Witches (Discworld)

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A major subset of the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett involve the witches of Lancre. They are closely based on witches in British folklore, combined with modern Wicca and a slightly tongue-in-cheek reinterpretation of the Triple Goddess.

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.

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.)

The main witches in the books are the Lancre Coven: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick and later Agnes Nitt. A sub-series of children's books has introduced a new witch character, Tiffany Aching, who is mostly independent of the others, barring the odd bit of advice from Granny.


The Lancre Coven

Esmerelda Weatherwax

Esmerelda Weatherwax (usually called Granny Weatherwax) is the Crone. In fact it has been suggested she embodies all three, but the Crone is the most obvious. (In the books, the triple nature of the coven is always referred to as "the maiden, the mother and... the other one" in her presence). She is the most powerful witch in the Ramtops but, as mentioned above, powerful witches rarely do magic. While she can cast some extremely impressive spells if pushed, much of her power comes from headology, a sort of folk-psychology which can be summed up as "if people think you're a witch, you might as well be one". For instance, Granny could, if she wished, curse people. However it is simpler for her to say she's cursed them, and let them assume she's responsible for the next bit of bad luck that happens to befall them…given her reputation this tends to cause such people to flee the country entirely.

Granny Weatherwax's reputation even extends to beyond species barriers--the trolls of the Ramtops call her Aoograha hoa ("She Who Must be Avoided") and the dwarf name for her translates to "Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain".

It has been said that the difference between headology and psychology is that a psychologist will convince you that there are no monsters, whereas a headologist will hand you a bat and a chair to stand on.

She has a near-unshakeable belief in her own abilities, which has thus far proved accurate, and an extreme distrust of stories. She was intended by nature to be a "wicked witch", but at an early age realised she had to be "the good one" to balance her sister, Lilith (Lily). Ironically Lily, who became a fairy godmother, was convinced she was the good one, because she gave people what she thought they wanted. Granny Weatherwax gives people what she knows they need. As Pratchett would put it, being Good and Right doesn't make you Nice, and she isn't.

Granny Weatherwax is NOT the grandaughter of Black Aliss (real name: Aliss Demurrage), who is responsible for any number of witcheries in fairy tales, such as putting a castle to sleep and getting pushed in a stove by naughty kids. It does seem that her teacher's teacher's teacher's teacher was Black Aliss. ("I learned my craft from Nanny Gripes, who learned it from Goody Heggety, who got it from Nanna Plumb, who was taught it by Black Aliss..." - Granny, in Lords and Ladies). She is the grandaughter of Alison Weatherwax, a witch about whom little is known, including when or if she died. It was apparently rumoured that she had turned to the bad, but she was last recorded as fighting the vampire Count Bela Magpyr in ▄berwald.

Gytha Ogg

Gytha Ogg (usually called Nanny Ogg) is the Mother. She has been married three times and has fifteen children, but that's incidental; what makes her the Mother is her mentality. People go to Granny Weatherwax for help when they have no choice, but they go to Nanny for advice all the time. Granny is respected, but Nanny is actually liked.

Nanny Ogg has a talent for getting along with people and fitting in. As described in Maskerade, people, after knowing her for fifteen minutes, feel like they have known her all of their lives. Granny Weatherwax knows about this ability, and recognizes its use, and wonders sometimes if it would have been worth acquiring it.

She's a lot cleverer than Esme in some ways, and one of these is people sense, so she generally doesn't let it show (since most people don't trust people who are more clever than them). Gytha Ogg is seen as "one of the people" in a way that Esme isn't. While Granny thinks there's no point in competing if you aren't going to win, Nanny reckons the sympathy you get for being a good runner-up is much better. Granny comes across as judgemental, whereas Nanny has a mind so broad she could tie it under her chin. She appears to be kinder than Granny, but is equally prepared to make tough decisions if necessary.

