We’ve mentioned previously that sometimes pop culture likes to replace religion with magic. Specifically, we talked about magic and Christianity. Lady Geek Girl stated on the matter:
[Magic] is a part of Christianity. In fact, it’s a part of every religion. Special prayers, powerful objects like crosses or holy water, and even the Church building itself all are seen to carry some sort of supernatural power. These things contain not only God’s power, but also are meant to protect us from evil. These are all magical elements.
Lady Geek Girl went on to further discuss the issue here as well.
So it is not inherently wrong to show magic and religion as being tied to each other. Most shows and movies—such as Supernatural, Hocus Pocus, and to some extent, Buffy—like to portray witches as both female and evil. However, at the same time, they turn religion into a good form of magic that wards off demons; i.e., crosses and holy water in Buffy are dangerous to vampires.
In many ways, Charmed tries to turn this concept on its head. It’s not always that great at it. Let’s face it, Charmed is a very inconsistent show. But while it is mostly about four different women, it does introduce male characters who are also capable of magic, and our main characters are not evil. Magic can be used for evil, but it can also be used for good. I might not be happy with how Charmed handled a lot of its own content, but I can say that I think its take on magic and how it works, as well as its connection to religion, could have been very interesting had the show been better made.
The Charmed sisters’ magic comes from something called the Power of Three. Additionally, though they each have their own unique abilities—Piper can freeze time, Phoebe can levitate, etc.—and can work spells singlehandedly, when all three sisters work a spell together, they are at their most powerful. At the end of the third season, the Power of Three is broken when Prue dies, and Piper and Phoebe become vulnerable. When the fourth season rolls around, they discover that they have a half-sister named Paige, and with her they regain their status as the most powerful witches.
Their power is symbolized with a triquetra:
This is a Celtic symbol, sometimes called a “trinity knot”. It’s been used by both Christians and Pagans in order to represent things or persons in threes, and you can probably find it many other places as well. For Christianity, the triquetra has been used for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It’s even been used for Body, Mind, and Soul. The triquetra has a habit of popping up all over the media as well. Treyarch, a gaming company, uses it as its logo, it’s on Thor’s hammer, it’s been compared to the Tri-Force in the Zelda franchise (though the Tri-Forces’ actual origins come from a Japanese clan in the 12th and 13th centuries), and it can even be found in Little Big Planet and on Michonne’s sword in The Walking Dead. In Wicca, which Charmed is largely based on, the triquetra symbolizes the female trinity—the Maid, the Mother, and the Crone.
Unfortunately, the sisters do not really embody the female trinity, and the show is not very concerned about adhering to it in the least—for instance, we discover that in the future, the Power of Three will eventually include male witches. Sadly, the triquetra’s presence in the show is more to be a magical conduit that looks Wiccan than something that has historical or religious meaning.
In Charmed, the symbol acts as a catalyst for certain spells, such as time travel, and is most notably located on the cover of the Book of Shadows, a powerful and enchanted book that is also tied to the sisters’ powers. Arguably, the triquetra is the actual origin of their magic. The sisters originally gain their magic in the first episode when all three of them attempt to work a spell together, and in the future, their children Wyatt, Chris, and Melinda form the next Power of Three.
As Charmed is eight seasons long, it heavily implies a lot of things about magic that it unfortunately doesn’t really feel the need to expand upon. Though the triquetra is used by other people than the Charmed ones, it is also implied that other witches have their own symbols and their own magical books as well.
However, most of the other witches tend to be rather solitary, and the Power of Three is specifically the Charmed Ones’ ability, so it always struck me as odd to see other witches who are not bound by the triquetra use their spells. At one point, the sisters manage to break out of the triquetra and use the Power of Four, when they meet evil duplicates of themselves from an alternate reality and Good Phoebe and Paige team up with an Evil Phoebe and Paige to achieve a common goal. This is also struck me as little odd, since the nature of the triquetra is dependent upon there being just three witches.
Unfortunately, at no real point do the sisters ever sit down to discuss religion and how it affects their magic. Or if they do, it’s not something that they really think about or are interested in. Charmed also never really likes to formally introduce the audience to other witches, with only a few exceptions, so we never really get to learn about other people with magic either. As a whole the entire hierarchy of the witch community and their relationship with other magical beings would almost certainly be one of the more interesting aspects of the show if Charmed had been better written.
I would be remiss to tell you to check out this show without warning you that it is very inconsistent, even in how it portrays its own magic. The triquetra seems to be one of the few instances where the show doesn’t struggle. Personally, I prefer to explore the world of Charmed through fanfiction, since the actual show can be a bit of challenge to undertake.