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The Rise of Witchcraft & Popular Culture: Is There a Connection?

Is witchcraft bad for children to watch?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

When the Harry Potter franchise exploded into the popular culture in 1997, Christians hotly debated the series’ cultural influence. Specifically, its potential connection to the occult—whether it glorified witchcraft in a way that might make people in the real world curious about it.

The story featured young wizards and witches gifted in magic and learning how to wield it against a dark spiritual enemy, Voldemort. Many Christians voiced the need for extreme caution about a story where witchcraft featured so prominently and positively, even if it was a high-stakes battle between good and evil. Others argued that the story (and subsequently, the movies) had little connection to a classical connection to the occult, and that there were valuable spiritual parallels and ideas to be mined here. Author J.K. Rowling herself later said that she had intended her story to be a Christian allegory.

Regardless of where on the spectrum you fall—and one could spend many years mining the internet for articles on both sides—I couldn’t help but think about it when I came across some news related to actress Emma Watson.

On April 15, 2023, Watson sang the praises of her coven in an Instagram post: “Thank you to the witches in my coven who were so pivotal in helping me arrive at where and who I am now. ❤️🧙‍♀️,🌻,🧜🏽‍♀️, 🥷, 🦌,👁, 🌸, 🦉,🏜,🥋and 🌹. You are my Avengers and you inspire me and kick a–. It takes a village, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” And that’s not the first time she’s given a public shout-out to witches, either. In 2022 at the BAFTA Awards, she said, “I’m here for all the witches,” a not-so-subtle jab at J.K. Rowling’s even more controversial conviction that biological women and trans women aren’t the same (a stance that has made her perhaps an unlikely hero among many who’d once criticized her).

I find Watson’s affinity for finding meaningful community among witches curious. Could growing up playing a witch have predisposed her toward, it seems from her statements, calling a coven her spiritual home? Apart from a conversation with her, there would be no way to know for sure. But I think it’s telling that perhaps the most famous witch of our recent pop culture past seems to embrace witchcraft IRL—in real life.

Indeed, that connection is one that deserves scrutiny. There’s no denying that we’ve seen an enormous surge in interest in Wicca in our culture—a trend that’s been well documented. How does pop culture influence a trend like our culture’s growing interest in Wicca?

Youth culture expert Walt Mueller, president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (a Christian ministry) teaches that popular culture is a mirror and a map. With regard to being a mirror, entertainment—such as movies, music, TV, social media, etc.—reflects our culture’s current moment. But it does more than that. It’s also a map, pointing us in certain directions, reinforcing certain cultural trends and worldviews.

I believe that’s certainly the case with this issue. Interest in the occult began to grow in the cultural turbulence of the 1960s. The June 19, 1972, issue of TIME Magazine featured a cover story titled “The Occult Revival.” Simultaneously during that era, we began to see popular television shows such as Bewitched and The Addams Family that dealt lightly and humorously with ideas about witchcraft, horror and the macabre.

Each decade since then has featured a continually growing list of shows and movies that prominently feature witches and witchcraft as core parts of their plot and worldview. It’s a long list of both. Parade.com recently updated its article “Conjure Up a Scary Good Halloween Season With the 26 Best Witch Movies Ever,” a list that included The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Hocus Pocus (1993) Practical Magic (1998), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Into the Woods (2014) and The Witch (2015), among others. On the small screen, the list of witchcraft-themed shows through the decades is similarly lengthy, including Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018), A Discovery of Witches (2018), Good Witch (2015), Salem (2014) and—again—many others.

Netflix even gives witchcraft its own genre category: “Witchcraft & the Dark Arts.”

So what are we to make of all this witchy programming?

As Walt Mueller wisely noted, Hollywood both reflects our culture and reinforces it—a feedback loop that seems to be accelerating. It’s impossible to say with absolute clarity exactly how one is influencing the other. Is Emma Watson enamored of her coven because she spent most of her life playing a witch? Making that connection doesn’t seem like a huge leap to me, even though it’s not one we could necessarily prove.

Stepping back a bit, the question for us as parents is this: How do we help our families navigate this topic, given the fact that there’s so much content on the big screen and small that our kids might potentially be interested in (or have friends who are interested in it).

Here are a few thoughts.  

  1. Recognize the reality of influence when it comes to worldview: Our culture is deeply invested in the lie that our entertainment choices don’t affect us, that we’re in control of how entertainment influences us. But when we look at this particular issue, I think we can say that entertainment affects culture and culture affects entertainment. That link seems undeniable, and we ignore it at our peril. So when we choose to engage uncritically with a story whose worldview is at odds with our faith, the possibility that it may influence us or our children to embrace ideas contrary to our convictions is a real possibility.
  2. Know your kids: Some children are particularly suggestable, sensitive or otherwise prone to be influenced by the ideas they see in entertainment. But every child, even within the same family, is different. So we need to become students of our kids to have a clear sense of where and how we need to protect and guide them through the many landmines that lay buried in the sand in the world of entertainment. If we notice them withdrawing or see abrupt changes in habits, it’s important that we consider what role, if any, ideas or suggestions that they’ve been exposed to via entertainment may be influencing them.
  3. Teach your children to identify and recognize spiritual counterfeits. At its core, witchcraft and Wicca (which we define and explain the Focus on the Family Parenting articles here and here) embody seductive belief systems that promise control and place the individual at the center of reality. It’s an idolatrous counterfeit to Christ-focused faith that supplants His rightful place as the One whom we trust and worship. As we help our children grow spiritually, talking about these key biblical principles helps to give them a foundation of truth and spiritual discernment.

Our culture has largely jettisoned belief in a God who is good, loving and sovereign. It’s also largely turned its back on the notion that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and are in need of a Savior outside of ourselves. Wicca, especially, rejects these truths, elevating the worship of self in its place. Those ideas, to greater and lesser extent, can often be found in the popular movies and TV shows I’ve talked about above. It’s our job as parents to equip our kids with the ability to see these deceptive-but-seductive deceptions for what they are.  

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