactions to her and her abilities. But Cassie has a way of charming people, especially as she pops up where you least expect her, provides advice that will eventually be needed in future problems, and gifts items that tangentially lead to self-revelations. All of these qualities paint her as a good-witch type character who uses her gifts to aid the community around her. Her store, the Bell, Book, & Candle — which is a direct reference to the movie of the same title — offers a variety of items including herbal remedies, scented candles, essential oils, all things you might find at your own local pagan store. She comes to act as the town’s healer and wise-woman, using both medical knowledge and ancient remedies to help solve the town’s ills. In the first season of the TV show, we see this come to conflict as the town gains its own physician and primary care doctor. His strictly medical brain clashes with her more holistic approach. But eventually, he sees her side of things and comes to accept that her knowledge comes from a variety of places and blends into something that is doing good for the community.
The image of the wise-woman in witch lore is a long-standing one. Many believe that the accusations of witchcraft were first brought against wise women, healers, and midwives during the turmoil surrounding the growth of Christianity, the Inquisition, and subsequent witch trials across the world. They were the ones that were in charge of life and death within their villages, saw the usefulness of the herbs that could be found in nature, possibly dabbled in poisonous plants to use for healing, and more often than not lived on the edge of town. Their skills in healing and bringing life into the world often made them the brunt of blame for deaths that occurred. The accusations of witchcraft were just convenient ways to put the blame on someone for problems out of their control.
In the current era, we now commonly associate witches with herbs, potions, brews, and all manner of magical or non-magical advice. Witches are sometimes seen in the media as using their abilities to help those around them, drawing on “ancient knowledge” which always amounts to herbs that we have used for years but in ways or combinations previously forgotten. The Good Witch draws on this perception of witches as the wise-women and healers of the community through Cassie’s shop The Bell, Book, & Candle. It’s there she offers advice, herbal mixtures, and items picked out especially for that person’s issues that day. Her talents are shown to come from a special intuition passed down through the daughters of the Merriwick family, allowing her a small amount of insight into the future and what item might best suit their needs.
What I like about Cassie as a representative of the witch community is her vast store of knowledge from a variety of sources. She does use her magical intuition to help choose the best item for her customers, but she does have extensive knowledge of the medical uses of herbs, plants, and spices that comes from traveling all over the world and studying extensively in college. She is able to trade advice with a medically trained physician comfortably as well as develop creams and tea that are able to aid her customers in their physical symptoms. It gives an air of legitimacy to her abilities and stature in the community. It’s through these skills and knowledge that she manages to learn her place in the town, even faced with judgement from some town folk.
Female empowerment has become a huge part of the popularity of witchcraft. From The Craft to Charmed, women have been front and center when it comes to depicting witchcraft as a powerful and positive tool for empowerment. It’s no different here. The Good Witch has crafted a uniquely positive and female-centered show that allows a large cast of women to gain, retain, and use their power within the community to better themselves and the people around them. The female empowerment isn’t just limited to the characters who are witches, other prominent members of the town are also women including the mayor, the owner of the largest cafe in town, the flower shop and many other prominent businesses. Women play a huge role in this series and are respected for their abilities, intuition, and influence.
Compared to a lot of other magic-focused or witch-focused movies or TV shows, I find this one to be especially relaxing. The only one I would say is comparable is the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch but the representation of witches in that show is not as positive or realistic as The Good Witch. Many of the other shows or movies are filled with fighting demons, vampires, or the drama surrounding hiding their powers from the world. This show revels in the magic and uses it to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere that allows me to binge the series over and over again when I want the comfort of a heart-warming show.
With everything I have discussed, I think The Good Witch is a fantastic representation of witchcraft within modern media. It provides a positive and heart-warming look at what our image of a witch could be, and with the high number of viewers of this show being above 50, maybe it will help change the view of witchcraft and magic within the United States. Compared to other movies and TV shows out there, this is probably the best series to watch if you want to see witches displayed in a positive light and working within a community to make it a better place.
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