The other day I received word from my daughter in Salem. Of course had it been August 1692 I would have been more concerned. At that time the city was the centre for a series of hearings and prosecutions of those accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging. But of course we’ve come a long way with our views on unorthodox practices in the last 320 years, Brooke was just visiting to research a future film, and the only spells we know between the two of us are of the dizzy variety following a few bottles of prosecco.
However, the witch is apparently the ultimate feminist icon according to an article in the Huffington Post last year. So this raised my curiosity. What on earth is the connection between a faction which seeks equality between men and women and the moon worshipping group of Wicca?
Surprisingly for its world popularity, the spiritual initiative which most people associate with today’s version of Salem thinking, was only created in 1954 by a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. Fresh and sassy, it appealed to a collection of liberal thinkers known as the ‘women’s spirituality’ movement who, understandably because of how they treated women as second class citizens, rejected the established religious orders of the day.
Wicca was wonderful for them. It gave the perfect opportunity to scratch out one set of rules and replace them with others more in line with the goals of women’s liberation. Then when everyone went spiritualist mad in the 1960s and 1970s and the sale of Ouija boards went through the roof, the resurgent feminism movement had found a kindred philosophy. Myths and magic became core to understanding female subjectivity. Non-religious women now could claim the witch as a symbol of their feminist ambitions. It was the perfect community practice, anti-establishmentarianism, anti-Valium (‘Mothers little helper’, the drug all housewives were hooked on) and pro-Verbena, and the only broom they exercised was between their legs.
The new feminist witchcraft became synonymous with inner strong female power, nurturing and caring, and the indisputable authority of the tarot card. To be fair, though, it did give feminine intuition back its legitimacy. Which is where the rub comes in.
Radical feminists have long believed that men are involved in some nefarious plot to undermine and suppress this innate female clairvoyance. Personally, I don’t believe that for a second. If it were so, they would starve. For example, how on earth would men be able to find anything edible when they need it if it is hidden more than two jars back in the fridge?
To read more about the celebrations as well as the inconsistencies of feminism you can download my book Moderating Feminism: The Past The Now and What Comes Next