Amongst the duties of a witch are midwifery and laying out the dead. If possible, people call Nanny for the former and Granny for the latter. In effect Nanny and Granny make a perfect team with Granny doing what needs to be done and Nanny bandaging the wounded.

She has an ambiguious relationship with Count Casanunda, who she met in Genua. Nanny Ogg is also the muse and center of Leonard of Quirm's master piece, the Mona Ogg.

Nanny has also written several books, including The Joy of Snackes, Mother Ogg's Tales For Tiny Folk and Nanny Ogg's Cookbook . The first two were withdrawn following the publisher realising what they were really about; the third survived with heavy editing.

In The Art of Discworld, Pratchett says, "I've always suspected that Nanny is, deep down, the most powerful of the witches and part of her charm lies in the way she prevents people from finding this out."

Magrat Garlick

The Maiden was originally Magrat Garlick (pronounced Magg-rat†), who was best described as "a wet hen". She tends to believe in crystals, folk wisdom and cycles of nature, and is, in short, something of a gentle parody of New Age types. However, beneath this she is surprisingly practical. (In fact, it could be suggested that all the witches represent an alternate view of a different stereotype of witches: Granny is, as noted, the classic fairy tale witch, Nanny the village wise woman and Magrat the modern romantic Wiccan.)

She is technically a better doctor than the other two, since she actually believes in herbalism, whereas Granny tends to use whatever plant or bottle of coloured water comes to hand and headology (in this case the placebo effect). She is now Queen of Lancre, and has one daughter, Princess Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling. This unusual name was the result of an effort to ensure the naming ceremony didn't suffer the same mistake that led to her being saddled with the name Magrat. Obviously it didn't quite work out.

† Concerning the pronounciation, Terry Pratchett is quoted to have said: "Magrat is pronounced Magg-rat. Doesn't matter what I think is right – everyone I've heard pronounce it has pronounced it Maggrat."

Agnes Nitt

Following Magrat's marriage to King Verence II, the role of maiden has been (reluctantly) taken up by Agnes Nitt, a sensible young woman who suffers from a self-induced multiple personality disorder. Tired of being seen as someone with "a nice personality and good hair", she tried to create a new, more exciting persona for herself. Unfortunately, this persona, Perdita X Nitt (where the X stands for person who has a cool and interesting middle name), developed an actual existence in her mind. Perdita is even more romantic than Magrat, although more Gothic than New Age.

As a consequence, Agnes Nitt is in two minds about everything. The first mind is herself; the second is Perdita. Agnes herself is short and chubby. Perdita is, of course, physically short and chubby as well, but doesn't think like someone who's short and chubby. (She is, essentially, the "thin girl trying to get out".) Perdita very rarely takes control, except in emergencies. Most of the time she's content to sit in the back of Agnes's mind and make sarcastic comments.

We first meet Agnes/Perdita in Lords and Ladies when she is one of the 'cool' new witches, led by Lucy "Diamanda" Tockley; she is the only one other than Diamanda to have any real Talent. After the coven's break-up, she appears again in Maskerade when she tries to become an operatic singer in Ankh-Morpork under the name of 'Perdita X Dream'. However, her essential practicality can't cope with the world of opera, and then Granny and Nanny arrive to complicate things further.

Due to her situation, Agnes is highly resistant to mental effects. Anyone trying to fascinate or hypnotise her will find the other personality surfacing when the current controlling one is feeling the effects

Tiffany Aching

A very young witch (11 at her last appearance), who hails from the chalk downland Rimward of the Ramtops. Her grandmother, Sarah Aching, was a shepherd, and by Ramtop standards was also a witch, although witchcraft was frowned upon on the Chalk, until Tiffany's arrival. Granny Aching was a friend of the Chalk Clan of Nac Mac Feegle, and they have befriended Tiffany as the new "hag o' the chalklands".

Tiffany began her witching career at nine, when she faced down the Queen of the Elves and earned the respect of Granny Weatherwax, a not insignificant achievement in itself. She's also very good at making cheese, and has read the entire dictionary, although she sometimes has difficulty with pronunciation. Currently apprenticed to Miss Level, Tiffany is the main character in The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky.

According to The Art of Discworld Terry Pratchett has plans for another 2 novels featuring Tiffany: Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight are given as possible titles. Like the Harry Potter series, Tiffany is intended to age a number of years in between each novel, and not be stuck in her youth, like the Famous Five.

Other Witches

Other witches featured in the books include:

Sarah 'Granny' Aching Granny Aching was Tiffany's grandmother, and very good friends with the Chalk Hill clan of the Nac Mac Feegle. She died a few years before The Wee Free Men occurs, and, as such, only appears in flashbacks. She was a witch, although she didn't think of herself as one and no one but Tiffany, her granddaughter, ever suspected it. She was very important in the minds of the people of the Chalk, to the point where they called the thunder "Granny Aching cussin'", the vultures "Granny Aching's chickens" and said she cussed the sky blue. And, although people laughed when they said these things, part of them was not joking. She was, apparently, a very skilled witch, and, as such, used no magic, if any. She was so good a witch that the people she took care of mostly took care of each other (Granny Aching always knew who was short of a few favors, and arranged things that they were soon owed some). She smoked Jolly Sailor tobacco, and had two sheepdogs--Thunder and Lightning.

Gammer Beavis 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 Sea and Little Fishes (short story).

Aliss Demurrage, or Black Aliss as she became popularly 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. She's the wicked witch mentioned in popular fairy tales, and met her end when she was pushed into an oven (Ó la Hansel and Gretel). Esme is as powerful as Aliss was, if not more so, and is concerned constantly with keeping herself in check lest she end up like Aliss.

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. Appears in Witches Abroad and The Sea and Little Fishes (short story).

Mrs Lettice Earwig The wife of a retired wizard and a natural organiser, especially of things that don't really need organising. Mrs Earwig isn't actually bad, but is extremely snobbish, has very poor people skills, and tends to assume everyone would really agree with her if they weren't so stupid (so does Granny Weatherwax, of course, but at least she doesn't blame them for being stupid). She has written a book about "Magik" (the "k" is to distinguish what she considers the True Craft from the everyday stuff Granny Weatherwax et al. do) and is the chairwoman of the Witch Trials committee. She appears in The Sea and Little Fishes and A Hat Full of Sky.

Mrs Gogol A Voodoo witch from Genua and the mother of Baroness Ella Saturday. She opposed Lady Lilith, but was arguably on the very edge of being just as bad. Appears in Witches Abroad.

Miss Level A witch who formerly worked in a circus and for whom the phrase "I've only got one pair of hands" was highly inappropriate, for she has one mind and two bodys and due some bad magic is now only technically accurate. She appears in A Hat Full of Sky.

Miss Tick A traveling witch who makes a living as a teacher, a role which has given her a habit of correcting punctuation and grammar. Since she often finds herself in areas where witches are unwelcome, she has a spring-operated hat that only points when she wants it to. She appears in The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky.

Diamanda Tockley Her real name is Lucy Tockley, but she thought Diamanda was more witchy. She was born in Lancre, but went away to school, and returned while the Coven were touring the Disc in Witches Abroad. She set up her own coven, insisting that the Wisdom of the Ancients was more significant than anything a lot of old people knew. How much wisdom she actually had may be illustrated by her willingness to summon elves. At the end of Lords and Ladies, Granny speculated she might have a relationship with the young wizard Ponder Stibbons, but he returned to Unseen University.

Hilta Goatfounder 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 convinced Granny to fly on a broom and gave granny her broom. She is mentioned in Equal Rites

Other Media

In the 1995 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Wyrd Sisters the witches were:

In the 1997 Cosgrove Hall animation of Wyrd Sisters the witches were:

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