The Sanderson Sisters: Witches of Salem


The Sanderson Sisters, a trio of fictional witches from the 1993 cult classic film “Hocus Pocus,” have captured the imaginations of audiences for decades. Set in the haunted town of Salem, Massachusetts, these three comical yet malevolent witches—Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson—have become iconic figures in Halloween lore. This article delves into the backstory of the Sanderson Sisters, their impact on popular culture, and answers some frequently asked questions about these enchanting characters.

The Origins of the Sanderson Sisters

The Sanderson Sisters were created by screenwriters David Kirschner and Mick Garris for the Disney film “Hocus Pocus,” directed by Kenny Ortega. The film, which stars Bette Midler as Winifred, Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah, and Kathy Najimy as Mary, was initially met with mixed reviews but has since gained a massive following, particularly around Halloween.

The story of the Sanderson Sisters begins in 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. The sisters were executed for practicing witchcraft but not before casting a spell that would resurrect them on All Hallows’ Eve if a virgin lit the Black Flame Candle. This premise sets the stage for the film’s modern-day storyline, where the sisters return to wreak havoc on Salem.

Winifred Sanderson: The Leader

Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson, portrayed by Bette Midler, is the eldest and most powerful of the three sisters. With her fiery red hair and commanding presence, Winifred is the clear leader, possessing a range of magical abilities. Her primary goal is to achieve eternal youth by stealing the life force of children, a quest that drives much of the film’s plot.

Winifred’s character is both humorous and terrifying. She is often seen casting spells, concocting potions, and flying on her broomstick, all while delivering memorable lines with her distinctive, raspy voice. Despite her malevolent intentions, Winifred’s antics and exaggerated expressions make her a favorite among fans.

Sarah Sanderson: The Seductress

Sarah Sanderson, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is the middle sister and the most enchanting of the trio. Known for her beauty and flirtatious nature, Sarah uses her siren-like singing voice to lure children to the witches’ lair. Her signature song, “Come Little Children,” is both haunting and mesmerizing.

Sarah’s character is portrayed as somewhat dim-witted, often getting distracted or making nonsensical comments. However, her charm and ethereal presence add a unique dynamic to the group. Sarah’s playful and whimsical personality contrasts sharply with Winifred’s intensity, providing comic relief throughout the film.

Mary Sanderson: The Comic Relief

Kathy Najimy’s Mary Sanderson is the youngest and most comedic of the three sisters. With her quirky mannerisms and distinctive hairstyle, Mary often serves as the film’s comic relief. Her main power lies in her heightened sense of smell, which she uses to track down children.

Mary’s character is lovable and endearing, despite her involvement in the witches’ nefarious schemes. Her interactions with her sisters, particularly her tendency to defer to Winifred and her bumbling nature, make her a standout character. Mary’s lightheartedness and humor balance the darker elements of the film, making her a beloved figure in the “Hocus Pocus” universe.

The Legacy of “Hocus Pocus”

Although “Hocus Pocus” did not achieve major box office success upon its initial release, it has since become a beloved Halloween staple. The film’s annual broadcasts on television networks like Freeform have cemented its status as a cultural phenomenon. The Sanderson Sisters’ popularity has only grown over the years, with fans eagerly celebrating the film’s milestones and dressing up as the witches for Halloween.

In 2020, Disney announced a sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” much to the delight of fans. The sequel, which premiered in 2022, brought back the original cast and introduced a new generation to the enchanting world of the Sanderson Sisters. This renewed interest in the film has further solidified its place in popular culture.

The Sanderson Sisters in Popular Culture

The Sanderson Sisters have transcended the film to become iconic symbols of Halloween. Their distinct costumes, memorable quotes, and unique personalities have inspired a plethora of merchandise, from costumes and collectibles to home decor and themed events. The trio is often featured in Halloween parades, parties, and even theme park attractions.

Moreover, the characters have been referenced and parodied in various television shows, films, and online content. Their enduring appeal lies in their ability to blend humor with horror, creating a timeless and entertaining narrative that continues to captivate audiences of all ages.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are the Sanderson Sisters based on real people?

No, the Sanderson Sisters are entirely fictional characters created for the film “Hocus Pocus.” They are not based on any historical figures or real-life witches from Salem.

Where was “Hocus Pocus” filmed?

While the story is set in Salem, Massachusetts, the film was primarily shot in various locations around Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, as well as some scenes in Los Angeles, California.

What are the Sanderson Sisters’ powers?

Each sister has unique abilities:

  • Winifred: The leader with powerful spell-casting abilities.
  • Sarah: The seductress who can hypnotize children with her singing.
  • Mary: The comic relief with an enhanced sense of smell for tracking children.

Why do the Sanderson Sisters want to steal children’s life force?

The sisters aim to achieve eternal youth and beauty by consuming the life force of children. This is the primary motive driving their actions in the film.

Is there a sequel to “Hocus Pocus”?

Yes, a sequel to “Hocus Pocus” was released in 2022, featuring the return of the original cast and introducing new characters to the story.

Why has “Hocus Pocus” become so popular over the years?

“Hocus Pocus” has become a beloved Halloween tradition due to its entertaining blend of comedy and horror, memorable characters, and annual television broadcasts, which have introduced the film to new generations of viewers.

Are there any books or spin-offs related to “Hocus Pocus”?

Yes, there are several books and merchandise related to “Hocus Pocus,” including novelizations, a sequel novel, and various themed products that celebrate the film’s legacy.

What makes the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes iconic?

The Sanderson Sisters’ costumes are distinct and memorable, featuring exaggerated 17th-century witch attire with unique color schemes and accessories that reflect each sister’s personality. These costumes have become popular choices for Halloween and cosplay.


The Sanderson Sisters from “Hocus Pocus” have left an indelible mark on popular culture. Their blend of humor, horror, and heart has endeared them to audiences for over three decades. As Halloween icons, they continue to enchant and entertain, ensuring that their legacy as the witches of Salem endures for generations to come.

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