Archives For Witches

TWH — As the sun rose on Oct. 31 and the Halloween frenzy crested, a viral social media campaign appeared, generating hundreds of responses on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr ,and Twitter. Using hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike, people from around the world posted photographs of themselves wearing no religious ritual wear, costumes, or other atypical clothing for their personal lifestyle. The goal was to combat popular fictional witch stereotypes by demonstrating what real, modern Witches actually look like.

witches

As is typical of the Samhain season, the popular use of words, such as witch and witchcraft, find their way into and onto everything. This trend reaches its climactic denouement as Halloween arrives. Images of witches appear everywhere, from product packaging and clothing to news outlets and entertainment media. As last week’s TWH editorial on media concluded, “the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.”

This particular year has been atypical due to the use of these terms within the contentious U.S. presidential election. From the early “Bern the Witch” slogan to the more recent accusations of ritual magic and “Spirit Cooking,” the terms witch and witchcraft, and all that they imply, have danced uneasily within the rhetoric of contemporary American politics. In many of these cases, the political noise has gone so far as to include a resurrection of an age-old political strategy that blames society’s failings, or one’s own failings, on witchcraft and Satanic worship.

Within all of this October chaos, a typical question arises: “What is a real Witch?” While some mainstream media reports do attempt to accurately answer the question, the predominantly European-based fictional representations of witches — those that have endured for centuries — far outweigh any reality that exists. They are well embedded in modern society and not easily forgotten.

In Act I scene iii of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), Banquo says of the weird sisters:

“What are these;
So withered and so wild in their attire,
that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the’ earth
And yet are on’t?”

Banquo goes on to describe their “choppy fingers,” “skinny lips,” and adds, “You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.”

Wicked Witch of the West, "Wizard of Oz" (1939); "Linda maestra!" Francisco de Goya (1799)

Wicked Witch of the West, “Wizard of Oz” (1939); “Linda maestra!” Francisco de Goya (1799)

While today’s popular witch imagery endures predominantly as fun and games and has even, in some places, adopted a strong feminist subtext, many modern Witches still find discomfort in its display. Despite all odds, they continuously work to combat the implied derogatory meanings and false assumptions present in these popular witch representations.

It is that very frustration that led to the recent #whatwitcheslooklike hashtag campaign. It is important to note that this was not the first time the hashtag had been used, but it was the first time it hit digital media with such force, and on Halloween.

It all began with a single post by the Village Witch of Asheville, North Carolina: H. Byron Ballard.

Ballard is a North Carolina native, a folklorist, gardener, and writer. She is a witch and priestess, who focuses her magical work on the energies local to her Appalachian home. She has published two books on the subject, Staubs and Ditchwater and Asfidity and Mad-Stones, and lectures at Pagan and other similar events.

Additionally, Ballard is very passionate about how witches and witchcraft are represented, and what is actually means to be a modern Witch. Ballard told The Wild Hunt that she gets frustrated with the “green-faced crone image,” one that she must deal with all year long. “I don’t love it being promoted as how Witches look.”

When she posted the hashtag on Halloween morning, she did not expect it to go viral, in fact it wasn’t meant to be a social media protest or campaign at all. Her post was simply a personal reaction to several conversations, more than anything else. Ballard explained how it all got started.

“The Walpurgisnacht Hexen Tanz video from Germany—that flitted through my Facebook feed on several occasions—inspired a local group of very nice women, several of whom I know, to do their own version around town during Hallowe’en season. I had some very mixed feelings about this and frankly wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I was nerdy in thinking it should be done at Beltane, like the original,” Ballard began.

As she said, these traditional pop culture images do bother her, but like most American Witches, she typically just “lets that go” and continues on in her own practice.

This time, however, she decided to take action. On Oct. 27, Ballard asked Facebook friends for their opinions of the Walpurgisnacht video and its portrayal of Witches. She received close to 100 responses, mostly in her feed.

“Almost all of them encouraging me to lighten up, put on my Big Girl panties,” she said. “Being a priestess at Samhain with not a lot of free time, I let it go. Again.”

