Translated by Maia Sefton
The witch hunts during the Renaissance led to around 100 000 executions in Europe, the victim being mostly old, poor rural women. Between 1560 and 1660, it’s a brutal repression especially along the Rhin, but women are guilty by nature for most catholics. The church strongly encourages the denunciation of Jewish women, who are supposedly the origin of the mythical evil witches and the sabbath, which is a demonic ceremony that involves orgies and the cooking of children. Witches are seen as even more menacing when they are jewish, her persecution relies mostly on an imaginary conspiracy that would threaten christianity. If a women was suspected of being a witch whether it be because she was outspoken or lived alone the common procedure waas to torture her until they discovered the mark of the devil or any old scar really that would cement the idea that she has indeed made a deal with the devil. Sometimes she was tied up and thrown in a lake: if she floated then the assumptions were correct and she was then burned at the stake, but if she sank she was just a regular woman who drowned. The church led the charge since the devil himself is said to be the one who causes all the woes of the world such as earthquakes and epidemics – these epidemics were on the rise because of the growing number of rats in the streets caused by the lack of cats since they were killed due to them being associated with witchcraft.
Moreover the printing press started diffusing the treaty of Malleus Maleficarum ( or “witches hammer”) at the end of the XVth century which shared the idea that women were inferior and that witches were a huge threat. A witch, a free and independent woman is scary for a lot of men. Because what does a woman have when she is free of a husband and has no children? She has power. A witch chooses her own lifestyle. She is no longer beholden to society’s values that tell a woman to get married, have kids, to have no intense sexuelle experiences and to just be quiet and look pretty, to be seen but not heard. A witch lives alone and flourishes by helping her community thanks to her knowledge and therapeutic practices. The single woman embodies independence which is not taught to young girls. For them growing as a person is intertwined with building a family and marriage whereas for men there is no miraculous idea of marriage but more the idea that they need to conquer the world. If older ladies are more oppressed it’s because their experience allows them to know better and be more self assured which is accentuated by the lack of a husband. They are less submissive then the younger women which is frowned upon in the patriarchy. Moreover a woman’s aging body is a symbol of repulsion, grey hair is a sign of negligence (or rebellion). When a woman grows old, her body shouldn’t show the slightest sign of aging since a woman’s worth depends solely on what her body looks like. Having a rational mind is labelled as maculine and the natural body is labelled as feminin. All women have to rely on is their bodies that is why aging is seen as such a big problem : in Baudelaire’s “Une charogne” he describes a carcass in anticipation of what the future holds for his lover without even thinking that he too shall age. The time when people believed that we had to kill women to allow men to flourish is over- if we don’t take into account the 146 femicides in France in 2019 (one every two and a half days, a 21% raise over the course of a year). Witches have also made a huge comeback in literature these past few years ; such as “ Les Sorcière” by Céline du Chéné which was inspired by a France Culture documentary series (2018) and “ Sorcières La puissance invaincu des femmes” (2018) by Mona Chollet.
Nevertheless by the end of the 1960’s witches were already being appropriated by a few feminist movements as a sign of rebellion. The group WITCH ((Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), founded on Halloween of 1968 in New York would cast hexes in front of Wall Street as an anti-capitalist movement. American witches continue to meet up at the foot of Trump Tower to curse the president. And in France The Witch bloc Aix- Marseille protested in 2019 against “ la marche pour la vie” which was against abortions with slogans such as brush conservatisme under the rug or embryos for our potions. Witche aren’t just used as a symbol for feminism, their fights span across numerous causes as the Witch bloc Aix-Marseille proclaimed: “ feminists, anarchist are against all systematic oppression. We are anti racism, antifaschist, anticapitalist pro sexworkers, fighting for womens rights,cis and trans, for LGBTQ+ rights, people of colors rights and our group is anonymous and single-sex.”
However this contemporary movement has a certain aspect of white feminism that is appropriating cultures and practices that foreign to them and appropriating a memory that is not their own.