Throughout history, witchcraft has been used as an accusation to oppress or eliminate women. Still today, those of us who dare speak truth to power still face trial by fire.
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It’s that scary time of year again when we are reminded that women’s power is so threatening to men they have created ugly caricatures of us in order to keep us oppressed.
I’m talking, of course, of Election Day.
If you thought I meant Halloween, I understand the confusion. Halloween is the time of year we celebrate our ability to frighten men by appearing to be a witch, as opposed to the rest of the year when we constantly apologize for doing so. And Election Day is the day they should fear us; the day when we could summon all the power of being a woman, casting a spell by casting a vote that could drive all the evil spirits out of government. Of course, evil spirits do not go quietly and they use quite a bit of sorcery themselves in the form of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and social media voodoo courtesy of their pact made with Vladimir Beezlebub. In this modern retelling, Trump Tower appears to be the mythical crossroads where the veil between the two worlds of right and wrong is just thin enough that you can make such a deal with the Devil.
But before I beat this metaphor like it’s a journalist and I’m a repressive regime cozy with our Prez, let’s consider that witches are more than just a fun, seasonal metaphor, but rather a tool that men have been using throughout history to weaponize misogyny against women who had a dearth of ye olde fucks to giveth.
Witchcraft is a belief system that can find its origins some 30,000 years ago and is still practiced today under the names Wicca and Paganism. These are religions and should be respected as such, perhaps even more so since they don’t blow up women’s health clinics, prevent people from marrying who they love, or ring my doorbell on Saturday mornings in the name of their beliefs. In fact, the basic tenet of the religion is if “it harm none, do as ye will,” which is also pretty much the basic tenet of being a Democrat. (As opposed to that of the Republicans: “If it harms everyone but us, keep doing it.”)
And if Witchcraft has been around for 30,000 years, men have been stoking fear about it for almost as long. In the relatively modern times of the last five centuries, fear of witches spread throughout the world resulting in the death of those accused, three quarters of whom were women. In 1603, James I of England thought female communities threatened him politically so he accused them of witchcraft to deny them political influence. In Italy, prostitutes were the majority of women accused of witchcraft, because it was believed they had magical powers over love. But the majority also had another thing in common: They were considered outsiders. They spoke a different language or were from another town or practiced a different religion. And in 16th-century Wales, it was feared that the power of women’s magic was being used against both the government and the church, which was engaged in trying to enforce the law of marriage in the face of Welsh customs that allowed for a wider range of sexual partners. You don’t need 23 and Me to guess that Mike Pence has some 16th-century Welsh priest in him.
So if you’re noticing a pattern, it’s not in your head. You are not, as Susan Collins might tell you, “confused.” These accusations were leveled at women who were outsiders, who had agency over their own sexuality, who worshipped differently and who wanted a say in their government. They were often older, in part because they were considered unimportant and no one was likely to defend them.
And sadly today, it’s not much better for women. In Tanzania, hundreds of women, usually over the age of 60, are murdered each year for being a witch. Here in America, we just tell them to go away and start knitting. They are mocked, ridiculed and demonized, all for having the sheer gall to still be alive with experience and knowledge to lead. Earlier this month at a candidates’ debate in Virginia, Republican Congressman Dave Brat repeated the name “Nancy Pelosi” at challenger Abigail Spanberger like it was some sort of magical incantation. It was like he thought Nancy Pelosi was “Beetlejuice” and if he said the name out loud enough she would show up to be burned in person instead of just in effigy. Senator Dianne Feinstein, up for re-election in California and frequently criticized for being too old, was kindly called “not exactly the Wicked Witch of the West,” by a right-wing blog. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters who has endured an endless stream of abuse and threats has most recently had her head placed onto the body of horror movie psychopath Michael Myers with the accompanying hashtag #UncivilDemocrats, just days before being sent not one but two bombs. Just like the original Witch Trials, we as women are too often looking the other way at these accusations or joining in the chants ourselves. We are dismissing our warrior crones, the elders of our female village, who have fought the very same battles that allow us to feel comfortable enough to send them out on an ice floe never to be heard from again.
Of course, it’s not just older women who are being charged with the vulgar offense of fighting injustice. In today’s culture, any woman who steps up to speak truth to power faces the social media tribunal, doxxing, and threats of rape and death. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Emma Gonzalez, Jemele Hill, Moira Donegan, All of Louis C.K.’s accusers. The list goes on but the effect is clear: Do everything you can to discredit these women and if you can’t, at least make them so fearful that a woman will think twice before speaking up in the future. Like the age-old dunk test for witches—if we survived we were a witch and killed and if we drowned we were “vindicated” yet dead—the men enforcing our patriarchal culture have created a vicious circle where we are unable to ever get justice or even sound the alarm so that others may protect themselves.
In a diabolical move straight out of the Koch Brothers’ Necronomicon not only are women still treated as witches in an effort to diminish our political power, but our oppressors have also cast themselves as the persecuted victims. Trump and many other Republicans frequently refer to the Mueller probe into Russia’s interference in our election as a “witch hunt.” When protesters confronted him about his support for accused sexual assaulter Brett Kavanaugh, Lindsey Graham responded, “Why don’t we dunk him in water and see if he floats?” Just two years ago they were literally chanting “Bern The Witch,” at Bernie Sanders rallies and putting it on merchandise along with a photo of Hillary Clinton riding a broom. In fact, Clinton is still so absolutely terrifying to men that they keep invoking her image like a scarecrow at harvest time. She is the answer to everything they can’t defend: “What about Hillary?” and “Lock Her Up,” replacing the “No comment” response, even though she holds no office nor is running for one. And now they are literally trying to burn her alive: just last week she was sent a pipe bomb care of her Chappaqua home. But I understand their fears: They have spent over 30 years dunking her in the water and still, she floats.
They might be right: Hillary Clinton may be a witch. But if she is, she’s a good one. Like Glinda from The Wizard of Oz, she believes all of us already have the power inside of us. But instead of clicking our heels together three times, Clinton is urging us to vote, to run, to get involved. To those of us who have been doing so only to be met with profound disappointment, it doesn’t seem like much of a supernatural power. But it must be. Why else would so many men go to such great lengths to stop us?
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