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

However, the entire issue nagged at her. Ballard went on to say, “We did our community public Samhain ritual on Sunday night, and I had two conversations about [this topic], with different people. One looked around the circle of about 50 people, and said, ‘You know this is what Witches look like. I wish people could see that we’re just people.’ The [second] conversation went along the same lines.”

The very next morning was Halloween. Ballard said, “I woke up thinking about battling this popular and, let’s face it, beloved image. And I thought, I’ll invite my Facebook Witch friends to just post a picture of themselves, on the day of Hallowe’en, going about their/our business.”

She began by taking her own selfie. “I had just washed my face and was making a cuppa tea and made a selfie standing beside the stove.” Then, she posted her photo on Facebook with this statement: “I invite all of you who self-identify as Witches to post a picture of yourself today. Not in costume or ritual clothing. Just yourself, in the season of the witch.”

Ballard said that she had no idea what would happen next.

On her own post, Ballard received 200 responses, but the popularity of the hashtag  #whatwitcheslooklike spilled over into other Facebook threads, and onto Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Instagram Photos

Instagram #whatwitcheslooklike photos (left to right): Author Sara Amis; Natalie Case (Instagram: natalisejcase); Nana Makemba lyalorisa of Orisanla and Osun (Instagram: of_Earth_and_Sky).

Since then, hundreds of more photos have been shared by people who identify as Witches. Ballard said, in retrospect, “The pictures are all so beautiful and proud.” She said that she hasn’t even been able to keep up or see them all. “But, gosh, wasn’t that fun? And they’re still coming in!” And, Ballard encourages people to continue using the hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike.

Below is a small gallery of images featuring people who identify as Witches. Some photos are from the actual hashtag campaign and others are from the TWH photo archives. This gallery is simply a sampling of the diversity of “witch looks” and is by no means comprehensive.

California, U.S. California, U.S. U.S. Israel U.S. New York City, U.S. California, U.S. New York City. U.S. Australia Washington, U.S. Georgia, U.S. New Jersey, U.S. Canada Maryland, U.S. Missouri, U.S. California. U.S. North Carolina, U.S. South Africa England Florida, U.S. Michigan, U.S. Indiana, U.S. PaganVegan (Tumblr) Thailand U.S. California, U.S. Massachusetts, U.S. U.S.
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North Carolina, U.S.

While the hashtag campaign most likely won’t curtail the use of the classic Halloween witch, it does prove exactly what Ballard intended: there is no Witch look. Most of the popular representations are grossly inaccurate, or limited at best. In reality, the appearances of modern Witches are as diverse as humanity is diverse.

[Note: all gallery images were used with permission either for this specific article or for past ones. They are not to be reproduced.]

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TWH – We have reached the end of October. Halloween is fast approaching. The veil is thin and the ancestors walk among us. The crops, whether from ground or pot, have been harvested. The oaks rain acorns on rooftops and earth begins its illustrious display of magnified color: one last dance before the slumber.

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

Another marker of the season is the mounting media interest in Witchcraft. Decades ago, this interest was purely in fictional representations and Halloween traditions. But today, we have mainstream journalists around the world eager to interview modern Witches, or in other cases, discuss Witchcraft in whatever form is appropriate for the outlet.

As the leading daily news agency covering modern Witchcraft in its entirety, The Wild Hunt should follow suit. Why shouldn’t TWH report heavily on Witchcraft during October? The answer is we do, as we do all year long.

Instead of “interviewing a Witch,” I decided to turn the tables around and look at recent mainstream media reporting. What are the standard questions asked? How does the October media circus reflect the reality of our collective communities? Beyond any articles specifically on pop culture witches, what else is being shared?

