Welcome to W’s Witch Week, a celebration of all things witchy. In the days leading up to Halloween, we’ll be boiling up a wicked brew of all things occult, from pop culture’s favorite new witches to the real women practicing Wicca today.
Witchcraft has long been entwined with society's fear of the power of women, particularly their subversive powers. Tales of murder, torture, and shunning of women believed to be dabbling in the dark arts dot history across centuries and cultures long before Salem, Massachusetts, was even a settled town. When something about a woman's way just seem too threatening or independent, well, her contemporaries throughout history have decided, "Perhaps she's a witch?" So, while we no longer burn anyone at the stake for witchcraft (so far as we're aware of), perhaps it's not too surprising that rumors of witchcraft still linger around powerful women even today. Here, a short history of witchcraft rumors that have haunted celebrities.
Nicks's tendency to sing about things like crystal visions and cats in the dark, as well as her fondness for flowy black clothing and shawls, may have made her the original Silverlake shaman, but back in the '70s, rumors spread that she was an actual witch. The Fleetwood Mac singer, however, didn't take too kindly to the suggestion. “In the beginning of my career, the whole idea that some wacky, creepy people were writing, ‘You're a witch, you're a witch!’ was so arresting," she once told the L.A. Times. "And there I am like, ‘No, I'm not! I just wear black because it makes me look thinner, you idiots.’” Sometimes, a woman just likes black clothing. Though, after decades of clarifying that she does not and never had practiced any sort of black magic, Nicks finally leaned into the rumor by appearing as herself on American Horror Story: Coven in 2013.
Malia Nurmi, aka Vampira
Yes, the Finnish actress Malia Nurmi may have been better known by her alter-ego of Vampira during the 1950s, but despite the aesthetic of her character, the rumors that had circulated about her had less to do with sucking blood and more to do with casting hexes. Indeed, many blamed Nurmi's supposed witchcraft for the untimely death of James Dean. In 1954, Nurmi began hosting midnight showings of horror movies on Los Angeles local channel KABC as the subversive Vampira, becoming the first "horror host" in America (indeed, the Elvira character was patterned after Vampira). A pre-fame Dean became a fan and friend, and even briefly appeared on her program. There may very well have been some kind of a relationship, but Dean publicly asserted they never dated, supposedly telling gossip columnist Hedda Hopper that he doesn't date "cartoons" or "witches," depending on the version you happen to hear. When Dean died in a car crash, in 1955, the seedier tabloids of the day ran stories claiming that Nurmi had hexed him out of her supposed unrequited love and caused the crash (though some claim that Nurmi had actually built an altar for Dean months before his death, in an attempt to keep him safe). Shortly after the rumors spread in 1956, Nurmi crashed a Halloween party full of Hollywood heavyweights dressed as a witch and with a man dressed as a bandaged and battered Dean.
Earlier this year, Kimberly Thompson, who performed drums in Beyoncé's backup band for seven years, filed a bizarre request for a restraining order, accusing the singer of practicing vindictive witchcraft. (Obtained by gossip Web site The Blast](https://theblast.com/beyonce-restraining-order-former-drummer-witchcraft-dark-magic/), the filing claimed Bey dabbled in "extreme witchcraft, dark magic” and cast “magic spells of sexual molestation.” A judge, of course, quickly turned down Thompson's request for the order. Yet folks on the Internet began dabbling in their own dark social media magic, diving into the possibility that Beyoncé did actually practice the dark arts. Those theories ultimately dovetailed with longstanding conspiracy theories that Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z are high-standing members of the Illuminati. Beyoncé never publicly responded to Thompson's claims, but perhaps she said it best on her song "Formation" when she rapped, "Y'all haters corny with that illuminati mess."
Jennifer Lopez may have mastered a lot of skills, but no one has accused her of actually mastering black magic herself. As for outsourcing it, well, that's a different story. Back in 2011, Spanish-language media ran with some suspicious Santeria accusations stemming from a woman who was dating Lopez's first husband, Ojani Noa, at the time. "I've been told she does the worse—frightening stuff! Jennifer has a godmother in Miami, which I've never met, but Ojani knows her, and she calls this woman to tell her, 'Do this to this person, put up a black candle, etc.' She's done amarres [spells] on all her boyfriends," said the woman. "It's a typical thing for anybody involved in Santeria. But, even with all that, she always ends up leaving them."
As one of the stars of The Craft, perhaps it's not a surprise she's been accused of witchcraft over the years, but it turns out it's all a bit of a misunderstanding. She's not a witch. She just supports small business. The actress did happen to own an occult shop at some point, but it wasn't because she was a previous customer. “The true story is I found this occult shop in L.A., and I used to go there to ask them questions and do my research,” Balk told Entertainment Weekly last year. “They were really lovely people. The woman who owned it wanted to retire. She couldn’t put the kind of money into it that it needed to keep it up, and so it was going to be turned into a Chinese restaurant. I thought for the oldest occult shop in the country, that’s a tragedy."
"So I bought it and put some work into it and helped it survive," she continued.
Balk said she never actually practiced witchcraft in her personal life, and has long since divested herself from the shop.
Conservative conspiracy theorists riding high off of Pizzagate thought they had found their next big hit by positioning Marina Abramovic—the performance artist famous the world over, though perhaps not to the type of people who believe conservative conspiracy theories—as a Satanist who involved Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, Jon Podesta, in the dark Satanist ritual of "spirit cooking." The rumors got so bad that Snopes decided it warranted a thorough debunking.
As it turns out, Podesta's brother, Tony, a major art collector, had donated to Abramovic's KickStarter campaign and was rewarded with an invitation to attend a dinner with the artist featuring "spirit cooking." Tony had forwarded an invite to his brother Jon, and that e-mail got leaked in WikiLeak's release of hacked e-mails from the Clinton campaign. Despite the spooky name, it was actually a performance project Abramovic first performed in 1996. "It was just a normal menu, which I call spirit cooking," she told ArtNews. There was no blood, no anything else. We just call things funny names, that’s all.” Clinton herself had no direct involvement in any of it, other than the fact she had hired a campaign manager who had an art collector brother.