How Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks Became the New Age “White Witch”

She has built an image upon this, and the song “Rhiannon” has become associated with a “witchy” aesthetic that Nicks has fused intrinsically with her personality. In the case of Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, both her song and astrological star personality play a role in the art she creates. The pop star’s image requires that she enacts both a personality and a star persona, with each lyric playing a crucial role. As critic and socio-musicologist Simon Frith writes, popular music performers are involved in a double process of enactment.

In the 1970s, the hit song “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles reached number 9 on the charts, featuring Stevie Nicks on vocals. This song not only perpetuated the association of women with the occult, but also encapsulated the essence of the archetypal New Age woman. While we do not directly hear about Rhiannon’s love life and physical description, we only hear her voice. This occult persona was displayed by many musical figures in the ’70s, such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Rituals and practices associated with the feminine, such as moon rites, crystal healing, and tarot reading, remained popular in the New Age movement, often referred to as “The Fascinations,” which synthesized indigenous traditions, medieval medicine, and philosophical and spiritual influences.

Epona, the Celtic equine deity, is believed to have a close connection to Rhiannon in the Mabinogion, as portrayed by the backdrop of untamed horses galloping through a stream in later renditions. Prominent themes in the song encompass avian creatures, flight, and affection, which Nicks did not necessarily deviate from the established body of work. The persona of Rhiannon can be traced back to the Mabinogion, a compilation of four branches containing Middle Welsh prose narratives from the 12th-14th century. Nicks initially encountered the character of Rhiannon in Mary Leader’s 1973 book, Triad: A Novel of the Spiritual, invoking the mystical folk tradition from which this character originates. When performed live, “Rhiannon” is introduced by Stevie Nicks as a composition revolving around a Welsh sorceress.

The exploration of “Rhiannon” in musical and lyrical form explicitly shows how history has often associated witchcraft with the mysterious and powerful persona of a woman. In interviews, Stevie Nicks has shared how her association with the New Age movement has aided her in embracing this spiritually enlightened side, stating, “Somehow ‘Rhiannon’ came through me and I’m sure there was a time when I was her.” Nicks further explains her experience by describing how the spirit of John Milton walked with her, drawing inspiration from his epic poem “Milton John” published in 1810. This instance fits into the long tradition of mythical interactions in literature, showcasing the mystical connection between poet and muse from a bygone era.

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Embedded within Nicks’ song is a notion that is inherently connected to the legendary Rhiannon, as described in the Mabinogion, the Adar Rhiannon are the three birds who possess the ability to “awaken the deceased and soothe the living to slumber”. The avian imagery unintentionally establishes a link between the song and the mythological Rhiannon. Instead, she “governs her own life” and selects her own romantic partner. Nicks’ bird is not confined with the intention of providing amusement. The concept of a woman being a “bird in flight” holds particular significance within the context of the ’70s, as the second wave of feminism, which originated in the ’60s, was still making an impact in the following decade. Within this audibly supernatural realm, the initial lyrics employ a simile to compare Rhiannon to “a bell through the night”, thereby associating her with music, and “a bird in flight”, which aligns her with the natural world. The introductory guitar riff for “Rhiannon” alternates between A minor and F major, which, from a Western musicological perspective, creates a subtle dissonance that elicits feelings of unease.

The passion of the poet becomes a symbol of everything that the bird’s song uplifts, and the poem also contemplates the skylark as a representation of the uplifting powers of music. In Percy Shelley’s Ode to a Skylark, a fine skylark is evoked, and the idea of Rhiannon being a representative of music is coupled with the line “She rules her life like a skylark.” That is what music means to me… The legend of Rhiannon is said to be about the song of the birds relieving suffering and taking away pain, retrospectively said Nicks.

Instances of eerie and instances of developing affection, frequently manifesting in, these three feathered creatures fulfill distinct functions in her melodies: the lark, the dove with white wings, and the nocturnal creature. The Adar Stevie Nicks, so to speak, have become interchangeable with her body of work; her unique collection of avian personas that Nicks’ utilization of avian symbolism in “Rhiannon” also starts to establish.

The television show “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” has perpetuated the symbol of the black cat in popular culture, with the sassy cat Salem in the show and Cinderella’s step-sisters’ cat Lucifer serving as a parody. Depending on the direction from which they cross your path, black cats also have a reputation for being omens of bad luck. In Western folklore, black cats have been associated with witches, either as their familiars or as witches themselves who can shapeshift into a black cat. She is then like a black cat in the darkness, contributing to the overall mystical feeling of the song “Rhiannon.”

