In order to learn why witches are being hailed as feminist heroes in the present day, you have to understand their extensive backstory. Now that October is in full swing, we can’t think of a more fitting time to kick up your pointy heels and marathon watch documentaries about witchcraft.
Not that films about the history of witches and their practices are any less interesting to watch in, say, March. They’re fascinating subjects year round, but you can’t fully get into the wonderfully spooky spirit of the month without expanding your magick and witchcraft knowledge.
All the badass witches we’re acquainted with (ahem, there are quite a few) take their practices very serious.
For anyone who’s in search of cheesy tropes about flying brooms, wicked creatures whose green that melts under a drop of water, you won’t find any fluffy recommendations here. A quick scroll through your social media feeds will reveal an overwhelming number of modern women who find the occult empowering on mental, emotional and spiritual levels.
If your understanding of witch culture is limited to fictional characters you’ve seen on TV or films, be sure to leave time in your bustling Halloween schedule to get into our list of eye-opening documentaries about witchcraft.
1The Pendle Witch Child (2011)
Poet and playwright Simon Armitag narrates this bone-chilling tale about a 9-year-old girl named Jennet Device who becomes the chief prosecution witness in her family’s witchcraft trial in 1612 Britian. Device’s testimony ultimately led to the hangings of 10 people, including her mother, brother and sister and many of her neighbors.
2The Witches of Gambaga (2010)
This award-winning film explores a community comprised of more than 1,000 women who were accused of being witches and condemned in Northern Ghana in March of 1995.
3Ancient Mysteries — Witches (1994-98)
Produced by A&E, Ancient Mysteries — Witches documentary series takes a comprehensive look at witches, including their place in ancient history, the Salem Witch trials, and the modern Wiccan movement.
4The Burning Times (1990)
The Great European Witch Hunt that occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries is the main topic of The Burning Times, which is part of the National Film Board of Canada’s Women & Spirituality trilogy, which also includes Goddess Remembered and Full Circle.
5The Power of the Witch (1971)
With contributions from Wiccans Eleanor Bone, Cecil Williamson, Alex & Maxine Sanders, Doreen Valiente and other occult experts, The Power of the Witch explores witches in 1960s and ’70s Britain. It features very rare footage and delves into the mysterious murder of Charles Walton, whose death had alleged ties to witchcraft.
6The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves and Vampires (1999)
While witches are the sole star of this documentary, it still covers plenty of ground about their history and modern-day practices.
7Secrets of the Dead: Witches Curse (2001)
Modern forensics and scientific theories are applied to determine what was truly at the root of the Salem Witch Trials, including actual bewitchment or a toxic fungus that caused widespread illness. It’s super interesting.
Filmed and directed by Benjamin Christensen nearly one century ago, this silent horror film incorporates his study of The Malleus Maleficarum — a text that is widely regarded as the most infamous witch hunt manual — while marrying fact and fiction to explore how “superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts.”
9National Geographic: Witchcraft — Myths and Legends (2011)
This two-part documentary travels the globe from locations in Mexico to Africa to examine how people practice witchcraft.