31 Days of Witch Movies: #20 Harry Potter and the 8 Movies

This film review showcase wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t mention Harry Potter. The books and movies are a megalithic entertainment commodity that is now entrenched in our American culture. Harry Potter is like Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown, and the Beave!

Harry_Potter_wordmark.svg

But how do I review Harry Potter?  Which movie do I review? What more is there to say that hasn’t been said, considered or debated? Maybe the best approach is to toss out the movie review idea completely and talk my visit to ”Harry Potter land” (a.k.a. Universal Studios)?

Two words:  Butter Beer!

In all seriousness, the Harry Potter series of films is an example of very well-constructed and balanced story telling. Filmmakers saddled themselves with the daunting job of converting a series of successful novels into a series of successful movies. That is not easy. The two art forms work entirely differently and very often a movie adaptations of books fall flat. (Dune 1984Mists of Avalon 2001.)  There time and space limits of cinema do not exist in the literature.

Die-hard Harry Potter book fans may have been disappointed at times.  But this is the nature of adaptation.  Elements must be omitted to make a movie work.  And the Harry Potter movies worked. .

Harry Potter Land
Harry Potter Land

 

How did the Potter filmmakers accomplish this task? The films are story-driven – not special effects, not music, not character and not philosophy. These are stories and every other filmic element is a slave to telling that story within the confines of the film medium.  When asked about the darkness of the last films, David Heyman says “We did what’s right by the story.”  This can be applied to all of the film choices made. This is why Harry Potter works.

What I find interesting is the religious-based reaction to the books and films. Since the books grew in popularity, the Christian right has contended Rowling’s stories are evil and promote Satan. In some cases, the stories are linked to the growth in Wicca and an interest in Witchcraft.  In my world view, these are two separate concerns that need addressing.

The first argument is purely based on Rowling’s use of witchcraft and the surrounding age-old tired mythology. Nothing more. If someone feels that Rowling’s books and movies promote evil, then my response would simply be: “Don’t read them. Don’t watch them.”

Of course, I disagree.

The second argument is more complicated. Here is where Wiccan practitioners and other Pagans need to be careful. While it is fun to pretend that the World of Harry Potter is synonymous with the real Wiccan world, it isn’t. Rowling’s Wizarding World is fantasy. Yes, it is wonderful to see positive and non-stereotypical constructions of witches (Hermione and Professor MacGonagall, in particular) and to imagine a world centered around magical practice.  However, distinctions need to be made and maintained between a Wiccan reality and the Harry Potter fantasy.

As many Christian groups claim, people may in fact seek out Wiccans in order to “become a witch” assuming there is a sorting hat on every coven shelf.  Is that a problem?  Yes and no. Increased interest brings increase awareness. That is good. However what happens when the sorting hat isn’t found?  Disillusionment? The creation of covens that mirror Harry Potter and are devoid of spirituality?  Is that a problem?

As Wiccan practitioners, we can also fall into a trap of feeding this confusion by publicly using Potter language in jest which can open us up to mockery.  I have heard comments like, “She thinks she’s a “real” witch” followed by patronizing giggles. The implied tone is that the said woman is “one witch short of a full coven” so to speak.

Confession: We have four Harry Potter wands in our house – all purchased at Harry Potter land. While visiting I periodically found myself speaking in an awful British accent.  “Remember the wand chooses the witch.”

What I present here is a tiny example of a greater sociological issue that concerns the “cross-contamination” of reality and fantasy.  When is it harmful?  When is it beneficial?  I’ll leave you with those questions to consider as you enjoy your coffee and crumpets.

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Courtesy of Flickr’s Colin ZHU

Overall, the Harry Potter movies are undoubtedly an amazing accomplishment in the entertainment industry. All eight are entertaining on many levels.  In addition, the films offer a new presentation of witchcraft and witches – one that contains depth and moral ambiguity. That is very refreshing.

One last trip back to Harry Potter Land: The Hogwarts ride is hands-down the best ride that I’ve ever been on.  It was is worth the 1.5 hour wait.  Here’s one warning. You will wait for over 2 hours if you don’t get to the park as it opens and race at top-speed from the front entrance directly to the ride. You may have to push over a few people and hurdle baby carriages to accomplish this task. 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

 

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #13 Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost

In 1999, Warner Brothers released a direct-to-video movie called Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. Spooky Halloween motifs are not new to this television franchise that was born in 1969 and has been running successfully ever since.  These shows are the perfect blend of mystery, comedy, fright and campy fun!  It doesn’t matter that the show ends the same way every time.

“And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”

What is special about this 1999 movie?

Zoinks, Scooby, Wiccans!

 

Scooby and his pals head to Massachusetts straight into a Ghost mystery. The town is being haunted by the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft, a woman killed as a Witch during the Salem witch trial days. Her ghost was supposedly unleashed when the town built its new colonial tourist village. Accompanied by Sarah’s descendant, Ben Ravencoft (Tim Curry), the crew proceeds with the investigation.

