What is it, exactly, about modern witchcraft that screams “ambient lesbianism”? Candles are not inherently lesbian (although they are beloved by dykes and bi women the world over); ditto long, flowing skirts and scarves and essential oils and wearing multiple chunky silver rings. The whole is gayer than the sum of the parts. It has something to do, I think, with the mainstream co-opting of a particular Lesbian Look in the early 1990s, and is almost certainly related to the fact that it’s now impossible to tell who in the Bay Area is interested in women and who is just interested in dressing like she does.
(A slightly filthy aside: I have never quite understood why “wearing a lot of chunky rings” is such a big part of a particular lesbian aesthetic when it seems like it must be absolute murder to have to pull all of them off before having sex.)
Wicca — or, you know, TV and movie Wicca, which is obviously as close as we’re going to get to the real thing today — has a lot to do with holding hands with other women while you create something and wearing white linen shifts in a field and finding your power. Witchcraft, like girl-on-girl sex, is one of the things that women can do without men. So maybe the “ambient lesbian” vibe isn’t such a mystery after all. There’s a reason Joss Whedon used it as a metaphor for Willow and Tara’s sex life for all of season 4 of Buffy, after all.
Here is an exhaustive but by no means complete list of Lesbian Artefacts in The Craft: Rachel True’s suspenders, Robin Tunney’s knee socks, Laura’s racist, twisted sexual obsession with Rochelle, Fairuza Balk’s dog collar, the magic shop owner who dresses like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Fairuza Balk’s leather jacket, “I drink of my sisters,” that light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board scene where Sarah teaches the other girls “You take your index finger and your middle finger and put it under her like this,” Fairuza Balk.
“One girl lays down, and you surround her, and you put your fingers underneath her.”
Witchcraft has always been associated with female sexuality because [term paper here], so it’s no surprise that the narrative arc of The Craft is less “heterosexual woman learns to chant, finds love” than “girl-on-girl spell cabal ensnares powerful Lone Wolf dyke-witch, lesbian stalking ensues.” (It’s not a very wholesome view of lesbianism, I’ll grant you that.) There’s a male Doing-It interest (Skeet Ulrich! Who, wasn’t he also in Scream with Neve Campbell?), but the entirety of his on-screen time can be summed up like this:
- Invites Robin Tunney to watch him play football
- Spreads vicious sexual rumors about Robin Tunney
- Is ensnared by a love spell and attempts to rape Robin Tunney
The real relationship at the heart of The Craft is, of course, between Fairuza Balk’s Nancy and Robin Tunney’s Sarah. Just look at Nancy:
What, I ask you, is gayer than a Catholic school uniform? A Catholic school uniform with a leather jacket over it. It’s not much a stretch to say that The Craft is really about a girl who has to call upon her inner resources to leave her abusive ex-girlfriend. Everything about the way Nancy treats the other girls in the coven — particularly Sarah –screams “controlling, manipulative girlfriend.”
(Let’s not forget that when Bonnie suggests they invite Sarah to “make a fourth,” Nancy gestures lasciviously at a female cop and says “Let’s invite her. I love a woman in uniform.”) Nancy is loud, abrasive, defensive, vindictive, and compelling. She’s the ultimate do-I-want-to-be-her-or-be-with-her Lesbian Conundrum found in so many high schools the world over. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that the real story is between her and Sarah — in an early scene, when she notices Sarah’s scars from a recent suicide attempt, she compliments her on doing it “the right way” and tells her it’s “punk rock.” It’s a sick, twisted validation of her pain, as well as a reminder that Nancy’s not afraid of the dark. You’ve tried to kill yourself? Cool. You can hang with her. She’s also noticing and naming Sarah’s body in a way that’s insightful, possessive, and more than a little intrusive (sound like anyone you’ve dated?)
YOU KNOW WHAT THE WORD “WEIRDOS” IS CODE FOR HERE. YOU’RE PICKING UP WHAT THEY’RE PUTTING DOWN.
Unfortunately, Nancy’s sexuality and sanity spin out of control the more powerful she gets, in the most straightforward explication of the Psycho Lesbian trope since Women In Cages. Fortunately, the movie is so campy and full of scenery-chewing, I don’t even care.
After Sarah joins, the coven gets infused with a jolt of real power for the first time, and the girls like it. Bonnie starts sexually harassing men on the street in one of the most enjoyable scenes in film history, telling one confused-looking guy “Don’t be shy, honey. Nice ass.” But it’s Nancy who pushes them further and further into dark territory, Nancy who wants to use Sarah for her abilities but resents her at the same time for being more powerful than she is.
It’s sick, and it’s sad, and it’s lovely, Nancy’s obsession/hatred/love for Sarah — she kills Chris for her after he tries to rape Sarah. Nancy never kills for herself, only for Sarah, in a fucked-up sort of chivalrous gesture. But after Sarah tries to leave the group, Nancy’s ready to kill her, too. For her own good.
“You know, in the old days, if a witch betrayed her coven, they would kill her.” That’s Wicca for “If I can’t have you, no one can.”
The good news is that while the movie ends with Nancy punished (and rightfully so! She filled Sarah’s house with snakes, and also Did Murder), it doesn’t end with Sarah either in the arms of a man or renouncing witchcraft. She’s found her power in the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman-style of Wicca, and she’s not afraid to use it to scare off a few half-pint can’t-cast baby dykes with some falling tree branches. Sarah’s ditched the controlling ex and she’s ready to do for herself.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.