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Witches and Women’s History Month


Welcome to Women's History Month. The above clips are from an episode on Witches for MYTHS: The Greatest Mysteries of Humanity. The below is a set of extended notes from the interview.


GODDESS TO WITCH: As patriarchs rose, goddesses fell, and as they did, they turned into witches. Isis and Inanna were heroines, but when Inanna became Ishtar, the heroine became an enemy. Gaia was beloved, but her in Greek mythology, her human incarnation, Pandora, like Eve, is to blame for all suffering. This represents a shift in our relationship with the feminine and nature, that turned women into witches and Eden into a fallen world.


For thousands of years, the West has lived within a bubble of perspectives that demonize women and present the material world as fallen. If we go back further in time and search further into the world, we find women-witches that carry all the powers of creation, maternity and seduction without demonization. We see this in the figures of Isis, Inanna and Aphrodite, all of which were associated with Venus, the first star you see at night, the wishing star — the green star associated with the power of love and creation.


I think it’s important to go back and look at these figures. But it leads us to a key question – are the core qualities associated with the feminine, whether they’re seen in positive or negative lights – are these objectively feminine, or are these cultural contrivances? This is going to be an essential part of our conversation in the breakout.


One thing we will come to understand is that where some cultures aligned the earth first and foremost with the womb of life, other cultures prioritized a vision of a cosmic womb. These cultures tend to align the earth with the masculine and the sky with the feminine, which goes back to a memory presented by a key figure in the lineage of witches, Lilith, the first wife of Adam according to Hebrew folklore, who refused to let Adam be on top when they made love. This may be a memory of a historic power struggle between men and women, but it may also be a memory of a conflict between mythic interpretations of the sky as feminine or masculine. This also sets up an association of the good mother with the heavens and the bad mother with the earth. This is seen with Mary, who is always dressed in Blue and seems to have been influenced by Egyptian iconography, which presented the heavens as a (blue) cosmic womb. Similarly, good fairies from Cinderella to the Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio are Blue. This is the divine good heavenly mother as opposed to the fallen, green faced witch so associated with nature.


THE RENEWING WITCH: The mythic image of the witch is constantly refreshed by our shifting cultural relationships with magic, nature and femininity. Patriarchy does not just oppress women, is suppresses those qualities with which it associates femininity, which are typically some combination of nature, body, emotion and pleasure.


WITCH TODAY: The witch is a mythic battleground for our relationship with magic, femininity and nature. The enemy of all these things, like the enemy of the witch is her demonization, like the demonization of eve, but today, her momentum is empowerment. As the shadow of toxic masculinity, she turns us around, and as a beacon of all that has been repressed with the feminine, she leads the way.


RECLAIMING THE WITCH: For a long time, the myth of the witch served to demonize women and femininity. The attraction the myth has today comes from women and young people reclaiming that myth as form of feminine empowerment and protest against the patriarchy.


OBJECTIFICATION OF NATURE AND THE WITCH: The man’s world and consciousness is built on the subdual of nature, body, emotion and pleasure, which it associates with women and projects on the witch. The demonization of one becomes the demonization of the other, and this does not just mean the mistreatment of women, it means the mistreatment of all that is associated with femininity within each man. This is what toxic masculinity looks like.


MALE REPRESSION: The demonization of women becomes the male repression of its own relationship with body, emotion, and those qualities it has locked away from itself by demonizing and disidentifying.


MORTALITY: Once we recognize the association of the woman with the mortal and material, we understand why witches are so frequently beautiful or aged. They are beautiful to represent the seductive nature of the material world. They are aged to represent the dreaded reality of aging that comes from entering the body and its mortal material world. In the aged witch we see the transference of our own anxieties around aging and death.


NATURE DEVILS: The reason witches are associated with the devil is because the Devil has also come to be associated with the powers of nature, which is understood in a Christian consciousness as Fallen. Nature is constantly corrupting the soul, which is symbolized by the seductions of Pandora and Eve, who draw masculine consciousness into the fallen material world. This fallen world is the domain of the devils as much as it is the domain of women. From this perspective, the womb isn’t a great power of creation, it’s the portal through which souls fall. Thus the seduction of the devil and the seduction of the woman are one – both call for the fall, and both entice with the fruit and bodies of a material world. Both represent the magic of the earth, which is imagined to be at odds with the will of the heavens.


