Ten films with pagan and witch themes

There are loads of them! But I will discuss 10 here that are worthy of a bit of attention. Firstly, I won’t mention the commonly popular witchy ones – ‘The Craft’ and ‘Practical Magic’ in this run-down. This list will comprise some rather obscure films that many of you may never have heard of due to their age. At the end of this post, I’ll list a few more that fit in the themes.

1. The Wicker Man, 1973

Yeah I know. Let’s get this one out of the way. But I can’t go past without mentioning it, coz really, it’s a masterpiece in my opinion. It’s perhaps one of the most famous pagan films out there and now has a cult following. People even tour the sites where it was filmed. A 30th anniversary DVD was released in 2003 into a lovely Director’s Cut – this year it’s 40. And still the best. The Nicholas Cage version of 2006 is not really worth watching, and I’ve not seen ‘The Wicker Tree’ yet, but not heard good things, however, I’ve known the story for years as I bought the novel Cowboys for Christ when it was released. Summerisle is idyllic, if you were a visiting pagan, you’d probably be very welcome (bringing in new blood and all), but if you were a Christian PC intent on forcing people to spit upon their own religion and beliefs, you might not see another day.

2. The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, 1978

The novel The Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon has elements of Summerisle within it. It is set in New England in a small isolated village called Cornwall Coombe, where a natural form of farming still occurs, and so do the festivals from the old country. The protagonist who moves with his family to Cornwall Coombe finds that the village has secrets and they are only known by the women, who appear to run the village, along with its matriarch Widow Fortune, played by the aged but fabulous Bette Davis. Outsiders are welcome, but only if they accept the villages ways, and if you are a villager, you aren’t exactly safe either – accept ‘the ways’ or be ostracized, be careful what you say and do. An interesting take on the Harvest Lord/Sacred King archetype as written in The Golden Bough by J.G Frazer. A brilliant production, however the VHS was edited heavily from close to 4 hours down to 2 hours. Yet to be remastered and released in full glory.

3. The Sorceress (Le Moine et la Sorciere), 1987, French

‘Sorceress’, or ‘The Monk and the Sorceress’, is a French film focusing upon a story from the Middle Ages. Dominican monk Etienne arrives in a small village looking for heretics in the area, because, as you know, the Church believe heretics to be absolutely everywhere. He finds a place where the local folk and their priest live with superstition and magic and accept the healing remedies and advice of the ‘forest woman.’ I thought this film would be terrible, watching the Church kill and destroy the only link to herb remedies and magic in the cunning woman, but I was pleasantly surprised, as a monk realises his own errors of his own life. Also notice the scene where he cannot for the life of him, carry a baby properly.

4. Eye of the Devil, 1966

A film by MGM, and assisted with the help from Alex Sanders himself, ‘Eye of the Devil’ is another take upon the Harvest Lord/Sacred King. Filmed at Hautefort in France (where ‘Ever After’ was also filmed), it stars Deborah Kerr, David Niven and Sharon Tate, the latter whom we know met a tragic end by the Manson Family in 1969. A prefect thriller in devilry, a brilliant film, you should all see it.

5. Apprentice to Murder, 1988

For all your pow-wow magical needs, watch this film. Apart from the bit about murder. Ignore that bit. Donald Sutherland plays a doctor obsessed with satanic influences upon the Pennsylvanian town, and performs folk rituals using hex magic. He influences a young boy to help him, create his hex symbols and educate him. It is based on a true tale.

6. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages, 1922

A nice old black and white silent film, showing what people believed what went on with witches and satanic worship in the old days. Really, it’s old religious drivel, and couldn’t be further from the truth. Still a great film – check out the awesome devilish tongue-work performed by its writer, Benjamin Christensen who plays the devil in it, and witches riding brooms over roof-tops in 1920s style special effects. Also a fantastic Black Mass performed half way through the film.

