Adolescence is full of awkward transitions resulting from changing bodies and increased hormones — not only that, but friendship dynamics can shift with discovering new interests, creating a tumultuous period of trying to figure out exactly who you are. It is not surprising then to have so many witch stories take place during this time of transformation. Becoming a witch on screen is often a metaphor for discovering inner strength, manifesting itself via the ability to cast spells because growing up is equal parts empowering as it is terrifying.
Fictional witches are often cast as villains in stories aimed at children, women-of-a-certain age with a desire to be young and beautiful as a motivator. The witch is the spinster living alone in the woods or the evil stepmother vying for control. There are good witches too, but they don’t typically look like the traditional conical wide-brimmed hat wearing stereotype. As children, witches are typically feared, but there is also a sense of wonder and intrigue at the power they wield. Pretending to be a witch is also my earliest memory of dressing up for Halloween costume.The first time I remember trying to cast a spell was at a 13th birthday sleepover while attempting “light as a feather, stiff as a board." Like all my brushes with the supernatural — including thinking I was going to see a ghost and that time we went to Loch Ness — nothing happened. It was anti-climatic, to say the least. But there is something about the trying, which was fun in and of itself. Sleepovers can be an intense teen ritual, in which scary movies are watched, witches are embraced, spells attempted, and everything looks different in the cold light of day.
Witches are emblematic of the swirling and often contradictory emotions of adolescence. Confidence and insecurity battle it out on a daily basis. Instead of being the villain of the story, teen witches have a habit of saving the day, while also dealing with romantic entanglements, homework and finding time to hang out with their friends.In recognition of the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, here are some of the best teen witches who have appeared on TV. Special shoutout to the women of The Craft, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Teen Witch herself Louise Miller (Robyn Lively) for their role in teen witch screen history.
Please note: our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow is a vital part of the Scooby Gang long before she discovers her witchy gifts. Willow’s magic led her to her relationship with Tara (Amber Benson), but when she started to rely on it a little too much, it also broke them apart. This amount of magic is intoxicating, and combined with grief and rage, Dark Willow was born, but then defeated. You are never truly alone when you are a Scooby Gang member.
Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Singing songs to each other in Renaissance Faire-looking garb followed by sex so good it leads to levitation is one bonus of knowing how to wield magic. Both Willow and Tara grew in confidence when they were together after meeting at the UC Sunnydale Wicca group. Prior to this Tara had dealt with a lot of crap, including her mother dying when she was 17 and living with an abusive father. College gave Tara freedom, as well as allowing her to develop her skills as a witch and finding someone who loves maxi skirts as much as she does. She called Willow out on her magic abuse — including casting a spell to make Tara forget an argument — and played an important role in the battle against evil in Sunnydale, until she was collateral damage in Warren’s (Adam Busch) desire to destroy Buffy toward the end of Season 6.
Sabrina Spellman (Melissa Joan Hart), Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Between Cher Horowitz’s (Alicia Silverstone) outfit-picking software in Clueless and Sabrina’s ability to change what she was wearing at the flick of a finger, being a teen in the mid-'90s meant a lot of disappointment in the IRL wardrobe deciding department. Sabrina also had cool aunts, a cat that could talk, a boyfriend who adored her and she was told about her witch skills on her 16th birthday, the kind of gift you can’t just order online or pick up at the mall. A big departure from the comic book Sabrina first appeared in, this was much more lighthearted than the forthcoming adaptation. Sure, Sabrina would cause havoc thanks to her novice witch status, but it is a far cry from an encounter with Madam Satan in the comic book.
