Witches have always walked among us, populating societies and storys capes across the globe for thousands of years. From Circe to Hermione, from Morgan le Fay to Marie Laveau, the witch has long existed in the tales we tell about ladies with strange powers that can harm or heal. And although people of all genders have been considered witches, it is a word that is now usually associated with women.
Throughout most of history, she has been someone to fear, an uncanny Other who threatens our safety or manipulates reality for her own mercurial purposes. She’s a pariah, a persona non grata, a bogeywoman to defeat and discard. Though she has often been deemed a destructive entity, in actuality a witchy woman has historically been far more susceptible to attack than an inflictor of violence herself. As with other “terrifying” outsiders, she occupies a paradoxical role in cultural consciousness as both vicious aggressor and vulnerable prey.
Over the past 150 years or so, however, the witch has done another magic trick, by turning from a fright into a figure of inspiration. She is now as likely to be the heroine of your favorite TV shows as she is its villain. She might show up in the form of your Wiccan coworker, or the beloved musician who gives off a sorceress vibe in videos or onstage.
There is also a chance that she is you, and that “witch” is an identity you have taken upon yourself for any number of reasons — heartfelt or flippant, public or private.
Witchcraft isn’t just fun and games; perks like hexes and love spells can come with a price. The infamous Salem witch trials may seem far in the past, but the persecution of witches (or those suspected of witchcraft) continues today. Despite the mainstream’s growing fascination, the past few years have also seen, for example, a whopping 900 percent rise in (at times lethal) child-abuse cases linked to suspicion of witchcraft and demonic possession in the U.K. There are, of course, methods of protection, like carrying an evil eye. The easiest one, however, is to simply not go around shouting about your newfound identity.
Wicca: A religion that’s perhaps the popularized form neo-paganism, thanks in large part to the so-called Father of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, who cultivated his specific ideology, now known as Gardnerian Wicca, in the mid-1900s. Whereas witches are typically thought of as women, many Wiccans are men and worship both a god and a goddess. What was initially thought of as an anti-monotheistic gesture, though, has more recently been criticized for espousing heterosexuality and the idea of a gender binary, which was, in part, what led to the emergence of Dianic Wicca, in the 1970s, for those who chose to only worship the goddess and to do so only in the presence of women—a policy that’s since proven to be problematic, as many of its covens prohibit transgender women.
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