Harry Potter sure knows which witch will bewitch a real witch.
Real witches just love the series of novels about the boy wizard who flies on his high-powered broomstick, The Nimbus 2000 (upgraded to a Firebolt), and studies all sorts of sorcery at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. And just like everybody else, they’re eagerly awaiting the next installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
“It’s great fantasy,” says Phyllis Curott, the lawyer who won witch clergy the right to perform marriages in New York City.
“Sure, you are seeing witches in Harry Potter do things they don’t do in real life. But it is positive. They are friendly. They are good. The book might change the way people feel about us. You know, when you see how we are portrayed in the media, it’s not easy sometimes being a witch.”
And Toto Too …
You know the stereotype of wart-stubbled old crones, with twisted noses and pointy hats. “Heh-heh-heh, I’ll get you my pretty,” the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West tells Dorothy.
But Harry Potter subtracts the witch fright factor. The 11-year-old orphan discovers on his birthday that he’s a legendary wizard, and that there’s a world of witches and wizards waiting to embrace him. That’s the basis of the Potter series, which is filled with magic potions, transfiguration and “defense against the dark arts.”
The July 8 release of Goblet of Fire now stands as a landmark in publishing. Advance orders have already pushed the book to No. 1 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list, even before anyone had seen a single page.
As far as witches are concerned, Pottermania is a far cry from last year’s box office surprise, The Blair Witch Project. The mock documentary borrowed elements of witchcraft’s ancient traditions and mixed them with gruesome B-movie horror.
“The people who made Blair Witch seemed to know a lot about the religion,” Curott says. “But they totally misrepresented what we are about, and they made us into monsters.”
When vandalism increased in the Maryland town where the movie was filmed, Curott feared that real witches were at risk. “When you mix fact and fiction like that you can put real people at risk,” she says. “What if someone hurts an innocent witch because they were influenced by the movie? The film did nothing to suggest that it was fiction.”
Modern witchcraft, sometimes called Wicca, revives European traditions that predate Christianity. Like Jews and other minorities, witches were demonized when they didn’t conform.
The Ivy League-educated Curott, who was born to a Jewish mother, has been practicing witchcraft since the late 1970s. She recounts her spiritual journey in Book of Shadows: A Modern Woman’s Journey into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess (Boardwalk Books).
“I wouldn’t mind subtitling my book Harry Potter for Adults,” Curott says.
Now Curott and other witches are bracing themselves for the new marketing push for The Burkettsville 7, a half-hour mock documentary coming to Showtime to promote the pay-TV showing of The Blair Witch Project. That, in turn, is a warm-up to the theatrical premiere of the sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Modern witches typically record their thoughts in a “Book of Shadows.” Curott is all but certain the film will once again apply benign practices of witchcraft to a horror film. “It’s kind of like making a movie about a crazy killer who happens to be Muslim and calling it The Koran,” she says.
“Nobody would let that happen.”
From Baseball Bats to Broomsticks
Witches aren’t devil worshippers, Curott says. If black cauldrons are used in ceremonies, they’re only to represent the power of a woman’s womb to bring forth life. They do believe in spells. But they cast spells the way other folks pray.
Curott likens magic spells to the mysterious power of positive thinking.
“It’s a lot like quantum physics,” she says. “They expectation of the experimenter often affects the experiment.” Or, if you think something will happen, it will.
“Witches have known that for thousands of years, so we approach life with optimism and compassion,” Curott says. “That’s how we lead magical lives.”
That philosophy seems to work for Harry Potter, too. While little boys are not yet trading in their baseball bats for broomsticks, the message might be clear: Be kind to your neighborhood witch.
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive notice weekly when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.