Hags and Crones: The Weird, the Wicked, and the Wise

Popular culture has been saturated with occult imagery in recent years, thanks in part to a rebirth of interest in modern witchcraft and the paranormal. The figure of the witch, with us since the first century BC, continues to fascinate. Witchcraft as portrayed on social media has evolved into an almost impossible continuum from malevolent evil to aesthetically-pleasing self-care. Mass media offerings in film, television, animation, graphic novels and video games portray the figure of the witch in a myriad ways, from adolescent to ancient, from kind healer to malevolent magic-user.

The majority of witches are still portrayed as female, perhaps in keeping with the many narratives from history and the witch hunts that were gruesome expressions of misogyny. While many more recent stories focus on younger witches, with coming of age narratives being an increasingly popular and intriguing genre, there is still a great deal of emphasis on the older witch in the form of the hag, the crone, and/or the wise woman.

The hag may be viewed as a complex archetype. She is part Hollywood stereotype based on (often disturbing) fairy tales, and part expression of a woman who has moved beyond sexual utility, who is considered no longer attractive, useful, productive, etc. Portraying older women as witches is of course a common cultural meme, one that attempts to justify relegating such people to the edges of society, especially if such a woman is alone/not surrounded by family. No longer encumbered with child care or the domestic duties of being a wife and/or mother, the single older woman is a problematic entity.

For witches are the ultimate outsiders. Frequently the hag, crone or witch is portrayed as an edge-dweller: the witch who lives in a forest cottage, the hag dressed in rags who lives on the streets, or the solitary old woman ignored by her neighbours and teased by children, to name a few examples. She is often assumed to be dangerous, and is often the target of negative propaganda, for no apparent reason. The persecution of the hag has been with us practically since the dawn of human history, and continues unabated. This piece will explore the hag, the crone and the wise woman as controversial figures embodying a range of positive and negative connotations, through an examination of their presence in contemporary horror narratives and mass media.


Peg Aloi is a freelance film and TV critic, a former professor of media studies, and co-editor (with Hannah Sanders) of The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture(Routledge) and Carnivale and the American Grotesque: Critical Essays on the HBO Series (Macfarland). With Hannah she also co-organized two scholarly conferences at Harvard University on paganism, witchcraft and media. Peg’s forthcoming book The Witching Hour: How Witches Enchanted the World is a cultural analysis of the witch in contemporary media. Recently Peg was featured in the documentary film The Witches of Hollywood. She is currently editing a collection of essays for The University of Liverpool Press: Women in Folk Horror: Cradles, Cauldrons, Forests and Blood. Peg was also one of the co-founders of The Witches’ Voice and wrote about film and TV for the site for over a decade, and her long-running blog “The Witching Hour” can now be found on Substack. Peg also works as a professional gardener, is a traditional singer, and award-winning poet.

Curated & Hosted by

Amy Hale is an Atlanta based writer, curator and critic, ethnographer and folklorist speaking and writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall. She is the author of Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully (Strange Attractor 2020) and is currently working on several Colquhoun related manuscripts. She is also the editor of Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses (Palgrave 2022). She has contributed gallery texts and essays for a number of institutions including Tate, Camden Arts Centre, Art UK, Arusha Galleries, Heavenly Records and she is a curator and host for the Last Tuesday Society lecture series.

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