She was lying on the cold metal. All her sisters were gone. She was damaged, threads dangling from her clothes, the broomstick ripped from her hand. She was a dollar store discard, worth 100 pennies but because of the shaky world economy she now costs $1.25. She was alone on the bottom level near the floor. Above her, the skeletons and orange and black paraphilia were sparse and picked over but nobody wanted her.
I have become a champion for those left behind. I took the witch home, glued the broom stick back into her left hand and trimmed the messiness of her outfit.
I have become an amateur sociologist with an intense interest in the reasons why there is scapegoating. I’ve always wondered why some people are seen as having less value and why some are labeled deviant and shunned.
What is a witch? Who were these women? What can we learn from them in today’s world of social conflict?
The concept of “witch” is like a dark sea creature with many tentacles. It is more than magic and spells and warts on the noses of old ladies. I follow the money. It is a path that repeatedly illuminates my way.
“A witch is born out of the true hungers of her time.” -Ray Bradbury
Centuries ago in Europe, a radical economic shift happened in which society became more interested in profit than tradition. Feudal manorial estates and castle towns began to disappear causing the country folk to lose their plots and homesteads and become wage laborers. Pauperization and alienation increased and those in power feared the anger of those who were below them. Targets were needed to divert the masses from looking too closely at the schemes of those in charge. Witches became a persecuted subculture of that time. They were usually older women who lived alone, had a connection to nature, and exhibited the intuitive wisdom that comes with age and trail and error. They were sought after by other women who had little controlled over their lives. They eased the uncertainty of life including the trials of childbirth. Their lore and our fascination with them still exists today. Each chapter of their existence in history “can map our endless complicated feelings about women’s attractiveness, age and agency.”
Much of the supernatural occurrences associated witches originated as result of torture that forced them to confirm things that weren’t true. And, as always, the social mechanisms of gossip and slander intensified their persecution and their horrible deaths by burning.
Joseph Campbell in his book, The Power Of Myth , writes about standard men’s roles in books and fairy tales. Males were predominantly portrayed as strong adventurers on quests or heroes rescuing helpless females. The witch is one of the few symbols in Western literature of independent female power. She was the woman who had the guts to live life on her own terms. She is tied, as all women are, to the uncontrollable but enviable power of the moon and the strength and perseverance of the women who came before her.
Centuries later modern women still look for personal meaning in the supernatural. They buy crystals, seek out fortune tellers, and believe in the occult. I recently went to a physic fair about 20 miles from my home to find evidence of this. This event was mainly attended by women who, during these tough economic times, were still willing to pay $75-$100 for a reassuring look into their futures.
Society and culture are strong inescapable forces that press on all human beings. But it seems that a woman must dodge more deftly the ever evolving and fluctuating standards that try to define who she is. I, like many woman, have dealt with the uncertainty of who I am and I have frequently questioned my worth. Many times growing up I saw myself as stupid and ugly as I struggled to fulfill the expectations imposed on me by the world and those around me.
I am older now and with that comes wisdom and, just maybe, a bit of magic. I have broken the spell! I accept who I am. I’m finally enough!
“One of the witchiest things we can do is to unlearn the limiting beliefs we have been taught about who we are, what is possible, and how to act in alignment with our true needs and desires.”-Erica Feldman
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