The witch is a polarizing and powerful figure, and now, women are invoking the witch as a symbol of feminist values. Recently, a viral Tik Tok chain began on the corner of the social media platform called ‘witchtok.’ Modern-day practitioners of witchcraft started doing protection spells for the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. After filming and posting on the platform, they urged other witches to follow suit with the same protection spell and form a chain of spells to keep the Ukrainian president from harm.
Witchtok is full of modern-day practitioners of Wicca and other contemporary forms of witchcraft. Here, women discuss the power of using witchcraft to tap into the ‘Divine Feminine.’ The witch in history was often represented as an ugly, evil ghoul. Depictions of the witch in popular culture often include ugly older women, sometimes with warts or green skin. They are often the enemy or antagonist and the epitome of darkness.
However, witches, and now many feminist theorists, argue that this is the influence of the patriarchy. For example, many women killed in the Salem witch trials were not evil women. Often, they were persecuted for practicing modern medicine with herbs, displaying too much emotion, living alone, or being infertile. Moreover, for premarital sex, a lack of femininity, financial independence, muttering, arguing with your spouse, or being a midwife. Or perhaps for owning a cat or dressing sloppily. So essentially, almost anything.
For this reason, modern-day witches and scholars argue that what was indeed at the root of witch-hunting was misogyny and a deep fear of the power and independence of women. Witches were ahead of their time and often demonized for being progressive or intellectual. Therefore, stepping into the power of the witch is considered a feminist power move.
The Witch in Popular Culture
More and more, we can see witches or witchcraft emerging in popular cultures. TV shows and movies like Sabrina, Suspiria, A Discovery of Witches, and American Horror Story all depict witches as heroes rather than villains. In addition, celebrities such as Lana Del Ray, Azaelia Banks, Lorde, and even Rihanna have openly professed to be or are rumored to be witches. Who could forget when Lana Del Ray admitted to using witchcraft to put a hex on Donal Trump?
The terms witch and witch-hunting have also become a part of popular language and imagery. For example, the writer Andi Zeisler said, ahead of the 2017 Women’s March, ‘We need to go full witch.’
The archetype of the witch has emerged as a way for women to express their anger. In many ways, the attitudes and misogyny of Salem are not that different from misogyny today, even after hundreds of years. Women are still criticized for expressions, called ‘crazy’ for being emotional and angry. They are mocked for their independence, opinions, appearance.
In 2016, during the first Presidential Debate, journalist Megyn Kelly grilled Donald Trump on his misogyny. She asked, ‘You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’ Trump’s response to this was to say that Kelly was irrational and menstruating – ‘There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.’
The comments from Trump justifiably sparked outrage among women. However, his words and attitude are not uncommon, even in 2022. It is a phenomenon where women who question sexism or violence are treated as if their reaction is an attack. An emotional response that makes them irrational.
After hundreds of years of similar casual sexism, is it any wonder women are about to ‘go full witch?’
The Modern Witch
Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic and Power, by Pam Gossman, explores the cultural impact of witches. It also talks about the connection between the archetype of the witch and feminism. Gossman herself is a practicing pagan witch, feminist, and activist. She suggests that the witch is a prominent feminist archetype as she represents rebellion.
This spirit of rebellion could be any woman, cis or transgender, of any color or walk of life who fights against oppression. The story of the witch as a rebellious female figure who acts against oppressive patriarchal structures is now a symbol of the potential of strong women.
However, witchcraft also indicates a type of power unique to feminine energy and experience. For this reason, it is a symbol of empowered femininity, rather than women trying to embody masculine ideas of empowerment.
Gossman’s book details the historical and cultural impact of the witch while also being autobiographical. She uses this narrative device to tell the story of her journey to becoming a witch.
Witches are some of the most famous figures in folklore, stories, the media, and literature. However, folklore and story-telling often act as metaphors or commentary on reality.
Gossman summarizes her thoughts on the modern popularity of the witch;
‘ I do see the popularity of witches and witchcraft as being an important part of that conversation, because people tend to be attracted to the archetype of the witch, whether in their spiritual lives or just as an identity for political reasons or cultural reasons. Because the witch is a symbol for rebellion, for subverting the patriarchy and for the “other” narratives, whether that’s women or queer people or trans people or people of color. The witch really represents anybody who’s not in the dominant, oppressive, patriarchal role in society.’
The Different Types of Witch
There are many different types of witches and magic practices. Some are spiritual, and some are secular. Some follow one specific doctrine or set of gods and others a combination of different ones. The most commonly practiced modern witchcraft is Wicca. However, there are different roles and specialties for witches. After all, magic is a vast universe.
Traditional witches have a base in the history of witchcraft and the Old Craft that came before Wicca. They take a historical approach to their practice and often study their ancestors or other folklore attached to witchcraft. Traditional witches want to honor the “old” ways of practicing their craft and often focus on working with the local history and spirit of where they are or where they’ve come from.
