Enchanting Words: Exploring the Magical World of Witches in Literature

jordyn enrile writing Feb 09, 2024

Written by Jordyn Enrile

Witches have long held a bewitching allure in the world of literature. These enigmatic figures, both powerful and complex, have fascinated readers for centuries with their mysterious brews, incantations, and otherworldly powers. From the cackling, green-skinned witch of Oz to the broomstick-riding enchantresses of Hogwarts, the portrayal of witches in literature is as diverse as the spells they cast. Join us on a literary journey as we delve into the captivating world of witches in literature, uncovering their evolution from wicked hags to multifaceted characters who challenge our preconceptions and weave their magic into some of the most enthralling stories ever told. In this exploration, we'll spotlight famous witches, dissect their symbolism, and uncover the enduring appeal of these enchanting figures from  the pages of our favorite books. So, grab your broomstick and prepare to be spellbound by the mystical words and incantations that bring witches to life in the realm of literature.

In every culture around the world, you will find some semblance of witches. They are seen as medicine women, wise elders, and mystifying beings who could talk to gods. It is believed that the first written account of witches is in a publication written by two Germain Dominicans named Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger in 1486 titled Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches. This is attributed to being the work that started the witchhunt, as it was basically a guide on how to identify, hunt, and interrogate witches. 

As a major authority for Protestants and Catholics, this book sold more copies than any other book in Europe. The witch hysteria grew in the New World of America, with fears of smallpox epidemics and attacks from indigenous peoples. This created an easy tinderbox of tension and anger for what we know as the witch trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. 

But when did we, as a society, stop fearing witches and start writing stories full of fantasy and wonder? Even among all the fear and hysteria, witches were still being written about. They have long been tied to ancient folklore and religion and whispered about in scary stories around campfires. 


Greek mythology had one of the biggest witches that still affects stories today, Circe. Her most famous appearance is in Homer’s Greek epic, The Odyssey. Portrayed as a powerful sorceress who resides on the island of Aeaea, she is the protagonist for Odysseus as she becomes this seductive and enigmatic figure who eventually becomes an ally and lover. She embodies the archetype of being beautiful, powerful, and morally gray, using her ability to lure and control men through her enchantments. Her symbolism of the allure of the unknown and the power of transformation in a figurative and literal sense represents the tension between the natural and the supernatural, serving as a symbol of temptation, growth, and change. Her character has been reimagined and adapted in many literary works and retellings, such as the graphic novel Circe by George O’Connor in 2013, Circe’s Power by Janet L. Ford in 1999, and most recently Circe by Madeline Miller in 2018.


We love stories that push the boundaries of what stereotypes are and the expectations that are thrust upon you once you don the hat of that stereotype whether intentionally or not. There isn’t a better character to choose than Elphaba. Elphaba is a complex and iconic character from Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked, as well as the Broadway musical of the same name. In The Wizard of Oz, we see Elphaba as the Wicked Witch of the West, fighting Dorothy with magic and hijinks as the typical protagonist. However, in Wicked, we see the subversion of the traditional wicked witch archetype with her backstory and motivations that portray her as a misunderstood figure. People already judged her for her green skin, a visual symbol of “different, other, evil,” and through her journey of finding her identity as a witch, she is proud of being. She is strong and independent, pushing away Glinda’s version of “Popular” and Elphaba’s refusal to conform to traditional gender roles challenges traditional expectations for women in literature. She is a major symbol of female empowerment in a story that highlights political activism and the journey of identity and self-discovery. 

Hermione Granger

Arguably, one of my generation's most powerful and famous witches is Hermione Granger from the infamous Harry Potter series. The number of challenges and stereotypes she fights has her defying expectations and serving as a role model for young readers all over the world. She challenges the conventional definition of witches by being a major moral compass for her and her friends, consistently championing the cause of justice and challenging authority figures and the prevailing system of oppression. Her character underscores the message that gender and social class should not limit one’s abilities or ambitions as she is one of the brightest witches of her age as a Muggle-born. Her growth from a rule-abiding bookish student into a brave and resourceful witch who is unafraid to take risks for the greater good has her as a central aspect of the series’ narrative. Hermione is a well-developed and multi-dimensional character who is celebrated for the importance of standing up for what is right and the pursuit of knowledge. 

In literature, witches are not merely characters; they are embodiments of the extraordinary, the mysterious, and the transformative. They invite us to enter their world, learn their spells, and perhaps discover a little magic within ourselves. So, let us continue to be captivated by the words that conjure these enchanting figures and by the enduring stories that remind us of the boundless possibilities of the human spirit.


Jordyn is a dedicated college student pursuing a B.A. in English with a minor in History. Her passion lies in the exploration of the world of words and stories. Jordyn aspires to find her place in the publishing world, where she hopes to bring stories to life, while also working towards a career as a children's school librarian, nurturing young minds to discover their own literary adventures. Her spirit animal, the octopus, reflects her appreciation for the diverse ways creativity can reach out in various directions, embracing the wonders of the world.