7. Bell, Book and Candle, 1959

Here’s a bit of Hollywood. James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak star in this romantic film about witches living in New York City. Several critics and witches out there don’t like the way Kim Novak as Gillian, a free-spirited woman, gives up her magical powers and stalwart, mysterious attitude, for love. Many witches cannot fathom it in our world. It was the late 50s and apparently that was all women wanted to eventually do – get married – or so the men thought. Still a delightful film, I love the beatnik bar ‘The Zodiac Club’ and Jack Lemmon playing the bongos, their Aunt Queenie, and Pyewacket the cross-eyed Siamese cat, Gillian’s familiar. I love how Queenie, Gillian and especially Nicky (Jack Lemmon) absolutely love magic and being witches. It’s clear they feel ‘above’ the rest of the human race.

8. The Moon Stallion, 1978 (6 part series)

While this is not exactly a film, but a television series like ‘The Dark Secret of Harvest Home,’ it goes for the length of a film, so could be viewed that way. Set in the Edwardian era, and exploring the Berkshire landscape of the Uffington White Horse, there is a very British Pagan sense to it all, with a mention of the Moon Goddess, Wayland the Smith, and the Wild Hunt. It’s a perfect blend of myth, magic and power, with Sarah Sutton playing the blind maiden, who respects the ‘old ways,’ probably thanks to her archaeologist father. Nice to see David Haig as the young magician, Todman (toadman) and a youthful Caroline Goodall too. Hail the Moon Goddess!

9. The Witches’ Bottle, 1975

You can always rely on Thames Television for supplying some excellent British spooky productions in a quality that can never be replicated. This short episode from season 1 of the Shadows series was written by none other than Stewart Farrar. Of course, there is a mention of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General of the 1640s. And the spirit of a burned witch. Two teenagers do a pleasant bit of exorcism by casting circle to help out a deceased witch. All good spooky 1970s fun.

10. Robin of Sherwood, 1984-6

I can’t go past the final one without mentioning Robin of Sherwood. An incredibly pagan series, and if you are a lover of classic 60s, 70s and 80s style budget filming and music, then you’ll accept this one perfectly. There are three seasons and two Robin Hoods. A brilliant suitable soundtrack by Clannad, this series makes modern day British pagans proud, as Herne the Horned One is featured a lot, as Robin Hood, Son of Herne, helps people oppressed by the nobility. That’s just how Robin Hood works in general. The fact that he says ‘blessed be’ a lot makes any pagan girl giggle helplessly. That, and it does not seem to matter that Michael Praed and Jason Connery have mullets – they are too beautiful to be laughed at. Even men have agreed with this.

Of course, there a loads more films, television shows and animations out there that cover, or have snippets of the themes of paganism and magic. More often than not there is no mention of paganism, the old Gods, and witches in some stories, but they’ll mention magic, as it’s not such a bad word. Below, there are loads of productions with the themes, but there’ll be far more that I have not added – I can’t keep up, with all the CGI possibilities of today, there is so much more out there, and I’ll admit I have not added to the list in a while because of that fact. I’ll bet there are more productions I have missed on this list, some will be so obvious, I’ll be ashamed to not to have added it, but feel free to mention them in the comments, giving release date as well, so as people can Google them. Some films out there are just horrors, and don’t do the subjects justice.

Paganism and tradition

The Wicker Tree (2012)
A Walk in the Clouds (1995 – Keanu Reeves)
Dancing at Lughnasa (1998 – Meryl Streep)
Stara baśń: Kiedy słońce było bogiem - ‘An Ancient Tale: When the Sun was a God’ (2003 – subtitled)
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
The Wicker Man (2006 – Nicholas Cage)
Chocolat (2002 – Juliette Binoche)
Children of the Stones (1976 – 7 parts)
Elidor (1995 – 6 parts – BBC series - by Alan Garner)
Earthfasts (1994 - 6 parts – by William Mayne)
Dinotopia The Movie (2002)
Dinotopia the Series (2003-4, 13 episodes)
Flight of the Dragons (1980 animation)

