Title page for ETD etd-03242011-154544

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Gray, Jessica Satterwhite
URN etd-03242011-154544
Title Modern Myth in Performance: Claiming Identity Through a Reading of Fantasy Witchcraft
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theatre
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Fletcher, John Committee Chair
Euba, Femi Committee Member
Sutherland, Gail Committee Member
Wade, Les Committee Member
Fletcher, Kristopher Dean's Representative
  • performance
  • witch
  • wizard
  • wicca
  • oz
  • narnia
  • harry potter
  • wiccan
Date of Defense 2011-03-15
Availability unrestricted
In this dissertation, I create a Wiccan dramaturgical lens to analyze three key fantasy sites: The Wizard of Oz film and stage adaptations (especially the Broadway musical Wicked), The Chronicles of Narnia film and theatrical adaptations, and the Harry Potter films and paratheatrical adaptations. These three fantasy stories have significant cultural impact and strong images of folkloric witches. My alternative reading shows how a subgroup can appropriate popular images for their own identity formation. I will analyze how signs, themes, and narrative tropes that otherwise seem ancillary or even anti-witch become highlighted and privileged, creating a different but equally legitimate counter-text for the Wiccan spectator (or for any spectator looking through a Wiccan dramaturgical lens).

I model my primary methodology on Stacy Wolf’s A Problem Like Maria, where she gives a “queer” reading of popular musicals. Following Wolf’s lead, a Wiccan reading of these texts highlights how the witch images offer opportunities for Witchcraft practitioners to perform their own faith identity. Using the theories of Neo-Pagan identity as developed by academics well-grounded in the field of Witchcraft studies, I distill nine specific “identity markers” in three categories to locate and describe Wiccan spectatorship. After grounding my methodology in performance studies in my introduction, I explain the relevant Wiccan history, beliefs and practices in my first chapter. In my second chapter, I analyze “Wiccan culture” (relationship to other faith groups and society) in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the musical Wicked. In my second chapter, I discuss “Wiccan beliefs” (theology) through a close reading of the film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) and the stage musical Narnia. In my fourth chapter, I identify Wiccan “practices” (the use of costumes, tools, and space in rituals) as found in the Harry Potter films and paratheatrical activities. In my final chapter, I make conclusions about this type of subcultural performance of identity and introduce the concept of ritual innovation based on “modern myth.” I argue that performance of fantasy witch images can be a tactical syncretism that alters/assimilates a new authenticity, bridging ancient folklore to modern religious identity.

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