As we approach the high season of the witch (for real witches, the stereotypical witch, and the witch aesthetic) it feels appropriate to contemplate the “witch”- how we see “her”, and all the misogyny often involved. As a real life witch, it’s interesting to think about my relationship with the stereotype and aesthetic of the "witch". I like to play with it, both embracing and rejecting different aspects. I love to wear a witch hat, especially around this time of year. I have a lot of brooms (though I don’t usually ride them to fly), a couple cauldrons, and love to make potions of all kinds. It can be fun to play with the witch aesthetic, but that’s not what being a witch is about.
In current wider culture, the witch aesthetic seems to be everywhere, especially this time of year. Often, she is portrayed as a young, sexy woman wearing a pointy hat. You often see her in social media posts, movies, and advertisements. The idea of the “witch” comes along with a whole aesthetic we associate with it. As I said, the witch aesthetic is something I like to play with- it’s fun to tap into cultural memory and symbolism by wearing a pointy hat or standing over a cauldron at a fire. But it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more to the word “witch” than a fun, sexy or creepy aesthetic. Claiming oneself as a witch connects you with a deep and contextual legacy.
Growing up, I loved the idea of a witch. I loved a show on TV called “The Worst Witch” about a school for young “witches”. I loved to play in a secret corner of my yard, mixing potions and calling myself a Witch. I, of course, didn’t know (consciously) the depth and reality that lay behind the aesthetic and idea, but it was so intriguing. The magic that witches hold and the mystery of it all called to me. But of course, “The Worst Witch” and many other shows and movies were not about real witches or real witchcraft. They were calling up age old stereotypes that can be fun and playful, but have also been used by many to keep women down for centuries. And yet, they also call up age old truths that we hold in our history (herstory).
The gendered stereotype of the witch can be traced back as far as the 11th century and is steeped in the misogyny of the patriarchal world that existed at that time in Europe. There’s much about the modern stereotype of the witch that is problematic, to say the least. The powerful archetype of the wise old woman on the edge of the village, mysterious yet intriguing, is an archetype that lives deep inside all of us. Over centuries, this figure of deep support and healing has been turned by the wider culture into a scary, ugly, green skinned, long nosed, ugly old woman.
The idea of the modern scary witch is wrapped up with our culture’s fear of aging, especially aging women. Our wider culture’s obsession with youth and conventional beauty, especially concerning women, has caused us to fear aging and death which makes older women really scary. Even the words we use for an old woman- hag, crone, witch- now have a negative connotation. Many of those words were once used with reverence and honor. If you look up the definition of the word “crone”, it says “an ugly, evil-looking old woman”. That word used to have a different meaning, and for many people the word “crone” is coming to again mean a wise older woman, embracing her intuition and role as an elder. We’ve lost our connection to the cycles, and to knowing the wisdom and benefit of all the ages and stages. Our culture is in need of elders. Embracing the words- crone, hag, and witch- is a step in the right direction.
Human fear of “the other” has shown up in the world in so many ugly ways. When we use the word “witch”, we call up (at least unconsciously) our cultural memory of the witch hunts throughout history (and in some places, currently) throughout the world. I use the word witch to describe myself in honor of the many women who have been persecuted, tortured, and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Whether they were actually a practitioner of witchcraft or not, they were sacrificed because of our cultural terror of difference and our human resistance to deep healing.
I proudly call myself a witch to honor the legacy of the women who came before me. I call myself a witch to support the redefinition of the word in our world, to stop defining women as terrifying. I call myself a witch to reclaim the word as a positive force. I call myself a witch to claim myself as a woman who holds power and mystery.