History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

Want to know about real magic from history? This is the place. Here we explore primary texts and historical accounts from the past.

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CAOS, Caliban, Chaos -- and Sycorax

There are bound to be a lot of commentaries on the latest series of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the latest in the comics adaptations aimed at getting young adult audiences (and the not so young) to binge on the tales of teen sex and magic. The creators have fun with the links to Riverdale of course, and horror movies (showrunner and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa grew up on comic books) as well as magic and the occult. You can already find a couple of thoughtful responses from Cunning Folk Magazine and the Media Witch.

No doubt there is a lot to untangle and most of it is probably not as deep as our analyses will go nor as seriosu (as we know) but I am struck by the use of Sycorax without using the most well-established aspect of her as Caliban's mother. In this series of CAOS Caliban is 'made of clay' like a golem (!) I guess for reasons to do with plotting. This move erases lineage but it also erases race. Sycorax as created by Shakespeare in The Tempest is Algerian and banished to this island presumably in the Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia where Claribel, Alonso's daughter, was to be married to the prince.

There are a lot of post-colonial readings of The Tempest and its adaptations, as well as reflections on the Christian morality of celestial Ariel being freed but earthly Caliban being forever doomed and punished. Sylvia Federici's influential Caliban and the Witch uses the tale for a jumping off point for deep investigation of the effects of capitalism on bodies, especially women's. While I have a lot of quibbles with her depiction of the Middle Ages, she's right to point out that the overall effects of witch hunts is to contain and control bodies in an atmosphere of fear.

Just look around us right now.

Sycorax is played by Latinx actor Kayla Zander; Caliban is played by Australian actor Sam Corlett, who looks like the embodiment of the results of market testing on suburban teen girls for their next pin-up. He's a Prince of Hell. How a fellow sculpted from clay becomes royalty remains unclear. In a programme that has made some effort to diversify the cast and embrace the breadth of gender, it's a bit of a disappointment -- and that's not even getting into the whole Witch vs. Pagans subplot!

[Sycorax painting by Arthur Rackham]

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K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, DREAM BOOK, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.


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