This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
With a reincarnated Sabrina Spellman now on Netflix, and cheap satin costumes aplenty cluttering up the aisles of your local shops, we have witches on our minds. That’s a risky place to keep a witch, and this lot are dangerous to begin with… well, some of them are, others are made from pipe cleaners. (That’s still scary though, especially if you’re a pipe.)
Here’s a celebration, in no particular order, of fifty great television witches. If you’re looking for Halloween costume inspiration, you could do worse than taking a look at the below. It’s about time more people dressed up as Grotbags.
Sadistic, silly, cruel or comic, meet fifty witchy madams and misters…
Salem Saberhagen, Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1990s)
Salem Saberhagen is an extraordinary character when you think about it. Here is a man who tried to take over the world in a military coup, and whose punishment is to live with one of the women he talked into joining him and her young teenage niece. Luckily he’s doing so in the form of a wise-cracking cat who’s often the voice of wisdom in the Spellman-Saberhagen household, or the pilot episode would be about Mr. Poole calling child services to report him.
The Witch, Simon And The Witch
In other hands, the story of a young boy who befriends an isolated, illiterate elderly woman who lives alone with her cat would be a socially conscious tear-jerker. Simon And The Witch though, based on Margaret Stuart Barry’s children’s books series and adapted by Valerie Georgeson for the BBC, is a comedy, and a top one at that. Elizabeth Spriggs is great as The Witch, who eats worms, pulls faces, gets into trouble, and acts more childishly than all of the kids put together. Gross-out humor and grown-ups acting silly. Brilliant.
Jesus Velasquez, True Blood
Lafayette went through a lot of heartache before he found love with Jesus, and was initially rather put off by Jesus’ heritage as a practicing brujo. However, it was Jesus who encouraged Lafayette to embrace his own power and start to explore witchcraft and magic before, inevitably, it all went rather drastically wrong.
Marge Simpson and Patty and Selma Bouvier, The Simpsons, Treehouse Of Horror VIII
The Simpsons’ annual Halloween specials are always good fun, and it’s only surprising that it took them eight runs to think of making Patty and Selma witches. It’s Marge joining her sisters that’s the real surprise, and the sight of all three flying around Springfield on their broomsticks is a great little Halloween treat.
Crowley’s mother Rowena is a storm of contradictions. She’s been allied with or the enemy of just about every major character in the show; like a bad Thomas Hardy novel she insisted she hated her son and wanted him dead right up to the point he actually died, then was suddenly grief-stricken, and her sexual history (which includes orgies, the Archangel Gabriel, and God himself) is, shall we say, unique. But with her flaming red hair, lilting Scottish accent, and, most importantly for anyone on Supernatural, her ability to come back from the dead, she has fast become central to Supernatural’s world, and her presence always brightens up an episode.
Hazel the McWitch, Rentaghost
Another Scot, Highlands witch Hazel joined the Rentaghost team a couple of years in, adding her bungled magic touch to the ragtag group. Played by Molly Weir, Hazel was behind some frankly irresponsible witching in her time at the agency, often causing more problems than she solved with her spells. Hazel didn’t have much of a personality beyond ‘Scottish’ (the name, the accent, and the tartan pussy bow), but if your mansion house needed haunting, she was one of the spooks and ghouls and freaks and fools you needed.
Katja, Supernatural: About A Boy
Katja is an entertaining but fairly forgettable one-off Supernatural villain, more memorable for the effect of her spell (which returns Dean’s body to its teen years) than for herself. However, she makes the list for a truly inspired bit of stunt casting. Katja, you see, is the notorious witch from Hansel And Gretel, who likes to cook and eat children. She’s played by Lesley Nicol, better known as Mrs Patmore, the cook from Downton Abbey. We laughed.
CITV’s Wizadora started life as a tool for teaching English as a foreign language, which makes sense, until you think about it. There must have been clearer ways to explain the present participle to kids from abroad without getting a sentient Scottish telephone and a man with a hook for a head involved. Her strange companions meant Wizardora herself, a trainee witch whose spell success rate was markedly in the ‘room for improvement’ category, played by Wendy Van Der Plank, was the least scary thing about her show. The theme song alone is enough to induce night sweats.
