Are there any witches in the Haunted Mansion? At Disneyland, I believe the answer is no, but at WDW and Tokyo, the answer is yes:
She's known as the "Witch of Walpurgis," one of the so-called Sinister 11, the portraits who used to watch you as you passed down the hall at WDW (and they still do at Tokyo). Now the eleven are scattered around inside the WDW Mansion, and the Witch of Walpurgis hangs in the load area. Like the others, her eyes are no longer the concave, half-a-ping-pong-ball type that follow you. That's her second demotion, you might say. Originally, she was going to be a changing portrait (and a glass slide featuring an Ed Kohn rendering of the Witch is now known, indicating that she may have been a serious contender).
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What she really represents is the middle ground that Marc Davis could not find, somewhere between the cartoon witches of Halloween decor and the scary, Black-Sabbat-attending witches of Western imagination, still considered very numerous and very real until the 18th century or so. When Davis began kicking around the idea of witches in the HM, one direction he tried out was the "realistic" one. His original concept painting for the Walpurgis Witch features some curious differences from the finished version above. For one thing, her head was originally going to turn into a goat's head.
You'll notice that she's got a lot of stuff around her that didn't make it into the finished portrait and that they made good the loss by simply doubling the skull, which strikes me as...numbskulled. The second skull doesn't even make visual sense as part of the composition. Anyway, in the original, what is all that junk? That's Marc Davis doing research into "real" witches, that's what that is. And we even know exactly where he did the research: Émile Grillot de Givry's Le musée des sorciers, mages, et alchemistes, first published in 1929 and reprinted umpteen times. The English versions can't make up their mind what the title is, so if you go looking for it, you should go looking by author. Here are two editions. There are a lot more. One was (or is) certainly in the WDI library, used by both Marc Davis and Rolly Crump for their Mansion research.
A painting known as the "Witches' Kitchen" by Hieronymous Francken (ca. 1610) is reproduced in the book, although de Givry lists both the title and the artist incorrectly. LOL, as the kids say. Anyway, here's what the painting is supposed to look like:
Like all the illustrations in de Givry, this one is reproduced as a blurry black and white. Still, that's evidently what Marc used. You'll notice at least three things in it that he copied into his Walpurgis Witch portrait:
A tip of the hat to Brandon "GRD" Champlin for first noticing that one. Davis gives us a weird little gremlin-like demon conjured up on the left (actually two), obviously inspired by a similar fellow in the Francken painting. The thing on the right is a "hand of glory," a grisly bit of occultic paraphernalia concocted from the severed hand of an executed criminal. Thanks to its appearance in one of the Harry Potter novels, it's a bit more familiar today than it used to be. Aren't we the lucky ones.
Let's see...what else. The knife in a desiccated skull is pretty cut and dried. There's also that forky thing in Marc's sketch. That's an ordinary wooden pitchfork, and in traditional iconography until about the 18th c., witches rode on those more often than on the familiar broomstick. Marc may in fact have learned this from de Givry, who supplies a number of good examples.
No doubt the thing that caught Marc's eye in that second one was the hidden Mickey:
The smoking gun that proves that this book was indeed the inspiration for much of what you see in the Witch of Walpurgis is the magic circle on the wall, copied directly from a reproduction in de Givry:
This one actually survived into the finished painting, so there remains at least one item that made it from the de Givry book into the actual HM with no real alteration. That and the knifed skull.
Why was most of this groovy stuff jettisoned between the concept art and the show piece? Was it too dark, too occultic, too liable to give some folks genuinely queasy feelings about the ride?
Doubtful. For Davis and his generation, witches, demons and devils were just so many Halloween decorations, not taken any more seriously than the Frankenstein monster. Rolly Crump was even going to use the ultra-sinister Baphomet symbol in his "Museum of the Weird" section of the Haunted Mansion, fer cryin' out loud, and he probably did so with Walt's blessing.
You wouldn't see that tried today, not because the general culture is currently more superstitious than it was in the mid-twentieth century, but because people now know that there are other people out there who take black magic very seriously, and it's just too creepy and too evil to be used as light entertainment. Ironically, the single event that more than anything else fostered this change in the popular culture occurred on the same weekend that the Haunted Mansion opened its doors to the public: the Charles Manson murders.
No, the reason most of that lovely research into "real" witchery dropped out of Marc's portrait is the same reason we've harped upon time and again: the average Joe has to be able to read these images at a glance. People don't even know a two-pronged wooden pitchfork when they see it, let alone know that witches rode on them. What nonsense! Everyone knows they ride brooms. Davis has so much "what the heck is that?" material in his sketch that it ultimately would have distracted from the main gag: a witch turning into a goat. That's why the stuff that survived into the actual painting is so unmysterious. Bats. A black cat. Skulls with knives in them (which say to anyone at one glance, "sinister rituals are going on here"). Why the magic circle made the cut, I don't know. Perhaps it smacks immediately of "magic symbol," and that's good enough.
If Marc's one foray into depicting a "realistic" witch met with such poor success, the same thing may be said about his opposite foray into Halloween witches. Seriously, ditch the alcohol and these drawings could easily grace a three-year-old's trick-or-treat bag.
This approach proceeded a few steps down the path toward realization before being dropped.
In the end, the only witch that made it through the weeding process was the modified Walpurgis model. I think she represents an uneasy compromise. She's "realistic" in appearance; there's no pointy hat or warty nose. But she's surrounded for the most part by easily-read emblems which conjure up the cackling broom jockeys of popular imagination.