While performance of witchcraft in Flying Witch is sparse, it would have been enough for executions in the 15th-early 16th century. The defining blueprint for witch-hunts at the time, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches, 1486) traces all supernatural as commerce with demons. The anomalous symptoms of demonic possession is illustrated in three levels: 1. psycho-physiological possession (e.g. infertility, erotomania, epilepsy, melancholia); 2. epidemiological possession (e.g. plague, leprosy, mass hysteria, mob behavior); and 3. climatological possession (e.g. changes in weather, affected livestock or crops, sudden famine or flood).1 Akane, the most prominent witch in the anime, has at various points displayed her powers in these areas.
However, traveling a few decades past the publication of the outdated Malleus Maleficarum, we might find that the girls, sans demons, are more aptly described as participants in occult philosophy. Occult philosophy is an amalgram of diverse intellectual traditions, primarily: Aristotle’s natural philosophy, neoplatonism, Renaissance alchemy, Egyptian Hermeticism, Christian-Scholastic theology, and Jewish mysticism. The work of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres (Three Books of Occult Philosophy, 1531) is noteworthy as an influential and ambitious attempt to synthesize the diverse traditions. In it, he divides the nature of reality as a distinction between the world as it appears to us and the “hidden” or occulted world. Occult philosophy is dedicated to detailing the process of revealing the essence of that hidden world. Further, for the humanist Agrippa, it is not only possible to know all the hidden knowledge of the world, but the world invites humanity to do so. That is, the world is intentionally hidden in order to be revealed.2
The hidden—and the implied reveal—is a major motif of Flying Witch. Most of the series seemingly operates under Agrippa’s paradigm for occult philosophy. Indeed, almost all the supernatural characters and environments are obscured initially, and are only later unveiled for a dramatic effect. The exception, of course, is Makoto, who acts as humanity’s window into that world.
However, in the penultimate episode, there is a shift to a more modern interpretation occult philosophy. Instead of the traditional view of the occult as hidden knowledge of an open world, occult philosophy today interprets the occult world as only knowable in its hiddenness—regardless of how much knowledge we produce about the hidden world, there remains something outside our scope.3 The whale represents an aspect of that unresolved mystery.
This modern interpretation implies yet a third shift to an even more anti-humanist approach to the occult—the world is indifferent to our understanding. Ajthefourth of atelier emily describes the series as a mix of the magical and the mundane—we never know when the witchcraft will begin, or what the magical moments are.4 Flying Witch presents the occult world’s indifference to humanity by “hiding” it amid the ordinary. With that worldview in mind, we find new meaning for Makoto’s distinct lack of concealment. For her, there is little distinction between the occult and the plain. Apiculture and mandrake gardening are equally fascinating.
This is beautifully summed up by the pilot and the finale. The first instance of witchcraft is introduced by a subtle breeze. Flying Witch ends with a quiet, sleepy conversation on the porch. The earthfish are in plain sight.