Even the infamous Monty Python doesn't hesitate to take the classic stereotype of a witch and use it for the benefit of entertainment. A witch is dangerous, mean, deceitful, and something to be dealt with, rather than a woman with thoughts and feelings. During the witch hunts of the 1600s, any woman with knowledge of nature--midwives, healers, etc--were persecuted without fail as witches. Women have always been associated with nature, and as Foucault, Merchant, and Fox Keller point out, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing until about that time in human history. Since the witch trials, however, the term 'witch' has been nothing but derogatory. Even the rather modern religion of Wicca, which worships nature, has been quietly but securely labeled a religion of witchcraft and devil worship. Popular culture always runs until it's been trampled into the ground, and the idea of a relationship with nature has only recently become acceptable.
What I find most interesting, however, is how the label of "witch" has been so derogatory for so long, and yet the long-awaited change in this view was brought about by J.K. Rowling and her world famous Harry Potter series. Rowling was able to take something still taboo (at the time) and turn it into every child's dream. The books became best-sellers, causing movies to be filmed that make millions and even a theme park devoted solely to the Harry Potter world to be built. Even Star Wars didn't make that much of a splash. Now young girls play at being witches, and while some people still quietly disapprove most just want to play along! Across the country and around the world people of all ages dream of vacationing in Florida just so they can see Hogwarts, and pretend just for a little while that magic is real. What used to condemn a woman to an awful, terrifying death has finally become perfectly acceptable thanks to Rowling's books.
My question, then, is will this change of heart last? Harry Potter has been popular since it was initially published and has rocked pop culture ever since, but as many fads do this may fade into the history books. Will the old standard of a mean, devil-worshiping woman re-take the definition of a witch, or will witches remain simply women with knowledge of nature and, of course in this case, magic?