Vampires, werewolves, and zombies, move aside: It's the “Season of the Witch” on HBO's True Blood and the new witch-centric show The Secret Circle is about to debut on CW. Of course, none of those supernatural creatures had anything to say about their pop culture portrayals, because they (gasp!) don't actually exist. But witches are the real deal. Hollywood often gets witchcraft wrong, so we talked to Dianic Wicce High Priestess Morgaine Swann, who shared her thoughts on what looks wrong and right from what we know so far about new series from Kevin Williamson. [Wicce is not a misspelling, by the way. It's a separate branch of wicca that worships only the goddess, not a male god, as is often the case with wicca, which embraces both, Swann tells us.]
Can witches really cast spells that create fire and cause rainstorms?
Yes, some witches can control the elements. When they do it in movies or TV shows, they usually make a bigger deal of it. Magic is very subtle, almost unnoticeable. They have to make it bigger to make it dramatic.
Cassie is part of a line of witches that trace their roots back to 1692. Are there witch families that go back several generations?
A lot of witch families can trace their lines way back. I've met plenty of traditional families who may have been here for 200 or 300 years, so that's not too outlandish. And it does run in families, like any other talent.
Are magic spellbooks, like the one Cassie's mother leaves her, commonly passed down from mother to daughter?
Traditionally most books like that are written in your own hand so that it can only be traced to you, in case it were to be used as evidence in a witch trial. But, it's not unusual for a mother to leave something like that for her daughter, although some families destroy them or bury them with the person who wrote them.
The group needs Cassie to make a coven of six. Is six traditionally the number of people in a coven?
Six is an unusual number for them to use. Witches usually use prime numbers like 1, 3, 5, 13. Six is the number of the mother and, in the case of this story, they needed six in their circle because there were six family lines represented. It will be interesting to see if the number six has more significance than that. I'm also curious as to how many boys and girls there will be. Ideally, I'd expect three and three.
Cassie needs to be told she's a witch. If you're a witch, do you just know?
The way it's presented in the book, she's pretty clueless about it, but that would be very unusual. Most people are born with it and you start young. If you spend any time around toddlers or babies, they intuit things – they’ll say out loud what someone is thinking. As you get older, you’re trained out of it unless you were born into a witch family. In my family, we never used the word witch, but we believed in signs and spirits and psychic happenings. We were told not to talk about it, but we knew it was going on. Almost anyone can do magic, just like anyone can speak, but some have more of an aptitude for it than others. We have a saying that witches are born not made. We don't go out and convert people – you’re either born with it or not.
The older coven has given up magic because someone got hurt. What are your thoughts on that?
You can't do that. You can't just ignore it, or it'll back up on you and come out sideways. Once a witch, you'll always be a witch. Cassie's mother tried to take her away from the Circle, and she should have known that wouldn't work. A family group like that would do work to be reincarnated in the same family line. Cassie came into the world with a purpose, and there's no way to avoid that. It will be interesting to see if they show Cassie being drawn to magical things before she gets back to their home. Her mother would have seen signs in her throughout her life, which she apparently would not have welcomed. Once those doors are opened, they don't get closed again.
What are you hoping they get right about witches?
I really hope they make the effort to talk about ethics and that they show consequences to abusing magic and in ignoring it. Neither is good. You have to embrace your power, and you have to use it for the good once you've been initiated. In Cassie's case, she might not need an initiation, because she probably was [initiated] in another lifetime. Those are forever. There's no such thing as renouncing Wicce/Wicca. It's a serious commitment and nothing to play with. I hate the idea of kids getting wrong ideas and hurting themselves.
How can you get hurt doing magic?
If you're not protected, you can draw negative entities to you and make yourself vulnerable to problems like that. Or you can make bad things happen to other people, but it's going to hurt you too. There's a threefold law of return: It comes back three times. With most witches, when you're initiated, you ask to see the results of your magic so it's going to come back quickly. When I was young and stupid, I did something like that and, yeah, it worked. I got a speeding ticket and my car broke down. Three things happened right away and I'd never do it again. There are really no "bad witches" because it would come back on you. Occasionally, you find someone who's young and stupid, but the universe straightens you out pretty quickly.
Episode one of The Secret Circle premieres September 9 on the CW.
About Morgaine Swann
Morgaine, a "born Witch," was initiated to Dianic Wicce almost 30 years ago. She teaches Dianic Theory as well as her own tradition, Aphrodesian Wicce, a system designed to address patriarchal contamination of modern popular Wicca. She has a degree in Clinical Psychology and English from Wayne State University, and she has been reading Tarot for almost 40 years.