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[SPOILER ALERT]

As it turns out, the town’s people concocted the ghost-witch in order to attract tourists to their small town. However the plot thickens after the unmasking when the real Sarah Ravencroft’s spell book is unearthed. As it turns out, she wasn’t a healer, she was a witch and Ben Ravencroft plans to unleash her evil. As he calls up the powers He-Man style, Ben explains his plan to rule the planet along with Sarah.  But that doesn’t quite work out. The real ghost-witch is determined to destroy the world.  Only a …. now get this… WICCAN can trap her back in the book.  As she says, “only someone with a virtuous soul” can work the spell.

This seemingly inconsequential Scooby Dooby Doo movie out of the goofy animated canon of Warner Brothers Saturday morning cartoons has more to say culturally than quite anything else of its era. In this 62 minute show, Wiccans and Witches are juxtaposed in a variety of ways.  First they are both born with inherent power that is genetically derived. There is a blood line that gives you power. Velma also notes that “Witch comes from the word Wiccan.  However, Wiccans and Witches very different in terms of their ethical behavior and purpose. Wiccans are healers who are “in tune with Earth’s powers”  Velma explains, “Wiccans have been misunderstood for centuries.”  Witches are evil.

The movie has one Wiccan and two Witches. The Wiccan is the lead singer of the Eco-Goth band, Hex Girls. Her name is Thorn (a.k.a. Sally McKnight) who is 1/16th Blood Wiccan.  Then there is Sarah the evil Witch that flies through the air and Ben who calls himself a Warlock.  Why do witches always throw fireballs out of their hands?

Back to the Hex Girls who made several other appearances in Scooby Doo shows after their first appearance in this movie.  The group sings a song called “Earth, Wind, Fire, Air.” If it didn’t have the mistake of listing the element of air twice, it could be a Scooby Doo-themed Wiccan song. “To love the Earth is our only desire,” sings Thorn.  I’m not sure if that makes me cringe, giggle or jump for joy!

Made in Japan, this Scooby Doo movie looks a bit like anime at times. Outside of its groundbreaking attempt to shed a positive light on Wicca, the movie is just an extended Scooby Doo show. It doesn’t break any molds technically.  It also isn’t an accurate portrayal of Wiccans or Witches in that it isn’t really about anything spiritual. If nothing else, the movie aligns the word Wicca with something positive. That is a step forward.

Got an hour to kill.  Why not watch it?! It’s a great addition for a kids Halloween list and it is really neat to see the meddling kids say “Wicca…”  My only regret is that Scooby himself never says the word:  ”Ricca”   Now that would have resulted in years of giggling.

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas

Cultural Labels: Imperfect But Important

Once upon a time, I was told that I was not a real Jew. I had never been so angry or offended. My friend wasn’t trying to be hurtful.  In his mind, he was making a simple observation. I didn’t attend temple therefore I was not a real Jew. Unfortunately, his painful declaration felt like a demon reaching inside to steal a part of me, something that I had proudly weaved into my identity. Instantly, I was being denied access to my Jewish friends, my family, my heritage and a part of myself.

Jewish Star

However, I have learned a lot since that moment. I’ve learned that labels are imperfect, dangerous and tricky; but they also are quite necessary.

At the time that I was denied my Jewish identity, there were plenty of other Jews that would have claimed me. To paraphrase my aunt, if Hitler came today, I’d be sent to the camps. Isn’t that a nice thought? Yet, twenty years later, it rings true. After dedicating myself to Pagan path, I am still considered a Jew by many.

Does it matter? Not really. I am not a label or a title. None of us are. Socially-derived labels are imperfect.

(Note: I’m not discussing biologically-derived labels that refer to fixed physical states or conditions; although, cultural bias does lay its dirty hands on these as well. But that’s a different story.)

I have never fit completely and comfortably into any label – social, political, religious etc. In fact, when I traveled through Europe, I was always misidentified as being Canadian or British. I can’t even be a model American.

Most people don’t fit neatly into any one label. Our existence is like a Venn diagram in which our true self rests somewhere in the confluence of multiple generalities.

Venn Diagram

But, unfortunately, labels are necessary. In order to function, we, as humans, need to order our chaotic and complex reality. Culturally-derived labels are information packets, derived from social constructs, that enable humans to understand the world and function day-to-day.

Not only do we base our own identity around cultural labels, we also base our expectations on them. For example, If I were tell you that my neighbor is a Southern Baptist, you would generate a mental “picture” of my neighbor without me having to say another word. You now have expectations.

Ultimately we are tied to these labels. They are everywhere. Some we give to ourselves. Some are given to us by others. Some labels we try on and, then, toss out. Some we hold on to with all our might. Some labels are positive and others…well, not so much.

But no matter what, we must always remember that these culturally-derived labels are fluid constructions, imperfect impressions created by subjective minds.  When we start inflicting statutes and limitations on labels, we become inert in our ability to progress spiritually, expand past our own experiences, or form meaningful relationships. Yes, it is true that labels are necessary for daily operation but they can also be detrimental if we don’t allow for flexibility.

