The series puts a dark and devilish new twist to the story of Archie Comics character Sabrina Spellman, a half-witch, half-mortal who is preparing for an important rite of passage. On the night of her 16th birthday, Sabrina’s aunts expect her to participate in a “dark baptism,” a ritual that would involve pledging her life to Satan. In exchange, she would become a full-fledged witch.
But Sabrina isn’t interested in giving up her life as a mortal ― or being forced to do Satan’s bidding. She’s intent on finding a third way forward, a path that lets her keep her mortal friends and boyfriend while maintaining her ties to the magical world. Her determination triggers a chaotic series of events, as forces of darkness and light battle for her soul.
The series may be billed as fantasy, but many people consider witchcraft a real and vital religious practice. Modern-day witches are incredibly diverse, coming from traditions such Wicca, Reclaiming and Hoodoo. Some witches see their craft as a way to connect with the sacred power of the earth. Others see witchcraft as a tool for the marginalized, a way for those on the fringes of society to exact justice that would otherwise be denied to them. Some witches practice magic to honor their ancestors, continuing ancient indigenous traditions that colonial powers sought for centuries to stamp out.
HuffPost talked to several real-life witches about how Netflix’s reboot portrays witches and witchcraft. Some praised the title character’s gutsy efforts to stand up to the patriarchy. Other witches ― particularly witches of color ― thought the series reinforced old and harmful stereotypes about witchcraft and the people who practice it.
Elizabeth Ruth, a Haitian Vodou Priestess from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, initially was hopeful “Sabrina” could “make a difference” in how people perceived witches. But after watching the first episode, she emailed HuffPost again, saying the show “broke bad.”
“It’s offensive as fuck and inaccurate as hell,” Ruth wrote.
Read on to see what four other U.S. witches thought of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
Black Witch (#Blitch), Practices Black Belt Hoodoo
This show demonizes witchcraft in a way that practitioners, particularly black practitioners, have been fighting since the transatlantic slave trade and the colonization of Africa. The West has used the idea that Black medicine doctors, conjurers and witches were “satanic savages” to steal humans, steal their lands, and forcefully convert them from their religions in an attempt to “christianize” them.
The “lord” of witches is not “Satan.” Most African Traditional Religion practitioners, Wiccans and pagans have no concept of “the devil” in their spiritual traditions at all. So to bring up the whole “witchcraft equals Satan” thing does not do any good for the already dreadful narratives surrounding witchcraft in American society ― especially for Black people and Natives, who have been beaten, called “satanists,” maimed and hung more than anyone else for practicing our traditional African religions on this soil.
I want people who watch the show to remember that practicing a non-Christian faith does not include signing your soul over to the devil, because 99 percent of the time, your non-Christian indigenous traditional faith predates the existence of the devil. Also, burning culturally appropriated sage and hoarding crystals mined from Congo to impress friends doesn’t make anyone any more of a witch than a consumer. For [black, indigenous people of color], returning to our ancestral religious traditions is where the real power lies.
Long Beach, California
Green Witch, Wiccan
I did watch “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” growing up and remember the show portraying the struggles of a young woman with gifts in a light-hearted matter. The current rendition seems to have taken on darker undertones and is really about the war against the patriarchy.
The patriarchy attempted to vanquish us many moons ago and the witches of the world are being awakened to bring hope, peace and a sense of strength to the people of the world who may have forgotten that good is everywhere and evil doesn’t have to win.
Shows like “Sabrina” do not paint a real-life portrayal of Wiccanism or other pagan-based spiritual practices. I have never met a witch who praised Satan or studied demons. While I am sure that they exist, as with anything, there is always a light and a dark path available to you.
So far the resounding voice I have heard in response to this show has been positive, especially about how the LGBTQ community is represented. I haven’t finished the show yet, but so far I really enjoy how femme-positive it is. My biggest gripe with the “American Horror Story” coven was that the witches in that show were pitted against each other without a sense of community. So far in “Sabrina,” it seems to be more of her being pinned between patriarchal factions and having the support of women in her life navigate that.
I want people who watch the show to remember that we certainly are not all satanists! More often than not, we are people who find nature, equal rights and lifting others up to create a better world for everyone far more interesting than Satan. Also for my American witches: The most powerful spell you can cast this year is your vote on Nov. 6.
Brooklyn, New York
The show is obviously satirical, and it is skewering specific, early modern notions of what witches were thought to be. Spreading tales of Satan-worshipping, sexually depraved, homicidal witches was one way the Church, and European society at large, maintained dominance over women.
One of the biggest messages of “Chilling Adventures” is that patriarchal supremacy is insidious and it is everywhere. Even the witchly Church of Night is controlled by oppressive male figures. And one of the things I love best about the show is that Sabrina is trying to combat this and find her own, self-directed way of doing magic. And that is actually one of the truest reflections of the practice of witchcraft that I’ve seen on television.
Witches have always been political figures, because they represent a marginalized “other” who is seen as a threat to the status quo. Throughout most of history ― and still today in many parts of the world ― when someone calls someone else a witch, it is usually meant as a negative epithet, and it is more often than not used against women. Things are starting to change, however, and over the last 150 years or so we’ve seen the witch be reclaimed and reframed as a symbol of feminism, freedom and autonomy. And this is directly related to our evolving ideas about women and their worth: As we’ve begun to value women more, we’ve begun to value witches.
These responses have been edited for clarity and length.
This story has been updated to include a more detailed description of how Ruth initially felt about the show.