Reuters Discover the Witches (on True Blood)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 13, 2011 — 41 Comments

Last year at this time the popular HBO cable television series “True Blood,” a show loosely based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, announced that 2011 would be the “year of the witch.” The cast of (generally sexy) vampires, werewolves, and the humans they interact with would be joined by an array of spellcasters of various inclinations. The previous season had already introduced a Wiccan character, Holly Cleary (played by Lauren Bowles), and this season they’ve introduced a small coven lead by Marnie Stonebrook (played by Fiona Shaw), a local palm-reader and shop owner, the spirit of a dead Witch that inhabits her, and a family of Catemaco Brujos. This being “True Blood” there’s plenty of violence, sex, and mayhem mixed in. With all this witchy-ness about it was only a matter of time before news outlets started tracking down some real Witches and Wiccans to get their opinion. It looks like the news agency Reuters is first out of the gate.

A Witches' Coven in "True Blood"

“I’m absolutely disappointed with the portrayal of Marnie,” said one witch — and professor of biology at a college in New England — who goes by the magickal name Taarna RavenHawk. […] Elaanie Stormbender, a witch and mother of five who lives in Jackson, Mississippi, said all the members of the small community of witches to which she belongs are displeased with Marnie’s behavior.”

In addition to the opinions of Taarna and Elaanie, Reuters also asks two prominent Pagan authors/teachers, Christopher Penczak and Ellen Dugan, for their take on the “year of the witch.”

“Marnie does communicate with the dead but she comes into witchcraft lacking groundedness,” said Penczak […]  “A witch who gets good training usually learns to balance that with discipline, strength and focus. I would have liked to see a witch who was more competent and had a clearer sense of will and purpose.” […]  “My witch friends are rabid fans of ‘True Blood,’ and watch it every week,” said Ellen Dugan, a witch and priestess of a six-member coven she co-founded in St. Louis, Missouri. Dugan […] conceded that Marnie’s portrayal contains a sensational element, but noted that her witch friends laughed during a recent levitation scene. “Most witches have a good enough sense of humor,” she said.

Since I don’t have cable, and probably won’t be able to watch this latest season until it comes out on DVD, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the opinions given in this piece. So I turned to my Pagan Newswire Collective colleague Laura LaVoie, who writes for our culture blog “The Juggler,” and has been covering this season of “True Blood,” for her take.

“I think as soon as you add vampires and werewolves to a story, all bets are off. Sure, Wicca is real but it now exists in this fictional world created by Charlaine Harris and the writers and producers of the television series. I want to see Pagans portrayed in a positive light in the media as well, but I’m not sure we have the full story on the Bon Temps witches yet. I have also read the series of books, and while the portrayal there is by no means perfect either, there is a sense that Harris tried to research the real Wiccan community to write about her witches. If the producers stay close to the story line, there might be more to the witches than meets the eye. However, I do not want to spoil anything.”

LaVoie also points out that attitudes concerning the portrayal of Witches and Wiccans in “True Blood” may come down to how you’re watching the show, summing up one recent episode as “we just want to be left alone to practice our religion.” In the end LaVoie believes “there are bigger things to worry about,” and “if we spend all of our time raging against a fantasy television series that has yet to even prove whether it is pro- or anti- Wicca, we lose a lot of our power when we try to defend our religious choices against real threats.” As for the Reuters article, I think this is only the first of its kind. We can surely expect more opinions from “real” Witches as this season progresses. Possibly some examining what was only briefly mentioned in the Reuters article, that “True Blood” is creating more interest in Witchcraft among younger viewers. A narrative that was in full bloom for many years during the height of the Harry Potter craze.

When a newspaper, newswire, or tabloid calls us up looking for a “real Witch” to give an opinion on “True Blood” we need to decide which narrative we are going to feed. Whether we feel positively, negatively, or don’t really care, we should always emphasize that we realize this is simply fiction, and that we are engaging with it on that level. That we are dealing with a show that places a priority on melodrama, blood, and sex. We should reference the Harry Potter years and point out that it never turned out to be a significant recruiting tool for Witchcraft traditions, and that we don’t expect “True Blood” to be either. If “True Blood,” when the season closes, ends up being a largely positive portrayal of Wicca or Witchcraft then all better, but even if it isn’t we have bigger things to worry about than a television show that mainly exists to show off attractive people in various states of undress.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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