See also: Discworld magic
In the Discworld series, witch magic is very different from the wizard magic taught in the Unseen University, and consists largely of finding the right lever that makes everything else work. Witches rarely do any magic, in fact, relying more on common sense, hard work, and a peculiar brand of psychology known as headology. This can be taken very far - a witch's way of magically setting fire to a log of wood consists of staring at the log until it burns up from pure embarrassment. As a result it is less energy intensive, which means that a witch can do more than a technically equally powerful wizard. However, the same zen-like knowledge that gives them this ability generally discourages them from making a big deal about it, beyond refusing to take wizards seriously.
Unlike wizard magic, which is taught en masse, witch magic is taught on a one-to-one basis by older witches to apprentices. Although magical talent tends to run in families, witches do not teach their daughters, feeling that this would cause a sort of magical inbreeding.
Discworld Voodoo is considered to be an aspect of witch magic, combined with a sort of do-it-yourself religion, relying heavily on the power of belief described below. The most powerful Discworld voodoo-women can deliberately create moderately powerful gods for a specific purpose.
Generally speaking, witches are women and wizards are men. Despite the opinions of wizards and witches on this subject (that systematization comes easier to men and intuition comes easier to women), there appears to be no reason for this beyond cultural bias. There has only ever been one female wizard on the main Discworld continent, Eskerina Smith, as described in the events of Equal Rites. The island of Krull on the very Rim of the Disc does not mind female wizards, but no one from the Circle Sea would ever admit they exist. The only male witch is Geoffrey Swivel, who becomes a 'backhouse boy' for Tiffany Aching in The Shepherd's Crown before taking over Granny Weatherwax's steading after her death.
The role of witches has been defined as "smoothing out life's humps and bumps" and "helping people when life's on the edge", and they take this obligation seriously. They also never ask for anything in return. There are ways and ways of not asking for anything in return, of course. Nanny Ogg, for instance, insists that part of her job is to take the first pint of every brewing and the first cake of every baking, to prevent occult forces using them against people. Both she and Granny Weatherwax tend to emphasize at every possible opportunity that it is considered lucky to have a witch in your house, and that it would be especially lucky if the witch was well-provided for.
While true magic is never used unless called for, there have been many instances in the books where a witch has cast a spell or two. These include:
- "Borrowing" the mind of an animal (Equal Rites) - Granny Weatherwax, Eskarina Smith
- Astral Projection (Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters) - Granny Weatherwax, Eskarina Smith
- Shape-shifting (Equal Rites) - Granny Weatherwax
- Deflecting fire (Equal Rites) - Granny Weatherwax
- Summoning a demon (Wyrd Sisters) - Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick
- Throwing octarine lightning (Wyrd Sisters) - Granny Weatherwax
- Turning a wooden door into a tree (Wyrd Sisters) - Magrat Garlick
- Moving a kingdom 15 years into the future (Wyrd Sisters) - Granny Weatherwax
- Revealing the truth (Wyrd Sisters) - Granny Weatherwax
- Throwing gouts and balls of fire (Witches Abroad) - Lilly Weatherwax
- Reading the future in Jumbilia (Witches Abroad) - Erzulie Gogol
- Creating a Zombie from the dead (Witches Abraod) - Erzulie Gogol
- Turning creatures into other creatures (Equal Rites, Witches Abroad) - Eskarina Smith, Esmmy Weatherwax Nanny Ogg and Magrat garlick
The Lancre Coven
The main witches in the Discworld series of books are the Lancre Coven: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick and later Agnes Nitt. They began as a parody of the Three Witches in Macbeth, and also as a reworking of the Maiden, Mother and Crone archetypes (the Triple Goddess). It could also be said that they each represent a different stereotype of witches: Granny is the classic fairy tale witch, Nanny the village wise woman and Magrat the modern romantic Wiccan. A sub-series of children's books introduces a new witch character, Tiffany Aching, who has been gradually tied into the main Witch story line as her series develops.
It has been explained in the books that three witches are required for a coven. Two witches get on each other's nerves; the third one gets them to make up, so they can all get on the nerves of everyone else. If a coven has more than three members, they all get on each others' nerves. (It is also mentioned that the true collective noun for a group of witches is not "coven", but "argument".)
Following Magrat's marriage to King Verence II, the role of Maiden in the Lancre coven has been reluctantly taken up by Agnes Nitt. Agnes is a sensible young woman who suffers from a self-induced multiple personality disorder. Tired of being seen as just another overweight girl with "a nice personality and good hair", Agnes tried to create a new, more exciting persona for herself. Agnes calls this alter ego Perdita X Dream (where the X stands for person who has a cool and exciting middle name). Perdita is even more romantic than Magrat, although her tastes are more Gothic than New Age.
