For so much of European and US history, witches were meant to be feared, even hated. They were objects of disgust and derision, monsters to be destroyed. In more recent years we've embraced the witch as a symbol of feminine power and resistance, adopting the cultural understanding of misogyny and fear of the other as responsible for centuries of being burned at the stake, literally and figuratively.
But for those of a certain age, our love of witches in popular culture goes beyond the reclamation of a persecuted figure as an act of empowerment. For us, the witch is to be respected, a sign that women are powerful and dangerous on our own terms. But she is also a magical kind of pure, nostalgic comfort. She is warmth and safety in that way only things we loved most in our youths can be.
For us, witches were part of our own wholly feminine and divine ritual: the sleepover.
In August, Cinespia held its annual Slumber Party event in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. These events are always big deals — at times, 4,000 attendees have gathered in appreciation of cinema — but this one was special. This event featured a triple feature of The Craft, Practical Magic, and The Witches of Eastwick. The predominately female crowd came together in utter joy and rapture to experience these films as a group celebrating witches, women and the hallowed slumber party.
Slumber parties are important, some of the most important nights of our entire young lives, and even as adults, they would live on among our most vibrant memories. They were gatherings of girls and young women, ostensibly all night, unless you were the kid who called your parents at midnight to come pick you up (*raises hand*). In pop culture these nights are depicted with popcorn and pajamas, which is true, and pillow fights, which I don't think are or have ever been a real thing, but in actuality these were strange social rituals in which girls tell devastating secrets, fight, cry, laugh, hug, are unbearably cruel, are impossibly warm, sometimes all in the same night. The dawn of the slumber party arrives at the same point as pubescent hormones, this fervor of feelings and changes, and as girls we would feel at each other constantly, launching emotions like grenades because we didn't know where else to put them.
And then we'd shut up and watch The Craft. We'd watch these other girls, a few years older than us, at least in the world of the movie, but just as lost and confused and toxic and tight as we were. The members of this circle — Sarah, Nancy, Rochelle, and Bonnie — were easily led messes (god, weren't we all?) drunk on power socially and actually, and they would turn on each other at any opportunity, but they were also weirdly loyal and connected. When Skeet Ulrich's Chris forces himself on Robin Tunney's Sarah, she goes straight to her friends even though their relationship is fractured. Fairuza Balk as Nancy heads to the party Chris is at, does some questionable glamour-based making out, and then magics Chris out the window, killing him. That's friendship. Kind of.
We weren't scared of these witches or their powers. There was no tension watching the film, no nervousness or discomfort, even the fun kind like when we would watch horror movies. The Craft was just... comforting. It was like a hug. With washed-up dead sharks in it.
But when Practical Magic came out, the hug of witchy sleepover movies got even warmer — and with an added dose of killing an abusive husband (twice!).
I don't think I knew it then, but looking back, both these films prominently feature the murder of an abusive man. I don't know how to put this in a way that won't put me on a watchlist, but to grow up with films where bad men face consequences from the women they've hurt, when even reality doesn't give us that too often, is important. Both films feature — to varying degrees of success — women coming together to change the world around them. These films taught us that — with or without real magic — maybe we have the power to make things different. And they did it not by preaching at us, or scaring us into it, or even through #GirlPower *very Ginger Spice peace sign.* They did so by being part of our lives at our most vulnerable, our most powerless. We were young and we had these movies and they became woven into our spirits. Nostalgia goggles might not do any favors to most of the movies we loved as kids, but the slumber party movie is more than the sum of its parts — it is evocative of a time and place that was dreadful and wonderful. These movies were there for us at the exact point we needed them.
That's what magic is.