Witches don’t look like anything. Witches are. Witches do. - Franny Billingsley
Post by: Jessica
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When we think about the image of the witch we see what popular culture has placed on the screen for us. We see the Good Witch: she is representative of the light elements of Earth and it is seen in her clothing, her unnatural beauty, rituals and how she treats creatures. She is the Glinda, who gives support and guides Dorothy on her way to meet the Wizard. Or she is the Bad Witch; who is ugly, wears a pointed hat, has hatred for all living things that have not been manipulated for her will and at times a bride of Satan. She is the Wicked One, who tries to steal the red ruby slippers and keep Dorothy at all cost from reaching The Wizard. She is vindictive and selfish and it is seen in her green and crooked nose appearance. Now, this was my first introduction to the image of the witch. I became enamored by the imagery of Glinda and the Wicked Witch. In my youth, I wanted to be Glinda, beautiful, powerful and respected. However, as I have reached my later years as a woman, I can relate more to the image of the Wicked Witch and I have felt sympathy towards her.
This early interest in witches carried on with me throughout my adulthood and into present day. In my next blog post I will talk about my journey into accepting my own Witchy Woman path. For now, this one is about the historical depictions of the witch and how that has somewhat transformed in our current societal context particularly in the last few years with witchcraft becoming an acknowledge and celebrated part of feminism.
In the origins of witchcraft, women who had an affinity for nature, healing and worked in commune with other women were known as healers and midwives. They were for the betterment of their community. They were the young and the old. They were the givers and the preservers of life in the pre-Christian days. However, with the rise of Christianity and the desire to be rid of the old Pagan ways, the word “witch” became associated with these midwives/healers and with it negative perceptions. In the 15th and 16th centuries, with the rise in the fear of Satan and his evils, which were brought on by the Christian clergy as a means to explain what was responsible for natural disasters, unnatural deaths, illness and general human suffering. Anything that could not be explained by the Church or stood in opposition of it was seen as evil and a threat to mankind’s soul, thus an atmosphere of persecuting witches evolved. Any woman who showed any signs of not falling in line with Christian doctrine, practiced old healing ways, were outspoken or sexually liberal were accused of witchcraft. This was further exacerbated due to Heinrich Kramer’s claim in the Malleus Maleficarum that women were more likely to fall to the seductions of Satan due to their own inherent weaknesses. This lead to years of thousands of women and some men being accused and executed for witchcraft both in Europe and in North America.
During this time, the image of the witch was transformed into one that was ugly, old, full of warts, inherently evil and if she showed any sign of beauty it was seen as a hex or spell to alter her appearance to seduce others to her will. The image of the witch from folklore and history was one of an old hag who wrote her name in Satan’s book for unearthly pleasures. They were evil, demon worshipers out to ruin the souls of mankind and the patriarchal structures. This image of the witch stayed with her throughout history and became a popular depiction of the witch in theater, literature and film. However, as more research has been done about the witch hunts in Europe and Salem, as well as the recent actions that are being taken by feminists in our current societal and political environment, both the word and image of the witch are being reclaimed and transformed.
When we look back we see that the fear of witchcraft was not really about a woman’s alignment with Satan but really about the fear of her inner power as a women, seen through her sexuality, knowledge, natural caregiver/healing abilities and having a voice and will to stand up for what was wrong. The witch trials became a means for men to incite women to turn against women, to break the community of sisterhood that had been built in pagan societies but dismantled in Christian organizations. This continued into the 20th century, but instead of accusing another woman for crop failures and disease, women now are attacked for their weight, clothing, work, associations and general status in life. Women were still being torn apart not only by the patriarchy but by other women still looking to fall in line and outcast those who have stepped outside of the societal prescribed norms.
However, we have seen a drastic change in the image of the witch. Since the 1970’s feminist groups have been working to reclaim the image of the witch as a woman of mystery, inspiration and power through either spiritual (Wicca) or political (W.I.T.C.H) means. But not only that, but as a means for women coming back together in sisterhood instead of being constantly torn apart. Once again finding strength in their numbers, in a coven of sorts. But also, changing the image of the witch as a metaphor for female empowerment and the creation of identity. Women are reclaiming the witch and identifying as green witches, white witches, kitchen witches, hedge witches, and even sex witches but in each of their own special ways. Their is no such thing as the stereotypical witch. Their spiritual and empowerment practices involve mysticism, occult practices, political activism and natural healing. The witch is no longer seen as an image of female persecution but the embodiment of feminine power. The witch is whoever she wants to be and what she wants to do.
While Wicca is one of the most popular spiritual practices for both men and women who identify as a witch, one of the most important elements of witchcraft that many have been drawn to is the idea of choosing one’s own path. Witchcraft is about untapping and unleashing the feminine energy within, becoming autonomous, defying the patriarchal social norms while forming an identity that embraces differences and celebrates defiance. The identify of the witch in the 21st century “can be conceived of in so many ways, it’s all about discovering what kind of witch you already are – or desire to be.” Kristin J Sollee, Witches, Sluts and Feminists.
Please watch a truly powerful and evocative poem from internationally renowned artist, Fleassy Malay.