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Evolution Of The Witch: Witchy Women Of The Last 100 Years (VIDEO)

Evolution Of The Witch

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 10/28/11 09:38 AM ET Updated: 10/28/11 09:38 AM ET

"Sparks fly from her fingertips ... She's a restless spirit on an endless flight" -- so goes the song "Witchy Woman" released in 1972 by rock band, the Eagles.

The Eagles were far from the first to draw on this image for inspiration. We may have put together a list of creative women's Halloween costumes for 2011, but the witch remains the most classic female getup. A ubiquitous figure, both in pop culture and history, the representation of the witch is by no means uniform; she's been interpreted in a multitude of ways over the years, from repulsive to stunning, evil to virtuous, air-headed to cunning.

In the Western world, witches are most famously associated with the European and North American witch-hunts that took place in the 15th to 18th centuries (remember the Salem Witch Trials?). Most of the individuals targeted, tortured and executed were women. And although the witch-hunts weren't exclusively about gender, much of the moral panic surrounding witchcraft stemmed from the fear of female sexuality and the threat it was thought to pose to the male-dominated Christian Church.

We've clearly come a long way since burning witches at the stake, but witchy women still have a hold on the popular imagination. In film and on TV, witches tend to be divided into two camps: good and evil. "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" is the first question that Dorothy is asked after she lands in Oz. Good witches are generally depicted as beautiful, white and young, while bad witches are generally older, less conventionally attractive, often darker skinned, and prone to jealousy. In recent years, some of the witches that have emerged have been more nuanced characters (Antonia and Marnie from the most recent season of "True Blood" come to mind).

To explore the witch's cultural evolution, we've rounded up a slideshow of our favorite -- and most famous -- witches of the last 100 years.

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  • The Wicked Queen From "Snow White" (1937)

    "Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the fairest of them all?" The Wicked Queen of the 1937 Disney film, "Snow White," is definitively evil. After her magic mirror tells her she's not the best looking woman in the kingdom, she brews up a potion to transform herself from a red-lipped siren into a frightening hag (because of course, old equals ugly). And what's in this menacing potion? Mummy dust, a scream of fright and a thunderbolt for good measure.

  • Wicked Witch Of The West (1939)

    Another wicked witch -- and perhaps the most famous of them all -- is Dorothy's nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, best known for terrorizing the Kingdom of Oz ("I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!"). Although she receives a more sympathetic portrayal in the novel-turned-Broadway-show "Wicked," this witch is generally portrayed as unattractive, and resentful of those sweeter and better looking than she. After all, she wants those sparkly red shoes that end up on innocent Dorothy's feet! (Although considering they belonged to her recently deceased sister, can you really blame her?)

  • Glinda, Witch Of The North (1939)

    If the Wicked Witch of the West is the quintessential bad witch, Glinda is the quintessential good one. She's gorgeous, compassionate to those less fortunate and wears a pink sparkly dress that would make even the most blinged-out beauty queen jealous. Her appearance and demeanor contrast those of her "wicked" counterpart in every way. Now, show of hands: Who didn't love when "Wicked" cast this bundle of loveliness as slightly less than perfect?

  • Samantha Of "Bewitched" (1964-72)

    Beautiful, blonde and beguiling, with an undeniably cute nose twitch, Samantha is another classic good witch. The fun thing about Samantha was that, although her husband consistently tried to keep her "in check," -- much of the series has a very 1950s feel -- she refuses to contain herself. In this episode, for instance, she wills a cupcake to land in the face of a stuck-up woman who thinks a little too much of herself.

  • The Witches of Eastwick (1984)

    John Updike's novel, published in 1984 and made into a film in 1987, depicts three witches that aren't solidly on the side of good or evil. After being scorned by their respective husbands, these three women inherit magical powers -- simply by being divorcees. Throughout the novel and the film these powers are used for various acts of mischief, spurred on by the dark, seductive and mysterious figure of Darryl Van Horne, who arrives in Eastwick with the sole purpose of seducing these new witches. It later becomes clear that Mr. Van Horne is a representation of the devil -- an illusion to the historical connection between witchcraft and devil-worship. Updike manages to create slightly more complicated witches who can't be labeled good or bad, just, well, human.

