While the term witch itself is often applied as a catch-all word for female magic users in fiction, the witch, as it has evolved out of Western traditions and folklore, has a number of distinct trappings and tropes. While witchcraft beliefs — the folkloric that people work malicious magic on their neighbors — are found in virtually every culture, being absent only in certain hunting and gathering societies and modern industrial ones, the details of the trope as it appears in Western works in almost exclusively derived from Western folklore.
- Traditional Witchy Attire: Black medieval or colonial period dresses and a black pointed hat are the most traditional, but not every witch buys into the uniform. Often they dress normally, especially if they want to blend in, and the traditional clothing only comes out for spell casting or ceremonies. The Hot Witch especially tends to dress more wildly while the Wicked Witch is almost always traditionally attired. Goth clothing is also associated with classic witches, as is the New-Age Retro Hippie's typical style of flowy garments.
Alternatively, they may appear naked. This is not (always) an artistic convention to allow depiction of nudity but a trope that is found in traditional cultures all over the world: practitioners of wicked magic work their rites unclothed — probably reflecting the antisocial nature of the magic.
- Broomsticks as a Transportation Method: Witches are known for using broomsticks for flight (and sometimes fight). In works with low amounts of fantasy, this may be omitted, but broomstick flying is something that is relatively unique to witches and not strongly associated with other types of magic users.
- Animal Companions: Witches are often seen around animals, especially nocturnal ones, although cats are the most common by far, especially black ones. The animal is usually a Familiar that aids in spells in some way or is sometimes magic in their own right. The animals being able to communicate with their owners through Telepathy, or just being able to speak to all humans, is common. When a witch doesn't have a cat, other animals they might have include owls, crows, toads, and mice.
- Association with Nature and the Earth: Witches are often portrayed as very knowledgeable in the workings of nature, especially plants and weather. Whereas a Wizard Classic will have his head in the clouds, always watching the stars, a witch will be Closer to Earth, watching the seasons turn and advising people when to plant their crops. It's common for a witch to live alone in the woods, and to be a Nature Lover and Outdoorsy Gal. A witch probably has a Green Thumb too, so she can grow herbs for her magic potions, or just to scent her homemade soaps. Being in tune with nature, she may be both an Earthy Barefoot Character and a Magical Barefooter.
- Witchcraft: Witches practice witchcraft specifically as their type of magic, which, because of the above aspect, is usually strongly tied to nature and may resemble European pagan-like traditions. Commonly their magic employs the use of herbs and strange ingredients like "Eye of Newt" bubbling away in cauldrons, as well as nocturnal ceremonies under the moon. Usually, a witch has a Spell Book, perhaps passed down through the family. In modern media, witchcraft is strongly associated with Hollywood versions of Real Life religions of Wicca and other forms of Neo-Paganismnote although in the past they were associated with many forms of local folk traditions. Witches usually belong to "covens", groups of witches who practice magic together, share knowledge and resources and often meet to cast more powerful spells. Witches do not usually use a Magic Wand or Magic Staff, both of which are more commonly associated with the Wizard Classic for some reason.
- Associated with Femininity and Sisterhood: Witches are associated with femininity and sistership, though they're not Always Female in folklore or in most modern media. Male witches (sometimes called "warlocks") do exist but are rarer than female witches. Witches also tend to have sisters, for whatever reason, and they have a strong tradition of passing their magic down from mother to daughter.
- Associated with the number 3: For whatever reason, witches are often seen in threes and involve three in their magic or worship. If a witch has sisters, she's probably part of a trio of siblings. A coven also usually has at least three members, or its members do magic in groups of three. This is most likely related to the concepts of The Weird Sisters and The Hecate Sisters, two tropes that link the number three with both women and divinity.
In early western tradition, the witch was predominantly an evil figure. They worked malicious magic with everything from stealing wedding rings to lethal storms at sea and crop destruction, they made a Deal with the Devil (after which, in folklore rather than tales, the Devil did not actually have to do what he had promised them to do to get them to make it), and they extorted things by threats of curses.
In modern media, witches tend to be more neutral or outright good figures. Media that has both often pit them against each other to form a Black-and-White Morality dynamic. Usually, good witches are pretty and bad witches are very ugly, though when an evil witch is beautiful, she's usually a Vain Sorceress. Witches are often shown in contrast to a Wizard Classic, sometimes being rivals or outright enemies, or just often having differences in opinion.