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It’s only natural that her music would be inclined to attract a metaphysically demographic. With the use of witch iconography and references to celestial powers, Nicks easily appeals to these magical technologies. Many people involved in witchcraft in the 1970s were interested in certain magical and divinatory “technologies” such as healing herbs, crystals, astrology, and tarot. Associating Rhiannon with the resurrection of astrology and the interest in alternative mainstream religion, she picks up on the stars’ alignment with the zodiac. In live versions, she sings about the exclusive conditions for Rhiannon’s appearance. It makes sense that Nicks would draw on popular symbols of witchcraft, as she is understood to be the leader of the Triad’s witch.

Enhanced by her whimsical stage outfits are her fanciful stage costumes. Performing her now-iconic spins and “exotic” hand gestures is Stevie, captivating the audience. The screeching guitar solo (originally by Lindsey Buckingham) and the mesmerizing keyboard vamp (originally done by Christine McVie) provide perfect opportunities for Stevie to mesmerize the audience. Nicks seemingly becomes a vessel for Rhiannon’s spirit during the instrumental break into the final coda of the song. To compensate for a moment that Mick Fleetwood has compared to “an exorcism,” it is incorporated into live performances.

The song starts with a highlighted shift, transitioning from a first-person perspective to a third-person perspective, as the character sings about herself and fully merges with the song. Rhiannon is magically transformed into the eyes of the audience during live performances of the song; in the primal screaming and instrumental evocation of the song’s coda. The main difference between the live versions and the recorded version is how the melodic chant builds into a powerful shout of the “Take me to the sky, baby, like the wind take me” and “Unwind the state of love’s mind, dreams” lines.

By utilizing her flowing sleeves, she personifies her lyrics regarding the avian creature soaring through the air by imitating flight and adding to the mystical and enchanting atmosphere of her music, specifically designed outfits for her performances that celebrate her womanhood. Evoking memories of Rhiannon’s initial portrayal in ancient embroidered silk, these performance outfits consist of lengthy, ebony chiffon and velvet gowns adorned with billowing sleeves and abundant shawls. Nicks solidified her signature stage attire by 1976.

Concertgoers on this day are seen sporting long chiffon sleeves and shawls, as well as top hats, reminiscent of Stevie Nicks-inspired looks from over the years. This allows fans to feel like a part of Stevie’s personal “coven” and the performance ritual she enacts. Many have noticed that Mick Fleetwood mentioned the hundreds, if not thousands, of girls dressed exactly like Stevie in black outfits and sporting top hats, which they must have seen on TV and in magazines. Stevie Nicks’ distinct fashion image during the Rumours 1977-78 tour gave fans a blueprint to follow when attending solo Nicks concerts or Fleetwood Mac shows.

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Stevie Nicks is known for popularizing a unique aesthetic that incorporates artistic approaches similar to those seen in the charts. She was not the first woman to engage with this type of aesthetic, but she did so in an unprecedented way. Nicks’ artistic world is populated with mythical birds, romance, angels, and witches. She transformed into a witch on her solo album “Bella Donna” in 1981, creating a dedicated label called “Sisters of the Moon” for her coven. Throughout her career, Nicks has drawn inspiration from metaphysical threads, referencing crystal visions, enchantment, and the same mystical themes in songs like “Rhiannon” and “Dreams”. Her years with Fleetwood Mac have also influenced her solo material. Nicks’ peak of fame has had a lasting effect on her career, with her fantastical love and identification with the persona of “Rhiannon” being particularly significant. However, Nicks has stated multiple times that she is not actually a witch.

Level next to the Practical Magic label, she makes it synonymous with her own associations and her own voice. Lindsey Buckingham was on lead vocals on the Fleetwood Mac albums, and she was on lead vocals on Buckingham Nicks. She penned the song “Crystal” back in 1973 and rerecorded it. She was asked to contribute music to the 1998 film Practical Magic’s Griffin Dune’s young witches’ struggle with love story. Nicks has been given plenty of opportunities to engage with this witchy persona in television and film.

Adorned with a crescent moon pendant, Misty Day styles herself akin to Stevie in the television series, sporting curly blond locks and draped shawls. Throughout the show, songs such as “Kind of Woman,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Rhiannon,” and “Seven Wonders” are prominently played during significant moments. In the television series “American Horror: Coven” and “American Horror Story: Apocalypse,” she portrayed her own character, known as “the White Witch,” in 2014 and 2018 respectively. More recently, she was cast as herself once again.

Stevie Nicks has seemingly been charged with all the feminine energy originating from the moon, and she has built a legacy in the roll ‘n’ rock genre that melds hyper-masculine elements. Her music and life are intertwined with this legacy. The moon necklace, worn by fans all over the world, easily symbolizes the dedication of the “Sisters of the Moon” and the White Witch, making it a recognizable symbol.

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