Tag Archives: Wicca

Reclaiming The Radical Legacy of The Witch

barneywitch

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about witches. Not just because top ten lists of hot tv witches and sexy Halloween selfies currently swamp my social media feeds, but because my tables and shelves are currently so laden with herbs, plants, berries, phials and bottles that if an inquisitor of old were to enter, I’d find myself quickly tied to the stake. And while this worry seems remote, it’s a plain fact that women in third world countries are still hunted down, tortured and set aflame for the crime of witchcraft.

Sure, the witch is emerging from the world of taboo and shadows onto the world stage. Sure, she’s being touted as a feminist icon  – a “powerful feminine model free from male influence or ownership”. But I’m not so sure. Because how can it be that the witch, once associated with everything transgressive and beyond the realm of normative society, is now so trendy and positively mainstream?  Is it really a feminist step forward that W magazine declared Fall 2016, the season of the witch, replete with pouting models in gothic dresses, chains and black lace underwear?

And while many believe the witch of the middle ages was a spectre created by the church, I believe she was real. Yes, many put to death were just ordinary women who practiced folk magic, herbalism and midwifery, but many were powerful spiritual leaders of the indigenous, animist faith traditions of the old world – and their magic was earned through a lifetime of spiritual discipline spent in communion with nature.

And I worry her make-over into nubile fashion siren not only obscures this history, but her true relevance as a role model to us today. One that if resurrected, would be just as subversive and dangerous to the powers that be. 

Today the witches tall black hat and burbling cauldron have become icons of Halloween kitsch, but they were once hallowed items of the holy women and priestesses, the healers and herbalists, the oracles and diviners of old Europe. Their conical hats and cauldrons date back to the 2nd Millennium BCE and were connected to the female shamans of the Indo-European peoples.

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Tarim Mummies, 1800 BCE

 

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Scythian Princess and her cauldron, 4th to 5th century BCE

 

Their cauldrons (as well as crystal balls and magical wands) were still being used thousands of years later by the “witte wieven” or wise women, the sibyls, seers, and female druids of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, and Norse traditions of the middle ages.

According to Max Dashu, author Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion,  these “dream-readers, sooth-sayers, and herb-chanters, fire-gazers in Switzerland, or water-gazers in France and Spain”, practiced “all the elements of shamanism: chants, prophecy, healing, weather-making powers, and shapeshifting”. Legends tell of their sacred cauldrons in which “they simmered mysterious herbs to produce a drink of immortality and resurrection.”

These women were the guardians of the earth, the protectors of the sacred groves, lakes and springs, from which they derived their magical power. And until the middle ages they were highly respected, sought out and consulted for healing and divination by common folk, nobility and clergy alike.

But according to Barbara G. Walker , it was during the 14th century that the Catholic Church, during its relentless expansion and appropriation of sacred land, began to distinguish between witchcraft, perpetrated by women, and sorcery, a legitimate pursuit of men.

witchwisewomen

While books on sorcery were condoned well into the enlightenment, female witches in contrast were said to “magically injure crops, domestic animals, and people, and in general “outrage the Divine Majesty”. And thus their religious practices (as described by Dashu) of “sitting-out” on the land “gazing, listening, gathering wisdom” were extinguished by a priesthood that sought to bring nature, magic, women (not to mention their land and property) under male control.

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These women did not go easily, or take usurpation of their holy sites and old ways lightly – it took the Church hundreds of years to hunt them down. And so it seems likely, at least to me,  that the stereotype of vengeful witch, casting curses and blighting crop, was real, at least for the church. She must have been the original eco-feminist, fighting the patriarchy with one of most powerful tools at her disposal, magic. And the Church took it pretty seriously indeed.”

Read More here: https://gathervictoria.com/2016/10/23/reclaiming-the-radical-legacy-of-the-witch/

Magick Empowers Women

Oh yes it does! Great article below on people can empower their lives through a magical practice.

A Modern-Day Witch Explains How Magic Can Empower Women

“You have the ability to manifest positive change in your life.”

Witchcraft, Wicca, paganism, goddess-based spirituality. Whatever you want to call the practice of magic, it’s empowering women.

Enchantments is a New York City occult store (and home to three cats) that sells custom candles, incense, spiritual books, blended oils and other magical products. It’s also a place where both seasoned practitioners and people completely unfamiliar with magic come to seek answers.

 

COURTESY OF ENCHANTMENTS NYC

Stacy Rapp, a witch and the owner of Enchantments, says that the interest in witchcraft is increasing. While people of all genders are welcome in the community, Rapp said that women are particularly drawn to magic because of the gender equality inherent in the practice of witchcraft and the option to worship female deities. Goddess-based spirituality is also appealing to young queer and trans young people, who may feel unwelcome in other religious communities.

