Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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There's Always a Witch in the Woods: Robert Egger's "The Witch"

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

There's always a witch in the woods.”

Sparky T. Rabbit


Caution: Spoiler Alert


Robert Eggers' newly-released film The Witch is a visually stunning, psychologically claustrophobic study of a family's collective descent into self-destructive madness, a parable of the dangers of spiritual arrogance.


It's also (Temple of Satan imprimatur notwithstanding) rather a bore.

An hour-and-a-half bore which, might I add, is utterly redeemed (I use the word judiciously) by 5 minutes of soul-searing, scintillating brilliance as young Tamsin encounters the Dark Lord, lips to nape, in (where else?) the goat shed.

Wouldst thou taste a bit of butter? He asks. Wouldst thou live deliciously?


Dost thou see a book before thee?

I cannot write my name.

I will guide thy hand.


This scene apart, Eggers' decision to literalize the supernatural ultimately strips the film of any real suspense. Once you admit the possibility of miracle, of course, anything can happen.


Ah, believers. Is it really possible to kill by magic? If so—presuming that murder deserves legal punishment—then witch-trials become legally justifiable. It's a dilemma from which magical literalists cannot escape.

Interestingly, The Witch joins WGN America's series Salem in telling a witch's-eye view of the American story, and for this also I praise it.

Back in the Old Country, you see, we worshiped in the woods in the Old Way. But times grew hard and our worship a danger to us, and so we came to the New World, filled with trepidation but seeking our people's freedom.

And see: the forest. (And such a forest!) And see, see: He's here, here, even bigger and more beautiful and terrible than before! We haven't left Him behind at all: He's here already—He's always been here—waiting.

My friend and colleague Sparky T. Rabbit once observed that there's a woods in every story.

And—as well we know—there's always a witch in the woods.

The Witch (2016; Robert Eggers)

9.5 (out of 13) Golden Broomsticks












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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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