But it did happen. I know it. I was there. And so I alone shall recount to you this terrifying paranormal tale: for several months, the entire youth culture of Westerville, Ohio, was based on The Craft.
Yes, I’m talking about that one movie, with Fairuza Balk. The Craft was about four teenage girls—representing the elements of water, earth, air, and fire—who formed a “coven” to worship “Manon” and/or make some freaky stuff happen with their minds. They became prettier, caused the downfall of mean girls, made cute boys fall in love with them—you know, the usual witch stuff. As it turns out, The Craft was a horror movie, and the girls’ spells ended in death, attempted rape, and psychiatric hospitalization. But nobody focused on that part. We, the teen girls of Westerville, Ohio, had just learned that banding together in groups could potentially give us freaky mind powers. And we wanted in.
We wore more eyeliner; we checked out our friends’ astrological signs to see who could embody which element; we passed around a Wiccan spell book someone had shoplifted from Barnes & Noble; as one, we entered into one of the goofiest, most Yankee Candle–centric epochs of our young lives.
I’ve since learned that this bout of film-inspired teen witchery has struck other towns, and other women. Which, really, is not at all surprising. Much of the world’s paranormal history has to do with adults being terrified of teenage girls.
Before there was The Craft, there were the Salem witch trials, which started because the young girls of the town were engaging in unearthly, demonic behavior—such as “screaming” and “throwing things.” You know. The sort of thing you’d never do as a 12-year-old, especially not if you were stuck in a freezing-cold Puritan settlement where the funnest activity was churning butter. Their parents took a quick look, were like, “Clearly, Satan has done this,” and promptly went about slaughtering half the town. In the 20th century, Anneliese Michel—an epileptic, mentally ill girl who started to have seizures and hear voices at 16—died of starvation and dehydration because her parents chose to hire exorcists instead of getting her to a hospital. They were convicted of manslaughter, but her grave is still visited by people who believe she was possessed, and, thanks to two or three pseudo-biopics, Anneliese’s story become a central part of the disturbing pop culture tradition of movies about young girls or teens who are possessed by Satan. Oh, and by the way: do you have a poltergeist? Check again! Many people who believe in ghosts believe that the presence of a teenage girl in the house attracts malevolent spirits, who feed off of their burgeoning sexiness and intense, girly emotions.
All of this is typical girl-fear. Once you realize that The Exorcist is, essentially, the story of a 12-year-old who starts cussing, masturbating, and disobeying her mother—in other words, going through puberty—it becomes apparent to the feminist-minded viewer why two adult men are called in to slap her around for much of the third act. People are convinced that something spooky is going on with girls; that, once they reach a certain age, they lose their adorable innocence and start tapping into something powerful and forbidden. Little girls are sugar and spice, but women are just plain scary. And the moment a girl becomes a woman is the moment you fear her most.
Sady Doyle at Rookie Mag, The Season of the Witch