Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
For Christians, the witch is a woman who has entered into a pact with Satan or a lesser demon. Christians also see an element of sexuality in the witch: in return for serving the demon, both sexually and otherwise, she receives supernatural powers or is empowered by the demon to perform supernatural acts through magical incantations and spells. The Bible forbids the practice of witchcraft, condemning it as abominable: “Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: or that consults soothsayers, or observes dreams and omens, neither let there be any wizard, / nor charmer, nor any one that consults pythonic spirits, or fortune tellers, or that seeks the truth from the dead./ For the Lord abhors all these things, and for these abominations he will destroy them at your coming.(Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Indeed, the Bible goes so far as even to declare that “Wizards you shall not allow to live” (Exodus 22:18), a text which doubtlessly authorized the persecution and execution of women accused of practicing witchcraft during the trials of the Inquisition. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article, “Witchcraft,” has much more to say about the topic, including these rather curious and chilling words:
The question of the reality of witchcraft is one upon which it is not easy to pass a confident judgment. In the face of Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and theologians the abstract possibility of a pact with the Devil and of a diabolical interference in human affairs can hardly be denied, but no one can read the literature of the subject without realizing the awful cruelties to which this belief and without being convinced that in 99 cases out of 100 the allegations rest upon nothing better than pure delusion. The most bewildering circumstance is the fact that in a large number of witch prosecutions the confessions of the victims, often involving all kinds of satanist horrors, have been made spontaneously and apparently without threat or fear of torture. Also the full admission of guilt seems constantly to have been confirmed on the scaffold when the poor suffered had nothing to gain or lose by the confession. One can only record the fact as a psychological problem, and point out that the same tendency seems to manifest itself in other similar cases. The most remarkable instance, perhaps, is one mentioned by St. Agobard in the ninth century (P.L., CIV, 158). A certain Grimaldus, Duke of Beneventum, was accused, in the panic engendered by a plague that was destroying all the cattle, of sending men out with poisoned dust to spread infection among the flocks and herds. These men, when arrested and questioned, persisted, says Agobard, in affirming their guilt, though the absurdity was patent.Whether regarded as penis-envying hysterics or women empowered by demons, witches have been a mainstay of horror fiction, both in its printed and filmed versions. Although, in recent years, in novels, witches have more often populated works for teens and young adults, they continue to appear with some regularity in movies aimed at older audiences, such as Black Sunday (1960), Horror Hotel (1960), Burn, Witch, Burn (1962), Witchfinder General (1968), The Witchmaker (1969), Mark of the Devil (1970), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), The Devils (1971), Virgin Witch (1971), Baba Yaga (also known as Kiss Me, Kill Me (1973), The Wicker Man (1973), Suspiria (1977), Warlock (1989), The Craft (1996), and--well, a coven of others.
Note: The next installment of “Sex and Horror” will take a brief look at a few movies that depict perverse sexuality and have more generalized sexual themes, rather than characters per se.