Books about witches are great every day of the year. I will happily read about witches on Christmas Day, Memorial Day, and every day in between. But around Halloween, I, and everyone else in the universe, really start craving a good witch—by which I mean a bad witch.
Not every witch is a bad witch. Being able to cast spells isn’t enough—a bad witch doesn’t play by society’s rules. She may or may not be evil, but she definitely isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty if she has to. Sometimes she plays the femme fatale, and sometimes she’s just straight-up crazy. Whatever form she takes, you definitely don’t want to end up on her bad side (either of them). Let’s take a minute to recognize some of the best bad witches in literature.
The Three Witches (Macbeth by William Shakespeare)
There’s always been debate about the role of the witches in Macbeth. Are they to blame for the damage he causes after hearing their prophesies, or are they neutral bystanders who simply tell Macbeth his future? Even if you don’t blame his bloody killing spree on them, you still can’t call them innocent. They don’t just thrive on chaos, they seem to create it for fun, and confess at one point to messing with a woman’s husband just because she wouldn’t share a snack with them. Only a true bad witch would do that.
Jadis the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis)
I like a woman in charge, even if that woman has to turn all of Narnia into a frozen tundra to get her way. Jadis is a witch who gets what she wants, regardless of who she has to hurt. Not content to play second fiddle to her sister in Charn, she utters the Deplorable Word and kills everyone in the land. She doesn’t exactly clean up her act in Narnia, either. Besides terrifying its inhabitants and manipulating the Pevensie children, she also kills Aslan. Not everyone can kill a godlike Lion, even if he does get revived pretty quick.
Bellatrix (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
Bellatrix is, to me, the epitome of a bad witch. After all, she’s Voldemort’s most trusted minion. And if Voldemort, the darkest wizard of all time, trusts you to do his worst dirty work, that’s saying something. She’s absolutely insane, has no qualms about killing anyone who stands in her way, and managed to survive years in a fearsome magical prison. You don’t have to like her, but you sure as hell have to recognize what a badass she is.
Elphaba (Wicked by Gregory Maguire)
Sure, the movie version’s Wicked Witch of the West was cool, but she doesn’t hold a candle to Wicked’s version. While not technically a villain, Elphaba was still feared throughout Oz, and for good reason. A powerful sorceress and a rebel fighting against the tyranny of the Wizard, Elphaba had no problem with upsetting authority, and was willing to kill if she needed to. (I’m beginning to see a pattern: “bad witch”= “pretty casual about killing people.”)
Morgan Le Faye (The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley)
There are a ton of different stories about Morgan Le Faye, and she’s pretty much a boss witch in all of them. Most of the time she’s portrayed as an evil sorceress who does her best to cause trouble for Arthur, but in The Mists of Avalon, she’s way more badass. She has to protect her land and femalecentric religion from King Arthur’s patriarchal Christianity, and she’s more than up to the challenge. A woman who casts spells, defends her country, and takes whatever lover she damn well pleases? Get it, girl.
Circe (The Odyssey by Homer)
The original bad witch. She seduces men and turns them into pigs for…fun? It’s never entirely clear why Circe likes to turn men into swine, so I’m going to assume she just does it because she can. Which isn’t a bad reason, especially if you just want to show off how incredibly powerful you are. Sure, she gets bested by Odysseus, but let’s cut the girl some slack; he basically won the Trojan War. Men beware, no one is immune to her charms.
Witches (His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman)
Again, definitely not villains, but they aren’t exactly using their magic to make cupcakes. These warrior women are a force to be reckoned with if you’re a member of the General Oblation Board. Of course, they’re an even bigger threat if you’re a lover who has scorned them. Poor John Parry found out the hard way that turning down a witch is a bad idea, at least if you don’t want an arrow through your heart. Still, as long as you don’t piss them off, these witches are a hell of an ally in battle.
Who is your favorite fictional witch?