The Craft. It still stands up as one of the best movies on witchcraft ever made — especially since there are like three, and one of them is Hocus Pocus, and the other one has Cher (whom I love, so no hate). Anyway, I must’ve been 12 or 13 when I saw this movie in my friend’s basement. We were already way into sĂ©ances, ghost hunting, and ouija boards, so this wasn’t exactly an introduction to the paranormal. But it had a huge effect.

In case you live somewhere else, and haven’t seen The Craft, it’s about four high school girls at St. Bernard’s Catholic Academy who form a coven and begin summoning a powerful deity named “Manon.” Soon the girls begin to cast spells: Bonnie (Neve Campbell) for beauty, Rochelle (Rachel True) for revenge, Sarah (Robin Tunney) for love, and Nancy (Fairuza Balk) for Power.

Thee spells are successful. Bonnie’s severe burns begin to magically peel away; Rochelle’s racist bully at school begins to lose her hair; Sarah’s asshole boy crush falls in love with her; and Nancy’s abusive step dad dies and leaves his impressive life insurance policy to her and her mom.

Wow. These chicks asked for what they wanted and they GOT IT?! How the hell does that happen?

Let’s rewind. I grew up super Catholic. Sunday-school-going-altar-serving-everyday-bible-reading-Catholic. I knew about the ephemeral. I knew about worship and prayer. I knew about sacrifices. BUT what I didn’t know about was inner power, a power that you didn’t have to say a million zillion “Hail Marys” for, a power that wasn’t dictated by the confines of a historical text.

I WAS IN LOVE. Here were a group of teens (which I would soon be), wearing a Catholic school girl uniform (which I wore Monday to Friday) and they were the baddest bitches in their town. Bonnie was cute and broke my heart cause I understood the struggle of trying to be perfect and failing. Nancy was so fierce and unapologetic and crazy, completely enveloping the wild woman archetype; I think everyone secretly wanted to be her. Sarah was beautiful and well-intentioned and naturally talented — the obvious but cool heroine. And Rochelle looked like me!! Someone on TV looked like me and she had friends that didn’t look like her, but she was accepted and cool too!!!

I loved how they referenced nature so often in their incantations, that they hung out on the beach, walked in the moonlight. Also, they were never alone. They did this together in communion. They needed one another in order to conjure Manon.

I always found praying so lonely. My hyper-religiousness left me praying by myself for like two hours each night. Is that normal? I would also read passages from the bible out loud, most of which I had no understanding of. The Craft girls took cool, old books from a really nice-looking lady with long goddess-like hair, in a candlelit shop that you could only imagine smelled amazing.

Most of all, they were young and they were powerful and they were women.

As the plot thickens, some of the characters begin to abuse their power and completely terrorize Sarah (the most morally centred of them all). The magic is ego-driven, painful to other people, and yes — evil. Sarah triumphs over malice and, through what we can only speculate is her pureness of heart, is able to bind the evil powers of the others.

So yeah, some of the spells used in The Craft were definitely not cool, and the dangers of summoning powers that you’re not ready for were overtly spelled out to me (pun intended). However, I had a new awareness that there might be a space where a group of women could get together in worship of nature and spirit and ask for things they wanted. A space that wasn’t a church, wasn’t a basement, but a beautiful, safe circle. You could do this with your friends, not just with strangers in a choir of monotone voices repeating the words of a Priest. My church was particularly underwhelming, not a place of joy and celebration but of obligation and boredom.

I watch The Craft every few years just for a reminder of the buzz and tingles I felt when I first saw it. Like glimpsing the other side of the ocean, a world of excitement and possibility.

As an adult, I’ve cultivated my own spiritual practices, taking charge of my inner life rather than abiding by inherited dogma. I’ve started a website called Bitches Be Witches, which hopes to provide resources and inspiration for women to begin to step into their own power. I’m also an actress that works in film and television and I see how important it is to have these strong, femme-centric stories.

Seeing people like you on screen while they take risks, learn lessons and shine with magic can make a hung impact on viewers. It made a huge impact on me. I don’t still dress in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform (outside of my house), but I’ve got my pack of witches and whether we feel like outsiders or not, we’re powerful and learning how to take up space. Stepping into womanhood like a slow motion strut down St. Bernard’s hallways.

Jess Salgueiro
jess@bitchesbewitches.com
Jess Salgueiro is co-founder of bitchesbewitches.com, an online resource site for feminism, ritual and witchcraft. She is also an actress and currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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