Beyond Oppression

"A history of women . . . must begin with struggles [of] medieval proletariat . . . Only if we evoke those struggles . . . can we understand the role that women had and why their power had to be destroyed for capitalism to develop, as it was by the three-century-long persecution of the witches."
-Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 2004

Frances F. Denny, "Shine" from Major Arcana:  Portraits of Witches in America, United States, 2017
Modern witch Shine Blackhawk is a channeler of animal spirits and ancestors.  Blackhwak practices her own synthesis of hoodoo (Black Native American spirituality) and shamanism.

Perhaps the thing that connects all people who self-identify as witches and who would be described as such by others is a particular type of access to hidden knowledge and power.  The witch is someone who -- rather than follow the traditional and culturally endorsed pathways to power, either via necessity or choice -- pursues wisdom, knowing, and the ability to impact their own life and the lives of others through alternative means that are not culturally endorsed or seen as valid.

The witch is part of a wider culture, and at the same time exists on the fringes of this culture.  The witch represents hidden knowing because they have access to information and knowledge that they should not have access to.  If you want money and power, capitalist culture says you must get an education, get a "good job," work hard.  The witch refuses such dictates and asks, "Is there another way?"  There is always another way.

The sort of knowledge and power that the witch has access to is ancient and infinite; at the heart of all forms of witchcraft is an understanding that there is more to the world than meets the eye, and that if one establishes relationships (with herbs, animals, plants, elements, any others), one can count on their help and power to bolster one's own.  The witch is always open to expansion to learning, to growth.  This makes them a dangerous threat to any human-imposed structure of power (and oppression).

But it is not just this access to unauthorized ways of knowing that has associated the witch with danger.  Witchcraft is ultimately concerned with access to power, and with changing the material reality of the life of the witch and those who need their help.  The wise woman who acts as a midwife and gynecologist to women who would otherwise have no choice around planning their families is not just helping women in need.  She is actively subverting the very structure of society as it is set up under patriarchy.  The witch who shares knowledge of parsley tea with a person who does not want to be pregnant is not just sharing information -- t hey are redistributing power.

Kay Turner and Rosina Lardieri, The Turning, United States, 2017
From What a Witch, Part 6:  Before and After:  What the Witch's Nose Knows That Andy Warhol's Nose Doesn't Know. 

This is the power that the witch holds, a power that comes from a way of engaging with the universe that is open to its infinite nature.  This ability to redistribute power that cannot be controlled provoked the frenzied witch hunts in Europe and America, and it is the fear of this ability that sustains the animus against witchcraft still very present today.  The witch cannot be controlled; their access to power cannot be taken away.  For this reason they are a threat to those whose power is reliant on maintaining structures of oppression.

Many cultures need the figure of the witch in order to define what is and is not "ordinary" or "mundane."  Many people turn to witchcraft when they feel all else has failed them.  Witchcraft and the witch act, therefore, act as a sort of constantly evolving metric for what society considers acceptable, and for who has power and access to it.

Who, then, is a witch?  They are anyone with the ability to see beyond -- beyong structures of power and oppression, beyond the idea that there are only certain "valid" ways to know and only certain things to know.  They are anyone who uses this ability to see beyond, to redistribute power, and to combat oppression.  They are me.  They are you.  They will always be.

Lauren Lancaster, W.I.T.C.H. (derail), United States, 2017
The Women's Int'l Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell was founded in 1968 by feminist antiwar protesters.  The black-dressed, pointy-hatted, faceless witches were an undeniable cision and significant force during a time of political urgency.