Salem and the Trials

Some outlets go right to the heart of American Witch lore by focusing on Salem, stationed proudly on the Massachusetts coastline. The Washington Post shares “Five myths about the Salem witch trials.” In an Oct. 26 article, The Guardian asked, “Is Salem losing its spookiness?” Author J.W. Ocker reports that Witch tourism is on the decline due to the city’s trendy gentrification and the declining interest in witch trial attractions, some of which are reportedly in need of upgrades. Ocker recently published a book titled, Season with the Witch: The Myth and Mayhem of Salem Massachusetts.

But for the many modern Witches practicing in America’s Witch City, the tourism industry is only a tiny fraction of their experience. While there are Witches who rely on tourism dollars for their livelihood, the city’s lucrative industry doesn’t change one’s personal practice. Regardless of history and outside of the witchy kitsch, there is in fact genuine Witchcraft being practiced in Salem. Additionally, for the past two years, the Pagan organization CUUPS has held its annual convention there. In 2013, Covenant of the Goddess did the same. Whether or not tourism is on the decline, Salem has not lost the love of its thriving Pagan community.

Witchcraft “is the new black”

Another trend in mainstream reporting focuses on the visual appearance of the Witch. This is not surprising because the mythology of Witchcraft, from Goya’s paintings to modern horror films, is heavily invested in the physicality of the Witch, most notably the female body (e.g., warts, elongated nose, exposed breasts, long fingernails).

This carries over into modern reports, which rely on visual signifiers to define who is a Witch. On Oct. 26, the A.V. Club reports, “Unlike the crunchy new age types who made Wicca into a (loosely) organized religion in the 1970s, these witches are more likely to be urban than rural, to be heavily tattooed than clad in a Ren Faire-style peasant skirt.” As suggested by the article, being a Witch has a definite look, and the most contemporary Witch look is “heavily tattooed.” This juxtaposition pits the The Craft against Stevie Nicks who, according to the article’s photo caption, is wearing a “Witchy fashion.”

This entire discussion recalls a sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): “How do you know she’s a witch?” asks the scientist. “Because she looks like one,” responds a man in the crowd.

But Vogue, as one might expect, takes the concept of a “witch look” even further by offering facial treatments, makeup, and accessories based on the appearances of a number of pop-culture witches. Vogue concludes: “So whether you go the traditional route—a green face, complete with warts and rotting teeth—or prefer a more au natural look to cast spells on unsuspecting passersby, there’s inspiration for everyone.”

It is not uncommon for fashion designers to herald “witch looks.” In fact, this summer Vogue invited its readers to “be a witch.” The article essentially gives permission to dress in ways that might, under other circumstances, be considered risqué, taboo, or counter-culture. Fortunately, Vogue‘s definition of “witch wear” is a bit less limited in scope than that presented by A.V. Club.

But reality proves that there is no real “Witch look.” As anyone who has ever socialized within a group of modern Pagans would note, there are so-called fashion trends, but there are just as many exceptions. From clothing to makeup or facial hair to tattoos,choices in physical appearance offer fantastic opportunities for the outward expression of individuality – something key to the Witch’s worldview. These choices are rarely superficial attempts to become a fictional character, as one might do on Halloween.

A modern Witch’s visual appearance is often a part of spiritual seeking and magical practice.The choices can also be a function of religious work and devotion, whether in or out of ritual. Real Witch fashion choices, as it were, may be temporary or long-lasting. And, while there are certainly many pop culture expectations on the appearance of a Witch, there is, in reality, no Witch look.

[public domain]

[public domain]

Eat, Pray, Love

Moving beyond appearance and the popular signifiers of Halloween witchcraft (e.g, cats, broomsticks, and Winnifred Sanderson), many news outlets choose to dive into the modern Witchcraft community by interviewing a real Witch, one who is local to the outlet’s area. The New York Post, for example, featured the story of news librarian Liz Pressman.

These “interview a witch” articles typically ask the same questions about modern Witchcraft practice, often relying heavily on pop culture iconography as reference points. Pressman herself, for example, suggests that “millennials who grew up on Harry Potter can’t get enough of the feminist pagan religion that worships Mother Earth.” Later she notes that, as child, she could talk to dead people just like in The Sixth Sense (1999). These pop culture references can either assist in educational attempts, as with Pressman’s article, or serve to trivialize the practice of modern Witchcraft, as is the case in the mentioned Vogue articles.