The Perdita persona leaves Agnes in two minds about everything. The first mind is herself, good-natured and sensible Agnes; the second is dramatic and rebellious Perdita. It is said that inside every fat girl, there is a thin girl waiting to get out (and a lot of chocolate) -- according to Perdita, she is that girl. The Perdita personality usually manifests itself only as part of Agnes's internal dialogue, often in the form of sarcastic remarks. Yet Perdita is capable of taking real action in emergency situations.
This divided personality makes Agnes highly resistant to mental manipulation. Anyone trying to mesmerise or entrance Agnes will find the Perdita personality surfacing as Agnes begins to lose control, and vice versa. When Lancre is overrun by vampires with mind-control powers in Carpe Jugulum, Agnes/Perdita is one of the few people capable of resisting their hypnotic influence.
Agnes first appears in Lords and Ladies as one of the 'cool' new witches, led by Lucy "Diamanda" Tockley. Although she plays a very minor role in this book, Nanny Ogg notices her potential. She senses that Agnes is the only new witch other than Diamanda to have any real Talent.
In Maskerade Agnes becomes a major character for the first time. She leaves Lancre to become an opera singer in Ankh-Morpork, under the stage name 'Perdita X Nitt'. She had meant to say 'Perdita X Dream' but forgot halfway. Agnes possesses an amazing talent for singing. She has a vocal range that extends from a deep bass rumble to a glass-shattering soprano, can sing in harmony with herself, project her voice around a room (and the page), and mimic the voices of others. These remarkable gifts are due to her suppressed magical ability, which Agnes unconsciously used to enhance her innate musical talent.
After joining the opera company, Agnes meets a beautiful but airheaded young singer named Christine (an obvious parody of Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera). Although Agnes is by far the more talented of the two, she finds herself relegated to the chorus while Christine's career benefits from the attention of the mysterious Opera Ghost. Granny and Nanny, having identified Agnes as the best candidate for the third member of the Lancre coven, soon arrive and complicate things further. In the end, Agnes realizes that her practical nature is unsuited to the world of opera. She returns to Lancre and became the new Third Witch.
In Carpe Jugulum, the arrangement of the coven had been upset by Granny Weatherwax's sudden departure, although Agnes retained her role of Maiden. She, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick fended off the vampires who threatened to take over Lancre.
Agnes does not appear in Wintersmith, a story which features Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, nor does she show up in Wee Free Men, in which Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg had a cameo. This leads to some speculation as to what had become of the coven. Her role in Wintersmith seems to have been adopted by Miss Tick.
see separate article
The Lancre Coven of young apprentice witches
The successors to the old guard of Lancre witches is led (if that is the correct word) by Annagramma Hawkin who is apprenticed to Mrs. Letice Earwig. Annagramma is the leader because she has the loudest voice, is the most bossy and wears the tallest hat, not because she is the most skilled of the group. In fact she is incompetent. The other members of the coven are Lulu Darling, Gertruder Tiring, Harrietta Bilk, Lucy Warbeck, Petulia Gristle, and Dimity Hubbub. While she is in Lancre serving her apprenticeship, Tiffany Aching is also a part of the group. Eventually all become very competent witches, except for their 'leader' who has to be taken under the wing of the others to progress to even the basic level. Most play a role in the final novel of the series, in keeping the Elves from returning to Discworld and taking control.
Other witches featured in the books include:
see separate article
A witch who teaches school over the mountain from Lancre. She takes snuff and does her own shoe repairs, which makes her All Right in Nanny Ogg's book, but has a nasty habit of being reasonable when provoked. Appears in Witches Abroad and the short story "The Sea and Little Fishes."
Gwinifer "Old Mother" Blackcap
Witch stationed in Sidling Without and who is good with pigs, as acknowledged by Esme Weatherwax. She is mentor to Petulia Gristle, good with animals, and is apparently a pig-borer, cow-shouter and all-round veterinary witch. (The terms "pig-borer" and "cow-shouter" are plays on horse whisperer. According to The Discworld Almanak, pig-boring is a humane form of slaughter in which the animal is talked to death.)
Aliss Demurrage, or Black Aliss as she was known, never appears in the books, being long dead, but she is a part of why Esme Weatherwax is the way she is. Aliss was an incredibly powerful Discworld witch. She knew all the tricks a witch should know, and had mastered the use of stories; Nanny Ogg said she could be running as many as three of them at once. Unfortunately, after a while she was unable to distinguish reality from her stories and started going mad — hence the name Black Aliss (although Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg claim the name arose because she had black teeth and fingernails due to her love of candy). She's the wicked witch mentioned in popular fairy tales, and met her end when she was pushed into the oven of her gingerbread house (à la Hansel and Gretel).
