The Witches’ Sabbath — Salvator Rosa


The Witches’ Sabbath, 1654 by Salvator Rosa (1615-1673)


Witch’s Tavern — Cornelis Saftleven


Circe Invidiosa — John William Waterhouse


The Witches’ Sabbath — Arthur Rackham


Pretty Teacher — Francisco Goya

“The Witch’s Life” — Anne Sexton

“The Witch’s Life” by Anne Sexton

When I was a child
there was an old woman in our neighborhood whom we called The Witch.
All day she peered from her second story
from behind the wrinkled curtains
and sometimes she would open the window
and yell: Get out of my life!
She had hair like kelp
and a voice like a boulder.

I think of her sometimes now
and wonder if I am becoming her.
My shoes turn up like a jester’s.
Clumps of my hair, as I write this,
curl up individually like toes.
I am shoveling the children out,
scoop after scoop.
Only my books anoint me,
and a few friends,
those who reach into my veins.
Maybe I am becoming a hermit,
opening the door for only
a few special animals?
Maybe my skull is too crowded
and it has no opening through which
to feed it soup?
Maybe I have plugged up my sockets
to keep the gods in?
Maybe, although my heart
is a kitten of butter,
I am blowing it up like a zeppelin.
Yes. It is the witch’s life,
climbing the primordial climb,
a dream within a dream,
then sitting here
holding a basket of fire.

“The Hag” — Robert Herrick

the hag

Sorceress — Dominique Vivant Denon

Two Witches — Hans Baldung

Goya’s Witch/Clergy Axis (Robert Hughes)

In a disguised way, Goya in the Caprichos drew a parallel between witchcraft and the activities of the clergy. He stressed the resemblance between witches and friars in their obedience to the hierarchy of their calling, the younger deferring to the older. In plate 47, Obsequio al maestro (“Homage to the master”), an apparently senior witch looks down with stony disdain at another, who ois offering her (or him) the gift of a dead baby; the supplicant’s gesture reminds one of a groveling postulant kissing the cardinal’s ring. “Es muy justo,” runs the Prado text: “This is quite fair, they would be ungrateful disciples who failed to visit their professor, to whom they owe everything they know about their diabolical faculties.”

Plate 46, Correccion (“Correction”), shows a group of brujos, male witches, as seminarians, consulting “the great witch who runs the Barahona seminary” — whatever that institution may have been. Of course, Goya could not be too explicit about this: on the other side of any public criticism of clerical practices lay the ever-watchful eye of the Inquisition, which Goya had to be at pains to avoid.

—From Robert Hughes’s biography Goya.

Witches Spitting Fire — Joseph Beuys

Bedknobs and Broomsticks


We’ve always felt that Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of Disney’s most unfairly shunned films. This 1971 psychedelic classic combines live action with animation to tell the story of three young children billeted out during the blitz bombings of London in WWII (shades of Narnia). They’re sent to stay with Miss Price (Angela Landsbury), an amateur witch who’s none-too-pleased to take them in. They discover her (very amateurish) witchery, and blackmail her into bewitching a bed into a kind of magical transport. They set off to London, where they hook up with Professor Emelius Brown (David Tomlinson), a conman running a fake-wizarding school with a stolen spell book. The fivesome take off on a magical journey to find the other half of a spell, Substitutiary Locomotion, that Miss Price needs to make inanimate objects come alive (shades of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Their quest takes them to a number of strange places, including a lovely under-the-sea journey:

–and a soccer match with some animals:

The whole shebang climaxes (as you would expect) with a battle against Nazis:

Fun, fun, fun. An ersatz family on a magical quest, cheap, addictive songs, trippy animation, telekinesis–what’s not to love? And who can resist the metaphorical implications of a bed as a site of magical adventure? We watched this on VHS about a million times growing up. It’s far-superior to Mary Poppins, and something of a proto-Potter take on magic (okay, maybe that’s a stretch). In any case, it’s a fun family film for Halloween, and perhaps one that too-often goes overlooked. Highly recommended.