Regardless, these seasonal interviews primarily serve as myth busters, with the aim of proving what a Witch is not. In a recent NPR piece titled “What The Real Witches of America Eat,” journalist Nina Martyris writes, “If you’re thinking of blood and feathers and cauldrons bubbling with eye of newt and toe of frog, you couldn’t be more off-menu. The correct, and disappointingly dull, answer is pizza, bread, fruit, nuts, granola bars, Cornish hens, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks coffee, leg of lamb, beer, cheese, Merlot, frozen cheesecake and other supermarket comestibles.” And, Witches don’t eat babies, either.

Addressing another myth, tarot reader and occultist Chris Roberts told the Toronto Star: “(Witches) have nothing to do with demons, darkness or the devil. If we were worshipping the devil that wouldn’t make us pagans, it would make us really bad Christians.”

That quote hits upon the most commonly asked question: “To whom do Witches pray?” or better yet “Do Witches believe in God?”

In an in-depth interview with occult researcher and author Mitch Horowitz, paranormal radio show host George Noory responded to a caller, “at least [Witches] believe in God.” While Noory’s intent was to support modern Witchcraft practice, his comment falls short of describing the scope of prayer, ritual, and deity devotion within modern Witchcraft. However, Noory’s comment does illustrate one of the purposes of the media myth-busting angle: To neutralize or disarm the fearsome aspects of the Witch stereotype. In a society dripping with Abrahamic religious concepts of Witchcraft, it is understandable that the most common question, and concern, would be about God and deity worship, or the lack thereof.

As regular TWH readers know, this question, in reality, is not easily answered. Period.

Do Witches Eat Babies? Do Witches Pray to God? Do Witches Love? As for the question of love, I refer specifically to the practice of compassion, rather than interpersonal relationships. It is important to remember that mainstream myth-busting articles focus on what Witches do and do not, rather than who Witches are privately. The myth-busting mentality, therefore, aims to demonstrate a naturally-embedded compassion within modern Witchcraft practice. For example, these articles often define Witches as nature and animals lovers, healers and community helpers.

Focusing on a Witch’s compassion helps dispel the idea that Witches are dangerous. For example, in a recent Toronto Star article, a number of local Witches responded to the question “What is a Witch?” The answers are all focused on magical practice from tarot reading to healing, but they also highlight the compassionate nature of the interviewees. For example, Helga Jackobson is quoted, as saying, “A witch is likely to have an interest or knowledge in natural remedies, in working with the cycles of earthly experience, in helping those around them.” Laura Gonzalez writes, “We are healers, helpers and wise women…”

Monkeys Unleashed

Second only to the question “Do Witches believe in God?” is the question: “Do Witches curse people?” And similarly, it is asked in an attempt to neutralize an age-old fear. After mention of hexing and cursing, for example, radio show host George Noory asks author Mitch Horowitz, “Should we be afraid of Witches?” Horowitz, who has been working to end Witchcraft-related violence around the world, responds, “No,” adding “Witches are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

It is a good answer and one that modern Witches love to hear.

However, it doesn’t respond to the question, “Do Witches curse and hex?” And, the real answer depends entirely on who you ask. Why? As Catland store owner Melissa Madaras told Teen Vogue, “[I] can’t speak for all witches, because every witch is a witch for their own reason, and every witch practices in their own way.” That applies to hexing and cursing. Some Witches do; others don’t. This is a contentious issue even within the modern Witch community itself.

Interestingly, the question of curses has become more relevant over the last year as hex actions against a number of public figures have been the focus of mainstream articles. Along with the now famous hex action launched in conjunction with the California Turner case, there have been other similar actions reportedly taken against political candidates, most recently Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And, that is the angle Quartz took for its Halloween-inspired witch article, titled “Feminist Witches are casting hexes on Donald Trump” and filed under the sub-heading “Game of Crones.”

