The Craft is a 1996 fantasy/horror film about a quartet of misfit girls who practise witchcraft and worship a pre-Christian deity called Manon.
Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk) are outcasts in their Catholic high school. Unable to fit in with the popular crowd, the three girls have bonded together and have started practising witchcraft – but to really make their magic work, they need a fourth.
Enter Sarah (Robin Tunney), a new girl in school with a troubled past. The trio welcome her into their group and teach her about magic and about the supreme deity they worship; Nancy describes him as “the trees and the ground and rocks and the moon in the sky- everything! If God and the Devil played football, Manon would be the stadium that they played in; he’s the sun shining down on them.”
The teenage gothic angst is balanced by another witch – Lirio, the owner of an occult store which the girls take Sarah to. While the other three shoplift the things they want (“a five-finger discount”), Sarah actually pays for her things and Lirio gives her a book about the craft, saying that Sarah is a natural witch.
The four girls take a bus trip into the countryside to perform their first proper ritual as a quartet. After creating a sacred circle they perform a blood-working, where they mix a drop of blood each in a goblet of wine and then drink from it while stating what change they would like in their life.
Sarah wants the popular guy in school to fall in love with her, Rochelle wants the mean popular girls to stop picking on her, Bonnie wants to be healed of scars which cover her back and shoulders, while Nancy wants to be filled with the power of Manon.
To begin with everything seems to work out well, as their desires manifest in positive ways, and the girls return to Lirio’s shop to prepare for a ritual where they will call the Guardians of the Watch Towers – the big ritual for which they needed Sarah as the fourth member. Nancy buys a book on the ‘Invocation of Spirit’, and Lirio warns Sarah that “True Magick is neither Black nor White, but both, as Nature is both- both loving and cruel. The only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is in the heart of the Witch. Life gives a balance of its own. But whatever you send out- it comes back Three Times. This is a basic spiritual truth that is said in many ways.”
The ritual is conducted on a beach one night and it proves to be the turning point in the film. When they girls awaken on the beach the next day it is to find Nancy walking out on the water, delighting in the blessing she has received from Manon. As they round the coast they see a line of sharks washed up on the shore and Nancy gloats that they are her gifts.
As Nancy becomes more and more out of control, Sarah becomes the voice of moral reason, begging the other girls to ease off on the magics they’re using and consider the consequences of their actions. Bonnie and Rochelle are commited to following Nancy’s lead though, and eventually Sarah tries to do a spell to bind Nancy from doing any more harm.
When Nancy realises what Sarah has tried to do, she leads the other two in an all out offensive against her, casting dark glamours to make Sarah see things which are not there. Nancy wants Sarah to become so scared that she takes her own life, but Sarah is made of stronger stuff!
As the three other girls sneak through her house, Sarah lies down on her bedroom floor and centres her mind before calling on the the law of three and invoking Manon herself. Bonnie and Rochelle are tricked by Sarah into believing that the spells they had done in the past are now returning upon them, and they give up the fight and run out of the house. Nancy is not so easily thwarted though, and continues trying to find Sarah.
When the two girls come face to face Sarah tells Nancy that she has a message for her – from Manon; “He said you abused what He gave you; Now you have to pay a price.” Nancy is defeated and the last we see of her, she is strapped to a bed in a psychiatric facility, talking to herself and seemingly trapped in her own private fantasy world.
The film is a cult classic; a great example of a spooky teen witch-flick, that actually gets it right some of the time.
If you expect the film to accurately represent Wicca, you’re going to be in for a frustrating hour and a half watching it, but if you’re willing to watch it for a witchy horror story, you may be pleasantly surprised.
The filmmakers engaged a Wiccan High Priestess as a consultant (An Interview with Pat Devin – Consultant for The Craft) and I think a lot of her influence can be seen in the character of Lirio, who seems very capable, calm and responsible. The character of Sarah is also noteworthy as a witch who remains in control of her powers and chooses to act in an ethical manner.
The deity in the film – Manon – is not a real god according to Pat Devin, who wanted specifically to use a name that was not already associated with any form of religion, so as to avoid any offence that might be caused. Therefore, although I have read criticisms of the film for using an imaginary deity, I would judge this to be a strength, even though it takes it a step away from genuine Wiccan beliefs.
The film also makes more out of calling the Quarters and invoking spirit than is found in Wiccan practises, but you can excuse this as part of the dramatic tension neccessary for the film to work. It’s not strictly correct, but it’s not trying to be a documentary. Similarly the powers exhibited by the girls are dramatic and rather superpowered, but you have to give the filmmakers some leeway in making a fantasy film.
The Craft does introduce some authentic Wiccan ideas to its viewing audience; the four elements, the basics of casting a circle and the law of threefold return are all presented on screen, along with the idea of balance and a connection with the Earth. More importantly the lesson of the story is about respecting the powers you have, and acting in a responsible and ethical way, and this is as applicable to modern Wicca as it is to Hollywood magic.