It’s not exactly news that witchcraft attracts some feminists who see in it (in part) a spiritual expression of rebellion against patriarchy — including, obviously, Biblical religion. What is interesting, though, is how this particular cultural moment is feeding its growth.
You could laugh at the “self-care” rituals witches aggrieved over Brett Kavanaugh engage in, but I think that would be a mistake. Excerpts from the Vox.com story:
First, take a candle.
Then, pour some salt into your hand.
Then, keeping the grains in your palm, take a pen to write out a thank you to Christine Blasey Ford, the woman whose allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee — and now justice — Brett Kavanaugh, stunned a nation.
Or, if you prefer, simply say, “I believe you.”
It’s just one of the many quasi-religious rituals circulating the internet — particularly pagan and #resistance circles — in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. These rituals help self-identified witches process trauma, anger, and grief.
The historical nature of witchcraft has made it a particularly fruitful field for ritual. As the organizers of an upcoming “Hex Kavanaugh” event at Catland, a pagan bookstore and supply shop in Brooklyn, put it on their event page, “We are embracing witchcraft’s true roots as the magik of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised and it’s [sic] history as often the only weapon, the only means of exacting justice available to those of us who have been wronged by men just like him.”
That’s what’s most interesting to me about this: the political weaponization of witchcraft and the spiritualization of the culture war.
Regular readers know that I am a Christian who takes this stuff seriously. I don’t believe it’s a game, or is meaningless, any more than Christian prayer is meaningless. As I see it, the fact that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed despite spells and hexes does not mean that the gestures had no spiritual meaning. These witches are putting themselves in touch with real spiritual entities and forces — dark ones, I believe, who mean destruction. Of course they believe that people like me are the ones serving spiritual darkness.
Look, I understand that many people believe that all of it is silly, and that religious ritual — Wiccan, Christian, all of it — is nothing more than an expression of an individual’s beliefs. That it’s a form of theatrical performance, nothing more. I think this is quite wrong, but even if you do believe that, you should still take seriously what believers in any particular religion call sacred, and what they intend by their prayers, rituals, and beliefs.
Fifteen years ago, as a journalist in Dallas, I clashed routinely with the then-head of CAIR, who was an Islamist. He was also a well-dressed, polished professional, the manager of a luxury hotel in town. Over lunch one day with me and a couple of senior editors from the newspaper, he admitted that he believed Allah wants the faithful to stone to death homosexuals and women caught in adultery. Now, there was and is very little chance of that Islamist paradise being established in America. I would defend that man’s right to believe what he wants to believe, as long as he doesn’t try to enact it into law, or act on it. Still, even if he never picked up a rock to throw at a woman or a homosexual, it’s meaningful that he and others hold that belief. It’s not only culturally meaningful, I believe that it’s also spiritually meaningful, in a way we cannot fully understand. We cannot be indifferent to that kind of thing, no matter which religious community it comes from.
What I expect to happen now will be an uptick of progressive women looking for a spiritual channel for their anger at the forces of patriarchy (as they define it). Emma Green writes that for younger progressives, political engagement is taking the place of religion as their ultimate concern, the passion that gives their lives meaning. Is it so hard to foresee that more than a few of these young progressives, especially women, might take up witchcraft as a way to spiritualize their political passions?
This is especially true given that popular culture is moving this way. Consider this headline from a recent New York Times story promoting the reboot of the TV witch drama Charmed:
From the story:
Something else that’s notable about Harry: He is often the only white person in the room. Another of-the-moment element of “Charmed” is that its heroines are all Latina, something Madeleine Mantock (“The Tomorrow People”), who plays long-lost sister Macy, said she still can’t quite believe. “I’m used to [auditioning] for things and hearing, in the end, ‘They didn’t want to go diverse,’” Ms. Mantock said. “That happened to me three times in the last year. Now I get to be the hero, and I get to do it with two other women who are sensitive to what’s going on in the world.” She paused. “It’s a blessing and a curse to live a political existence,” she said. “But I can’t imagine being switched off.”
That, for the women behind “Charmed,” is the real connection between them and their characters: an inability to turn away from their power, onscreen and off. “Whatever your opinion of a witch is, we’re broadening it,” Ms. Diaz said. “If somebody calls me a witch, I’m like, ‘thank you.’ Witches change the world.”
Witches are the new woke heroines. The meaning of this is something that Christian churches are going to have to confront in real life now and in the years to come. If you don’t believe this is anything more than performance, you might find it interesting, but only that. But if you believe that witches really are in touch with spiritual forces and realities, you had better take a different view. Whatever the truth, this is a culturally significant phenomenon.