A gingerbread house appeared in The Light Fantastic, whose owner had been shoved into her own oven, however this was a different witch (Goodie Whitlow) who met the same end due to narrative causality.
Aliss trained Nanna Plumb, who trained Goody Heggety, who trained Nanny Gripes, who trained Granny Weatherwax. Esme is as powerful as Aliss was, if not more so, and is concerned constantly with keeping herself in check lest she ends up like Aliss.
Recently, a character by name of Black Alice has been introduced in DC comics, with magic-based abilities; it is not known whether the name is an intentional reference or not.
Old Mother Dismass
A very old witch who has been fortune telling for so long that she is no longer able to keep her mind in the present (as Granny Weatherwax puts it, she has a "detached retina in her second sight"). Her mouth frequently appears out of sync with her words, and her footsteps often sound ten minutes before she actually makes them. A passing reference is made in Wintersmith. Appears in Witches Abroad and "The Sea and Little Fishes."
see separate article
A witch who makes her money by selling medicine (says Granny) with names like Tiger Oil, Maiden's Prayer and Husband's Helper. She lives in Ohulan. She was the one who persuaded Granny to fly on a broom and gave Granny her broom. She appears briefly in the book Equal Rites.
Ammeline 'Goodie' Hamstring
As with all Discworld magical practitioners, she knew in advance when her death would be and again would be personally visited by Death (or had a right to be anyway) so she had time to prepare.
When Mort arrived she was an elderly lady with a hooked nose wearing a grey woolen dress. After Mort cut the line connecting her soul to her body, she realized it was no longer bound by the body's morphic field, and with much more control than most people her soul's form settled into the shape of her "inner self". Her hair unwound itself from its tight bun, changing color and lengthening, her body straightened up. Wrinkles dwindled and vanished, and her dress turned into something green and clingy.
Rather than go on to an afterlife, she remained at her home, intending her spirit to get thinner and spread through the forest.
A witch for whom the phrase "I've only got one pair of hands" was highly inappropriate, for she had one mind and two bodies. She formerly worked in a circus reading her own mind. The phrase is now only technically accurate, following the death of one body, although she can still use it as a "phantom limb". An intelligent and well-meaning person, she spends much of her time explaining concepts such as bacteria to people who aren't going to believe her. As Tiffany's teacher, she appears in A Hat Full of Sky.
(see separate article) appears in Lords and Ladies.
see separate article
see separate article
Mrs Gogol is a practitioner of voodoo living in Genua. She assists the Lancre coven in getting rid of the Duc and getting Ella (who is hinted to be Mrs Gogol's daughter) into her rightful place on the throne. She has a black cockrel named Legba, which is able to frighten Nanny Ogg's tom Greebo. She resurrected Baron Saturday, Ella's father and a victim of Lilith de Tempscire's, as a zombie. She appears in Witches Abroad.
Fairy godmothers are something of a cross between a witch and a wizard. A fairy godmother is a woman, likely always a witch to start with, who, probably through a bequest, acquires a magical responsibility over the life of a single individual. This individual is usually someone with a severe case of destiny, such as an orphaned girl of royal blood. Like wizards, fairy godmothers use a magically imbued rod (in this case a wand, rather than a staff) to produce wizz-bang effects like turning pumpkins into coaches. However, fairy godmothering is probably another aspect of witchcraft, relying heavily on narrative causality.
A fairy godmother who appears in Witches Abroad, although she dies very early on. Her career meant she travelled a lot, although she was based in Lancre. She was friends with Magrat, since no-one else in the area liked foreign food, and bequeathed her wand to her.
The sister of Granny Weatherwax, featured in Witches Abroad. When Esme was still a child, Lily left Lancre, following rows with her family, and possibly some sort of scandal, and changed her name to Lady Lilith de Tempscire (fr. temps cire, "weather wax"). She became a fairy godmother and "turned to the bad", although she remained convinced she was the good one. She became heavily involved with narrative magic and using mirrors to boost her power, eventually becoming the power behind the throne of Genua. She looks very much like Esme, only younger (she is actually older). She failed to "find herself" at the end of Witches Abroad, and has not been seen since.
In the 1995 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Wyrd Sisters the witches were played by:
In the 1997 Cosgrove Hall animation of Wyrd Sisters the witches were voiced by: