On Charmed and the Covens We Create

by Brittany Spanos


Charmed is a show about a group of magical sisters who live together and kill a bunch of dudes. Of course, that’s not a reading I got as a kid watching the show during its initial run, so entranced by the bad special effects and general hijinks Piper, Phoebe, and Prue Halliwell — who would be replaced by Paige Matthews following her demise — would get into from week to week. It ended before I entered high school, where I would find new heroines like Veronica Mars or the girls from The O.C. to idolize.

Like any recently turned 22-year-old who loves nostalgia and hates productivity, I embarked on what turned into a three-month re-watch of all eight seasons of Charmed. I loved the way people my age reacted; it was almost as if we all shared the same imaginary friends. They’d list favorite chokers, times when Piper’s whitelighter husband Leo was the cutest and the exact moment when Phoebe’s demon husband Cole broke their hearts. We had accidentally created a cult around the Halliwell coven.

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In between episodes, I attended a party where a dude asked if I only had female friends. I know he didn’t mean it accusingly, but I was still taken aback by the question. I had never thought about it much before, but I looked around at the highly feminine clique that surrounded me in any social situation and figured his assessment was pretty accurate. In fact, I realized that I had spent my entire life surrounded by women.

As a kid, there were my friends at school, the Britneys and Christinas I listened to, the Barbie dolls that rarely ever left my side, and, most importantly, my mom and grandma who raised me. As I grew older, the faces changed but the amount of estrogen I was constantly swimming in didn’t. I arrived at college and immediately staked my claim within small girl gangs, both in my academic program and my dormitory’s floor. I would walk around my new city surrounded by a motley crew of women, who would grow from friends into family in a blink of an eye. Many of these women, my found family of New York City, were the same Charmed fans who only revealed themselves when it re-entered my life.

Obviously, then, embarking on this massive re-watch required a friend. A member of my freshmen year dorm floor girl gang, Esthela, had turned into a roommate by our junior year when we ventured off-campus to a beautiful Brooklyn apartment that involves an exhausting trip up too many flights of stairs. After two years of living together, we were at a point where it was just the two of us. We were without the illegal third roommates we had housed since we had moved in. College was over and we were both left with just our jobs and a lot of time to fill. Starting Charmed was the solidifier of a new phase in our friendship, one that began soon after graduation when we finally became two women who lived together because they genuinely wanted to, not because they needed another income to split the rent check.

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From the first episode of season one, it’s made clear that the very existence of the Charmed Ones hinges on the Power of Three and the trust of the sisters. Prue, Piper, and Phoebe became adult sisters living in their childhood home after their Grams dies and are, at that time, clueless of their ancestry’s ties to witchcraft. While Piper, the middle child, is still pretty close with her other sisters, Prue and Phoebe seem to have some bad blood between them. After discovering the Book of Shadows in their attic, Phoebe recites the incantation that gives them their powers, and the arrival of the Power of Three is indicated by a photo of the sisters being magically altered to move them closer together. In order for their powers to work and for them to be the most powerful trio of witches, they need to show up in more than just the physical sense. I loved the episodes where the moral was that sisterhood is the most powerful weapon; so many of their villains used tearing the Halliwells apart as their main strategy to get whatever it is they left the underworld for.

Esthela and I quickly became emotionally attached, especially to the relationship between Piper and Leo. Even their romance is related to the sisterhood, seeing as his whitelighter duties involved him serving as a guardian angel for all the Halliwell sisters. What could be dreamier than a literal angel whose primary job is to provide emotional support to you and your family?! Hours on the couch would be spent with a laptop propped up on top of an iPod dock-turned-speaker with us scrolling through our phones, searching for the episodes Leo would be in. By the time we reached the end of season three, where Prue is killed by the demon Shax after the sisters are almost exposed as witches, the loss actually hurt. We felt involved in the drama, coding boys as either demons or whitelighters in our everyday conversations and using analogies from the show to describe our problems.

Following Prue’s death, the sisters are introduced to Paige, their long lost half sister, and I always liked her because she, too, had grown up as an only child. Yet she craves for sisterhood, even attending Prue’s funeral because she feels a connection to these sisters she didn’t know she could claim. As I grew older and more accepting of the covens I created for myself, I realized how special and relieving it could be to let go and let in new people I picked up along the way. I was jealous of friends who had older siblings guiding them through their teen years, or younger siblings who idolized them. There had been a time in my life when I felt that friendships would only be fleeting and something I wouldn’t be capable of sustaining past a few years or one phase of my education. To have a sisterhood, especially a charmed one, takes a lot of hard work and hurdles to overcome.

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There are a number of Stevie Nicks quotes I think about often, but one in particular is always stays lodged in my brain. “There is never, ever, a man in the backyard. If there is, he is banished to the front of the house,” said Nicks in a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone. Everything about that idea felt so powerful to me; when I first read these sentences, I interpreted them as some type of misandrist prayer and reclamation of space. Stevie’s backyard seemed like some feminist utopia where a bunch of powerful women (I picture in my head Stevie with Christine McVie, the Haim sisters, Linda Ronstadt and maybe, like, Courtney Love) just shooting the shit in her pool while eating gourmet treats and drinking champagne.

It’s funny how at the right moment any situation can feel as glamorous as the fantasy of what Stevie Nicks does in her spare time with her girlfriends. I remember my many single digit birthdays being spent with my mom and grandma at a hotel near a large mall in Illinois and how adult and cool and loved that made me feel. I think of dressing up to eat bagels outside of Tiffany’s a la Audrey Hepburn with a couple of friends before capping off the end of our first year of college. Then there are the times that you’re just yelling at your roommate from your room as you both lay on your beds and scream at each other about how hot but stressful Phoebe’s demon ex-husband Cole Turner is. To be surrounded by the people who make you feel good is one thing, but to let them help you be strong takes a little bit of magic.

Brittany Spanos is a music and culture writer for Rookie, Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and other corners of the web. She will be honest with you about how much Taylor Swift she listens to on a daily basis. Tweet with her.