For as long as there have been creative arts, witches and witchcraft have served as inspiration for those various arts and continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate. Witches have always served as creative muse, one way or another, although how witches and their craft have been interpreted and depicted depends upon era, culture, and often the individual artist’s inclinations.
Should one attempt to delete the presence of witches and witchcraft from the various creative arts, as some have periodically wished to do, there would be tremendous gaps: no Macbeth, no Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia. The number of films that would disappear from history is almost unimaginable, as would be the number of popular songs in virtually every genre—from Frank Sinatra singing “Witchcraft” to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” to that country music classic, “Under Your Spell Again.”
The powerful presence of witches in the creative arts is highly appropriate as most of what are now considered “creative” arts were once also considered magical, shamanic, and spiritual arts:
• Dance and music are historically powerfully rooted in shamanism and are traditionally used to cast spells, summon and banish spirits and generate magic energy, as well as to generate entertainment and fun.
• Although we don’t necessarily understand them, based upon surviving imagery and location (deep within often difficult-to-access caves), the earliest known visual arts—cave paintings—were created for ritual and/or magical purposes.
• Western theatrical performance derives from the sacred rites of Dionysus; theatrical traditions from other parts of Earth derive from similar spiritual and magical roots.
Witchcraft has inspired modern artists just as powerfully as ancient ones. Many of the earliest films were devoted to occult themes, especially witchcraft and witches. Most of the first comic-book heroes and heroines were inspired by tales of magic and sorcery. Various depictions of witchcraft flew off the presses virtually as soon as the printing press was invented—not only witch-hunters’ manuals and handbooks of magic but also fictional depictions of witches. The book that is considered the first true Western novel (La Celestina) is named for the witch who is its central character.
Witches have inspired art but those works of art, many of which are powerful, profound, and influential, have also intensely shaped and influenced how people have perceived and understood witches, whether favorably or not. The following section of The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft explores some of these witches and the manner in which they have been depicted.
Witches have inspired literally countless works of art. Thousands of pages could be devoted to these witches alone; what follows is by necessity only a random sampling of some of the more significant witches who have entertained, informed, amused, thrilled, chilled, and served as role models, inspiration, and objects of fear over the ages. My apologies if I have omitted any of your favorites. Because these are creative arts, often meant to do nothing more than entertain, many of these witches by definition are not realistic but are figures of fantasy, or at least partially so. Characters identified as witches or similar magical practitioners are included, regardless of which definition of witchcraft they may fall under; in addition, creative works that feature witchcraft and what are often understood by at least some as its practices are also included.