– by Mark MacDonald, Writer –
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The word “witch” is derived from the Old English noun wicce, meaning “sorceress,” though the concept of witchcraft is as old as recorded history. Throughout the ages, witches can be found in myth, legend, literature, television, film, and folklore. Here’s a list of the best.
10. The Wicked Witch of the West
Frank Baum’s children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, first introduced the character of The Wicked Witch of the West, later popularized in the 1939 film. In the books, she is the aquaphobic, malevolent ruler of the Winkie Country, obsessed with obtaining the Silver Shoes to increase her power. Originally, she is said to have one telescopic eye with which she could observe her kingdom from the windows of her castle. She commands a pack of 40 great wolves, a swarm of bees, a group of Winkie slaves, a flock of 40 crows and a bunch of Winged Monkeys, but in the end is melted when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her.
9. St. Alia of the Knife
Born a full Revered Mother and exposed to the Water of Life while in the womb, Dune’s Alia Atreides is a powerful figure with little to no remorse. Alia poisons her grandfather, projects thoughts into the mind of the Imperial Truthsayer, becomes a ruthless tyrant, and earns the name “St. Alia of the Knife” by wandering the battlefield of Arrakeen killing fallen soldiers with a crysknife. After succumbing to Abomination, in which she is possessed by several other personalities, Alia leaps out a window to her own death, only to return as a voice haunting the mind of a restored Baron Harkonnen.
8. Jenny Greenteeth
Also known as Jinny Greenteeth, Wicked Jenny, or Peg O’Nell, Jenny Greenteeth is a river hag who, according to English folklore, drowns children or the elderly by pulling them into the water. Described as having green skin and razor sharp teeth, in some legends she is said to devour her victims after lurking in the trees to stalk them. Many consider the legend of Jenny Greenteeth to be a means of social control, keeping children away from dangerous ponds, rivers, and canals, similar to the River Mumma in Jamaican folklore or the Kappa in Japanese mythology.
7. Morgan le Fay
Morgan le Fay, aka Morgana, is a powerful sorceress featured in the Arthurian legend. The earliest account of her dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, composed in 1150 AD. She is described as being the chief of nine magical sisters who dwell on the blessed island of Avalon and are capable of flying and shape-shifting. She appears briefly in literature over the next hundred years, chiefly as a healer, until the 13th-century Old French romances of the Vulgate Cycle and the Post-Vulgate Cycle, where her character becomes more sinister and, in many texts, is presented as an anti-heroine and the arch-enemy of King Arthur. In these texts, Morgan studies the ways of magic under Merlin and plots vengeance against Arthur and Guinevere while attempting to seduce Lancelot. Morgan is said to have learned more spells than any other woman, becoming so powerful many began to call her Morgan the Goddess.
6. The Blair Witch
The Blair Witch, featured in the massively successful 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, is the spirit of Elly Kedward, a witch hanged in the 18th century who has been terrorizing the people near Burkittsville, Maryland for centuries and haunting the nearby woods. In the 19th century, she ritualistically murders five men, in the 1940s she forces a hermit to kidnap and murder seven children and in October 1994, she follows suit by dispatching three student filmmakers in disturbing fashion. Promotion of the “milestone” film included fake police reports, flyers seeking information about the “missing students,” and “testimonies” posted on the website to make many believe the footage was real. Thankfully, it’s not!
First appearing in the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is characterized as the “Mistress of All Evil” and certainly lives up to the title. Upset she didn’t receive an invitation to the christening of Princess Aurora, Maleficent places a curse on the child so that, on her 16th birthday, the princess will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. She possesses the power to blast lightning, can shapeshift, commands numerous monsters, can summon a forest of thorns, and can even transform into a massive dragon. In the live-action 2014 film, the character is re-envisioned as a tragic fairy with good intentions who develops a maternal affection for Aurora, undoes her own curse, and unites the kingdoms of the Moors and humans.
4. Willow Rosenberg
A major character in the hit fantasy television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow Rosenberg plays an integral role in helping the “Scooby Gang” defeat demons, vampires and various other evil forces while navigating high school and college in the fictional town of Sunnydale. Possessing inherent magical abilities, Willow begins studying magic in grade 11 and soon is able to perform a complex spell that restores the soul of Angel, a vampire from the 18th century. Her powers grow over the years, as does her confidence, and she alone manages to damage the goddess Glory and raise Buffy from the dead. Willow later learns telepathy, becomes exceedingly strong, survives an axe attack, magically flays someone and attempts to destroy the world. Eventually she learns to resist her dark urges and control her power, and helps Buffy and the Potential Slayers defeat the First Evil by casting a spell that infuses every Potential Slayer in the world with Buffy’s power.
3. Hermione Granger
Hermione Granger first appeared in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and was a major character in all seven novels, the best-selling book series of all time. A Muggle-born Gryffindor student, Hermione is a dedicated student who consistently uses her research to defeat snares, deduce secrets and solve mysteries. Hermoine is a “borderline genius” and exceptional duelist who received ten O.W.L.s, and was consistently the first in her class to master newly introduced charms and spells. She also saves Sirius and Buckbeack, founds the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, helps Harry prepare for the Triwizard Tournament, stops a fraudulent tabloid reporter, becomes a Gryffindor prefect, successfully passes her Apparition test, and eliminates a Horcrux.
Jadis, aka “The White Witch,” is first introduced in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, part of the series The Chronicles of Narnia, and also appears in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Millions of years old, Jadis was originally the Queen of Charn, a world separate from Earth and Narnia. A powerful sorceress, she destroyed all life on Charn by speaking the Deplorable Word before casting a spell on herself that put her in an enchanted sleep for millions of years. Accidentally rescued by Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer and transported to Edwardian London, she is unable to conquer Earth (her magic doesn’t work) and ends up in Narnia at the time of its creation. There, she eats a magic apple that makes her immortal and spends 1,000 years conquering Narnia before casting the world into an “endless” winter for a century. Eventually defeated in the First Battle of Beruna, Jadis’ accolades set her in a league of her own – what with being millions of years old, casting a century-long endless winter upon Narnia and destroying an entire world.
As far as witches go, it’s hard to best the goddess of witchcraft. Hecate was worshipped thousands of years ago in ancient times as the guardian of the gateways between worlds, wise in the mysteries of the world and having share of the earth and sea. In Greek mythology, she was the only Titan to aid Zeus in his battle against them, possessed great power, and was associated with death, sorcery and ghosts. In some traditions, she is also the mother of the monster Scylla. Hecate appears throughout literature over thousands of years from the Chaldean Oracles to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is the patron goddess of many Wiccans and has been worshipped by a number of cults, including the Blackburn Cult of the 1920s. Bottom line: if you’re a witch, you’re likely worshipping Hecate – the worlds first and foremost witch.