Elizabeth Gadge, Inside No 9: The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge
One of Inside No 9’s trademarks is the twist ending or sudden reveal. The double-twist-ending of this episode, their only period drama so far (set during an early modern witch trial) is one of the more predictable, but no less effective for it. Key to the success of the episode is Ruth Sheen’s performance as Gadge, equally believable as innocent victim of notorious historical wrong-doing, or powerful and ruthless enemy.
Evil Edna, Willo The Wisp
Making the baddie in your TV show a television may seem like shooting yourself in the foot, but clear-thinking wasn’t top of Willo The Wisp’s priorities. After all, this was a show about a caterpillar, a cat, a fairy, and a gaggle of aliens that flew around in a mushroom, getting tricked by a witch who shot spells out of her antennae, all narrated by a cloud of gas. As witches go, Edna was pretty fearsome and cruel, forever tormenting poor Mavis and the rest of them. She’s still our favorite though.
Captain Kirk, Star Trek: All Our Yesterdays
Yes, the Captain Kirk. Kirk rescues a damsel in distress, only for the damsel to have him arrested by a prosecutor in seventeenth century England for witchcraft on the grounds that he is talking to spirits. Granted, we know that the ‘spirits’ in question are Spock and Dr McCoy, on the other end of communicators, but considering Kirk is gallivanting around blethering about time machines and talking to an unseen alien with pointy ears through a magic brick, we think the evidence against him is pretty conclusive – he’s clearly a witch.
Queenie, American Horror Story: Coven
A quick glance up and down our list will confirm that, despite rich traditions of witchcraft mythology from around the world and changing times, the vast majority of witches in Western popular culture are white women. This is not lost on Queenie from American Horror Story either, but she is able to draw on her own voodoo power and find a family at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, and eventually to take down one of history’s most notorious abusers of African-American slaves.
Jenny Calendar, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Jenny referred to herself as a “techno-pagan” rather than a “witch”, but in practice the difference seemed to be fairly academic. Jenny was nifty with a spell, and knew how to use a new-fangled thing called the internet to find them, and she could be quite powerful when she wanted to be. Not that this helped her when chased by a bloodthirsty vampire while wearing impractical high heels.
Fenella, Chorlton and the Wheelies
A proud Welshwoman (by way of Mumbai, judging by her accent) who lived in a kettle, Fenella was the baddie of Wheelie World. Like the Wheelies themselves, Fenella’s method of getting about—appearing and disappearing out of the ground—was a workaround by creators Cosgrove Hall, to save them having to do labor-intensive animated walk cycles. It all adds to Fenella’s sense of chaos. Quite genuinely scary, her permanent rage at anybody having fun or being happy makes her one of the most stressful characters to appear on children’s TV.
Samantha Stephens, Bewitched
Bewitched was a typical 1960s sitcom with a twist – the apparently conventional housewife Samantha Stephens was a witch, with her husband Darrin the only mortal in on the secret. Unlike her later counterpart Sabrina, Samantha’s ability to perform magic openly for Darrin allowed the series to explore his frustrations as well as her magic, but it was Samantha and Elizabeth Montgomery’s wonderful magical nose-wrinkling that was the star of the show.
Morticia Addams, The Addams Family
The archetype of the glamorous, raven-haired witch, Morticia Addams started life as a 1930s New Yorker cartoon before Carolyn Jones played her on TV, and then Anjelica Huston immortalized her at the cinema in the 1990s. In a jet black hobble dress, with pale skin, statement eyeliner and pointed fingernails, her look and Gothic tastes for poisonous plants and the macabre has come to define the seductive side of witchcraft.
Lady Morgana, Merlin
King Arthur’s legendary half-sister and enemy Morgan le Fay or Morgana is one of television adaptation Merlin’s most compelling characters. Initially a good person and friend of our heroes, her eventual descent into villainy is no less compelling for being a foregone conclusion.
Sabrina Spellman, Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina
Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, out now on Netflix, puts the Archie comics character firmly in the horror genre. She’s still a high-schooler navigating the tricky balance of romance, friendship and a magical heritage, but unlike the 1990s Melissa Joan Hart incarnation, Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina is doing it against a backdrop of dark, dark chills and truly scary foes.
Mrs. Paddock, The X-Files: Die Hand Die Verlezt
The lesson of this episode is pretty simple: don’t mess with demonic forces. Mrs Paddock the substitute teacher is all kinds of creepy, but let’s face it, the adults of Milford, New Hampshire have no one to blame for all the subsequent death and destruction but themselves.