MEDIATORS: In the Early Modern Era, Europeans believed angels, demons, God and the Devil could intervene in their daily lives. Witches were believed to be in contact.


SEDUCTIVE FALL: Pandora and Eve draw men into the fallen material world, into nature and body, which, in patriarchal religions, are seen as corruptive to the soul. And so we are taught to subdue our inner nature and the wants of the body while bending the material world to our own ends. Mythically, this is expressed as the demonization and subdual of women—from Pandora and Eve to witches and real women.

The reason witches are associated with the devil is because the Devil has also come to be associated with the powers of nature, which is understood in a Christian consciousness as Fallen. Nature is constantly corrupting the soul, which is symbolized by the seductions of Pandora and Eve, who draw masculine consciousness into the fallen material world. This fallen world is the domain of the devils as much as it is the domain of women.


DEMONIZATION: When cultures come into conflict, the gods of their enemies become recast as devils. Pagan gods are Christian demons and Pagans were devil worshippers. Suppressed by Christianity during the Roman period, The bloody conflict between Christian truth and paganism repeated in the Roman and Medieval era, and once Christendom encompassed Europe.


DOMESTIC SUBVERSION: The great Slavic witch, Baba Yaga, flies through the sky in a bucket and covers her tracks with a broom. In myth, when women are hurt, silenced and disempowered, they tell their stories where they can – in blankets, in clay. And as they do, the domain to which they’re relegated, becomes their center of power; and so, we see the symbols of Baba Yaga, her totems of power, the pale and broom, as domestic objects. But for her, that’s not all they are. For a witch, for a storyteller, we can fly on these things – in the dead of night, where no one else sees, the details of children stories, give form to our future.


SALEM: Two girls started to have hysteric fits, other young women started having them, too. The girls testified that it was the “spectre” (ghost) of a defendant who attacked them, witnesses said that the “shape” of one of the accused even though it could be proven that the person was somewhere else at the time  the court allowed these testimonies


WISH FULFILLMENT MAGIC: The wish fulfillment that magic represents has to do with the desires for more agency, more control over the world than we seem to have. The wishes fulfilled by witch mythology have to do with the desire to oppress women and subdue those qualities with which we traditionally associate the feminine—especially body, emotion, and mortality.


When we meet her with imbalance, her counterbalance is destructive. When we seek her understanding, she reveals herself.


SHADOW: Negative images of the witch perpetuate the cultural degradation of femininity and the oppression of real women. However, given how damaging the male shadow has been to femininity, many women are now more than ready to be all that was feared. More often than not, witches and groups of witches see themselves as in opposition to patriarchy, and some of them, most certainly, enact spells to bring it down.


MAN V NATURE: The annihilation of witches is inseparable from the rise of emphasis on human manipulation of the material world. Man vs. Witch is actually a Man vs. Nature story – the witch represents the forces of nature and creation that the Enlightenment paradigm wanted to repress. Their vision of the world was a vision of dead matter interacting in purely mechanical ways. There is no magic in this system, which means there was no room for witches in this paradigm.


MATER: Built into the Classical and Christian stories about the origins of knowledge and humanity is an association of the feminine with materiality. This is why the word Mater means both mother and matter in Latin. The Material world is the mother’s world, earth, and like earth, the mother possesses the power of creation. This is why nature’s power of creation is associated with the mother’s power of creation, which is the foundational power beneath all witchcraft.


WOMB ENVY: Masculine envy for the mother’s power of creation is seen in the story of Zeus carrying Dionysus in his thigh, which serves as a makeshift womb. This power of creation is not the power of a steam engine, gunpowder or money. The power of creation comes from the wombs of nature, not the mechanisms of human effort. The power of life and creation is understood to draw from powers yet untapped by humanity, powers that magic is meant to influence.