Bonnie Bennett (Kat Graham), The Vampire Diaries
On The Vampire Diaries magic was a crutch the writers relied on a bit too much; it was their version of a “get out of jail card.” But Bonnie Bennett was a badass in a line of badasses who was on hand to rescue her friends and the world. The last surviving witch in the Bennett family, Bonnie has, in fact, died on several occasions. Sacrificing herself for her friends, she was stuck on the Other Side but managed to escape this world. She also destroyed Hell, which is a good indicator of just how powerful she is — all while dealing with the daily battle that is high school and college
Davina Claire (Danielle Campbell), The Originals
As with Bonnie, Davina has been through a lot including dying on a number of occasions. Being a witch on The CW should come with danger money. Davina had regular teen witch powers until a botched sacrifice ritual temporarily gave her the powers of three other witches. Davina wants to do regular teen things like dating, but instead, she discovers she can boil another being’s blood (including vampires) and her skills are desired by many. Being a teenage girl with witch skills can be really hard.
Dawson’s Creek Witches
The cultural impact of The Blair Witch Project was huge right down to the many homages it inspired. Dawson (James Van Der Beek) is obsessed with movies so it isn’t a stretch he would want to film his own witch documentary, especially as Capeside is deep in New England Salem witch-era territory. In the Season 3 episode “Escape from Witch Island,” Dawson is joined by Joey (Katie Holmes), Pacey (Joshua Jackson), and Jen (Michelle Williams) in his very own Blair Witch adventure, which means they don’t have to write about The Crucible for class. Spooky things take place, romantic entanglements get messier — with or without the aid of a love spell — and a teen witch from centuries ago quite possibly gives them a guided tour.
Meghan Rotundi (Amanda Foreman), Felicity
Some teen witches have the power to change the course of history on a grand scale, some use their magic to solve an outfit crisis, and others will sacrifice themselves to save their best friend. Some dress the part, buy the books, but don’t seem like they will ever successfully cast a spell. And when they do actually manage it this comes as a surprise to the viewer and those characters impacted by the magic in question. This is the case of Meghan Rotundi on Felicity. Meghan’s spells mostly focus on messing with her roommate, Felicity (Keri Russell). J.J. Abrams flexed his genre muscle with a stylized Twilight Zone episode, inspired by the contents of Meghan’s magical mystery box and a spell also sent Felicity back through time — all on a regular WB college show.
Terri Roberts (Lisa Robin Kelly) and Margi Kleinjan (Wendy Benson-Landes), The X-Files
This was the mid-'90s, so the fear of satanic cults was prevalent and The X-Files did a number of episodes looking at small-town hysteria, including “Syzygy” in Season 3. The word “witch” doesn’t come into play; instead, a planetary alignment creating a cosmic G-spot is credited with giving Terri and Margi powers — but this also seems pretty witchy to me. Terri and Margi in their style and manner of speaking are part Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), part Cher Horowitz and a big dollop of the Craft teens. This episode also boasts Ryan Reynolds getting killed in the cold open and an iconic Scully line. It also happened to air when I was at a sleepover, so we recreated it, putting on the most amount of eyeliner and uttering “Hate him, hate him, wouldn’t want to date him.” What is truly scary is that video is probably still out there somewhere.
The Academy, American Horror Story: Coven
For the best-dressed teen witches look no further than Season 3 of American Horror Story. Leaning into the whole all-black ensemble — including some fetching headwear — these girls all demonstrate why this kind of outfit is a classic for a reason. And it isn’t about wearing matching uniforms either. This is a very different school to Hogwarts, The Academy in New Orleans is a hotbed of dark power, feuds and trying to figure out the powers they possess, all while trying to stay alive. This isn’t easy, but they sure as hell look good while they try to. If you want teen witches with a dollop of Ryan Murphy-infused witch history then look no further.
Ethel Hallow (Felicity Jones), The Worst Witch and Weirdster College
Before Harry Potter there was The Worst Witch book series, adapted in the late ‘90s for children’s TV in the U.K. And long before she was Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones was Ethel Hallow, the mean girl of Cackle’s Academy, who would later reprise her role as Ethel in the spinoff Weirdster College. Her roommate also happened to be her former nemesis — and Worst Witch protagonist Mildred Hubble (Georgina Sherrington) — but the two become BFFs, putting aside early teen pettiness.