When most people think of a witch, they imagine wicked old witches who eat children and put curses on people. A witch is the shadow across a moon, the evil in a stranger, and the threat of what happens to women if they become too full of their own power.
In recent years, witches have started changing into something else. The image of mindless evil from Wizard of Oz has been transformed into a heartbreaking love story in Wicked. The word "witch" in stories no longer even indicates an old woman, with powerful and kind witches populating the world of Harry Potter (now in our public consciousness for 20 years!). So while some people might still think of a witch as this:
Many of us now also imagine this:
(Aw, look at how studious and powerful she is even at the formidable age of 12!)
What is a witch? And why should we want to be one? (Not in the Wicca sort of way, though it's perfectly alright if you want to do that too.) From story to story, the Witch is the outsider, the stranger, but also the most powerful actor in the tale. She is able to twist the world to her liking and control her enemies out of sheer fear or power. Besides often doing terrible things, when you look at it, the Witch has more strength and agency than any other character in her story. Modern versions of the Witch have taken away the evil and left the strong, powerful parts, which I believe is all the witch should have ever been to begin with.
One of my favorite lines from "Into the Woods" is when a fabulous Witch (Meryl Streep) tells the townspeople to blame her for all their problems because she's "The Witch! You're the world!":
By this, I think the Witch means that she is the one who will do what needs to be done to save most everyone, even though she will be hated for it. She is the outsider, the one who is feared for her power, but she is also the one being the most logical. This strength of self and logic is what has always attracted me to witches, good or bad. Of course, being good is always better in real life, but who isn't fascinated by the evil witches in stories? They certainly get the plot moving along at a good clip.
In Terry Pratchett's beautiful Tiffany Aching series, the witches are an inspired combination of the old vision of the evil hag and the new image of a powerfully clever young woman. Tiffany Aching leads readers through a world where witches are not always loved, but nonetheless do the things that need doing to help the world. Pratchett's witches hearken back to the healers, wise-women, and unmarried/widowed old women who probably inspired the original vision of witches in the first place. Tiffany and her gang of powerful women are the ultimate Strong Female Characters, and you get the feeling they would give you a stern talking to if you tried to label them anything apart from "The Witch," which means everything that they are.
By striving to be a little witchier in our lives, I think we could benefit by becoming better people at the same time. So even though we don't live in a secondary world of magic and fairies and professional witches, there are several things you can do to emulate the fantastic character of The Witch:
1. Stand Up for Yourself. - The Witch does not suffer fools nor insult. She might throw a fireball at the offender, or maybe just a well-placed look. You can be more like a witch by knowing your worth and not letting someone else make you feel lesser to satisfy their own ego. This quality usually extends to others as well, since a Witch will suffer no insult to anyone around her either.
2. Find Your People. - The Witch may seem like a loner, but that's only because she gets along better with people who are like herself, usually other witches. She doesn't pretend to like people she doesn't to make friends, but rather finds the friends who are worth having. By knowing yourself and engaging with people who respect and bring out the best in you, you'll be on your way towards surrounding yourself with other "witches"!
4. Go Outside. - The Witch is usually connected with nature, with the unforgiving cruelty and life-giving aspects of it. She can usually be found outside, getting dirty, and connecting with plants. So go outside and bathe in the trees. This part of witchiness is good for your health!
5. Defend Others. - The Witch sees the unseen people. She helps those who need it and admonish those who hurt others. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes and protect those around her. As Granny Aching says in Terry Pratchett's novels: "Speak for them as has no voices."
6. Be Yourself. - The Witch doesn't care if she's the villain of somebody else's messed-up story. She knows who she is and she follows her intellect no matter what anybody else says. Not everyone is going to like you all the time, but by being confident in who you are, you're sure to like yourself.
7. Believe in Your Own Power. - The Witch does not wait around for someone else to save her. She is either the one doing the saving or the antagonizing. You won't catch her gazing longing out the window or doubting whether her spells are really going to work. Trust in yourself and believe that you have power.
The Witch is one of the most iconic characters in fairy tales and fantasy stories because she jumps off the page and captures your attention. If we were all a little bit more like her, the world would be full of a lot more confident, good, healthy people.
Is there an archetype you have always admired and would like to be more like? Share in the comments below!