Witchcraft and Activism (Baby Witch Bootcamp Ch. 35)

Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell - Wikipedia
Members of W.I.T.C.H. counter-protesting an alt-right rally. Photo by GorillaWarfare, accessed via Wikipedia.

The word “witch” is a politically charged label. If we look at how the word was used historically, it referred to someone who existed outside of the normal social order. The people accused of witchcraft in the European and American witch trials were mostly — experts say between 75% and 80% — women. They were also overwhelmingly poor, single, or members of a minority ethnicity and/or religion. In other words, they were people who did not follow their society’s accepted model of womanhood (or, in the case of accused men, manhood).

If you choose to identify with the witch label, you are choosing to identify with subversion of gender norms, resistance to the dominant social order, and “outsider” status. If that makes you uncomfortable or uneasy, then you may want to use another label for your magical practice. Witchcraft always has been and always will be inherently political.

In her book Witches, Sluts, Feminists, Kristen J. Sollee argues that the “slut” label is in many ways a modern equivalent to the “witch” label. In both cases, the label is used to devalue people, most often women, and to enforce a patriarchal and misogynist social order.

Superstitions around witchcraft are connected to the modern stigma around abortion (and, to a lesser extent, contraception). Midwifery and abortion were directly linked to witchcraft in the European witch hunts. Today, women who seek abortions are condemned as sluts, whores, and murderers. The fight for reproductive freedom remains inextricably linked with the witch label.

During the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, the socialist feminist group Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) used the image of the witch to campaign for women’s rights and other social issues. They were some of the first advocates for intersectional feminism (feminist activism that addresses other social issues that overlap with gendered issues). They performed acts such as hexing Wall Street capitalists and wearing black veils to protest bridal fairs. The W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto calls witches the “original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression.”

In her book Revolutionary Witchcraft, Sarah Lyons points out that both witchcraft and politics are about raising and directing power in the world. In a postmodern society, most of our reality is socially constructed — it works because we collectively believe it does. Money only has value because we believe it does. Politicians only have power because we believe they do. Our laws are only just because we believe they are. Like in magic, everything in society is a product of belief and a whole lot of willpower — and that makes witches the ideal social activists.

Lyons argues that witchcraft is inseparable from politics, because witches have always opposed dominant political power. She makes a connection between the witch trials and the rise of capitalism and classism. She connects the basic concepts of magic to historic activist groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), who used ritual as an act of protest.

Not every witch is a hardcore activist, but every witch should have a basic awareness of political and social issues and be willing to do what they can to make a difference.

