Like many witches, Aerin Fogel felt inspired by the 1996 cult classic The Craft. Now, she served as an occult consultant on the film’s remake.
January 9, 2020
By Naama Weingarten
Back when she first started practicing witchcraft, Aerin Fogel used to joke that she was a professional best friend. In some ways, she still believes that to be true.
Unlike the witches we’re used to seeing in fairy tales, Aerin doesn’t wear dark, pointy hats or live in a dark castle. In fact, most of her work is devoted to healing, as she typically helps her clients overcome trauma and better understand their world through different witchcraft modalities. Never did Fogel imagine she would work in film. But then, a unique gig came along.
The Craft, a 1996 cult classic that many modern-day witches grew up watching, got a remake, which premiered Oct. 28, 2020, on Amazon Prime Video. Much like historical films that demand experts on set to maintain accuracy, the production needed a local occult consultant (a witch consultant) for the film. After being recommended for the role, Aerin got to be one of three occult consultants on set as the film was shot in Toronto.
The 1996 classic and the recent remake have a common plotline as they both tell the story of four teenage girls who practice witchcraft and slowly realize their power can yield more than what they initially bargained for.
Much like the classic film, which portrayed its protagonists as relatable characters to the teenage girls of the 90s, the remake, “The Craft: Legacy,” suited itself to appeal to modern-day teens of the 21st century.
Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, the film combines the ancient practice of witchcraft with concepts most current-day teens could relate to, like when the main characters stopped time at their school cafeteria to take selfies, or when they cast the spell using a bong as a cauldron.
Despite her excitement, Fogel was initially nervous to fill her role in the film knowing how much the original meant to so many young women.
“Everyone who was involved in the reboot wanted to do that justice,” she said.
When it came to the remake, the creators wanted to honor the legacy of the first film while also creating something different. Fogel, who was interested in alternative healing and witchcraft since she was young, saw the original film as a reassurance that her rather atypical interests were valid.
“I think there was a sense of permission that came out of it,” she said. “That it’s okay to be an outsider, it’s okay to be a weirdo, and also there’s a lot of power that comes through that.”
The theme of being different and standing out from the crowd comes around a lot during the remake, as the saying “your difference is your power” played a major role in the film’s plot and character arc. Fogel said she hopes this film would inspire young teens today the way it once inspired her.
“There’s a different generation of young women who are growing up now who are searching for their power, so this story is for them.”Aerin Fogel
Although she was not involved in the writing process of the film, as one of the occult consultants on set Fogel assured everything that was part of the filming that pertained to esoteric work, ritual, or witchcraft in any way was accurate. But oftentimes, her role pertained a lot more than being a fact-checker.
“Something that we talked about during filming is that witchcraft doesn’t know you’re acting,” Fogel said. The film’s script included real spells, which can often be repeated dozens of times on-camera in order to get the perfect take.
“That’s a real spell, that’s very powerful. So, we did want to take that into consideration,” Fogel says.
This is why the film’s writers made sure to include spells that are not going to cause any kind of harm or generate energy that’s hard to contain. A big part of that was also for viewers, who may try to emulate some of the spells shown in the film at home.
Much of the counselling Fogel gave on set was to the main cast. She says that she managed to build a relationship with the four main actresses as they often asked her for advice about weird experiences they’ve had during production as a result of the spells cast on set. Fogel says they would sometimes have odd dreams, or see unexpected shifts in their relationship with friends and family.
“I consider all of that to be part of the context of the work that we’re doing, everything that happened during the shooting itself, is part of it,” Fogel said.
But her job also entailed other unconventional roles. At one of the locations where the production was supposed to shoot, many people on the crew sensed strange energy that made even the skeptics among them feel uneasy. Fogel was not initially supposed to be present on set at that specific location, but was “hauled” in by the producers to do a space clearing ritual.
“When you don’t have a consultant there, when you don’t have someone who is holding down the energy of the space and clearing and grounding it, but you are working with esoteric practices, some weird shit could happen.”
Some of you may have previously heard of the infamous “Poltergeist Curse.” It’s a longtime-running superstitious rumour alleging that the deaths of many of Poltergeist’s cast members occurred because the production was “cursed.” JoBeth Williams, who played mom Diane Freeling in the first two films of the trilogy, once said in an interview that the production used real skeletons (since they were cheaper than fake ones at the time). Some superstitious people believe they could have tempted the spirits of the dead by doing so. To add more fuel to the flames, Will Sampson, one of the actors of the 80’s hit trilogy, performed an authentic exorcism on set after being concerned over the use of real skeletons in the first film.
Four deaths took place amongst the cast, two of which were unexpected. Dominique Dunne, a 22-year-old actress who was in the first Poltergeist film (1982) died the same year the film was released after her boyfriend choked her in the driveway of her West Hollywood home. Then, Heather O’Rourke, the child actress who portrayed Carol Anne Freeling throughout the trilogy died of intestinal stenosis in 1988. Two more deaths occurred among the cast, but were more predictable. Julian Beck, who played the evil spirit Kane in the 1986 Poltergeist died of stomach cancer months before the film was released. Will Sampson, who performed the exorcism on the set of the second film, also died about a year following its release after undergoing a heart and lung transplant which he had little chance of surviving.
