For hundreds of years, witches have had to contend with suspicion, fear and, at the worst moments in their layered history, lethal persecution. But as Canadian filmmaker Rama Rau’s film Coven contends, those negative connotations are thanks to a society that fears strong women. And you’d be hard-pressed to find many who would or could argue. The patriarchy has deliberately and purposefully marginalized women and robbed them of their power and their autonomy for centuries. The quest of modern witches to de-stigmatize their practices and find their true voices seems like just the tip of the feminist iceberg.
This new home-grown documentary follows a trio of women dedicated to reclaiming that lost confidence through their exploration of Wicca and witchcraft. Rau’s camera tracks millennials Laura, Andra and Ayo as they educate themselves in modern practices, learn from local (slightly intimidating) High Priestesses, and develop a true sense of belonging within the witch community. All at different points in their personal journeys: Laura is just starting out, looking to connect with others like herself, Andra is interested in levelling-up her involvement while exploring her roots, and Ayo – a Witch Prophet who is an absolute ball of charisma – has been examining her past lives and hopes to continue to channel her gifts as a part of her creative inner and outer life.
The film presents their stories with a refreshing amount of practicality and lack of judgment. And while the film largely focuses on the intimate experiences of the main trio, Rau takes the time to further educate audiences as to the history of witches. From the Balkans to Scotland, she includes several stunning locations that add depth and richness to that narrative too.
And if you find yourself questioning, ‘Why witchcraft?’ Why not witchcraft, seems to be the consensus among Coven’s subjects. After all, how we fulfill ourselves spiritually or creatively differs, but that need for connection and truth is universal. As Ayo mentions, all religions have elements that could be termed magical but this is what connected with her. That rings true too for our other two guides delving further into Wicca.
Coven feels particularly timely too as Laura, Andra, and Ayo’s drive for community and acceptance echoes the journey of so many queer and trans youth worldwide. Their bucking of limiting patriarchal norms, of looking to do everything they can to thrive and not just survive, is both impressive to watch and inspiring. Documentary fans will be truly entranced by Rau’s film, a truly captivating journey of young women re-claiming and channelling their innate, natural powers.
Coven screened as a part of Hot Docs 2023 and will air later this year on CBC’s Documentary Channel.