Magic, Witches & Wizards

Harry Potter (all seven films)
Practical Magic (1998)
The Craft (1996)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
The Worst Witch (1985 – Fairuza Balk)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989 - anime)
The Witches (1990)
The Advocate (1991 – Colin Firth)
Hocus Pocus (1993)
The Mists Of Avalon (2000)
Howl’s Moving Castle (2005 - anime)
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1996 – Sigourney Weaver)
Like Water for Chocolate (1993 – subtitled)
4 Rooms (1995, 4 parts to film, 1st part about witches)
Sleepy Hollow (2000)
Big Fish (2004)
Bewitched (1964 – 1972)
Catweazle (1970 – 1971, 2 seasons)
The Worst Witch series (1998 – 2002, 4 seasons)
Sabrina the Teenage Witch series (1996 – 2003)
Charmed (1999 – 2006, 9 seasons)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003, 8 seasons)
Angel (1999 – 2004, 4 seasons)
Wyrd Sisters (1997 – 6 part cartoon)
Guinevere Jones (2002)
Merlin (2008 – 2012, 5 seasons)
The Legend of the Seeker (2008 - 2010, 2 seasons)
The Witches and the Grinnygog (1983 – 6 parts)

Myth and Fairytales

Dragonslayer (1981)
Legend (1985)
Labyrinth (1986)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Willow (1988)
Secret of Roan Inish (1995)
Princess Mononoke (1997 – anime)
Fairytale:  A true story (1997)
Apparition (1997)
The Owl Service (1969 – 70, 8 part)
Monkey (1978)
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1987 – 9 episodes)
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1997 Greek Myths – 4 episodes)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 – subtitled)
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)

Ghosts and Hauntings

Watcher in the Woods (1980 – Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson)
Spirited Away (2003 – anime)
Moondial (1988, 6 part series – BBC1)
The Clifton House Mystery (1978, 6 episodes)

Thrillers and Divination

Appointment with Fear (1985 – Michele Little)
The Gift (2001)
Warlock (1991)
The Ninth Gate (2000)
Anchoress (1993 – Natalie Morse)

8 Comments

by | April 3, 2013 · 5:11 pm

8 responses to “Ten films with pagan and witch themes

  1. An interesting selection, but is missing Spirit of Albion – although a straight to DVD film, it is arguably the first real Pagan film. Features such as The Wicker Man may have good Pagan elements, but are ambiguous in their stance on Paganism. Loathe Sgt Howie as much as you will, but the film does not take side, and in fact, the Pagans are seen, ultimately, as the villains of the piece, as is often the way on screen. Robin of Sherwood remains and impressive and entertaining show, and the depiction of Pagan beliefs is nicely presented, and for once, they are the good guys. Haxan is an interesting and oft underrated film – the most expensive film to be made in Sweden at the time. We had the pleasure of giving a DVD of the movie with our relaunch issue of Greenmantle.
    Another film which deserves mention is The Secret Garden ( 1993) which, surprisingly, has an element of Pagan ritual in it – slight, perhaps, but a nice touch to a classic story.

  2. I’d add Angel Heart, Chemical Wedding and Harlequin to the list. But this is a great post, really enjoyed it.

  3. Reblogged this on What has not been and commented:
    This is a comprehensive and thought-provoking list of films and television with occult, pagan and witchcraft themes. Most excellent!

  4. You should also have a look at Excalibur, the 1981 film by John Boorman with Nicol Williamson as Merlin and Helen Mirren as Morgan le Fay. Okay, so there is a lot of Christianity in it (it is, after all, a straight rip-off of Malory and Geraldus Cambrensis), but there’s more than a hint of Paganism too, for those with eyes to see it. Remember, folks, in the olden days the Cunning Folk had to hide their occult activities, and the parallels in this film are exactly right, for within all the Christian waffle the thread of Paganism is still strong – including the Charm of Making.

  5. Bleu

    I have watched many of those listed. Upon watching many movies via Netflix, I have found one that is a treat for the whole family. It is very much Pagan based. It is called The Last Keepers. I hope you enjoy it, as much as I have.
    ~Blessings

  6. Katie

    The Mists of Avalon deserves mention, Merlin with Sam Neill and Helena Bonham Carter is not terrible also. History channel’s Vikings is a take on Viking pagan religion…

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