Queen Gertrude, The Blackadder: Witchsmeller Pursuivant
The first incarnation of The Blackadder was often a slightly surreal show, but only in this episode did it veer towards the fantastical. Having gone through the paces of an early modern witch hunt story set a few hundred years too early, we end with our anti-heroes tied to a stake and about to burn – and suddenly, they vanish. The whole thing seems completely bizarre, until the Queen wrinkles her nose…
Tara Maclay, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Before it became a tragedy, Tara Maclay’s story was briefly triumphant. She broke free of her abusive homelife and found an ersatz family based on the very thing that her real relations had abused her for – magic. A born witch who’d inherited magic from her dead mother, her powers brought her to Willow, who only realized her true self when she fell in love with Tara. The Scooby Gang’s lesbian wiccans had a charmed romance that was cut cruelly short.
Queen Pasiphae, Atlantis
Like her mythological counterpart, Queen Pasiphae was skilled in witchcraft, though thankfully unlike the mythological Pasiphae, she never decided to procreate with a bull. Played with wicked glee by Sarah Parish, she is one of the most intriguing, albeit evil, characters in Atlantis.
Alex Russo, Wizards Of Waverley Place
Technically a wizard but who’s counting, Alex Russo is your average ‘wise-cracking teen balancing everyday high school life with magic, vampires, werewolves and so on’. Played with a lot of vim by popstrel Selena Gomez, Alex deserves a place at this table for existing for over one hundred episodes and a movie.
Melisandre, Game Of Thrones
As old as the hills but, thanks to magic, remarkably well-preserved, Melisandre from Game of Thrones is a lesson in the dangers of religious fundamentalism. Her unfaltering belief in the Lord of Light, and in her own (unreliable) prophesying abilities, led her to some awful acts. Slitting a King’s throat, burning a child alive… all in the name of worship. If Jon Snow is the one who manages to defeat the Night King though, it’ll only be thanks to Melisandre’s resurrection spell.
Granny Weatherwax, Wyrd Sisters
Voiced by Annette Crosbie, the animated Granny Weatherwax from Cosgrove Hall’s Discworld adaptations, like her literary counterpart, is not to be messed with. Tall, stern and forbidding, she leaps off the page looking immoveable as a rock. It’s impossible to portray a literary character in exactly the way each individual reader imagines her, but Granny Weatherwax comes pretty close.
Adalind Schade, Grimm
The Hexenbiest are one of the scarier looking Wesen (the magical fairy tale creatures living disguised among humans in NBC’s Grimm) and their witchcraft abilities also make them some of the most powerful. Adalind Schade, played by Clare Coffee, started off as a cut-throat lawyer who’d put your girlfriend in a magical coma as soon as look at you, but over the seasons transformed from a creature into a human and back again… and again…and again.
Sabrina Spellman, Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1990s)
In the 1990s, Sabrina The Teenage Witch was, like its predecessor Bewitched, a classic sitcom with a solid heart. Sabrina herself was at the center of that, and her bubbly personality is what kept the show going through multiple changes in cast and format. Sabrina was not, in truth, the most competent witch in the world – every spell she cast seemed to go horribly wrong, even simple ones. But she was good, and kind, and always ready to try again, and for that we loved her.
Mildred Hubble, The Worst Witch (1998 and 2016)
Long before Hogwarts was a twinkle in JK Rowling’s eye, Jill Murphy created Miss Cackle’s Academy For Witches. Its hapless hero? Mildred Hubble, brought to life by Georgina Sherrington in the 1990s series, and now played by Lyanna Mormont herself, Bella Ramsey. Mildred’s clumsy and strong-headed but goodhearted and kind. Whatever she’s accused of, it’s almost always Ethel Hallow’s fault, that little witch.
This powerful sorceress was wilier than a fox (and played by one). Trained in the magical arts, she sought revenge against magic-hating King Uther Pendragon, and came up with numerous plots to kill him and his son Arthur, after fighting her way into Camelot. It was her relationship with half-sister Morgana, and her self-sacrifice in the cause of defeating their enemies, that was cruel Morgause’s true legacy.
