Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell
A witch is a woman who has too much power. Or, to quote the novelist Madeline Miller, a woman with “more power than men have felt comfortable with”. History teaches us that witches are dangerous and must be brought down, punished and silenced. Their wisdom and their force must be neutralised through interrogation, torture and execution. Yet these attitudes aren’t merely historical; women continue to be persecuted for witchcraft in the world today. There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.
Since Trump’s election, which inspired mass spell-casting by thousands of “resistance witches” (the selection of judge Brett Kavanaugh for the supreme court also led to a mass “hex-in”), there has been a slew of novels, poetry collections and anthologies with witchcraft as their theme. Things haven’t felt so witchy since the 1990s, when there was a glut of TV programmes such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and books and films on the subject. It makes sense: the women of my generation were girls then, and now we have come of age, and are shaping our own narratives, joining other female writers in grappling with perennial questions of power and agency.
Read more: theguardian.com