Love Spells in Pop Culture

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, CASTING LOVE SPELLS:


From Tristan and Isolde to the 1970s television show Bewitched, love spells and magic have worked their way into our daily conversation. Through the powerful influence of plays, books, movies, music, and television series, both the image of the witch and our opinion of the magical arts have changed forever.

In 12th century legend, an Irish Princess, Isolde, is on board a ship from Ireland to marry King Marke of Cornwall. She is escorted by Tristan, the King’s loyalist and nephew. Isolde, having already fallen in love with Tristan, compels him to take poison with her – that they die together instead of her marrying King Marke. However, her maid, Brangane, prepares a love potion instead of poison, making the two fall passionately in love with each other.

The 1959 Clovers song, Love Potion No. 9, tells of a man consulting a gypsy for a love potion that worked a little too well. The song remained so popular over the years that it was later transformed into a movie with Sandra Bullock. After taking the potion, it makes people of the opposite sex become completely infatuated with them simply by the sound of their voice. Then you have the hit song, I Put a Spell on You, made famous first in 1956 by Jay Hawkins and later re-recorded by Nina Simone (my favorite version.) Of course, who can forget the song’s inclusion in the 1993 film Hocus Pocusstarring Bette Midler?

There are three episodes of Bewitched I can recall that focus on the love spell. In the episode “Make Love Not Hate,” a love potion meant for Esmeralda ends up in the clam dip at the Stephens’ party. In “Once in a Vial,” after Samantha rejects an old boyfriend named Rollo, he tries to use a love potion on her that Endora accidentally drinks. In the episode “The Generation Zap,” Endora hexes the daughter of Darrin’s client so that she has the hots for him. So, you can see this theme was prevalent in television of the time. In the I Dream of Jeannie episode, “There Goes the Bride,” Jeannie puts a love spell on Tony, which displeases Haji, the Master of all Genies. Haji makes Tony have several accidents that can only be undone if the love spell is taken off him.

Movie scripts have a long-term relationship with love spells. One of my favorites is the 1958 film Bell, Book, and Candle starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. Adapted from a 1950 play, a witch bored with her life casts a love spell on her neighbor. Many of the characters lead you to believe that the creator of Bewitched, Sol Saks, was a fan of this movie. In the 1998 movie Practical Magic, a spell is cast to keep love away. Young Sally casts a love spell so that she will never fall in love, asking for qualities in a man that couldn’t possibly exist – “He can flip pancakes in the air. He’ll be marvelously kind. And his favorite shape will be a star. And he’ll have one green eye and one blue.” Of course, later in the movie, the man with one green and one blue eye arrives and has all the other qualities and abilities she mentioned. But this is an excellent example of a love spell that requests certain attributes but doesn’t cast upon a specific person.

Another example is the 1987 movie, The Witches of Eastwick, with Cher, Michele Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon. Their main characters gather together and begin harmlessly talking about the perfect man and what qualities they would like him to have, followed by Sarandon’s character adding, “a foreign prince riding a great black horse.” The next day, the Jack Nicholson character arrives in a black limousine. So here, you have a love spell that not only describes the perfect person for them but asks that he comes to town. This is a wonderful way to construct a spell – detailing your desire then asking it to be put into action. The problem was that everything they asked for dealt with surface traits – that he be handsome, that you could talk to him, the size of his penis. They didn’t ask that he be a nice person. So, the devil himself shows up. Be specific in your spell work.

Whether it was by watching Charmed or Sabrina the Teenage Witch or humming along to Witchy Woman by the Eagles, we’ve been inviting love spells and witchcraft into our homes and lives for decades. Now that spells have become “normal” to us, more people are turning to the magical arts to help shape their love lives.

(image used, which will also be included in the book is: Wood engraving by Charles Jameson Grant, ca. 1833)