In honour of Halloween, Kim Singh-Sall explores the resurgence of witchcraft in feminist political activism, female spirituality, and a (surprisingly?) popular TikTok trend.
On the 24 February 2017 at the stroke of midnight, witches across America performed a mass spell against President Trump. Spellcasters called on the Wiccan deities to “bind Donald J. Trump so that his malignant works may fail utterly”. The spell was not designed to harm Trump, but to prevent him doing harm.
The Facebook group, #BindTrump #MagicResistance, devoted to the ritual, coined over 10,000 likes and the official group has now garnered 6,500 members. Their next ‘binding’ will take place on October 31st 2020, one minute before midnight.
Here, we see an entanglement of political activism and spirituality. Feminists and radicals in America and Britain have once again turned to witchcraft, possibly spurred on by a political age of populism. Women and witchcraft have always been political. The witch-hunting craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ravaged Europe and America as thousands of women were burned for being alleged witches, on the grounds of peculiar evidence. Driven by religious and social conflict, these witch hunts have found their place in the history and development of feminism. While some historians reject that the trials acted as a systemic attack by men on women, there is a general acceptance that radical feminists have reclaimed the ‘Witch’ due to its symbolism.
Even today, powerful women have accusations of witchcraft thrown at them, though the risk of being burned at the stake no longer follows. During the 2008 US election Hillary Clinton was called a witch and in 2016 was branded the “Wicked Witch of the Left”.
Since the wave of radical feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, women in the West have reclaimed the Witch. In 1968, the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, or W.I.T.C.H mounted a hex on Wall Street. Gluing the doors shut of the New York Stock Exchange, dressing as witches and marching down Wall Street, this feminist group dedicated itself to overthrowing patriarchal structures in society. The group was political, rather than spiritual, but nevertheless, the decision to use the ‘witch’ brand resonates.
It is interesting that this brand of radical feminism grew alongside the spread of Wicca in Europe and the United States. Thus, it is unsurprising that the two would intertwine. Wicca is a predominantly Western movement which originated in 1950s England and spread to the rest of Europe and America. Retired Civil Servant Gerald Brousseau Gardner founded the movement based on reverence of nature, practise of magic, and worship of the female deity, the Goddess.
Today, Americans are more spiritual than ever before. It is unsurprising then, that there has been a ‘witch renaissance’ in recent years. But is this reclaiming of the witch an act of feminism, or just simply for the culture?
I recently visited the witchcraft and manifestation side of TikTok (for research purposes, obviously) and what struck me was the genuine methodology behind WitchTok. This is more than a silly indulgence to try and coerce the metaphysical forces that be to get a text back before 11pm – this is a culture, a philosophy. I stumbled across the pillow method, the 369 method, and the wheel technique – all at first glance sounded like euphemisms – and have found that there hasn’t just been a rebirth in reclaiming witchcraft for the label, but for the practise too. Especially since the outbreak of Covid, more of us have looked inward; turning to nature and spirituality. Hence the emergence of Cottagecore and the renaissance of the witch.
On some levels, I kind of relate. Here I sit, writing this article, drinking tea from my Bitches’ Brew cauldron shaped-mug. I don’t partake in witchcraft, but I’ll indulge in the aesthetic, peppering my uni room with a book of witches’ spells, palm reading and astrology.
Reclaiming the ‘witch’ is both sticking it to the patriarchy, and a fun aesthetic to indulge in for Americans and Brits alike. And why not? Through mediums like Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and TikTok, we have cultivated fun, safe spaces to embrace labels that have historically violent and oppressive connotations. Now we’re no longer being burned at the stake for men’s inability to handle a woman’s unexplained power or even independent existence, we’ve reclaimed the ‘witch’.
Decades of films – The Craft, Practical Magic, Hocus Pocus, Harry Potter – and celebrity endorsements of witchcraft – Stevie Nicks and Lana del Rey to name a few – tell us of the ubiquity of turning historic ‘villainy’ into empowerment. Even more so, modern feminists have demonstrated a likening to taking back the ‘witch’.
There is a long history of marginalised groups reclaiming oppressive language and turning it into a powerful force for empowerment. Just like when Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’ during their final debate in 2016, the Internet exploded as nasty women all over the world united in solidarity and celebration of their ‘nastiness’. Similarly, as women find and emphasise their agency, they try and emphasise all aspects of womanhood: the good, the bad, the nasty and even the witch.
So whether this Western witchcraft resurgence serves as a political act of defiance, a means of spirituality or simply a romanticised culture, one thing is certain: the witch is back.
Artwork by Aniqah Rawat.