So, as promised in my post on Sunday, I tuned into the Witch/Wiccan-themed episode of the television series Bones (I even tweeted my reactions in real time). While I’m usually pretty pessimistic about media portrayals of modern Paganism, I was cautiously optimistic this time since “The Witch in the Wardrobe” was penned by author and Bones creator Kathy Reichs, who has sympathetically tackled Wicca in her novels. So how was it? Well first off, it was nowhere near as bad as that really bad episode of The Mentalist, but it also wasn’t as good as that Simpsons episode. Here’s the plot, in a nutshell.
“A cabin burns down in the woods revealing two bodies, one of a modern-day witch and one from the days of the Salem Witch Trials, leading Booth and Brennan into the world of Wicca to find a killer.”
So let’s start off with the good stuff, the robes the Wiccans wore were immaculately tailored, very nice. Not a red bathrobe in sight! There was also a very cool pentagram-candle special effect that I thought was well done. There were the usual Wizard of Oz jokes, which was to be expected, but the problems didn’t really start until the Wiccans opened their mouths. Every member of the coven (female-only, naturally) had a weird affect in their speech, which I imagine was supposed to make them sound spiritual? Or maybe to imply that they were somewhat cultish? I’m not sure. But it was distracting, since I’ve never heard a real Wiccan talk that way, especially to an FBI officer investigating a murder.
The way the Wiccans talked, on the whole, wasn’t that big of a deal, the real head-turners came from what they said about their practice. At one point a potential suspect said that bat bones were an integral part of her faith (you traditionalists are totally holding out on me). But a bat-bone-buying coven was nothing compared to the revelation that came with the reveal of the killer(s). You see, the Witch that was murdered was apparently a “dark Witch” who did curses and sacrificed animals, and the entire “good” coven, hopped up on ergot-tainted rye flour (just like the original Salem witches), ritualistically killed her because they mistook her for a demon, or something. So, case closed, let’s… wait a minute, rye flour? How did the entire coven get ergot poisoning from rye flour? Apparently, according to the high priestess, they “often use rye flour in their ceremonies”. Which has got to be one of the sloppiest wrap-ups I’ve seen in an hour-long procedural, unless the rye-flour ceremony is some sort of 3rd degree secret that I’m not privy to. Is Kathy Reichs an oath-breaker!?! Revealing the sacred rye mystery?
So the episode was pretty unintentionally hilarious, though I doubt most Bones fans noticed, since the Wiccan stuff was mainly a distraction from the major romantic breakthrough of two main characters. Really, they shouldn’t have even bothered with the Witch/Wiccan case, and just made the episode about the romance. Honestly, I would rather have had accurate satire than the clumsy bat-bones and rye-flour coven.
Does this mean I’m mad at Bones and want you to write angry letters or boycott? No. I don’t think it’s worth the effort. But I do feel it’s important to critically engage with popular culture when they bother to depict modern Pagan individuals. This stuff does inform folks about us, whether we like to admit or not, so the least we can do is offer a corrective when people try to learn more. Television distorts, but that distortion can be managed to a certain extent by engagement. It’s why I bother to watch these shows, and make posts about it even though it isn’t as serious as other topics I cover.