The witch archetype has been romanticized and commercialized in various mediums, from movies and shows to novels and art. The mysticism and fantasy associated with witches within Western pop culture have spiritually and symbolically resonated with emerging activists challenging patriarchal narratives of gender, politics, and sexuality.
Witches have long been a symbol of immortality, corruption, and societal disruption. The origin of witches has been traced back to when humans first started worshipping deities. Eventually, practices evolved, developing distinctly in different cultures. Before the 1400s, witches were seen as wise women and healers. It wasn’t until the rise of andro-Eurocentric Christianity in the middle ages that powerful women engaged in spirituality became demonized, and the term “witch” became derogatory.
First, let’s distinguish between witchcraft and Wicca. Wicca is a neo-pagan religion that draws on a diverse set of ancient pagan and modern 20th-century practices. It is a part of the western esoteric current known as “occultism.” A highly decentralized religious movement, there is often confusion about its exact constitution. However, it is widely known to be a polytheistic religion practiced by Wiccans. Witchcraft, on the other hand, is a practice or lifestyle. It involves the practice of spiritual rituals and other descendants of pagan practices. These two terms are often used interchangeably because many witches are part of Wicca. Yet, many are independent and are mere practitioners to varying degrees.
Chilling tales of powerful women—spiritually, sexually, and socio-economically—sparked fear within earlier societies, resulting in limited opportunities for meaningful social engagement among women. If too many intelligent, single, widowed, or older women spent too much time together socializing, it was grounds for men to accuse them of being witches. All of this culminated in the general understanding that non-conforming women must be feared and killed.
Recently, particularly after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, “invoking the witch” was popularized on social media platforms, especially among millennials and Gen Z youths. How-to guides on becoming modern witches have been plastered on popular magazines. Images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom went viral in 2016, and she was named the “Wicked Witch”by her opponents. The same thing happened to many other powerful women within Hollywood, politics, and other influential sectors.
Early feminist manifestos in the 19th and 20th centuries suggested that witchcraft was a way for the church and the state to oppress and control intelligent women and their influence. These women were often the most brilliant within society. The term “witch,” almost exclusively used for women, carries a level of stigma not associated with its male equivalents. Beneath the stereotypical image of the green-skinned woman with sharp yellow teeth is a wide array of diverse women. All of them frightened and oppressed, fighting for their independence and autonomy.
Activists say that a witch is powerful because she gets her strength from within herself rather than other people. This idea is the reason for their endurance throughout time. The message of inner-strength and “invoking the witch” within you has resonated with many marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ+ community, that have had their rights painfully stripped away. This concept of the “witch” has also inspired and empowered women during the Me Too movement. The romanticized image of witches has transformed the spiritual healers into liberating feminist icons. Not only because they hex corrupt politicians or join protests like the Black Lives Matter movement, but because they challenge heteronormative societal norms and encourage community bonding and freedom of expression. It is a reclamation process for women within societies and a statement of strength and power.