Traditional Witch’s Review of the 1973 George Romero Movie, “Season of the Witch,” aka. “Hungry Wives” and “Jack’s Wife”
(This note added on Aug. 17, 2013: I am a huge fan of this movie and this is my first of three reviews and analyses of it at this blog. The second one is entitled, “Review of Season of the Witch (1973) or “Hungry Wives“ and the third is an analysis regarding Green Man symbolism in this movie, entitled “Green Man Nature Spirit Symbolism in George Romero’s Movie “’Season of the Witch or Jack’s Wife.'”)
I feel compelled to write a review of this film for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve seen so many very bad reviews on it at not only at Amazon, but elsewhere, in which the viewers give it one star ratings on the basis of their own lack of understanding, but, also, because it is one of the most outstanding witchcraft movies I have run across in a long time and as a long-time occultist I was pleasantly surprised by it.
It is a fact that witchcraft is almost never accurately represented in film. But, “Season of the Witch,” which is obviously based in part on the book, “Mastering Witchcraft” by Paul Huson, is a startling exception.
It depicts the fusion of the original Women’s Movement of the early 1970s with a resurgence of interest in the subject of witchcraft by women who had been cut off from their own natures by the artificially constructed suburban middle-class society. This is why “Season of the Witch” is mentioned in “What’s Next After Wicca? Non-Wiccan Occult Practices and Traditional Witchcraft,” in reference to the growing interest in this subject of witchcraft as a social under-current in the 1960s and ’70s in the U.S.
The original title of this film was “Hungry Wives,” but it was a relative flop at the theaters in 1973 and was not re-released until 2005 under the title “Season of the Witch,” possibly to capitalize on the excellent track by the same name, a hauntingly beautiful song by Donovan. I do not know what Romero’s intentions were with this film, but he must have learned the lesson: “Never over-estimate the intelligence of your audience.” This is the only reason I can see why this brilliant film would have failed with audiences. It is both a product of its time and well-ahead of it.
It is only fair to point out to those only familiar with modern Wicca that the witchcraft represented in Huson’s book and in “Season of the Witch” is not Wicca. Although, Wicca wasn’t entirely unknown in the U.S. at the time this film was made, it wasn’t not yet a trend and would not become one for another 20 years. Wicca is a relative late-comer, especially in the U.S. where it is heavily Christianized and is often philosophically at odds with traditional witchcraft.
“Season of the Witch” opens with a dream sequence, which is amazing for its ability to tell us so much about the life of Joan Mitchell, aka. Jack’s wife in a matter of a few seconds. Jack is seen walking through the woods with Joan behind him, although he doesn’t see her or even seem to remember she is there. Although, she is some distance behind him, she is being struck in the face by limbs and brambles as he walks on, engaged in reading the newspaper. In the next instance we see Joan in a swing and she looks as if she is about to run into Jack as he is still walking along reading his newspaper; but, they never intersect. They never meet and throughout the dream he ignores her.
A current of misogyny runs throughout the film, although sometimes it is hard to notice because its the same one we all grew up with and deal with every day. We see the father’s sexualized misogyny toward his daughter as he and Joan go off to a cocktail party. “Try to stay virgin,” he says. And, throughout the film he is obsessed with his daughter’s sexuality in a disturbing way. Although, it is no different from what is considered socially acceptable for “caring” fathers to feel about their daughters, it is a sense of sexual ownership and possession.
Once at the cocktail party we see that two women are talking and one of them is standing back to back with a man who simply reaches out from behind him, so that no one else can see, and assaults her in a sexual way. The woman turns and gives the man an angry look, but the conversation continues and the man suffers no consequences for his assault.
Numerous dream sequences throughout show us how Joan feels about her life, which is one of relative privilege. She has friends whom she meets for games of bridge and cocktail parties. She has a daughter, thus fulfilling what woman’s purpose was thought to be by some people at this time. Their house is equipped with three television sets and she has all the things she really needs. But, she is alone a lot because Jack is so focused on his work and even when he is there, she feels terribly alone and disconnected from him. She sees her life passing her by and from the dream sequences we learn that she fears becoming old and she feels she is treated more like the family pet than a human being by her husband.
Some people are taken aback by the use of contemporary slang, but there is nothing in this film that isn’t there for a good reason. This kind of language is used to show you that Joan and her social circle are part of the “in” crowd. The have the “nowest clothes” and are the kind of people who wouldn’t dream of bucking any trend or fad sold to them through television or through the sub-culture of which they are a part. Although, they talk about how now, “anything goes,” the fact is that there is still a very strong compulsion among them to dress, speak, think and behave in certain restricted ways. There is great social pressure to be “with it” and not deviate from the norms of their social class, which is very staid, sexually repressive and misogynistic.
At the cocktail party, Joan’s best friend Shirley mentions a friend of theirs who is involved in witchcraft. In another scene Joan mildly chastises her for bringing up witchcraft at the party since they were going to visit this lady soon after for a tarot reading.
The first evidence we see for the reality of witchcraft in the film is that the witch touches on the subject of “the romance that failed,” which is a reference to something Shirley had not told anyone about. Shirley is about 10-years older and facing difficulties in her life because she is aging and becoming less desirable to her husband whom she has caught engaging in an affair with a younger woman. Shirley’s life represents a future that Joan fears.
Once they return to Joan’s house, Shirley, Joan and her daughter Nikki and one of Nikki’s professors, Greg, with whom she is carrying on a sexual relationship have drinks and a discussion about the power of the mind. Greg doubts the possibility of witchcraft. He says that the effects of witchcraft have a psychosomatic explanation.
Throughout the film, we see hints of the varying types and degrees of repression the women suffer from.
