For years we've been debating over whether entertainment has a real impact on our youth, whether they mimic what they see in films, TV shows and music videos. I am here to tell you that they do, but it's okay because it's pretty hilarious and not something you need to worry about unless they're really into subjugating women with bottles of Cristal. Is that still a thing? Anyway, you need look no further than the 6-month period in 8th grade when I bleached my hair, cut my own bangs, and wore bindis to know that Gwen Stefani was one of the four horsemen of my own personal apocalypse. There were probably actually a dozen horsemen and they were all musicians I was really into at the time, but I won't bore you with the names of all of the bands I meticulously scribbled onto my binders, backpacks, shoes, arms and every other available surface. It was 1997 and I was in junior high, so you're probably on top of it.
But the biggest bad influence on my troubled youth was, by far, a little movie called The Craft. It came out in the spring of 1996, when I was just 10 years old, so I didn't see it until it hit VHS, when I was 11. By then I was in 6th grade and fully entering my weirdo stage. I lived in a little West Texas town called Midland, where I was the only kid in school who listened to Nirvana (thanks, dad) and I was really into being quirky. I made my mom buy me blue and yellow lipsticks and brightly colored eyeshadow and body glitter gel (GEL. I don't even think strippers use the gel form of body glitter).
Like most people in my profession who grew up during the '80s and '90s, one of my favorite memories is going to the local mom and pop video store every week and getting to pick out whichever VHS my warped little heart desired. You can read a more eloquent and heartwarming story of finding hidden gems and little-known treasures on someone's blog, I'm sure. I'm here to tell you that I skipped right past all those obscure VHS classics that would one day become coveted collector's items among some of my dear friends and went right for The Craft, an exciting film about goth-y high school witches, aka total aspirational material.
The summer after 6th grade was spent renting and watching The Craft (and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, obviously) dozens of times. If you haven't seen it (clearly we are not friends), a quick primer: Sarah (Robin Tunney) moves to a new town and makes friends with a trio of girls at her Catholic school. Turns out, these ladies are witches, but they're not very powerful because they need a fourth to complete their circle. Sarah, whose mom died when she was little, is a natural witch, and the key to making the magic happen.
I related to these young women who were bullied by the popular girl in school and jilted by the cute boy, who dealt with insecurities about their appearance and just wanted their parents to leave them alone. I memorized entire scenes. I tried to play Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board with friends. I got really into candles. I was experimenting with eyeliner. I wanted a plaid skirt. I started to think if I just had the right tools and a couple of good books, I could make things happen. I honestly believed that I was a witch. See, The Craft got me to thinking that maybe all women are witches, but we just don't know it until we try to tap into our power. Some of us are born with powers, while most of us have to use spells and incantations. I became really dedicated to the witch lifestyle. But I was entering 7th grade and turning 12, and didn't have easy access to witch stuff. I was also moving to a new town... just like Sarah.
So off we went to Dallas, where I started 7th grade. My mom refused to buy me any goth-type clothing, so I had to improvise, which involved a lot of safety pins and refusing to wear anything that wasn't black because bright colors were for preppy losers and I was a cool goth individual with magic powers and feelings. My real mission started one day in gym class, when I drafted the application for my coven. The questions were as follows:
* Are you a natural witch?
* When did you realize that you are a witch?
* Do you know any spells or incantations?
* Have you seen The Craft?
* What is your element (earth, air, fire, water) and watchtower (north, south, east, west)?
* What are your favorite bands?
* Have you ever done a glamour? (This is where you use a spell to change your appearance.)
* What is your dream eye color?
* What is your dream hair color?
* What is your favorite color?
* If you were talking to a boy you liked, and one of the coven members came to you and asked you for help, what would you do? (I was obviously very feminist already.)
* Would you use your powers to hurt people or cause them harm?
* Do you have a familiar? (This is an animal a witch keeps as a pet that also has supernatural powers. Obviously, this would have been my cat.)
* Can we have meetings at your house?
It was basically like I was making my own cool witch girl gang. Which is exactly why I was sent to the principal's office when copies of my application were confiscated. I was suspected of "gang-related activity." (Side note: I was also sent to the principal's office the year before for distributing comics I made on construction paper that were captioned with dirty nursery rhymes. I mean, as long as I'm telling you guys weird stuff about my childhood...)
My coven plans at school were not going so well, but I was still pursuing solo witch life. The school library was pretty useless when it came to witch books unless they were about the Salem witch trials, but I did manage to find some info in those about old school witchcraft -- there was something about putting egg whites in a glass of water as a form of divination, but I tried it and I didn't see anything in my future but wasted breakfast.
I ended up spending a lot of time in the occult and astrology section of the Waldenbooks at the local mall, going through witchcraft books and copying down spells in my composition notebook because I couldn't afford to buy the books themselves just yet. Then I'd head home and raid my mom's pantry for the Scarborough Fair special: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. And maybe a couple of cinnamon sticks, my dad's matches (and okay, maybe some of his pot), and some potpourri from whatever little arts and crafts project my mom had made out of random crap from Hobby Lobby when she resolved to get in touch with her creative side that fall. Up in my room, I'd put water in a bowl with a little candle and sprinkle spices all around it, light the cinnamon stick like it was my magic wand, and say an incantation -- usually about some boy who I thought I'd die without. The one I said all the time was, "Sacred water flow from me to bring him ever near, as endless rivers run to seas his path to me is clear. A love that's true once here he'll find and know his journey's end, and in his heart and soul and mind, he'll know our lives should blend."
You guys, I remember every word of that incantation just as clearly as I remember Sarah chanting "I bind you Nancy from doing harm, harm against other people and harm against yourself." I also remember my mom getting really pissed one night when she couldn't find her rosemary, like all of a sudden she was this classy, gourmet cook who would never make something called "beanie weenie pizza," and she needed her dried, decade-old jar of rosemary, damn it. But you should have seen her face when she found my witch stash of candles and cinnamon and spices: she was proud. She thought I'd been making some crafty little Pier 1 Imports knockoff for my bedside table or something. She only wished I'd asked for her help.
It was only a phase, and though I briefly flirted with returning to it in 2000 when Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came out, I left my mom's spices where they belonged: neglected in the back of the pantry. The moral of the story is that yes, kids do emulate what they see in movies, but if you're a good parent you'll pay attention and take lots of pictures of this very special and hilariously awful time in their lives and never let them live it down. Ever.