Every Witch Way: Witches In Fantasy

Part of being raised by two mums in a tree-hugging, dirt-worshipper sort of household is growing up with an eye for magic. Ever since I was a wee thing, I’ve been obsessed with the unmundane, from Care Bears and their sparkling tummy rays to sorcerers and witches.

I used to sit with my NeeNee (short for a much longer Native American name — this is the woman I still think of as my second mum), and we would go through her animal cards. They were beautifully drawn in greens and blues and reds, patterned on the back, a centered animal totem on the front, encircled in a dreamcatcher. They came with a book, and books like that just breathe magic.

hummingbird - yay!!!

hummingbird – yay!!! (Photo credit: Debbi Long)

She would shuffle the cards together, moving one over another with a reverence far from the poker table, and sometimes she’d let me draw one. We would open the book with the card face up then, paging through each chapter until we came to the animal we’d drawn.

I loved reading the descriptions that highlighted each animal’s symbols and strengths. Those moments have stuck with me for almost twenty years.

When we first moved to Montana, we had twenty acres of land that we purchased for $30,000. Even then that was a steal. On our land, we had a small gully and a large thicket, with one tall Ponderosa that lent its branches quite often to a neighbourhood porcupine. The mound by that Ponderosa and the chokecherry thicket were our sacred places. They were places of quiet reflection. They were places where magic came alive.

I had a friend who lived just down the road about a half mile from where we lived. She and I were both hungry for magic. We loved the click of gemstones and the scent of Montana sage. We spent days and weeks roaming the gullies of our land together, climbing trees and each hoping to stumble upon something buzzing with power.

In fiction, I was drawn to anything supernatural, from horror to epic fantasy to urban fantasy and paranormal romance (though back then, paranormal romance didn’t have a name).

I quickly discovered many different types of witches.


magia/magic (Photo credit: SIRHENRYB.is ****the dreamer****)

1. Earth Magic

These witches drew their power from the earth itself. From the elements. Little was impossible when they mastered this power, because if anything is endless, it’s the power of nature. The Aes Sedai in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are a good example. They drew power from the elements themselves, weaving together Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit to create, protect, move.

English: Dreamcatcher Español: Atrapasueños el...

English: Dreamcatcher Español: Atrapasueños elaborado con lana, plumas y cuentas plásticas, adquirido en feria artesanal del balneareo de El Quisco, Valparaíso, Chile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Talisman Magic

This type of witch drew power from the earth, but focused it through talismans. L.J. Smith’s witches were this sort — while they had some powers without aid, their best work came only with the focus provided by stones, herbs, and spells. Spells are the manifestation of a talisman, the product of power, will, focal points, and words. Heady stuff.


Lightning (Photo credit: Pete Hunt)

3. Self Magic

Some magic-users created it from within themselves, by a gathering of will and a focal point of a word. Harry Potter. David Eddings’s sorcerers. The word aimed the intent. Some used wands as well, but for others the word was enough. This magic came from within and could exhaust or easily backfire on the user if not careful.


blood (Photo credit: bedrocan)

4. Blood Magic

Sometimes the mage’s blood — often someone else’s. This type of magic is almost fully condemned as dark magic. In the Dragon Age universe, spilling blood is a sacrifice to demons, who then supply power if you can control them. In Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, blood is used as a focus and an activator with little moral implication unless taken by force. Blood magic is often portrayed as more powerful than earth or talisman magic — perhaps because it’s forbidden.

Micah's DNA

Micah’s DNA (Photo credit: micahb37)

5. Gene Magic

In comic books and graphic novels, this gets called science (albeit futuristic, hold-on-to-your-breeches science). Mutations, reactions of certain blood types — all that manifest in supernatural powers of some kind. It’s still magic to me. This magic is interesting because it is unique to each person. One thing might affect two different people in completely disparate ways. One X-Man might be able to fly; another just has really sticky fingers.

One thing is sure, there’s enough magic out there for all of us.

Which witches did you like to read about most? Beyond all the different terminology (witches, sorcerers, warlocks, wizards, mutants, Aes Sedai), if you could choose a type of magic what would it be?


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on September 24, 2012, in urban fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I like your categories. The best ones to read about are the earth witches or the self-magic. I’m not so big on mutations, although X-Men is all right.

  2. I agree that your categories are good to help organize them. I’m sure there are ones that might not fit one or the other (or might overlap one or the other), but this is good to have when writing my own witches.

    I guess I like them all. I’m not picky in that regard. 🙂

    • Yeah, this wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, and it also wasn’t meant to categorise real world pagans by any stretch of the imagination. These were just common threads I noticed over the years. 🙂

      • I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to criticize. 😮

        I really hadn’t thought of it that way, and I like the categories. It actually helps me quite a bit. I’ve written a few witch-stories that were epic failures and I think it was because I never really thought about where their power came from. Which would really have a definite influence on the witch’s character. So these categories are really good to help hone a (witch) character.

      • Oh…whoops. Sorry about my phrasing…I was just clarifying, not wounded. ^_^

        But yeah, a witch’s power source has a heap to do with how she wields it!

  3. My favorite witches are Anne Rice’s Mayfair witches. I suppose they draw on something akin to gene magic, as you define it. (Though another element of their magick relates to ghosts.) Then there’s the Practical Magic witches, which also seem to be all about the genes.

    Hmm. I hadn’t realized ’til now there was a common thread there. Nor had I really thought about how the witches in my novel-in-progress fall into that category.

    I do love that you make me think 🙂

    • Thanks! 😀

      I always thought a lot about this stuff because I always wished I was a witch, ha. If I had to pick, I would go with Earth Magic or Self Magic. Because there’s a lot of Earth and a lot of Self, and I wouldn’t like to have to rely on talismans to access my power. I always enjoyed analysing the different ways witches used or obtained the power for changing their surroundings — and what consequences came from it. In many stories, it was likened to a drug that could be abused. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it makes for some interesting storytelling, especially when it comes to Buffy and Willow’s character arc.

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