By the end of the party, Shirley is upset after being humiliated by Greg and Joan plans to take her home and stay with her that night. But, they have an argument on the way to Shirley’s house and Joan changes her mind and comes home.
When she arrives, she sees that Greg’s car is back and he and her daughter Nikki are in Nikki’s room. We hear sounds of them “making it” in the next room. Not knowing what else to do, Joan goes to her own room, where we see that she begins engaging in her own sexual fantasy, clearly longing for the sexual and personal freedom she has never had.
Nikki discovers her mother is home early and becomes angry, knowing that her mother must have heard what was happening in the next room. In the next scene we see that Nikki has run away.
There is a wonderful atmosphere of rain and storms throughout the previously described scene and we see shots of this intriguing bull figurine, which is the symbol of a pre-christian era, the Age of Taurus. Throughout the film, when something significant to the plot is taking place, we often see a shot of of this bull, which represents the Sacred Bull of Mesopotamia and which has been used to represent pagan gods and goddesses, such as Moloch of Canaan and Hathor of Egypt. It may, also, be a representation of the white bull of Shiva, the Nandi Bail (Bull).
When her husband returns home from work, he is angry with Joan for not responding in the way he thought she should have to returning home and finding their daughter being “balled in the next room.” He swears and hits Joan across the face.
With both her husband away on business and daughter gone, Joan takes advantage of her time alone to make her own discovery of witchcraft. With the song, “Season of the Witch,” by Donovan playing in the background she shops for all the ritual items and things she needs to set up her altar. Of course, she pays for it all with MasterCard!
When her husband returns home, again, in a foul mood and swearing at dinner, we see evidence of Joan’s growing powers as the dishware trembles. This is very subtle, but important to understanding what is happening.
Joan continues to have increasingly terrifying and violent nightmares in which a burglar wearing a mask resembling the Green Man, breaks into her house and rapes her. Many viewers have mistaken the Green Man mask for a devil or demon mask, which certainly says something about these viewers and where they are coming from. Of course, the Green Man is a familiar motif in pagan literature and lore as a spirit of the forests and nature, also, at times associated with lust and licentiousness.
If you are familiar with Paul Huson’s “Mastering Witchcraft,” you will experience a few thrilling, if not jaw-dropping moments, as you watch this movie for the first time. Joan performs rituals straight out of this book, even using quotations directly from Huson.
The sex scenes in this film are seen differently by many, but my own take is that Joan is destroying her old sexual programming by engaging in behavior that pushes the limits and boundaries of her staid, conventional middle-class thinking. As evidence that this is the case, we hear her say in her conversation with Greg, after her daughter’s disappearance, that she finds it difficult to accept the idea of sex without love. She doesn’t use this exact phrase, but Shirley does a couple of times earlier in the film. And, we see that the idea of sex for pleasure and without commitment is something that Joan would have difficulty with.
She must surely realize that if she is to throw off this Christianized thinking and return to her natural state of being as a witch, she must undo this programming. Greg offers her that opportunity and she takes him up on his offer.
Soon after, we see Joan conduct a ritual to renounce Christianity. This is the part in the movie where she opens a passage in the Bible and writes the “Our Father” with the words jumbled and reversed on a piece of paper.
After she has done a ritual and taken action to break down this wall of Christian mind control programming through extra-marital “balling, ” she attempts to conjure a demonic spirit. Although, the method of her conjuration is flawed. She does it incorrectly, perhaps because she is a new witch.
The procedure unfolds as follows:
She decides to conjure the demon “Virago,” who is clearly the Goetic demon Vassago re-named for the purposes of the movie. The word “virago” means a strong, brave or war-like, Amazon woman. So, this is a demon she is conjuring to increase her own power.
Realizing that she needs two people (increased kinetic energy), she calls Greg to her, again. She begins by trying to reach out to him telepathically, but when this fails, she calls him on the phone. Anxious for more “balling,” he doesn’t hesitate to come at her bidding.
Normally, the demon would be invoked into a circle or triangle of his own, but Joan calls the demon into the circle which surrounds both her and Greg. Normally, she and Greg would have their own separate circles during a conjuration.
Despite these mistakes, we see that her conjuration is a success as a cat (the form taken by familiar spirits) enters the house through an open window in the basement. As the ceremony proceeds, it appears that Greg is overtaken by the demonic spirit and he rapes Joan. As this happens we see the cat coming up the stairs toward the circle.
Joan tells Greg not to come back.
After Greg departs, Joan comes back into the room and screams as she sees a strange cat standing in the circle where she conjured Virago.
It is interesting to note that even Greg’s name, which is derived from “egregor” or “watcher,” which is a kind of demon, may have some significance.
In the closing scene, we see a confusion of terrible nightmares and actual early return of her husband, Jack, whom she was not expecting. Terrified, she fires a shotgun through the door, killing her husband and the final source of her oppression.
The final scenes of the film intersperse her initiation into the coven, as the misogynistic police discuss how she will get away with the murder of her husband and how women always “get it all in the end.”
Sometimes the best way to communicate complex ideas is to show and illustrate them, which this film does beautifully, however, it requires that the viewer meet the film-maker, at least, part of the way by paying attention.
Some people have called this a feminist film. Whether it was intended to be or not is unknown. It is known that attempts were made to promote it as soft porn, which failed, because it simply isn’t that. It’s far more intellectual than that and is sure to disappoint anyone looking for cheap thrills. What it does is tell the story of what was happening in many women’s lives at the time and what is still happening, although times have changed a little bit.
Witchcraft has long been the domain of those outside the mainstream, dominant culture – the slave classes, including women. Pointing this out may or may not be feminist, but it is undoubtedly truthful.
Other books by Sophia diGregorio
Read more about George Romeros’ excellent movie, “Season of the Witch” at: Review of “Season of the Witch” (1973) or “Hungry Wives”