The Witch of Your Mother – The Spanish Coven

To celebrate Halloween, Hollywood Hegemony proudly presents horror academic Irene Cuder’s thought provoking essay regarding the role of witches in demonising female empowerment. 

                    Irene also features in our final Horror Cuts film “Witching and Bitching”

As Creed states, “there is one incontestably monstrous role in the horror film that belongs

to woman – that of the witch” (Creed, 1993, p. 73). The film Witching and Bitching,

aka Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi (de la Iglesia, 2013) offers a good example of a filmic

representation of male tension towards female empowerment by introducing a recently

divorced father who abducts his son and perpetrates a robbery and in her attempt to leave

Spain to start a new life with his son, he encounters an evil coven.

The depiction of the witches in the film seems to be strongly influenced by Goya’s El

Aquelarre or El Gran Cabrón, included in the painter’s famous Pinturas Negras (Goya,

1820-1823), which supposes one of the main referent to witches representation in Spain.

Thus, the mise en scéne, the closed location in a cave and the chiaroscuro lightning

remind of this painting. However, the main difference that the film introduces not only in

relation to Goya’s work but also in relation to other cinematic depictions of witches is the

fact that there are no male figures among the witches, not even the devil or a male evil

spirit. As a result, whereas the witches in El Aquelarre are gathered around a male central

figure known as El Gran Cabrón (The big Male Goat), who represents the devil, in de

la Iglesia’s film, the witches summon a female goddess who represents female power,

matriarchy and the cult to the feminine.

Thus, unlike similar narratives based on the myth of the witch, Witching and Bitching

storyline is not that of a witch hunt in which women try to prove their innocence or that in

which a coven perform a ritual and summon the devil. Instead, this is a male story in which

men are the victims of powerful witches seeking justice so they can recover the place they

deserve in society. They want to bring the goddess mother back to the world and stop the

worshipping of the “false prophet”. The female goddess works as a symbol of femininity

and ultimately, their plan is to end patriarchy.

As a consequence, women are represented as monsters. They bring horror to the

narrative as male characters fear them but, where is the root of this fear? As Creed points

out, the Roman Caholic Church accused women of “copulating with the devil, causing

male impotence, causing the penis to disappear and of stealing men’s penises” (Creed,

1993, p.75). As a result, it seems that the fear of witches and its consequent persecution

is based on a “morbid interest of witch as other and a fear of the witch/woman as an

agent of castration” (Creed, 1993, p.73). A materialisation of this male anxiety takes place

in the house’s kitchen, when Maritxu puts on a metallic, sharp set of teeth and shows

it, menacing, to Toni, who is then shown in a close up shot displaying his face in fear.

This image is a reference to the vagina dentata and the fear of castration. Moreover,

Maritxu will attack Toni and bite him in an arm. It seems then, that the trope of witch to

depict woman is very suitable in a story told from a male point of view in which men feel

powerless and their virility is threatened by intimidating, empowered women.

In addition, the male personae seem astonished when they encounter the witches,

who have an empowered identity, very different from the traditional female othered role

that they expect from women in a patriarchal society. For example, when Maritxu is

introduced in the storyline, running a bar to which the group of men will soon arrive, she

is represented as a very strong, assertive, bad-tempered, bossy old lady. Nevertheless,

when Jose and his friends arrive to the place, looking for some food and rest before

crossing the border, he feels empowered, particularly with his friends’ support. However,

Maritxu does not recognise this authority and she addresses to them in the same way

to the rest of the people in the bar, disrespectfully. Soon the men will feel uncomfortable

around her and decide to leave the place at once. They are afraid of her as witches are

monsters because they reject the “proper feminine role” (Creed, 1993, p.42), bringing

abjection to the narrative. When Eva is alone in her room, sexually playing with a broom,

Jose and Toni observe her as voyeurs. Then, Toni asks the other peeping Tom what she

is doing with the broom and Jose answers: “definitely not sweeping the floor”. The men are

turned on by her sexual game and also point out to how she does not meet the traditional

female role of woman as house keeper, always engaged with cleaning and domestic jobs.

Thus, the witches have broken the boundaries between male and female roles and

stereotypes and they do not recognise patriarchal authority. Moreover, their intention is to

destroy patriarchy and bring back the cult to the primitive mother goddess who ruled the

world before the advent of Christianity in an attempt to establish a matriarchy. As a result,

not only the witches but everything related to the feminine is depicted as monstrous.

Furthermore, the coven will meet to hold an aquelarre and they perform a ceremony

in order to summon the mother goddess. This part of the film takes place in a “terrible

place, most often a house or a tunnel, in which victims sooner or later find themselves

is a venerable element of horror.” (Clover, 1992, p.30). Thus, the group of men become

victims once they have entered and old mansion and the house is a domestic, traditional

female locus. Moreover, the ritual mentioned to summon the mother goddess takes place

in a dark cave connected by dark tunnels that remind to a intra-uterine cavity. “This intra-
uternine settings consist of dark, narrow, winding passages leading to a central room,

cellar or other symbolic place of birth”. (Creed, 1993, p. 53). Finally, the most significant

element of horror in the narrative is the figure of the goddess mother of the world, which is

not only linked to femininity but also represents it. She is shown as a huge naked female

body in the shape of the Palaeolithic Venus of Willendorf, with big breasts and a big womb

that is believed to represent fertility. “In it we see all the strange laws of primitive earth-cult.

Woman is idol and object, goddess and prisoner. She is buried in the bulging mass of her

own fecund body” (Paglia,1990. p.54) As any other power of nature, this eternally pregnant

figure is the giver of life but can also be destructive, as we observe when she steps on

some witches, as she cannot see. Thus, she is a mother and a goddess and she is a

monster too. “Kristeva discusses the way in which the fertile female body is constructed

as an abject in order to keep the subject separate from the phantasmatic power of the

mother” (Creed, 1993, p. 25).

Thus, witches evil power seems to be ”part of her feminine nature”(Creed 1993 p 76-77),

linking monstrousness to the female reproductive system, particularly birth in this case,

since the goddess is the Mother of the world. The primitive ritual’s zenith takes place when

the goddess swallows the chosen one, in this case, Jose’s son, Sergio, and later she

gives birth to him. The process is displayed carefully, including what happens inside the

goddess’ body. The boy travels from mouth to bottom, coming out by the anus and not the

vagina. When the boy is expelled from the body, he is covered in body fluids, like an actual

birth and he is welcomed in her biological mother’s arms.

With the purpose of putting an end to the horror, the male characters will have to

defeat the witches and eliminate the threat that empowered women suppose to them.

Consequently, at the end of the film they are shown happy, as they have restored the

patriarchal order in which they hold the power and authority. Álex de la Iglesia, the script

writer and director of the film has stated in several interviews that his intention was to

share a common feeling among men, particularly among those who have been involved in

a process of divorce and who have seen themselves powerlessness when discussing the

children’s custody.

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One thought on “The Witch of Your Mother – The Spanish Coven

  1. Pingback: Norwich Radical Film Festival Launches | HOLLYWOOD HEGEMONY

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