A witch shown in a modern setting, in genres such as Urban Fantasy, tend to forgo a lot of the traditional associations and tropes tied to the Witch Classic, such as the attire and the broom riding, the character often seeing it as "too traditional". A common modern variation is for the witch to ride a vacuum cleaner (or even Roombas) as a joke. They usually acknowledge they are descended from, or taught by, witches in the European tradition.
Subtropes of Witch Classic include:
- Cute Witch: When Witch Classic is crossed with Rule of Cute, resulting in a Magical Girl version.
- Hot Witch: When Witch Classic is crossed with Rule of Sexy.
- Wicked Witch: When the witch is evil.
Other tropes related to witches:
- All Witches Have Cats: The tendency for witches to have cats.
- Burn the Witch!: The number one method to get rid of a witch, be she good, evil, or not even a witch to begin with.
- Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: The process in fiction by which the original Wicked Witch became a Good Witch Classic.
- Salem Is Witch Country: The tendency for witches to set up shop in Salem.
- Unequal Rites: Commonly involves feminine "witch magic" being contrasted to masculine "wizard magic".
- The Weird Sisters: Witches like to form teams of three.
- Widow Witch: The tendency of witches to be widows and widows to be accused of being witches.
- Witch Hunt: When the populace tries to root out a witch or some other undesirable.
- The Witch Hunter: The most feared enemy of witches (because they hunt them).
- Fairy Tail: Porlyusica is something of a Solitary Sorceress who lives in the woods and practices healing magic. She was once part of the guild but still comes around to help out sometimes. She favors to whack people with a broomstick and mostly uses magic through potions since, being from Edolas, she has no magic of her own.
- Flying Witch: Makoto has a cat familiar only she can understand, rides a broom, wears black robes on witch holidays, and plants a garden. She also takes on her younger (female) cousin as an apprentice. Other characters who uphold witch traditions (including her sister) also drop in from time to time.
- Little Witch Academia: The witches wear pointed hats, ride brooms, wear black or purple dresses and brew potions. Every witch-in-training at Luna Nova form a group of three classmates who do almost everything together.
- Rosario + Vampire: The Witches, including the men, wear a pointed hat, ride brooms, and use wands with pentagrams on them.
- Soul Eater:
- Tweeny Witches: The witches in the Witch Realm wear black with pointed hats, fly on brooms, live in a nature-rich environment, and have three examples of The Weird Sisters.
- Kiki's Delivery Service: Kiki doesn't wear the pointed hat but does wear a black dress, rides on a broomstick and has a black cat whom she can speak to through magic. Her mother does magic with potions but other witches do things like fortune-telling. The witches go on a journey to live alone for a year as part of their training, and leaving on a full moon is the best night.
- Harry Potter: Minerva McGonagall was seen on the Quidditch Plaque in Philosopher's Stone, which meant she must've had skill with a broomstick, not to mention she turns into a cat, and her image is never complete without her hat.
- The three witch sisters from Hocus Pocus wear colonial dresses, ride on brooms, and use Eyeof Newt.
- Nanny McPhee is old, hideous, dresses in black, and uses a magic staff. Eric even Lampshades it.
- Practical Magic: All the main characters, including the very traditional New-Age Retro Hippie aunts as well as the younger heroines, have brooms, use potions, and even wear the traditional clothes during Halloween.
- The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz wears black with a pointed hat, rides a broom, and has a sister.
- Discworld: The pointy hats are very important since a lot of being a witch is based on everyone else seeing you as a witch. The black clothes seem to be mostly because witches are practical and black is hard-wearing. Nanny Ogg and more recently Granny Weatherwax have cats. Broomsticks are generally only used by witches, even though they're made by dwarfs and can be flown by anyone, even without magical talent. One difference from the standard version is that although witches are Always Female, and Discworld magic is often hereditary (but not invariably, as Tiffany Aching and Ponder Stibbons both demonstrate), witches don't tend to have children, Nanny Ogg and the semi-retired Magrat Garlick being the two exceptions (and even then, none of Nanny's daughters became witches, though we don't know about Esme). Accordingly, witchcraft isn't passed down from mother to daughter here, it being considered that young witches should learn from another witch with a different way of doing things to prevent a family's magical style from coiling in on itself.
- Harry Potter:
- Most of the witches wear robes and pointed hats, keep cats or owls as pets, and fly on broomsticks. Younger ones tend to forgo the robes for muggle clothing outside of school, though.
- Gender inverted with Severus Snape. He's dressed all in black, standoffish, mysterious, and often downright unpleasant, and his magical specialty is brewing potions from herbs and fantastical ingredients.
- The students of The Worst Witch fit the mold as witches in training, with the long robe as a part of the uniform and all students receiving a kitten in their first year.
