(RNS) — “When your coven gets together, do you, like, call the corners?” asks Keith, a modern-day witch hunter on a recent episode of AMC’s series “Mayfair Witches.” This question might go over the heads of most viewers, but to any modern-day witch, “calling the corners” — the practice of invoking the four elements of earth, air, water and fire before casting a spell — is a very familiar reference.
Based on Anne Rice’s trilogy “The Lives of the Mayfair Witches,” about a young doctor who discovers her family line is rife with special powers, the show’s portrayal of witchcraft is mostly fantastical. But as the show started filming, its creator, Esta Spalding, wanted its presentation of modern witchcraft to ring true, and the show’s producers sought out an occult consultant to help them get it right.
An episode director suggested a friend, Dylan Bauer, a traditional witch more commonly known as Mystic Dylan, who owns the Olde World Emporium, a metaphysical supply store in Santa Clarita, California. “I’m a huge academic nerd, so I was thrilled to give a historical and personal perspective on magic to the show,” said Bauer, who is acting as a consultant for the first time.
Bauer was hired after filming began to help “fill holes” in the script when it came to how witchcraft is actually performed. They “let me know what they wanted to achieve magically, and I filled in the blanks,” he said.
“If there were herbs or a spell that they chanted in Latin, I provided it,” said Bauer. “It was so cool to actually see my work being executed on screen.”
Occult consultants have assisted on film and television sets at least since a well-known witch named Raymond Buckland was brought into the 1972 production of “Necromancy,” starring Orson Welles. (It has long been speculated that famed occultist Aleister Crowley consulted during Hollywood’s silent era, but in fact he was more likely simply an inspiration.)
In the late 1960s, Paul Huson, a British-born art director for movies, moved to Los Angeles and began writing both reference books on witchcraft and scripts for television series, including the short-lived “Tucker’s Witch,” which aired in 1982 with Huson as its occult adviser. Two years earlier, famed spiritual healer Rosalyn Bruyere consulted for “Resurrection,” a film starring Ellen Burstyn and Sam Shepard about a woman who gains special powers after surviving a car accident.
The most well publicized collaboration between consultant and filmmaker may be the 1996 cult classic “The Craft.” Wiccan high priestess Pat Devin was brought in during the scriptwriting process, adding authentic Wiccan ritual and language. Modern pagans noticed her influence, and the film is still one of the most popular in the community.
In a 1998 interview, Devin said her first read-through of the script was encouraging. “It contained discussions of magical ethics and the consequences of misuse of power,” she said, but her goal was to inject as much authenticity as possible. “I decided to try to get as much truth into what was, after all, a teenage date spooky movie, as I could,” Devin said.
As witchcraft practice, including Wicca, became more openly accepted, occult consultants began popping up more regularly, credited or not, on shows, including “Charmed,” “Supernatural,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and even the military legal procedural “JAG.” More recently, the show “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and movies such as “The Last Keepers” and “Practical Magic” have employed witchcraft consultants to great effect.
Bauer, who said he has heard that some shows “go off of Google alone,” pointed out that “Any show or film that is going to tap into the occult, witchcraft or spirituality should indeed have a practitioner or academic on hand” for the sake of “respect for our religion.”
Author, podcaster and New York-based witch Pam Grossman, who has also served as an occult consultant, agrees. “Modern witchcraft is a living practice and it’s a real community of people,” she told Religion News Service in an interview.
Grossman consulted on the 2020 sequel “The Craft: Legacy,” helping with aspects from the script to costuming to set dressings.
“Just as you would with any other spiritual community,” she said, “you want to make sure you are not offending anyone and that you are being as accurate and authentic as you possibly can.”
A second occult consultant, Bri Luna, known as the Hoodwitch online, was also brought on to help represent a non-European perspective.
“Sometimes people assume you can just lump Voodoo, hoodoo and witchcraft all under the same umbrella,” Grossman said. But there are distinct differences and “cultural and historical context that need to be represented,” she added.
Witch and astrologer Aerin Fogel, who was an on-set adviser for “The Craft: Legacy,” told RNS that beyond authenticity, consultants are there to provide safety. “Magic is functional whether or not the people practicing it are using it functionally.” A spell is a spell, in other words, whether it’s performed for the screen or in a magic circle.
“Just to cover yourself and protect your cast and crew, having someone who can guide people through creating magic on set with care and thoughtfulness is really important,” said Grossman.
Fogel said filmmakers also need to be concerned for their viewers. It is important to only share spells that are safe to replicate, she said, especially those intended for pre-teen and teen audiences.
With the expanding opportunities for witchcraft consultants, Bauer is hoping he is called again for future productions. “I’m hoping this opens the doors for me,” Bauer said of his work on “The Mayfair Witches.” But he’s also using a bit of magic to make that happen. During the show’s airing, he burned a series of candles to help its success and he is also hoping to “conjure up a second season.”