The Coven is the third installment of American Horror Story, the first being porn and film plagiarism, the second concentrating on the plagiarism. The third benefits from an injection of irony. It is set in a boarding school for witches in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the beginning, there are only three students coming to grips with their powers: Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), Madison (Emma Roberts), and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). Zoe causes brain haemorrhage in any man who has sex with her. Madison, once a child movie star, is now recovering from substance misuse and has telekinetic powers. Queenie, a black witch, can harm others by wounding herself. They are joined by Misty (Lily Rabe), who has the power of necromancy. The coven is headed by Fiona (Jessica Lange), mother of the headmistress, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). A rivalry between the coven and the entourage of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) leads Queenie, feeling isolated in the coven of white witches, to join the voodoo community. A few deaths later, she re-joins the coven. The race motif is quite strong and dealt with in a not so superficial way, evincing melodrama, and delivering much needed irony with a great Gaby Sidibe, as Queenie, and a brilliant Kathy Bates, as racist Madame Delphine LaLaurie.
As mentioned in my post on witchcraft films, women have been associated with witchcraft in history and in film. Women who did not adhere to gender norms were accused of being witches. In the 1970s, feminists found in witchcraft/Neopaganism not only a way to express their spirituality, but also to pursue women’s empowerment around the worship of the Goddess. Starhawk is perhaps the most famous feminist Neopagan and author. Feminist witchcraft reclaimed in positive terms elements of the construction of witchcraft, such as the relationship between women and nature, leading to the emergence of ecofeminism. Today, male and female practitioners of witchcraft, Neopaganism, Neoshamanism forge their alternative identity vis-à-vis the dominant capitalist and materialistic culture of the 21st century (see Sabina Magliocco’s Witching Culture).
An interesting aspect of the search for a more empowered identity for women is, at times, through the Dark Goddess, as Tanya Luhrmann found in her study. The seemingly negative image of the Dark Goddess of ugly asexuality and destruction allows women to feel angry and aggressive, which runs counter to social gender norms imposing passivity and docility on women. This is also predicated on the magic ‘principle’ of turning negatives into positives. Thus, in the worship of the Dark Goddess, the practitioner identifies with the rejected and unpleasant (spiders, menstrual blood, death) “to turn the symbol of the outcast into a source of strength” (2001: 131). The Dark Goddess becomes a source of creativity. (which reminds me a little of Winnicott’s ‘hating appropriately’ in psychoanalysis). The TV series Coven centres the action on female witches, who are little bothered with social conventions. These are confident women who express their ‘talent’ by killing but also giving back life. I see a little bit of the Dark Goddess in coming to grips with – as Demetra George puts it – “what we do not like about ourselves, what we find threatening, shameful, and inadequate, as well as certain valued and positive qualities that we are pressured to repress and disown.” (Excerpt from Mysteries of the Dark Moon)