  • Witch Sisters From "Hocus Pocus" (1993)

    This film put a Disney spin on the traditional depiction of a bad witch. The three sister witches in "Hocus Pocus" are clearly the antagonists -- they target innocent children on a quest for eternal youth -- but they're more angry and selfish than evil. Still, each of the three embodies a negative female archetype. The eldest (Bette Middler) is conniving, the middle sister (Kathy Najimy) is portrayed as dumb and overweight, and the youngest (Sarah Jessica Parker) is one-note sexy.

  • Coven From "The Craft" (1996)

    The young, school girl witches of "The Craft" are bullied into dark magic, although they too tow the line between the good and evil camps. Like the "Witches of Eastwick," their descent into the dark arts begins when protagonist (and witch) Sarah is scorned by the popular boy she has a crush on. Subsequently, she forms a coven with three other female outcasts, who all embrace black lipstick and roll up their school uniform skirts (the women of "The Craft" are the epitome of sexy, '90s grunge). "The Craft" reminds us that even good girls (Sarah clearly represents this) can get swept up in bad things -- especially when wronged by a man. And suggests that single young women, especially unpopular ones, are terrifying.

  • Owens Sisters Of "Practical Magic" (1998)

    The Owens' sisters are traditionally beautiful, slim and white. So unsurprisingly, they're cast as good witches (although slightly more morally complex than their predecessors). The plot is tied to the history of the Salem Witch Trials -- the sisters are descended from a woman who was hanged for practicing witchcraft. Although the characters are not all sweetness and light, any mistakes they make or flirtations with dark magic they succumb to are in the name of protecting each other or their hearts. And with a Hollywood happy ending, they confirm that if you're a good witch, it all works out.

  • Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (1996-2003)

    Sabrina's had many incarnations (including an Archie comic series and a 1970's TV series) but Melissa Joan Hart's depiction of this angst-ridden witch had mass appeal. Sabrina is the teenage Samantha of the '90s. Also a stereotypical (read: blonde, attractive) good witch, she consistently gets herself into and out of uncomfortable social situations using her powers. And like Samantha, she has to keep her identity a secret so as to properly blend in.

  • The Charmed Ones (1998-2006)

    Prue, Piper, Pheobe (and later on Paige) are also beautiful, good, sister-witches. These three women balance the trials and tribulations of being 20-something, working women by day through fighting evil at night. They also wear stilettos and crop tops, signaling the emergence of a new archetype: the hot witch.

  • Hermione Granger (1997-2011)

    To see a depiction of a good witch that's not all about looks, go find Hermione Granger. Although her big screen depiction takes some of the original awkwardness away from the character, Ms. Granger's strengths always lay in her intellect. "I've tried a few simple spells myself and they've all worked for me ... I've learned all the course books by heart, of course," she says as she introduces herself to fellow students in the first book of the series. Hermione serves as the moral compass for best friends Harry and Ron, while still championing causes of her own. She's clearly an innocent, but her headstrong personality and whip-smart mind make her far more interesting that your typical, bubbly good witch.

  • Marnie And Antonia Of "True Blood" (2011)

    This past season of "True Blood," witches were added to supernatural mix of vampires and werewolves. The two witches featured most prominently are Antonia, the spirit of a witch burned at the stake during the European witch trials and Marnie, the outcast witch whose body Antonia inhabits. As popular culture frequently reminds us, a woman scorned is a dangerous woman. This has never been so clear as in the case of Marnie and Antonia, who are clearly depicted as enraged women -- pushed to the brink of violence because violence and injustice have been inflicted upon them. Although by the end of the season, the characters diverge -- Marnie ending up more on the side of evil and Antonia on the side of good -- both women ultimately find salvation in death, giving up their quests for vengeance once and for all.