Catherine and Amy Madison, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
For much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Catherine Madison was the closest the series came to a wicked witch; a lot of Buffy witches are good guys, sometimes the victims of persecution. Not Catherine, whose horrifying fate (trapped in her own trophy and presumably, eventually, blown up with the rest of the school) was almost deserved after she went to extreme lengths to relive her cheerleading glory days. Her daughter Amy was a pleasant and well-intentioned person when younger, though years spent as a rat gave her a harder edge as time went on.
Mirri Maz Duur, Game Of Thrones
In season one, this wise woman changed the course of the Seven Kingdoms as we knew it. Taking revenge for her people’s cruel treatment at the hands of Khal Drogo’s Khalasar, the godswife pretended to help the Khal while in fact killing him and cursing his unborn son. Using blood magic, Mirri Maz Duur took away Dany’s husband and child, prompting her into the flames of her husband’s funeral pyre, where her ‘children’ were born in dragon form. The rest, as they say, was seven seasons of convoluted, bloody history.
Diana Bishop, A Discovery Of Witches
Played by Teresa Palmer, Diana Bishop is currently witching it up on Sky One’s glossy adaptation of the All Souls series, along with Matthew Goode as vampire Matthew Clairmont. This one’s a heady supernatural romance stuffed with more fantasy conventions than you can shake a magic stick at – vampires, mystical books, centuries-long blood feuds. And in the middle of it all, a powerful witch who has yet to master her considerable abilities.
Grandmama, The Addams Family
Grandmama occupies the other end of the witch style spectrum to Morticia, her sometime daughter, sometime daughter-in-law (it depends on which Addams Family you’re dealing with). She’s unkempt, white-haired and aged, but every bit as deadly with a curse or a home-brewed potion. Always seems to be having fun too, which is nice to see.
Alice/Tilly, Once Upon A Time
Alice was born with potential magical ability thanks to her mother Gothel being a tree nymph. She has a decent sense of irony, as after the Coven of the Eight force her to join them, she uses magic to turn her wicked mother into a full-time tree, and is then able to use her power to help to bring about Storybrooke’s long-awaited happy ending.
Grotbags, Emu’s World
When singer and entertainer Carol Lee Scott joined forces with Rod Hull, Grotbags was born – first on Emu’s World, then later on her own spin-off show. A baddie who hissed at “horrible brats” and regularly took kids ‘hostage’ from the live TV audience, Grotbags was unforgettable. The voice, the wig, the beauty spot, the statement eyebrow, the two inexplicable sidekicks… Grotbags was a whirlwind in witch form. No eighties child was safe.
Queen Beryl, Sailor Moon
A broken heart (and the corruption of evil Queen Metaria) turned Earth sorceress Beryl from Sailor Moon into the leader of the Dark Kingdom, determined to rule the world via the Silver Crystal, with a reincarnated Prince Enymion at her side, and some truly fabulous hair on her head. Some truly, truly fabulous hair.
Marie Laveau, American Horror Story: Coven
As you’d expect from a show named Coven, there are a great many excellent witches in American Horror Story season three (Cordelia, Fiona, Myrtle, Queenie…) but in honour of the real-life Louisiana voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, and in honour of the glory of Angela Bassett, this memorable guest role had to feature. She’s the mighty high priestess, after all.
Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen
Emma Frost’s Starz/BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen engaged with the real-life rumours of Elizabeth of York’s witchcraft, and staged the legal accusations of the same levelled at her mother Jacquetta. The series showed the titular White Queen, Rebecca Ferguson, carrying out occult rituals and ending up on the throne. Witch or no, this woman had power.
Zelena, Once Upon A Time
No celebration of TV witches could go by without including the small screen version of the Wicked Witch of the West. Played by Rebecca Mader in the ABC fairy tale series, Zelena was a child of the Enchanted Forest whose maternal abandonment sparked a bitter rivalry with her half-sister, Regina.
Maggy the Frog, Game Of Thrones: The Wars To Come
One of the joys of Game Of Thrones is the way it seems to be completely subverting the traditions and clichés of fantasy, only to occasionally throw the audience a pure fantasy trope. The TV show’s interpretation of Maggy the Frog, rather than an eastern fortune teller, is a classic depiction of a wicked witch living in the woods. For such a key figure in Cersei’s life and, indeed, the whole plot of the series, Maggy has to be memorable, and the show achieves this in spades with rich set design and an enigmatic performance from Jodhi May.