Ammo O’Day, an Enchantments employee, personal trainer and life coach, said that she came to witchcraft after rebelling against her Catholic upbringing.

“I was told I was going to hell because I’m a woman,” said O’Day, who spent 12 years in Catholic school. “I knew from a very young age that something was up… that everything I was taught about being female was incorrect.”

I spoke to Rapp about how she came to practice magic, stereotypes about witchcraft, and how she hopes to empower other women through education.

How did you start practicing witchcraft?

I started reading up on it when I was 14 or 15. I did a lot of research on my own into persecution in Salem and witchcraft trials. That was a way to subjugate independent, strong unmarried women in a puritanical society. Puritanical society’s attitudes towards women make even some of the most screwed-up attitudes towards women seem lax. My interest was always there. The more I learned, the more I saw the potential.

I’ve been working here at Enchantments for 15 years. I see the extreme potential to undo a lot of the negative… attitudes towards women, I guess, from traditional religion or from society or from culture. We get a lot of people coming in saying, OK, I was raised Christian, it’s just not working for me. There is nothing for women’s empowerment. There is nothing for strengthening, nothing saying, “This is gonna help you get through all of this.” There is nothing that teaches you how to deal with abusive people, with abusive men. And there is nothing for healing certain aspects of women, whether that’s their psyches, or a physical or emotional healing.

 

COURTESY OF ENCHANTMENTS NYC

What do you think the draw is, especially for people who may not have grown up knowing anything about this type of spiritual practice?

People are looking for a higher power that’s gonna be more like them, in their image. We do get a lot of guys, too, I’m not gonna say it’s female-centered at all. I think the biggest draw with witchcraft, unlike a lot of spiritual craft, is that it’s proactive. You have the ability to manifest positive change in your life. As opposed to thinking, if you pray really hard, maybe this will happen. It’s a lot more focused on working with the universe.

A lot of the stuff we deal with is love magic. Love and money, mostly. We’ve tried over the years to emphasize the fact that particularly with the love stuff, the most important place to start is with yourself. If you’re trying to attract positive people, you need to feel positive about yourself. I think, unfortunately, women are raised to see themselves not always as positive. That’s a cultural thing to some degree.

You’ve said that one of your major goals is to educate and empower women. How are you doing that?

A lot of what I’m extremely passionate about is empowering women, young women in particular. I have nieces now, and I don’t want them to grow up with the same stereotypes that I did, or my mom did. I want them to grow up to be strong independent women.

We do get a lot of young women [coming into the store] who are high school-age, who are trying to find themselves, trying to find their voice. They come in for education. It’s a lot more available because of the internet. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there too.

 

COURTESY OF ENCHANTMENTS NYC

What do people come in to Enchantments looking for?

We do deal with people wanting to put curses on others. We just don’t do it. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about self-improvement, empowerment, education, and helping people to better their own lives. To improve themselves, to improve their lives, to improve things for their family. It’s all about positive change.

There is a moral code to witchcraft. Hollywood and the media have focused on the lack of moral code that does exist in some people. That’s ultimately what creates scandal and spectacle and whatnot. But we don’t do the black magic… in the end result, it doesn’t help people. It actually hurts you.

What are some common misconceptions about witchcraft that you want to clear up?

Ah, the myths of witches, my favorite topic. A lot of [the stereotypes come from] fear. A lot of that comes from the rise of monotheism and the subjugation of women.

If you look at some of the witchcraft trials and persecutions in history, there were some men, but mostly women. Most of them were unmarried, they may have even been lesbians, they were healers, they were usually outspoken, very independent. The idea that if a woman is unmarried there must be something wrong with her.

If you look at certain cultures, you know, there is no difference between a witch and a medicine man or a shaman, except gender. And yet… they weren’t persecuted the same way. Witchcraft was a way to persecute women who were strong and outspoken in a time when women had no rights, and had no function other than to be baby machines. It was a way to keep women down, and keep women from rising to any sort of power.

Have people reacted negatively to you as a practitioner of magic?

I’ve been called all sorts of things over the years. We have people preaching outside [the store] sometimes saying we’re all going to hell, and I say “Thanks! Very productive.”

 

COURTESY OF ENCHANTMENTS NYC

Has it been hard to dispel stereotypes, and help people understand what your practice is actually about?

A lot of the stereotypes are Hollywood stereotypes, too. You can’t just snap your fingers and make something happen. You can’t float in the air, you can’t fly on a broom. Much as we would love to. In terms of changing people’s minds, a lot of that is positive press. Or word of mouth. And people are interested.

We explain what we do and say to other things, “That’s not what real witches do.” We turn down bullsh*t scandal stories. And there’s been a huge, huge push to educate people about what magic really is. It seems to work.