I was thinking about why witches resonate with me so much. Here is what I came up with.
In the early 60s, I read all the books with stories about witches that were available at the Wenatchee Valley Public Library non-fiction collection.
My favorite character in The Wizard of Oz has always been the Wicked Witch of the West. I fell in love with her and her laugh from the moment I ever saw her. I can do a pretty good impression and know her final speech by heart. “Oh, what a world, what a world. . . who would have thought that a good little girl like you could destroy of my beautiful wickedness.”
As an adult, I adopted The Queen from Snow White for my Halloween persona. I had a wonderful half mask, really a devil mask from the nose down, but close enough, when combined with black clothes covered with a big black cloak and topped with a black pointy witch’s hat. I made a basket of apples with rubber snakes and spiders. I had a black glove with long black fingernails. I took my kids to the mall for trick or treating, (inclement weather made that the only real choice). At the mall, I always went up to the little ones dressed up as Snow White and offered them an apple. The parents loved it but the kids sometimes cried and then I had to take off my mask and explain that I was just an ordinary mommy.
I have made an informal study of witches that I expanded to include all popular culture female villains. I collected little action figures of them and used them when teaching fifth graders. I taught them about stereotypes in literature by having them brainstorm all the characteristics of a witch: black pointy hat, long noise, wart, red eyes, cackle, pale skin, and then had them describe the attributes of the White Witch in the Narnia stories, as a compare and contrast exercise.
But to the point of this essay, for me as a preteen reader, there were virtually no powerful female figures in literature or in life. Sure, there was Cleopatra; she used her sexy wiles to advance her cause and died of suicide by asp when her plots failed. Then there’s Jane Eyre, a powerless orphan who needs the help of a big strong dangerous man to complete her world.
Powerful female villains I have loved include the aforementioned Wicked Witch of the West and from the Disney oeuvre, The Queen from Snow White, as well as Maleficent, Cruella De’ Ville. I also love Angelica from Nickelodeon's Rug Rats.
I don’t love Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but I do count her as a powerful female villain.
Other witches that impressed me are the witch at the top of The Glass Mountain and the witch at the top of Rapunzel’s tower. I am particularly fond of the wizened old woman who rewards the young adventurer in The Twelve Dancing Princesses; she is a witch in disguise who gives him a cloak of invisibility because he has shown her kindness.