Witch Hazel, Looney Tunes
Bugs Bunny’s antagonist is your classic cartoon witch – unkempt hair, pointy nose, green skin, bad dental hygiene, loud cackle, cauldron, black cat, and, like all witches, an obsession with capturing/seducing a wise-cracking rabbit.
Regina, Once Upon A Time
Watching the first season of Once Upon A Time, Regina comes across as a fairly standard fairy tale Witch Queen. She plots, she murders beloved close relatives, she smirks a lot while looking fabulous. And yet, as the seasons go on and more of her story is told, this cardboard cut-out Evil Queen actually starts to develop, and the Evil Stepmother is shown to be a caring mother and ends up a Good Queen – not bad for someone who could easily have been a by-the-numbers villain.
Brew the Witch, Button Moon
Spotted only a couple of times through Mr Spoon’s telescope (he’s a peeper), Brew the Witch (whose familiars included a dragon named Thunder and a cat named Lightning) nevertheless made a lasting impression on young Button Moon fans. Somehow, I remember being actually scared of her, which is odd as she’s clearly made out of a bit of cork and some pipe cleaners.
Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, American Horror Story: Coven
Much of American Horror Story, as the title suggests, focuses on horrors found lurking in American culture and history, and Coven does this particularly well, drawing on the historical horrors of American slavery to add a touch of real-life chill to its more fantastical horrors. This real, historical horror is embodied in the, chillingly, real-life historical character of Madame LaLaurie, a truly wicked witch whose most horrific acts have nothing to do with witchcraft and everything to do with the inhumanity of one human being to another.
Don and Maggie Stark, Supernatural: Shut Up, Dr Phil!
Don and Maggie Stark are another example of villains made great by a casting in-joke – they are a married couple played by James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter, thus giving Buffy fans the chance to see Spike and Cordelia as a gloriously bickering twosome. Casting aside, though, Don and Maggie are interesting in their own right, partly thanks to their sheer power. Sam and Dean Winchester have taken on the Devil himself, but the only way they are able to defeat Don and Maggie is through marriage counselling.
Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood
How is it possible to sum up the awesomeness of Lafayette in a few words? So wonderfully and charismatically played by the late Nelsan Ellis that he escaped his book counterpart’s fate and was rescued from death at the end of season one, Lafayette brightened up the small town of Bon Temps with his fabulous style and his deep love for his friends and family. Lafayette also possessed a lot of power and was adept at using magic when he needed to.
Evelyn Poole from Penny Dreadful
Playacting as a medium, Madam Kall from Penny Dreadful hides her true powers in plain sight. Underneath the party tricks, she’s really Evelyn Poole, a nightcomer and servant of the devil. Poole’s desire to claim Eva Green’s Vanessa for her dark master makes her a major antagonist in seasons one and two. Yes, she meets a cruel end, but boy, does she deserve it.
Bonnie Bennett, The Vampire Diaries
Bonnie struggles with her magic at first, but she grows into her powers and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Although, like all the characters in The Vampire Diaries, she has made some dubious moral choices, she is brave and strong, and willing to pay the ultimate price to save another or even bring Jeremy back from the dead.
Willow Rosenberg from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
From shy bookish Willow to scary, veiny ‘destroy the world’ Willow, all the way to glowy goddess Willow, this witch went through a lot over seven seasons of Buffy. She fell in love, became an addict, grieved, took bloody revenge and performed the show’s most crucial spells. It was Willow who returned Angelus’ soul to him, it was Willow who brought Buffy back from heaven, and it was Willow who shared the power of the Slayer to not one girl in all the world, but to many.
Her Imperial Majesty, Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, a.k.a. The White Witch, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.
These days, the more familiar form of the White Witch is Tilda Swinton’s ice-cold, blonde-dreadlocked, power-hungry monarch from the 2005 movie. However, for those of us of a certain age, the true form of the White Queen is Barbara Kellerman’s fantastically over-the-top pantomime villain. Never one to knowingly underplay it, Kellerman’s Witch was terrifying partly because you never knew which line she was going to suddenly shout in a small child’s face, displaying a fit of temper that made her truly terrifying even if she hadn’t had the power to turn her enemies into stone. Shudder.
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