In an interview last week, I made passing reference to The Wing as an example of commodified feminism, which prompted someone who follows me (not a member of the League) to send me the following message:
“I saw you mentioned The Wing. They are witches. Real witches. You shouldn’t be involved with them. When you get involved with the occult you open yourself up to demonic spirituality.”
It may be telling that my first thought was “I’m not involved with The Wing,” before I got to “I’m pretty sure they’re not actual witches,” and then to, “so what if they are?”
We can set aside the question of what causes someone to worry in that way about someone else’s soul (hint: it’s conservative religion) and go directly to this one: what’s wrong with someone being witchy?
It’s relevant to the current moment because we’re still very (very) prone to characterizing women — especially powerful women, or women who just step into public spaces and assert their right to participate — in terms of deviance and transgression. We’ve talked many times about how women standing in their power often draw accusations of anger and emotional instability. Just yesterday, Jim Cramer called Nancy Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” while interviewing her. “Nasty Woman” has taken on its own branded life (including as a wine, by our own Meg Murray) because it resonates so broadly — we all have a story about being characterized in nasty terms. And those stories almost always go back to how we use our power.
But this isn’t just about how we characterize women’s power — it’s how we understand the underpinnings of women’s power, and the term “witch” is particularly useful in this regard. “Witch” has been used as an insult toward women and girls for a long time, in no small part because the term has been used to describe women whose power is deemed uncanny, or (more usually) simply against the norm of dominant, patriarchal knowledge systems. For a very long time, the insult often carried a death penalty; to defy (even implicitly) the dominant knowledge system was an unpardonable sin — and crime. This tells us something important about the practice or characteristics of being “witchy”: it threatens those dominant systems.
Witches have, historically (and the history is ancient), been purveyors and practitioners of alternative wisdom: alternative, and usually more nuanced, ways of seeing and understanding and being in relationship with the world around us, and that’s dangerous to a system that requires compliance with a single, dominating worldview. It’s no accident that those resisting a dominant worldview are usually women (ever hear of a “wizard hunt”?) or other communities excluded from the making of that worldview — resistance, after all, usually comes from the margins.
The Wing may or may not be a coven (if you’re looking for a badass coworking community that more fully holds the values of witchy resistance, The Coven is actually what you’re looking for), but it doesn’t really matter: the accusation that it is a coven is a reflection of deep-seated social and cultural fears about empowered communities of women. Because even those who are most dismissive of women’s power recognize this fact: together we make system-disrupting magic.
Let’s open ourselves up to that spirituality.
— — Catherine
More on the history and resistance practices of women’s magic…
Witch: Unleashed, Untamed, Unapologetic, by Lisa Lister (recommended frequently in PowerUps by badass Melissa Jaffe)
Witches of America, by Alex Mar (also a documentary)
… and wonderful fiction in the same vein.
I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by Marise Condé (novel based on a very true story)
And if you needed further evidence that witches get it…
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