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Witches, the Early Feminists?

September flew by and as we creep into October, my thoughts immediately turn to Halloween and my trick-or-treating (aka. Halloween bar-hopping) costume. During this time of the year, I often find myself reminiscing about past Halloweens. One memory that particularly stands out is me at age 9, having commandeered my mother’s broom to spend hours trying to kick off the ground and soar through the air like the prodigy of magical ability I was convinced I was. Only to return into the house, crestfallen (and quite severely bruised!), but undaunted in my quest of achieving aerial excellence.

    To this day, I’m afraid to say, I can’t pass a broom without immediately pondering the possibilities. My fascination with Witches beginning even BHP (before Harry Potter. And no, I still haven’t received my letter!), I remember being particularly obsessed with one story that set my inner fire of wild fantasy alight. I am talking about Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”, whereupon the first read became an immediate favourite. Even as an adult, an English language and literature major (not to mention a bona fide nerd!) I can wholeheartedly admit that my tastes haven’t matured in the slightest. Au contraire, in fact! My obsession with all things mythological and fantastical, as well as my devotion to becoming a member of the sisterhood myself, has now reached an all-time high! And this Halloween season I have endeavoured to fully throw myself into the depths of my own enthralment, dragging any willing soul along for the ride with me!

    So, what is the source of my fascination and admiration of Witches? Glad you asked! Many think of Witches as menacing, hunch-backed, hook-nosed hags, but I’ve always seen Witches as role models for women as opposed to the anti-social scourges they have been depicted as in history and folklore. The exact time in history when Witches first appeared on the scene is debatable, but lies somewhere between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. We know this because the earliest record of a Witch was in fact written in the Bible, Book 1 of Samuel. According to the story, the Witch of Endor helped King Saul to raise some super dead dude’s spirit in order to help win a war. After which, some big mess of crap went down and the Witch took the heat, so to speak. Witches are also condemned in Old Testament verses, such as in Exodus 22:18, which says, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” So basically, this acted as an early mandate, giving men a handy tool with which to manage “out-of-control” women. Remember Monty Python and The Holy Grail, the whole Witch burning scene? Need I say more?

    Most of these “out-of-control” women were merely women of knowledge and understanding of nature, who had strong enough personalities to put their skill-sets to great effect. Whether they were outspoken or social recluses, they were nonetheless targeted for not fitting into the norms as laid down by the patriarchal society of the time. Especially when Christianity made its debut in Europe, these women needed to seriously put down their mortars and pestles and stop acting cray cray! During the mid-1400s, ‘Witch hysteria’ was at an all time high and women were being targeted left, right and skywards, forced to falsely admit to all sorts of heinous acts under torture. Of course, I can say with relative certainty that there must have been the occasional village loon who gave all other sympathisers a bad rep. But unfortunately, mob mentality prevailed and a PMSing woman needed to seriously watch her back, lest she be named a Witch out of sheer annoyance on the part of her prosecutors.

    Anyway, as I was saying, we may never truly know whether or not real Witches ever existed (hey, I’m still coming into my powers, okay!) but it is undeniable that throughout history, the concept of a Witch has always been rather misunderstood. Until popular children’s literature that is, where Witches have now been displayed in a truly positive way as being relatable to the modern day woman. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want to relate? Seeing as how Witches are powerful, intelligent, majestic, self-sufficient women, who also know their way around the kitchen cauldron. Personally, I think these qualities in women have always gone against the patriarchal grain, and until the suffrage movement, and well after (#trumperapolitics), such outlandish acts of feminine rebellion was a massive no-no. To counteract the oppression, I believe women of the time who were deemed (mainly by men) to be crazed, devil-worshipping hags, harlots or hermits – many targeted women were either single, widows or otherwise social outcasts –  were merely expressing their individuality, creativity and right to independent thought.

    So this October, as tribute to our fallen sisters, I invite you, my fellow women, to take heed of the sacrifice made by those brave enough to stand apart from the masses. Let us tap into our inner Witch and release the tenacity within! They can hunt us! They can hurt us! They can imprison us! But they can never, EVER, take our FREEDOM! ALBA GU BRÁTH! ALBA! GU! BRÁTH! MUAHA! MUAHAHA! MUAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!

…It’s this kind of thing isn’t it? That makes us women seem crazy?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN MONTH!

 

 

Sources:

History.com https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/history-of-witches 

Monty Python “The Holy Grail” (Witch Burning Scene) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g 

Freedom speech from “Braveheart” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIvRkjOd1f8 

 

Carmen Eskin

Helsinki '22

I'm a postgraduate student of English philology and English literature at the Univerisity of Helsinki. Terry Pratchett is my one true love.
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