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Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Good Witch: Redefining Witches on TV and Defining the Witch I Want To Be

"The first step in a new direction doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a step."
- Cassie Nightingale, 'The Good Witch'



As you might imagine if you've read my blog for any length of time, I'm not generally a Hallmark Channel sort of person. More like SyFy Channel or Chiller. There is one big exception to that however in the form of The Good Witch. For those unfamiliar, The Good Witch started as a 2008 made-for-tv movie, followed by a sequel, then additional movies each consecutive year through 2014, and starting in 2015 a television series that is  now going into its third season. If you like it it's a rather addictive thing to watch. I've been known to marathon the movies with my children. They won't be to everyone's taste, they are after all Hallmark Channel fair, saccharine sweet at times and melodramatic. But they are also I think a type of modern myth, subtly interwoven with magic in ways that don't so much ask us to suspend our disbelief as get us to forget we ever didn't believe that this kind of every day magic was possible. They also offer us a new vision of television witches that retains the mystery and functional magic but loses the supernatural.

The movies are based around the life of Cassie Nightingale, a woman with some serious magic although she's never explicitly identified as either a pagan or a witch (despite the title of the movies). It's an endless open ended question whether Cassie really is a witch, but its heavily implied that she is: she owns a store named Bell, Book, and Candle* that sells exactly the sorts of things any self-respecting witchy store would sell, from crystals to tinctures made by Cassie, from sage to occult(ish) jewelry; when people come to her for magical spells she never disappoints although she never exactly responds as you'd expect either; and of course she owns a supposedly haunted house and talks to animals and plants. She also has an uncanny knowledge of things, an ability to mysteriously appear, and owns a black cat named Isis. So its not hard to picture her as a witch, whether she calls herself that or not (and the title of the movies and show doesn't hurt either). But the most enchanting thing about Cassie is that she not only believes in the goodness of people but she has a way of bringing it out in them if it can be brought out. When there's a bad guy that needs to be dealt with Cassie's brand of subtle magic is still effective and more she has a way of letting events play out so that the antagonist orchestrates their own downfall. But that's rarely the outcome and that's one of the reasons I really like this show - because it demonstrates to us that the 'bad guys' are just people too, maybe people making bad choices, or people with difficult situations of their own, but usually in the end we see them as human beings who had reasons for what they were doing. And Cassie somehow finds ways to help them too if she can.

The television series is a bit different. It divides its focus between Cassie and her teenage daughter Grace, and to a lesser degree Cassie's cousin Abigail. They provide three views on magic, using it, having it, living with it. Cassie is much like she is in the movies of course, although we see her doing less of her actual magic, subtle as it was, and more of her intuitive knowing and helping people with that. Grace shares her mother's intuitive gift but struggles with it and the desire to be normal and fit in at school. And Abigail is the magical loose cannon who has power and uses it to her own advantage, rather than for others. Seeing all three is a great way to see, in action, the way that the different approaches play out in their lives without the show being overly or overtly preachy about it. They aren't perfect, they make mistakes, but the things they deal with are the same things we all deal with and their magic seems both plausible and natural.

In a way Cassie, Grace, and Abigail show how far we as witches have come on television. These witches aren't caricatures or supernatural beings, not witches in the school of Bewitched or Charmed, or even of the classic Bell, Book ,and Candle, with the idea of separation from humans and impossible magic, doomed in a way to always suffer for their power and to never really have a place in our world unless they give some part of that power up. Here we see witches as normal members of society, a business owner, an employee, a high school student, dealing with the same life problems everyone else has, from being bullied to needing to find a plumber. But the magic remains. The enchantment is still there. Not as a twitch of the nose or flick of the hand but as a focusing of the mind and setting of intentions. And I love that.

I really like Cassie's character in particular and I always have. If you asked me what it was that hooked me from the first movie and kept me hooked through the following 6 movies, tv special, and two seasons of the show, I would unequivocally answer that it was Cassie Nightingale. I think in a way Cassie is an expression of the ideal witch to me; she isn't afraid to use magic, often and powerfully, but she uses it wisely; she helps others; she is humble; she is kind and strong; and she sees the value in all the life around her, plants, animals, people, places. She brings out the best in everyone around her. She generally doesn't interfere in things that need to be left alone to play out on their own, but she always knows just when and where to step in. And somehow no matter what's going on she always sees the bigger pattern, like the World card in the tarot, and she always finds some silver lining to any situation she's dealing with. She's positive without being unrealistic, nurturing without being smothering, wise without being arrogant, enchanting without being fantastical. Cassie is a television witch for a modern age, but she is also the ideal of what we all could be.

I have no delusion that I am like Cassie. I think in practice I'm probably more like her cousin Abigail, and I'm honest enough to admit it. My witchcraft is fairy-ridden, gritty, muddy, moon-dark, smokey, and thorn-sharp; I'm probably more than a bit of those things myself on a good day. But I want to be more like Cassie, I really do. I deeply admire everything about her that I discussed before, from her boundless optimism and ability to see the good in any situation to her quiet wisdom and gentle way of transforming people into their best selves. And so I strive to be more Cassie-like, whether I succeed or fail at it. I hold her up as my ideal witch role model. And the beauty of The Good Witch and of Cassie herself is that she makes it feel possible to make that kind of magic and to be that kind of person. She makes it seem possible for us all to be like her in small ways and little steps.

I've always been a sucker for witchy themed movies and shows. I loved Practical Magic and The Craft. I have the entire series of Charmed on DVD. They are fiction, of course, and silly and sometimes wildly unrealistic, but I still love them. The Good Witch is different. Its different because its made to be something that could be real, rather than something where the supernatural is raising-the-dead, fighting demons fantasy. Cassie's magic always feels possible. Cassie's way with people feels natural. This is a story that seems like it could happen instead of something that belongs in the pages of a novel. I love it for that. And I love Cassie for inspiring me to want to be more like her, even if I'll always have a little Abigail and shenanigans going on.

Original pencil sketch M Daimler
*Bell, Book, and Candle is the name of a 1958 movie staring Kim Novak about witches in New York. One of the main plot points is that if a witch loves a mortal she loses her power forever.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly how I view the series! Anytime I'm having a rough day or have been going through a dry spell with my witchcraft/paganism, I watch one of the movies and they inspire me to be a better witch.

    I was directed to this post from searching "Good Witch" on Facebook of all places, and looking around on your blog, I realized you are also Irish recon and are actually the author of my favorite book on The Morrigan! I couldn't help but grin/get goosebumps as I read it because your descriptions of Her mirrored my own experience so well. So thank you for what you do and keep up the wonderful writing!

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