Witch Please! The Story of the Modern Witch
Ladies! Pick up your broomsticks; things are about to get witchy.
Vertigo takes a look at the witches of yesteryear and modernity with help from our witch on speed dial, Tim Hartridge from WitchWorkshop (Newtown’s very own school of witchcraft). Over the phone, Tim is more of an Aussie battler rather than someone who’d hex you, but after decades spent on his craft, the previous ‘Witch of North Adelaide’ knows a thing or two about witches.
“Witchcraft is a melting pot of people who are looking for spirituality that reflects their values,” Tim tells me when I ask if anyone can be a witch. Thankfully it’s not just for those with uncanny magical abilities, but rather, is for anyone who is open to a different form of spirituality.
“I think the interest and popularity in witchcraft at the moment is filling a gap, a spiritual gap. But it’s not a gap that can be filled by ordinary religion…you’re not labelled as a sinner. Most Christians already have a problem by the time they’re born! They’re born with the original sin as a part of their doctrine. Pagans and witches don’t have that,” Tim says. Witchcraft is not all about spellcasting, a form of witchcraft known as low magick which focuses on the material world. Tim tells me that witches also turn their craft internally, trying to better themselves and their outlook on the world through high magick, which include various spiritual processes.
“Witches don’t put authority in the gods; we are responsible for our lives.”
But just what is a witch? Consider the stereotype: a woman who casts enchantments and brews potions, either inducing eye rolls or appealing to your inner crystal loving ‘new age’ aunty. Witchcraft, often dismissed as a figment of fantasy novels with too much Hocus Pocus, is taking on a new form and gaining new power in 2019. The witch of today is not just about magic; she’s a powerful woman. The figure of the witch has always been a terror to the patriarchy—even in the age of #notallmen. She’s too independent, too intelligent, too cultivated, too sexy, too much!
“The witch and witchcraft are fundamentally heretic [sic]. They want to break outside of the restrictions that are imposed on them by belief systems. If you think of any of the popular images of the witch, they’re usually women who have a mind of their own,” Tim says.
But witches have only recently become a rallying cry for women. Femininity has always been connected to the practice of witchcraft, making this an accessible tool for the oppression of women. The plague of witch trials in Europe and Colonial North America in the 1600s saw tens of thousands of women (and some men) executed on the basis of witchcraft. The grounds of this persecution, such as in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, were that these women didn’t fit the mould of society, they were different or spoke out. Accusers pit woman against woman, in a sadistic merry-go-round of allegations over who didn’t adhere to societal standards of femininity.
Tim agrees that the patriarchal belief system tore power away from women, and subjected them to oppressive standards, “They were great herbalists, midwives, and they cultivated agriculture…a lot of that power was attempted to be ripped away by patriarchal religion in the West. They didn’t want women being healers or being in charge. The persecution of witches was the persecution of women.”
Joan of Arc, now hailed as a saint, was burnt as a witch. The canonical French figurehead and overall power woman was executed at only 19 years of age for crimes including dressing like a man, heresy, and witchcraft. Perhaps, as many historians and feminists believe today, Joan may have been persecuted because it was utterly incomprehensible that a teenage girl could save France.
Flash forward to today, the success of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has paralleled the rise of the ‘nasty woman,’ with witch-ery becoming a symbol of feminine power and resistance for many women. It’s almost impossible not to account for the rise of the witch as a product of the Trump, Abbott, Johnson dream team brewing up trouble for women worldwide. Witchcraft has historically been linked to nonconforming social standards, promiscuity, and anti-establishment values, and has stuck with the female empowerment movement of today.
Tim knows all about the connection between feminism and witchcraft.
“We’re claiming back the power basically. The image of the witch is fundamentally feminine. I see parallels in politics, particularly in the #metoo movement, where so many women have come out saying that they are drawing a line in the sand.”
While you may doubt the legitimacy of modern magic, it’s hard to doubt the rise of the witch as a feminist figure, a reflection of the power harnessed by the force of strong women in a world of deep injustice. All that’s left is to find a coven of your own.