- Morwen from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Most of witch society in this series adheres to Wicked Witch imagery, though mostly as a way of protecting their solitude. Morwen dispenses even with this and just seems like a woman who lives in the woods, wears mostly black, and has an unusual number of cats.
- Mrs Dzwon in Shaman Blues fits the mold quite well, being not the Witch Species typical for the story, but more of a hedgewitch, complete with nature magic, affinity with earth and dark clothing.
- Hanna-Barbera produced the opening animation, in which Samantha Stevens wears the conical hat and dark cape, and rides a broom sidesaddle. This is the opening clues in the audience from the get-go that she's a practicing witch, masquerading as a suburban housewife.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch:
- Downplayed with Sabrina. She has a black cat who is a former warlock, but she lacks the other trappings.
- Sabrina's aunts are sisters with the flowy gypsy-like clothes and the occasional potion brewing.
- Simon And The Witch: The titular witch can ride a broomstick (albeit stolen from the school cupboard), has a magic wand, an animal companion (George) and of course, practices witchcraft (the TV witch is slightly more competent at this than her book counterpart). Sistership and the trio are seen in the Halloween episode with Hatty the Howl and Minnie the Moan and each series also has a visit from the witch's actual sister, Tombola.
- Macbeth: The Witches cackle, rhyme, and have a cauldron full of nasty stuff.
- Banjo-Kazooie: Gruntilda "Grunty" Winkybunion wears black clothes and a pointy hat, rides a broomstick, uses magic as her primary method of attack, has three sisters (one of whom is a Fairy Godmother), talks in rhyme (except in Banjo-Tooie at the request of an annoyed Mingella and Blobbelda), and owns a cat named Piddles in Nuts and Bolts.
- Final Fantasy: Both incarnations of Matoya in Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy XIV have the classic appearance, but the XIV incarnation wears shades of blue and wields a staff. Interestingly, they have several magic brooms, which are enchanted to be semi-sentient and mostly clean her cave home. The XIV version also has Porrogos, magic-wielding frog-like beings, as familiars, which are also sentient.
- Red Earth: Downplayed with Tessa. She uses a magic wand, has a pointed hat (which appears to be alive in some depictions), owns four cats (two of which—Al and Ivan—actually aid her in battle), is often shown thumbing through what is presumably her spellbook, and is seen riding on a broomstick during Pocket Fighter/Super Gem Fighter: Mini-Mix. However, her robes are white and a bit more festive and revealing than your traditional witch. Furthermore, she refers to herself as a sorcerologist, one who employs magic in her studies to discern the nature of the universe, and as such, Tessa's brand of witchcraft seems to be a mix of classical cauldron brewing and alchemy.
- Monster Prom: The Coven is a trio of world-saving witches who dress in black and walk in a group of three girls, though they're aesthetically based on the Wiccans rather than the old witches.
- CollegeHumor: In a sketch called "The Apothecary Barista", a witch (enthusiastically portrayed by Brennan) is hired to treat people at College Humor's office. She looks old, wears a brown robe and brews potions with magical properties. Those Millenials though... She's baffled by their tastes and general approach to her craft.
- Gravedale High: Mrs. Crone, as her name implies, has green skin, long nose, pointy hair, and a cat. She's never shown doing magic though, except for her ability to control her iron hand at a distance.
- Witch Hazel from Looney Tunes has green skin, a black cloak, and hat, flies on a broom and brews potion (sometimes with Bugs Bunny as a prospective ingredient).
- Pink Panther: In "Pink-A-Rella", a witch riding a broom and giddy with martinis drops her magic wand. Pink finds the wand and uses it to transform an impoverished girl into a dazzling debutante so that she can meet her idol, Pelvis Parsley. The boozy witch returns to confront Pink about reclaiming her wand. This cartoon was directed by Friz Freleng.
- The Owl House: Downplayed, Eda has the messy, thick, gray hair of the traditional elderly witch, thus fans speculate she's sixty, but she never wears a hat, her dress is a slightly modern interpretation, and she speaks modern slang. Also her scepter combines the functions of spirit animal/pet, wand, and broom. The house, indoor and out, has the traditional architecture, decor, and location of the fairytale witch's cottage.
- Tom and Jerry: The Witch from "The Flying Sorceress" has a conical hat with wide brim, flying broom, witchcraft, wicked cackle, and haunted house. Tom Cat arrives at her home to apply for the position of cat companion.
- Wishfart: Dusty has green skin, a pointy hat, and magic. Ironically, she gets offended by witch stereotypes and people assuming her to have such traits.