You know, that Baptist neighbor happens to know that I’m Pagan and has never once tried to convert me.

question mark

Am I Pagan? Yes, without question. Am I Jew?  My heritage and cultural upbringing makes that so. And, if Hitler came today…well, let’s just hope he doesn’t.  Am I Wiccan? I have my credentials, having been formally initiated by a High Priestess. With that said, I don’t necessarily fit into the expected cultural mold. Am I a Witch?  I don’t weigh the same as a duck.  So maybe I’m not.

Am I me?  Absolutely 100%, all the time. No label needed.

Duck

 

 

(Photo credits: Star of David by Alex Proimos of fotopedia.com;Duck by Loggawiggler of Pixabay.com; Question Sign by Colin_K of Flickr.com)

Social Media Explained: The Wiccan Edition

Recently, I was asked to explain the uses and purpose of various Social Media sites.  I was going to re-post the very funny viral graphic called:  ”Social Media Explained: The Donut Edition

However, I felt that the text needed a bit of editing for use in the Pagan community.   So hopefully this clarifies it …

Social Media Explainted:  The Pagan Edition

Twitter – I’m buring #incense.

Facebook – I like incense.

FourSquare – This is where I burn incense.

Instagram – Here’s a vintage photo of incense.

YouTube – Here’s a video of me burning incense.

LinkedIn – My skills include burning incense.

Pinterest – Here’s an incense recipe.

Last FM – Now listening to “Incense”

Google+ – I’m a Google employee who burns incense.

(Original author uknown.  Social Media Explained:  The Donut Edition)

Pagan Media Relations

In a recent post at The Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters posted a link to Beth Winegarner’s excellent article offering sage advice to mainstream media when handling stories concerning the “occult.”  Both writer cite recent news stories filled with sensational language and near-mythological facts about “occult” practices.   As pointed out by Winegarner, the mainstream media often makes assumptions about occult practices that are damaging to the people involved, to the community, to the credibility of the writer and to the practice these non-mainstream religions.

At the end of her article, Winegarner reports that a convicted felon “told a reporter that he’d hurt the child after losing his temper — and that Satanism was not involved. Even so, his faith got more play than the fact that [he was] a convicted sex offender…”

Several months ago, I noticed a very similar phenomenon while working on the Buncombe County civil rights case for Lady Liberty League. In January through March of 2012, the rural communities surrounding Asheville, North Carolina found themselves in the trenches of a public religious rights debate.  It started when a Pagan mother challenged the presence of Christian Bibles at the North Windy Ridge Middle School.

While scanning the media for reports on the civil rights story, I noticed that another “situation“ had arisen at a neighboring Buncombe County middle school.  Kevin Mark Calloway, a science and math teacher at Owen Middle School was arrested on a federal child porn charges.In January and February, Calloway had been exchanging sexually-charged messages with an underage student.  In addition, he used his spycam phone app to record 11-13 year old boys urinating in the bathroom for personal entertainment and for use in child pornography.

At its publicly-held March 1st meeting, the Buncombe County School Board was scheduled to discuss the Calloway situation;which they did. Oddly enough, this particular meeting attracted an unprecedented number of outraged community members. But were they there to support the firing of Calloway or to protest the lack of response time in removing Calloway from the schools? After all, the principal knew about the videos in January but decided to dismissed the case. No. The crowd was at the meeting to debate religious civil rights issues at North Windy Ridge Middle School.   

The local Asheville media reported on both cases equitably. However, the civil rights case received far more extended media attention than Owen Middle School‘s child pornography case. Unlike the Calloway story, the North Windy Ridge Middle School case made “the news” far beyond its Western North Carolina borders. By the end of February, the story had been picked up by the Associated Press and the Fox News Network. Even the Los Angeles Times made it newsworthy. (And this doesn’t even take into account the blogosphere!)

Is the media only to blame? Not entirely. Within the Asheville-Citizen Times articles on the Calloway case, the public commentary is dominated by discussions of religious civil rights as they pertain to the North Windy Ridge situation. It appears that the public was more concerned about Paganism and religious debate than Child Pornography.

I realize that religion is a hot topic that pushes buttons; whether that debate includes “the occult” or not. However, this “debate” most certainly intensifies when Paganism is involved.  And the media, who thrive on readership, know this. “Reporters are eager to grab readers’ attention, it’s tempting to include an occult hook when there is one.”as remarked by Winegarner.  This “occult hook” will also increase readership and attract outside media outlets – like vultures to carrion.

Concerning Bumcombe County, it is sad that the media’s focus and, subsequent public outrage, was centered on the civil rights case to the extent that they virtually ignored the child pornography story. Mr. Calloway, himself, certainly owes a debt to local Pagans for distracting the Buncombe County community, so his case could be handled quietly in the corner.

Which story should have gotten more attention? Both stories are equally as important and newsworthy.  With that said, I would much rather have my child subjected to non-pagan prayer than a child pornographer. Maybe that’s just me.