Stevie Nicks’ Long History With Witchcraft, From 'Rhiannon' to 'AHS: Apocalypse'
By Joe Bergren
Stevie Nicks is not a witch -- or so she would have you believe.
Back on the set of American Horror Story, where she is set to reprise her role as herself on Apocalypse, the singer is once again returning to the world that has been associated with her for over 40 years -- witchcraft, Wicca, the dark arts, whatever you want to call it -- ever since the release of the Fleetwood Mac song “Rhiannon” in 1976.
During the rise of her stardom, Nicks was plagued by one sort-of rumor, sort-of frequently asked question: “Is Stevie Nicks a witch?”
The notion gained so much traction that a fair number of people came to believe that Nicks had actually practiced witchcraft. Several of Nicks’ songs, “Rhiannon” in particular, seem to indicate that she took her music and distinct fashion style a step or two further into the realm of magic. Yet, Nicks never called herself a witch or claimed to dabble in the dark arts.
After a few years of actively changing her appearance and style to thwart the label, Nicks decided to stop acknowledging the association altogether. So, decades later, when the singer appeared on American Horror Story: Coven in 2013, it was quite a surprise. Though Nicks has moved on since the rumor’s heyday -- at one point, she thought her life might be in danger because of it -- it was shocking to see her to embrace it for AHS creator Ryan Murphy.
Now, with Nicks set to return to her Coven days on Apocalypse, it’s time to re-examine one of rock and roll’s most infamous rumors.
When Nicks was nearly 27, she and longtime bandmate and boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac. Nicks and Buckingham ended up contributing several songs to Fleetwood Mac, the band’s first album after their integration and its tenth album overall.
Among those songs was “Rhiannon.” Nicks had read a novel called Triad, which she’d picked up at an airport bookstore. The book referenced a medieval Welsh character named Rhiannon, which inspired Nicks to pen what’s now considered one of the Fleetwood Mac catalog’s most memorable tracks. (Later, Nicks would clarify that the original character was technically not a witch, but rather a powerful goddess.)
During concerts, Nicks would introduce “Rhiannon” by saying, “This is a song about a witch.” Details like these would make her early onstage performances the stuff of legend. Rock critics at the time often described witnessing her speaking in archaic-sounding language and seemingly going into trances at concerts. Throughout these shows, an enormous yellow moon would appear as the backdrop. When Nicks demonstrated the perfect method for shawl twirling to Misty Day on AHS, it was during this time that she put in her 10,000 hours to get the technique down.
Nicks’ penchant for wearing Halloween-themed clothes began when she was just a little kid. Her early obsession with the holiday is perfectly encapsulated by childhood anecdotes, such as when her mother, who worked as a seamstress, gave her a yellow Martha Washington costume that Nicks proceeded to dye black.
But then, for the first time, the style and aura Nicks had adopted long ago became a little too dark.
Fleetwood Mac’s next album, Rumours, produced another slew of memorable songs, including “Go Your Own Way,” “Gold Dust Woman” and “Dreams.” It was also during this period that Nicks endured the worst of the witch rumor’s impact.
While the band was a critical and financial success, Nicks struggled. According to Nicks, she was receiving mail that referenced witchcraft and was troubling enough for her to become afraid of, among other things, being kidnapped.
Nicks told the LA Times in 2013, “In the beginning of my career, the whole idea that some wacky, creepy people were writing, ‘You're a witch, you're a witch!’ was so arresting. And there I am like, ‘No, I'm not! I just wear black because it makes me look thinner you idiots.’”
Nicks reacted to the situation by distancing herself from the style she had been honing since her childhood passion for Halloween. In this pursuit, she swapped out black for apricot in her wardrobe.
Maybe it was because Nicks would need to be more herself than ever before as she was about to embark on her first solo record, Bella Donna. But like many cultural conventions, apricot just wasn’t cut out for Nicks, and she went back to black.
While promoting her album The Wild Heart, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, the “Stand Back” singer clarified her thoughts about witchcraft and reflected upon the rumor’s lasting impact.
“I do not believe in witchcraft as a natural philosophy at all. I just think it's fun. And I love black clothes and I love moons and stars and Merlin hats and Mickey Mouse. But no, I do not believe in that side of it at all,” Nicks told ET in 1983.
When asked what she thought about those who still believed the rumor, Nicks said, “I don't like it all and I wish people would stop thinking about that, because I spent thousands of dollars on beautiful black clothes and had to stop wearing them for a long time, because a lot of people scared me.”
Despite her struggle during that era, Nicks went on to write numerous hit songs that came from her passion for all things fantastic and mystical. The cover of The Wild Heart features a medieval font and a photo of Nicks dressed in a ceremonial black robe.
In 1993, Disney released Hocus Pocus, which unleashed numerous op-eds from several people within the witchcraft community on how witches are portrayed in the movie. Five years later, in 1998, the decade’s massive witch pop culture trend touched on Nicks’ old rumor. A high school student in Huntsville, Alabama, was prevented from singing “Landslide” as part of a baccalaureate program for graduating seniors at a Presbyterian church. According to the student, “The minister said the leader of Fleetwood Mac is a witch and a Satan worshipper.”
Nicks wasn’t mentioned by name, but it was obvious who they were referring to. The singer released a statement saying, “I can’t believe people are still telling me I’m a witch because I wear black.”
That same year, Nicks contributed two songs -- “If You Ever Did Believe” and “Crystal” -- to the soundtrack for Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman’s witchcraft rom-com Practical Magic.
For the third season of Murphy’s horror anthology series, the focus shifted to a coven in New Orleans. Each of its new characters would struggle with the organization’s upcoming regime change, including Lily Rabe’s fan-favorite character, Misty Day. In a memorable scene from the season’s second episode, Misty expresses her admiration for Nicks and “Rhiannon,” clarifying to Taissa Farmiga’s teenage character that she’s not just a singer who was on American Idol.
Because Murphy had already collaborated with her for a Nicks-themed episode of Glee in 2011, he felt comfortable asking for the singer’s blessing to use the record. In the time since she’d worked on Glee, cast member had Cory Monteith died and, devastated by his death, Nicks had offered her support to the cast, beginning a correspondence with Lea Michele. This deeper connection to Murphy and his company led her to not only allow “Rhiannon” to be used on AHS, but to guest star herself on the series.
“I think that that was my connection. So, I think that's probably the reason why Ryan actually thought, ‘You know, I am going to ask her to do this, because she feels connected to us already,’” Nicks told The Insider in 2013. While she played herself, Nicks also played a version of herself who is involved with witchcraft and goes by “The White Witch.”
By this time, Murphy was known for enlisting celebrities to confront their public images head-on. Joan Rivers had sought out plastic surgery on Nip/Tuck. Numerous singers and bands had appeared as themselves on Glee, often poking fun at their images (“Josh Groban loves a blousy alcoholic”).
Nicks had long since moved past the witch rumor and wasn’t going to let the past interfere with the unique opportunity Murphy was presenting her. “I'm all grown up now and I'm fearless,” Nicks said. “I'm to the point now in my life where I'm going, ‘Life is short.’ Life's too short. So, when great things come your way, don't walk away from them because of something stupid. Just embrace it and have fun with it and do your best.”
Now, five years later, Nicks will be bringing her magical delights back to American Horror Story’s eighth season as The White Witch, adding to a big year for the singer, who is back on tour with Fleetwood Mac and recently performed several of their classic hits on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. During her appearance, Nicks wore head-to-toe black -- no apricot in sight.