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1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

W.I.T.C.H.

The subject of hexing leads us to the final trend in witch-based mainstream articles – one that is highly relevant to current U.S. politics.

As has been the case historically, powerful women are often labeled “witch,” regardless of their actual religious beliefs, reported actions, or lifestyles. The witch is, in mythological or meta terms, a woman who knows too much. As such, the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has repeatedly earned that title in social media memes, articles, and other sources. The label has been used both as a derogatory slur against her character, and as an empowerment tool to demonstrate her strength and vigor.

Aside from any articles focusing specifically on the election, many recent witch-based reports have examined both the historical and contemporary connections made between feminism and Witchcraft. Broadly published an article about the 1960s feminist group W.I.T.C.H., calling its members the “protestors who hexed the patriarchy.” Similarly, a local Vermont news outlet focused on a recent hex action against Trump reporting that the local group “Feminists Against Trump will answer the call for activist witchcraft in its own way.”

In a New York Times opinion article, writer Anna North begins: “The witching hour is upon us. I’m talking not about Halloween but about Election Day — which, if you believe a vocal subset of conspiracy theorists, is when we’ll all get hexed.” North continues on to explore the intersection of politics and Witchcraft, within a feminist framework. She ends using pop culture signifiers, such as The Witch and the Blair Witch Project, to better illustrate her point, concluding: “For a fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like, though, I recommend The Craft.”

And we come full cycle, back to seeing pop culture used in order to understand what modern Witchcraft is, and what it is not.

While mainstream articles and discussions are limited in their space and scope, they can provide an outreach and educational opportunity to offer nuggets of truth. However, they rarely provide the space to delve into the reality of modern Witchcraft life, beyond the obvious, the visual signifiers, the mythology, and the needs of the myth-busting framework. Most articles fail to move beyond pop culture assumptions and comparisons.They fail to examine lifestyle choices, belief structures, and world views in order to demonstrate how these ideologies are integral not only to a Witch’s magical practice but also to a Witch’s commitment to community and the role played within society as a whole. In fact, it would seem that diving into such beliefs, rather than watching a movie, would be the best route for a “fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like.”

For better or worse, most mainstream seasonal articles are working primarily to disprove myth rather than showcase life. Some are positive and well-done in their intent and results, and some are far from it. Either way, the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

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Note: Editor Heather Greene will be hosting a Twitterthon on Witches in American Film and Television tonight at 8pm ET. Join the conversation by following the TWH Twitter feed @thewildhunt. Ask you questions via Twitter messenger.

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WASHINGTON D.C. — In late September, Televangelist Jim Bakker hosted Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Family Research Council senior fellow, on his show. They started off discussing how Maginnis felt about President Obama’s nomination of a Muslim-American attorney to be a federal judge.

While Bakker saw the nomination as an attack on Christianity and an example of persecution against Christians, Maginnis went a bit further in his answer. He alleged there is a secret cabal of Witches advising the senior leadership of the United States.

Maginnis says:

I know that there’s demonic forces in that city. I have personally met people that refer to themselves as witches; people that say they advise the senior leadership of the country. You know, we invite within the federal government people to advise us and often some of those advisers, I think, have evil motivations, things that you and I would not approve of.

Political magic is nothing new in the United States, although it is more often performed by Christians. One example is back in 2011 when The New Apostolic Reformation, a neo-Pentecostal Christian movement, hosted an event called DC40. The group planned to “lay siege” for 40 days on Washington D.C. in order to change the District of Columbia into the District of Christ and to eliminate compromise in our government. They also sent out an open letter to the Pagan community, whom they saw as responsible for the ills of the nation.

Gwendolyn Reece is a Witch and priestess of Athena and Apollon living in Washington DC who performs political magic. She doesn’t believe there are any witches advising senior White House administration. However, she said that she is “fascinated by the thought experiment of what it would look like if we DC witches were a secret cabal, advising top government officials.”