The “cursed” nature of these deaths has no factual basis. But many still genuinely believe that the unexpected deaths of some of the cast throughout the production were linked to the questionable practices on set.
But aside from keeping viewers and production safe, another part of Fogel’s job as an occult consultant on-set was to ensure the film honors the cultures and traditions witchcraft originated from.
“The spirituality of many Indigenous cultures is something that is woven into the fabric of everyday life,” said Fogel.
She pointed out that living in Toronto, we live on stolen, colonized land that doesn’t belong to settlers and was previously cared for by indigenous communities. These communities were working with deep principles of spirituality, care for the earth, and honor for the cycles of nature.
“So, I think it’s important to understand that most of the traditions that we hold and spirituality are kind of like extrapolations of what was originally indigenous knowledge as well as the knowledge of many Black cultures,” she said.
In an interview with Dread Central, Fogel said they made sure the film’s script used more broad, accessible language that was not tied to any kind of culture or lineage they don’t have direct personal experience with, “not just the characters, but the girls playing these characters as well,” she said in the interview.
When it comes to representation, there are many ways in which the reboot was different than the original Craft classic. Along with the casting of transgender actress Zoey Luna, this film’s production was remarkably made almost entirely of women.
“That was something that was a huge difference in this film to the original, is that the original was made for young women and it was about young women but the entire production team was older generation men….. You can just feel the power of that working on the set because that’s who the movie is for,” she said.
But why is witchcraft seen as such a feminine practice? Throughout history, for many women it has served as a symbol of power. The majority of those accused of witchcraft in most European countries were women, often by male groups and sought to protect Christianity and male authority. Witchcraft resurfaced many times as a feminist symbol of power, like during the first wave of feminism when activists like Matilda Joslyn Gage used the term “witch” to represent their interference with the patriarchy. The symbol of a witch was also used throughout feminism’s second wave, as a group called W.I.T.C.H (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) rose to prominence as they rallied while wearing pointy black hats.
“I think that there’s something about marginalization that leads people to seek meaning and to seek healing,” says Fogel.
But the historical persecution of witches, specifically by Christianity, resulted in a lot of harmful stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals of witchcraft in modern stories. Think back to the fairy tales you read growing up, most of which included some sort of evil witch as the main antagonist.
“Most stories in fairytales and film, especially in Hollywood, there’s kind of a dominant narrative about what witches are,” Fogel said. “But none of those narratives are written by witches, so it’s people who have an idea of something but don’t actually know a single thing about it.”
Of the many misconceptions, the one that sticks with Fogel the most is the association between being a witch and being evil.
“I can’t think of anything more loving and compassionate than witchcraft. There are obviously people in the world who abuse the power that can be generated through witchcraft, and that’s a whole separate thing,” she says.
In reality, witchcraft is typically used as a method of healing. Outside her work in The Craft’s reboot, Fogel uses witchcraft in therapeutic ways as she works with her clients using different modalities such as tarot and core-pattern readings. She says that as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her number of clients increased as more people were trying to find ways to make sense of the world. She considers what she does to be an alternative form of therapy.
“I would say that therapy has helped me understand and digest my personal experience whereas witchcraft helps me reach for the parts of my experience that are impersonal,” she said. “It puts me back into the context of larger cycles and the larger ecosystem that’s around me. “
For example, core-pattern readings, which Fogel practices, is a channeled session that is meant to expose the root causes of repetitive life patterns we go through. According to Fogel, it’s a way of understanding what our unconscious patterns are and the unresolved trauma that led to them.
“We all face challenges in our lives that seem to be repetitive, we find ourselves back in the same place without realizing how we got there,” Fogel said. “So the core pattern reading is a way of becoming aware of what the pattern actually is.”
As a young adult, the need to heal is what pushed Fogel further into witchcraft.
“I was going through some really difficult experiences and kind of out of a place of trauma, seeking support, seeking something that could help me give meaning to my experience and help me find opportunities for healing.”
She said she didn’t really see a lot of that in traditional support systems that were offered to her, so she started looking into healing work, alternative therapy, ritual, and witchcraft. A little down the line, she would find a mentor and even a coven (a group of witches) to join.
“It found me as much as I was seeking it,” she said.
Much like Fogel, many Gen Z’s are also using witchcraft to make sense of the world around them, and many have gone viral doing so, particularly in the popular Tik Tok subsection known as #witchtok. Some creators get as many as hundreds of thousands of followers as they share stories and advice about witchcraft and how it inspired them throughout their lives.
To anyone who is interested in exploring witchcraft but has no idea where to start, Fogel has some advice – begin with the moon. It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, everyone can see the moon and its cycles, thus making it simple and accessible. Fogel recommends to take time to observe the moon and take time to reflect on a full moon, as well as a new one.
“For me, witchcraft is a lot about having a relationship to the cycles of nature as well as the cycles of humanity and the natural rhythms that were part of in this world,” said Fogel. “I find it really powerful just to start to create rhythm and ritual in our lives and as we have that rhythm, over time we start to notice the long-term effects of it in a really positive way.“