Ways to Combine Witchcraft and Activism

  • Perform a ritual to feel connected to the earth and her people. Activism should come from a place of love, not a place of hate. Make sure you’re fighting for the right reasons by frequently taking time to reconnect with the planet and the people who live here. This can be as simple as laying down on the ground outside and meditating on all the ways you are connected to other people, as well as to the ecosystem, animals, and the earth herself. If getting up close and personal with the grass and dirt isn’t your thing, try to find a beautiful place in nature where you can sit and journal about the interconnected nature of all things.
  • Unlearn your social programming. This is the most difficult and most important part of any activism. Before you can change the world outside yourself, you have to change your own psyche. Think about how you have been socialized to contribute to (or at least turn a blind eye to) the issues you want to fight against. For example, if you want to fight for racial justice, you need to understand how you have contributed to a racist system. You can do this in a variety of ways: through meditation, journaling, or divination, to name a few. Note that whatever method you choose, this will probably take weeks or months of repeated work. Rewriting your thought and behavior patterns is hard, and it can’t be done in a single day. Also note that if you are a victim of systemic oppression or prejudice, this work may bring up a lot of emotional baggage — you may want to involve a professional therapist or counselor.
  • Go to protests. Sending energy and doing healing rituals is great, but someone has to get out there and visibly fight for change. If you are able to do so, start going to protests and rallies for causes you care about. Don’t just show up, but be an active participant — make signs, yell and chant, and stand your ground if cops show up. Be safe and responsible, but be loud and assertive, too. If you want to go all out, you can don the black robes, pointed hats, and veils of W.I.T.C.H.es past, which has the added bonus of concealing your identity.
  • Turn your donations into a spell for change. When you donate to a cause you care about, charge your donation with a spell for positive change. You can do this by holding your cash, check, or debit card in both hands and focusing on your desire for change. Feel this desire flowing into the money, filling it with your determination. From here, make your donation, knowing that you’ll be sending an energy boost along with it.
  • Organize an activist coven. Do you have a handful of friends who are interested in witchcraft, passionate about activism, or both? Start a coven! Go to protests together, hold monthly rituals to raise energy for change, and collect money for donations. Being part of a group also means having a support system, which can help prevent burnout. Make a plan to check on each other regularly. You may even choose to do monthly group rituals for self care, which may be actual magic rituals or might be as simple as ordering takeout and watching a movie. Activism can be intensely draining work, so it’s important to take breaks when you need them!
  • Hold public rituals with an activist slant. Nothing gets people’s attention like a bunch of folks standing in a circle and chanting. Holding public rituals is one of the best ways to raise awareness for a cause. You might hold a vigil for victims of police brutality, a healing circle for the environment, or some other ritual that is relevant to the issue at hand. These rituals serve a double purpose, as they both bring people’s attention to the issue and give them an opportunity to work for change on a spiritual level. Use prayers, chants, and symbolism that is appropriate to the theme, and ask participants to make a small donation to a charity related to your cause.
  • Begin your public rituals with a territory acknowledgement. If you live in the United States, chances are you live on land that was taken from the native people by force. If you seek to have a relationship with the land, you need to first acknowledge the original inhabitants and the suffering they endured so you can be there. Use a website like native-land.ca to find out what your land was originally called and what indigenous groups originally lived there. Publicly acknowledge this legacy at your ritual, and publicly state your intention to support indigenous peoples. (Revolutionary Witchcraft has an excellent territory acknowledgement that you can customize for your area.)
  • Make an altar to your activist ancestors. If activism or membership in a marginalized group is a big part of your life, you may want to create a space for it in your home. Like an ancestor altar, this is a space to remember influential members of the community who have died. Choose a flat surface like a tabletop or shelf and decorate it with photos of your “ancestors,” as well as other appropriate items like flags, pins, stickers, etc. As a queer person, my altar to my LGBTQ+ ancestors might include images of figures like Sappho, Marsha P. Johnson, and Freddie Mercury, as well as items like a pink triangle patch, a small rainbow pride flag, and dried violets and green carnations. You may also choose to include a candle, an incense burner, and/or a small dish for offerings. Just remember to never place images of living people on an altar honoring the dead!
  • Do your research. Staying educated is an important part of activism — not only do your actions need to be informed, but you need to be able to speak intelligently about your issues. Read the news (on actual news websites, not just social media). Read lots of books; some I personally recommend are Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens, and (as previously mentioned) Revolutionary Witchcraft by Sarah Lyons. If you can get access to them, read scholarly articles about theories that are influential among activists, like the Gaia Hypothesis or Deep Ecology. Read everything you can get your hands on.
  • VOTE! And I don’t just mean voting for the presidential candidate you like (or, as is often the case, voting against the one you don’t like). Vote for your representatives. Vote for city council. Vote for the county sheriff. Voting gives you a chance to make sure the people in office will be susceptible to your activism. Yes, your side might lose or your electoral college representative might choose to go against the popular vote. Even so, voting is a way to clearly communicate the will of the people, and it puts a lot of pressure on the people in charge. It’s important — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

In my experience, combining activism with my witchcraft is a deeply fulfilling spiritual experience. It strengthens my connection to the world around me, with helps grow both empathy and magical power. I truly can’t imagine my practice without the activist element.

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