A sea witch has strong ties to water and the ocean and uses that element often in her practice. Sea and ocean magic will often use sand, shells, driftwood, or other elements that come from that place. Sea witches feel connected to water and ancient folklore involving sirens.
Also known sometimes as a hearth witch or a home witch, kitchen witches create most of their magick in the home or the kitchen. Their home is a sanctuary, they are nurturing, and love to make their home a unique and sacred space. Kitchen witches love to cook and brew and use herbs, sometimes gathered from their garden. When practicing, they combine their own personal and individual magical energy with essential oils, herbs, food, and everyday objects to create their spells, rituals, and magic.
These witches practice what’s known as “hedge jumping,” venturing out of this world and into the Otherworld. Hedge witches can communicate with the spiritual world and send messages between both worlds. Hedge witches practice astral projection and work with herbs and Earth-based magic. But what makes them specifically a hedge witch is their ability to cross the “hedge” aka the boundary between this world and the spirit world. It’s thought that the “flying on a broomstick” legend was a misunderstanding based on hedge witches “flying” into the spiritual realm.
These witches study and practice based on the four elements: earth, air, wind, and fire. Elemental magic is work based on and honoring each aspect. An elemental witch may have an altar for each specific element. Elemental witches call on the elements when casting spells and performing rituals and may even have an element they identify with and work towards finding.
These witches have many practices, but ceremonies and rituals are practices that they hold in incredibly high regard. Ceremonial magic is in most of the elements of their practice. They likely perform a ritual or ceremony into whatever they’re casting or trying to accomplish. Ceremonial witches often call on specific beings and spiritual entities to assist them with whatever they’re casting.
Also called garden witches or forest witches, green witches have a deep connection to the earth. The energy they possess. They may have their own garden where they grow their herbs, but they also study their area and practice with local plants and their environment.
A hereditary witch is a witch that was born into witchcraft. It is a part of their family or their lineage. Their magic and practice are passed down from previous generations, though they may work with their practices as well or instead of their families. However, there is still a choice. Hereditary witches must be born into witchcraft, but you won’t STILL be a hereditary witch if you do not choose to practice witchcraft.
Cosmic witches are contemporary witches who look to the cosmos, astrology, and astronomy and work those elements and celestial energy into their practice. Also called “”Star Witches””, these witches often follow the planets and the alignment of the stars and base their spells and rituals on the different placements.
A very common type of witch, secular witches still cast spells using crystals, herbs, oils, and candles, but they do not attach spirituality to their practice. Secular witches do not worship a deity or higher being—their practice is entirely non-religious. They do not believe in the power behind energy or energy in their work. This isn’t to say that a secular witch cant be spiritual; it’s simply that their work is not. The two are entirely separate.
An eclectic witch does not have one set religion, practice, tradition, or culture that they pull from. Their practice derives from many sources and, ultimately, becomes the witch’s own. They may worship a higher being, or their practice may be primarily secular, or its kind of spiritual. An eclectic witch ultimately makes their own “rules” with their practice—it is uniquely based on the individual witch.
The Feminist Symbol
Many witches today still practice spiritual or supernatural witchcraft. However, many current practitioners are secular. Or they are a blend of secular and eclectic. They may not hold any specific spiritual beliefs and may adopt many different rituals from different strands of magic. For example, it is not uncommon to hear of practitioners using crystals, astrology, spells, or herbs for rituals in the mainstream.
However, although many witches profess to be spiritual or believe in energy, they do not always see this as ‘supernatural.’ Many witches shy away from overly mystical stereotypes. Instead, they believe that magic and spells are simply harnessing or tapping into various physical elements that we do not yet understand with science.
As there are scientific things we cannot yet explain, magic is simply the conduit for understanding such things. Therefore, most magic, even the spiritual kind, is often done in the name of scientific inquiry. Unfortunately, this forward-thinking and intellectual aspect of witchcraft has seen it demonized. At the very center of magic is a profound curiosity about the world. Moreover, it is about pursuing healthier and happier ways of living.
Women who do not practice magic often stand in solidarity with women who do. While some may not be practitioners themselves, they may seek out the advice or services of witches. And while there are male practitioners of magic (warlocks), most practitioners of magic are women. In a patriarchal system in which other forms of support are dominated by men, there is a comfort in magic being a female domain. The strong feminist presence also represents safety and understanding for women, as much as it does freedom and non-conformity.
Cultural Significance in Anthropology
The witch acts as both reality and metaphor in which women wish to harness their own power. The archetype of the witch is one who has been oppressed and demonized simply for wanting autonomy and power. It is easy then, to understand why women, femmes, and the queer community identify so strongly with this.
The witch has been a negative figure for so long. However, many women are now stepping into the role and reclaiming the witch. Whether that be literally, figuratively, or symbolically. The witch encourages us to rethink the negative stereotypes about women who speak up, live differently, think differently, and pave their own way. The figure of the witch also highlights how, much like in Salem, women who are different are still hunted.