Reece said, “All of the DC witches who I know are deeply concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics and the importance of each of our citizens having a vote that truly counts. We would, therefore, be working to ensure voter rights and overthrow gerrymandering.”

She said nature-reverencing witches would ensure the EPA would be stronger and that there was more policy discussion around the health of honey bees. Also on witches wish list? “If the DC witches were running things, you’d better believe that the State of Columbia would be joining the Union with rights as the fifty-first state.”

So what kind of political magic is Reece performing?  “I work to strengthen the thought-forms on the inner planes of what a good functioning Democratic system looks like and to feed them power so that they can have more strength as inspiration.” She said that magic, on its own, is not sufficient to enact change, adding that people must also embody their practice and vote.

[Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering]

[Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering]

Author Sheryl Grana believes that there are three main reasons why people, historically mostly women, were targeted as witches.

The first reason was to ensure that women stayed with expected gender roles and behavior. In Grana’s book Women and Justice, “Many women accused of witchcraft were identified, by men in their lives very often, as women engaging in some kind of wrong doing.”

Grana said that another group targeted were those who lived on the margins of society; the old, the poor, and those without a male figure in their life. The concern was that oppressed and marginalized persons could use occult forces to get back at their oppressors.

The last group targeted, according to Grana, are women who have wealth and power. These are independent women who the males in a community wish to bring back under their control.

Reece thinks that Maginnis is targeting people from the last two groups identified by Grana. “The demographics of contemporary Paganism skew heavily toward being female but also LGBTQ people of all gender expressions are heavily statistically over-represented. Clearly he’s saying that there are people who are, in his mind, troublingly “other” who have power and the thing that is threatening to him is that they have power and influence.”

She also said that, by Maginnis calling the motivations of the advisers evil, his thinking is resonate with the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The Protocols outline how an oppressed minority is accused of operating secretly in ways that demonstrate extraordinary influence in political and social institutions, which shape society for nefarious ends.

Should it worry Americans if, someday, Witches became advisers to our political leaders? Reece doesn’t think so; “I do not believe Maginnis is telling the truth when he says that there are Witches who are high level policy advisers, secretly influencing our politicians. Maybe we should be.”

PALO ALTO, Calif. — A six-month jail sentence for a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman has sparked widespread outrage. Critics are saying his sentence, which deviated from sentencing guidelines of two to fourteen years, is far too lenient. While that sentence has generated protests, recall efforts, and conversations about bias in the legal system, it has generated something else within the Pagan community – a call to hex the perpetrator, his father, and the judge who granted the sentence.

Brock Allen Turner, 20, was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault including sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. Turner was arrested on the Palo Alto campus in January 2015 after two graduate students found him thrusting against an unconscious, partially clothed woman behind a dumpster outside of a fraternity party.

The lighter than normal sentence will be served in a county jail rather than the state prison, which is also a deviation from standard sentencing. Judge Aaron Persky said the defendant had “less moral culpability” because he was drunk, and that a light sentence was appropriate since Turner had already suffered from “anxiety” from the intense media attention on the case. There have also been allegations that the judge gave a lighter sentence than the minimum because Persky, like the defendant, is a Stanford alumnus and student athlete.

Adding to the controversy, Dan Turner, father of the Brock Turner, said in a letter to the court that his son is paying a “steep price” for “20 minutes of action.”

The judge, who gave Turner the light sentence, is now facing a recall campaign by a fellow Stanford law professor and a petition supporting a recall has gathered close to 350,000 signatures as of press time.

At the same time, some in the Pagan community have chosen to take a different approach to action.

Melanie Hexen is inviting others to join her June 7 at 10 pm CT to place a hex on Brock Turner, Dan Turner, Judge Persky, while sending love and support to the victim of the attack. The Facebook event says participants can perform the hex in their own home and need only a black candle, a black string, and photos of those to be hexed.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Ms. Hexen says the idea came from discussions that she had with her coven sisters about the injustice of the sentencing, the unrepentant nature of Brock Turner, and the comments from Dan Turner equating raping someone with an object to “20 minutes of action.”

