With the spell-binding anthology of witchy short stories Hex Life published today by Titan Books, we are lucky enough to get a top 13 (naturally) from the anthology editors, here's A Coven of Our Favorite Witches by Rachel Autumn Deering & Christopher Golden...
Whether cunning and evil or practical and helpful, witches have long fed our fascinations and fears. They can embody the archetype of hero or villain, or they can simply serve as a catalyst for a great twist, but they are always a powerful force when they show up in a story. We have assembled here a coven of wildly varied witches from across the occult spectrum for your enjoyment. We hope this cackling collection of characters enchants you with some familiar names and casts a black flame on some of the lesser-known crones from the annals of hexing history.
The Weird Sisters – By the pricking of their thumbs, something wicked this way comes. The three weird sisters from Shakespeare’s 1606 drama, MacBeth, gave birth to many of the tropes that still hold strong today. The famous refrain about toil and trouble and bubbling cauldrons and eyes of newt and all the rest originated with these stygian sisters and helped establish what exactly it meant to be a witch. We have these OG spell-spinners and soothsayers to thank for all the ladies who come after on this list.
Lolly Willowes - A woman's woman and a true feminist, if ever there was one. The main character of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel, Lolly Willowes: or The Loving Huntsman, Lolly feels constrained by the expectations put upon her by society—to live out her life giving care to others and neglecting her fancies, and to take a husband and be ultimately forgotten. This is not the life Lolly has imagined for herself, so she goes against her family's wishes, moves to the countryside, makes new friends, and sells her soul to Satan. There are a great many standout lines in Lolly's story, but this one sums her up best: "One doesn't become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either—a district visitor on a broomstick. It's to escape all that—to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by others."
Cousin Serena – This mod mischief-maker with a shapeshifting face tattoo and pitch-black bouffant is the sultry, free-wheeling counterpart to Samantha Stevens of television’s classic rom-com Bewitched. All the obedience and restraint shown by Samantha was criticized by Serena and discarded in favor of self-service, egotism, and fun. Perhaps as a result of that pursuit of good times, Serena had a refreshing sense of inclusion. She was one of the few witches who supported relationships between witches and mortals and even dabbled in such flings herself. She might have a cracked cauldron but she know the value of true love.
Helen Vaughan – Our favorite character from Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, Helen is what we like to call a doomstress. Everywhere she goes and in everything she does, she brings doom. She isn't a reference point for morality. Her wickedness doesn't serve to highlight the good in others. She is not a counterpoint to a hero. She is evil for her own sake and it suits her well. An unrepentant seductress, given to blasphemous orgies and the like, the mere presence of this woman can enfeeble the minds of mortal men. We do not typically enjoy a purely evil antagonist but Helen is the exception.
Hermione Granger – Magic ain’t no thang unless you have the brains to back it up. This precocious young witch would be a powerful force even without her magic. She has dedication, a brilliant academic aptitude, and an iron will. Though her know-it-all attitude is a cover up for some crippling fear of failure, she has a good heart and is dedicated to her friends and the high concept of the greater good. Any little one who has ever struggled to live up to the expectations of society can see a little bit of Hermione in themselves. And let’s face it, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley would have been dead a dozen times if not for Hermione.
Eva Ernst – In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, The Witches, Eva is The Grand High Witch of All the World. Lofty title, eh? Well, it fits. Eva Ernst is not only a witch, but she is the sole link that connects every witch in the world, rallying them to her cause. What cause is that, you might ask? Destroying every child in the world, starting with England. We like to imagine her passion for adolescent obliteration came about after a long transatlantic flight. Just a guess. Particularly delicious is the way she plans to do away with the brats. She won't kill them herself—oh no—but instead she plans to turn them all into mice and let their own parents slaughter them. You have to love a woman who is equal measures evil and inventive.
Haggis - A bubbling cauldron of backwoods brutality, she is the dark force at the heart of the 1988 horror classic Pumpkinhead. Haggis is a conduit for the vengeful desires of others. She can't kill anybody for you, but she knows a guy (a malformed, lumpy-headed demon) who can. She would urge you to remember, though, that vengeance comes with a terrible price. For a woman who looks like she's made of cobwebs, she has a tremendous amount of power.
Jennifer – Love is stronger than witchcraft, or so Jennifer says in the 1942 Golden Age of Hollywood classic, I Married a Witch. But has love ever given a landslide victory to a political figure? No? No. That was witchcraft, wasn’t it? Her naïveté aside, Jennifer is the kind of witch who will make you fall in love, go out of her way to protect you, and imprison her own father to help you break a curse. She’s the kind of witch you want to have your back.
Meg Mucklebones - Possibly the most terrifying witch ever created, Meg takes the visual archetype of a witch and adds a hulking, swampy layer to it. With an appetite for human flesh and a wicked case of narcissism, she is disgusting, weird, colorful (literally green), and complex. Do we still have nightmares about this soggy creep decades after first laying eyes on her in Ridley Scott’s 1985 film, Legend? Oh, indeed we do!
Minnie Castevet - We all have that one neighbor. She's sweet to your face but you know she's up to something behind your back. She's nosy and meddling and dialed up to ten in all the wrong ways, but you can't punch her in the head because she's an old lady and that sort of thing is frowned upon. As much as you hate her, your partner is all about cutting her some slack. Maybe they even like her. She's definitely the leader of a Satanic coven, hellbent on getting you pregnant with the devil's baby. As terrible as all that sounds, you have to give her props. In Ira Levin’s novel, Rosemary’s Baby, she almost single-handedly launched the horror boom in the 60s.
Karna - Some witches want to kill your kids. Some want to give your soul over to Satan. Some want to gain power over all of humanity. And then some just want to help a girl get a little action. Karna, from the 1922 cinema classic Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, is a proud member of the latter group. She might be a hideous, hunched over old crone, but she's got the sips and salves to give your guy the vapors. Coming from a film that seeks to warn of the evils of Satanic witchcraft, Karna seems out of place. A weirdo among the weirdos, and who can't relate with that?
Kiki – Sure she’s animated and sure she’s cute, but the star of Hayao Miyazaki’s triumphantly joyful 1989 classic Kiki’s Delivery Service has an incredible amount of depth. We are so used to seeing witches use their powers for good and evil, for scheming and mischief-making, for swaying events in their favor, and for any other number of superficial things. But that’s not Kiki. No, she uses her magic to make an honest living and help her transition from adolescence into adulthood. Drawing attention to the struggles of losing one’s self-worth, motivation, and direction when the depression of reality hits, Kiki is perhaps the most painfully realistic and hopeful witch on this list.
Many thanks to Rachel Autumn Deering & Christopher Golden for this article. The anthology Hex Life is published today by Titan Books...
Images - IMDb, Amazon, Wikimedia