A History Of Witches In 6 Books & 2 TV Shows

by Esme Addison

I’m pretty sure my mother wonders why I write about witchy things.

My interest in magical women goes way back. Like the country singer, Sam Hunt croons, like “Cadillac seats”.

The first time I can recall reading about something witchy was the E.L Konigsburg book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.

It was an award-winning story about a little girl who moves to a new community in the late 1960s and befriends a girl who pretends to be a witch. As an avid childhood reader who read hundreds, maybe thousands of books before I left for college, there are very few that truly stand out – that I can remember reading and that had an impact on me as a reader and certainly a writer. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was one of them.

The second witchy story I can remember is The Witch of Blackbird Pond, about a young woman in the late 1600s from Barbados who moved to a Puritan community in Connecticut and is branded a witch because she can swim and does other things unbecoming of a young woman during that time.

The third book – and now I’m seeing a theme – was The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I don’t recall but there must’ve been a very eager elementary school librarian fostering my reading list of Newberry Award winners. Or perhaps I read these in my then-called gifted and talented language arts class. I’m sad to say I can’t recall, though all of my language arts teachers were certainly impactful on my young life as a reader. I can only recall supportive teachers during that period.

But the classic The Scarlet Letter, another story set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony during the seventeenth century, the novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter with a man to whom she is not married and then struggles to redeem herself.

I remember reading The Scarlett Letter and wondering about Tituba, who I thought must be a woman of color and what was her story? And was she truly magical as well? That wondering, those questions tie into my character Celeste, a young woman who is half-mermaid, half-witch with Caribbean – Haitian heritage. Through her, I bring in the legend of Mami Wata, who will play a central role in the third book in my Enchanted Bay Mystery series and beyond.

All of these women had one thing in common. They were women who “behaved badly” in a religious, patriarchal society and were considered witches.

That theme runs in my Enchanted Bay Mystery story. Light as it is, it’s there. The Sobieski women are seen as different, eccentric and branded witches simply because they – and their ancestors historically worked with herbs, healed and helped people.

By all accounts maybe they are witches – water witches since their inherent gifts are augmented by water. They have command of the water. When they arrived in Bellamy Bay, North Carolina in the 1700’s they had to deal with witchy issues. In contemporary times where the story is set, being different doesn’t have quite the stigma it did decades earlier. So the women in my book are allowed to just be, but the history is there.

After that, I can remember watching reruns of retro shows like Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie. Again, I didn’t remember much from those shows. Just that there was a housewife named Samantha who twitched her nose to practice magic. And there was a fun female djinn haranguing a man in a military uniform. Only recently have I rediscovered both shows. I’m currently bingeing my way through Bewitched and finding it to be absolutely delightful with clever writing. I recently wrote an article for Due South Magazine listing some of my favorite magical tv shows.

Samantha’s fiesty independent housewife is a surprise for the time as she delicately balances her all-powerful witchiness with being an adoring housewife. I like writing about everyday people who happen to have magical powers. Or are trying to live normal lives within a non-magical community. This is what my series is about. As a teenager, I watched the television show, Charmed. The family dynamic of three women managing familial relationships while practicing magic, protecting themselves and others really stuck with me.

There are three young women in my series as well. Two sisters and a cousin. And they’re constantly fighting magical battles together as a family.

Of course, I can’t forget The Wizard of Oz. Glinda the Good Witch was major for me. The movie, not the book. I never read the book. But the character of Glinda influenced me to think that magic can be good and that witches can be good. When I write about magical women, they are good women who have abilities. But just as in The Wizard of Oz who showed us The Wicked Witch Of The West, my books have villains too. Bad women (and maybe a warlock or two) with powers who do bad things. ..

Many years passed since I saw The Wizard of Oz as a child and read those books. And then I discovered the elegant beauty of magical realism. I think Alice Hoffman’s The Dove Keepers was the first. It was a beautiful, tragic story about four women, dove keepers living through the siege at Masada. The siege happened in 70 C.E. when nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. 

And the second, Isabel Allende’s Island Under The Sea, is about a biracial woman living her life with the impending French Revolution, the immediate chaos of the Haitian Revolution, to a New Orleans bubbling with cultural change. It’s been decades since I read this book, and in truth, I no longer recall the plot. But I do have a character in my Enchanted Bay Mystery series, Celeste who has Polish and Haitian heritage that originated when Polish soldiers were sent to Haiti by Napolean to help quell a rebellion.

Lynne Cahoon and I Discuss Magical Women In Literature

And lastly, I discovered Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, which introduced me to the world of magical realism with southern settings. I think this book, her work generally was the most relatable to me as her characters lived in the mountains of North Carolina. And were southern. And prioritized family. And small town life. And cooking. And healing.

My Enchanted Bay Mystery series has all of those elements as well.

As a woman, I believe in our ability to manifest our own reality. I believe in magical thinking. I grew up with stories about grandmothers who could see ghosts. Grandfathers who went into the woods to find roots and herbs when there was illness in the family. Of grandfathers who could talk the fire out of burns. So, it’s probably not that strange that I write about magical women. Or the efficacy of healing herbs. My Enchanted Bay Mystery series is set in an apothecary after all.

And so, I enjoy writing stories about women who are seen as other. Who have abilities. Who may be normal. Or not. It’s fun. It’s a challenge, and as you can tell… it’s been an interest of mine for a long time. I have a history of witches in my life.

And I think it shows in my writing.

I recently had a chat with cozy mystery author of the Kitchen Witch series, Lynn Cahoon about women, witches and cozy mysteries. We’re both interested in the history of women who practice magic and had a really in-depth conversation on the topic. Take a look – and let me know what you think in comments.

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