Similarly, where there is patriarchy there are witches. Where there is patriarchy there is the oppression of women and the repression of femininity. But again, the patriarchy isn’t just oppressing women for being women. In this paradigm that gives us mater as mother and matter, we also get Pater, which means father and pattern. Embedded in the patriarchal oppression of women is the oppression of matter.


The oppression of matter, on one level, looks like the technological mastery of the material world and the social mastery of women. On another level, it looks like the philosophical objectification of both matter and women. Matter becomes seen as dead stuff. Bodies become seen as dead stuff. The material world with which mothers are associated shifts from being seen as alive with the power of creation and becomes seen as a lifeless machine. To reduce matter to bodies comes with the reduction of women to bodies.


WHY THE REPRESSION: So why, why is masculine consciousness doing this? The answer is very simple. Ego and power. Men have been able to gain power over women, which has enabled them to build a world around the male ego. The male ego includes all of its fears and insecurities.


Fundamentally, men do not have the power to create, which means they live alongside a partner-gender with a supreme divine power that it cannot even begin to match. What happens in this situation? Fear and inferiority complexes start to create narratives that demonize and minimize this power in women. Measures are taken to reduce this power over them.


And this is not the only power women have over men. Women are often experienced by men as more psychologically advanced, meaning they are more capable of manipulating them. Whether they do or not, the capacity is recognized, feared and reacted against. Thus we see narratives that demonize the feminine capacity to enchant.


ENCHANTMENT: We all fear enchantment when it comes to love, and from a masculine perspective, there have been negative romantic enchantments that ended in various suffering. This is remembered in the mythic record by those in power. These memories are turned into lessons when romantic interests are demonized for the way they can hurt us. In a man’s world, the one to blame will always be the woman. This rolls into the witch figures.

The power of wives over men is colored by the history of abduction. When women were stolen from war, not only were they likely to carry vitriol for their new husbands, they also brought technical and magical knowledge that was entirely foreign to their captors. Myths are filled with narratives of foreigner-witch-wives that jeopardize their husbands, from Medea to the mother of Alexandre the Great.


MATRIX: The mythical story of the witch as we know it is deeply intertwined with the masculine envy of the mother’s power of creation. The power of creation comes from the wombs of nature, not the mechanisms of human effort. Fundamentally, men do not have the power to create, which means they live alongside a partner-gender with a supreme divine power that it cannot even begin to match. What happens in this situation? Fear and inferiority complexes start to create narratives that demonize and minimize this power in women.


MOTHER: The other major experience of overwhelming feminine power is that of the mother from the perspective of the child. Thus we see wonderful fairy godmothers and terrible wicked witches throughout our folklore – these aren’t just representations of our various ways of relating to femininity and the power of nature, these are also representations of our various ways of experiencing the mother. The mother has absolutely overwhelming power over the child, who is completely dependent on the mother – like a human is on the earth. This sets up multiple layers of threat that can transmute into demonization narratives. The mother not only has the immediate power to nurture to punish, she also has the power of resource. Both are overwhelming powers for the child, which experiences early feelings of anger and resentment towards the mother for punishments and the withholding of nurturing. In the case of the most significant witch hunter of all time, King James, his mother’s love was withheld from him by another mother who decapitated her.


MALE FEARS: In a world controlled by men, all of these masculine fears, insecurities and resentments of nature, creation, mothers, lovers and women comes together in the image of the witch.


WITCHES BALM: Hekate, the goddess witch, taught Medea, a relative of Circe, how to make a balm. It came from the blood of Prometheus, and it was used to make Jason impervious.

What is the real witch’s balm? How can they really heal us? Their very demonization is an expression of our cultural imbalance and the toxicity that comes with such an imbalance towards the masculine, which is, as we see, away from nature, away from body, away from emotion and pleasure. By now, we can see a future of emotionless uploaded consciousness in robots on dead planets far away from our earth. Witches are balm for this traumatic fantasy and its real world consequences. But so many of us know, we want to engage nature, body, emotion and pleasure far more than we have before, if only to save ourselves from the consequences of caring so little for so long about these things.


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