Hexen said, “I think it will raise awareness of not only this particular case but of this rape culture we live in.”

She said that the her action is akin to Christians taking action through prayer, and it is a way to bring women together by doing something powerful. “And witches will stand together against injustice.”

The group hopes the hex results in Brock Turner becoming impotent, his father suffering from nightmares, and for the judge to lose his job.

The event, which was created less than 24 hours ago, is now gaining momentum. Over 100 people have said they will participate with many more interested.

Lasara Firefox Allen, author of Jailbreaking the Goddess, said that she’s participating because justice for women is rarely served from within the patriarchy. Allen said, “This gut-wrenching violation that keeps being compounded is an injustice to one woman, and at the same time an injustice to all women. We need to fight for justice with all we have. Magick is a tool we can, and must, wield to bring down the patriarchy. Brick by brick.”

J Setkheni-itw says the action is important even if a person doesn’t believe in magick or prayer:

I see Witches and Pagans whenever this subject comes up talk about how we need to just be patient and let the threefold law or karma take over, that eventually the perpetrator will somehow see the results of their actions and all will be right in the universe.  I really don’t want to be judgmental of other peoples’ beliefs, but I feel like anybody with even a minute grasp of history can see that this is not true, that people in power who harm and oppress people are more often than not validated in that behavior and allowed to continue harming and oppressing people.Thousands of rapists have gone on to live lives where they received more sympathy than retribution, including high-profile repeat offenders who live and die rich and famous; am I to believe that all of these people are experiencing some deep internal turmoil that constitutes a watered down karmic response?  I absolutely do not.

Pamela Jones says she’s participating because she’s part of the Social Justice Warrior Witchcraft collective of witches, who do periodic workings for social justice. Others, like Nevada Hardy, are joining because they were themselves the victim of a sexual assault and “…know what it feels like to be a victim without a voice.”

There are Pagans critical of hexing or who feel caution is the better course. Jeanine Hazelwood posted on the event. Hazelwood said, “Politely declining, and respectfully pointing out a differing view on the issue. If I am going to put precious energy into a working, it’s going to be to help change the culture that creates asses like these men and helps empower the women they damage. Hexing these idiots may ‘feel good’ but in the end it doesn’t help the victims or prevent this from happening again to someone else.”

While Meagan Angus, who says she’s a Hedge Witch and Urban Shaman, was more ambivalent, “Not sure if I will hex or send white light. Ultimately, even he has to reach enlightenment at some point. But he also needs to be stopped. Same goes for the dad and the defense lawyer.”

Hexen says she isn’t worried about a negative consequence rebounding on her for this working and feels confident of the morality of her actions, “I’m an experienced witch. I fear no rebound in this working. And if I’m to receive some sort of new age karma, I’ll take it for the greater good. I have strong shoulders. And stronger magick.”

When asked why she’s leading this action, Hexen simply said, “Witches do the work that needs to be done.”

On Oct. 28, Time magazine published an article called “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in real life.”  It was part of the avalanche of articles on Witches and Witchcraft that typically appear in October. As suggested by the title, the article’s intent was to examine the social factors surrounding the popularity of TV witches. After publication, Time and the writer, Jennie Latson, were hit with a wave of backlash from Pagans and Witches.

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The article contains two sentences that became the target of those reactions. The first is a quote from Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. He writes, “Witches, like terrorists, ‘threaten to wipe out everything you believe in.’ The article’s second offending sentence is “The difference, of course, is that terrorists are real, while witches are not.”

On Oct. 30, Silver Ravenwolf published a brief response:

I am shaking my head.  I am wondering what rock these people are crawling out from under.  How about you actually take the time to interview a real Witch, to live their life for 30 days, and then I dare you to come back and tell me that I’m a terrorist.

Jason Mankey posted a longer response titled “Dear Time magazine, Witches are Real!” on his blog Raise the Horns. His tempered response included:

 I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.

Adam Osborne of Salisbury, North Carolina began a change.org petition asking Time magazine to apologize. He wrote,”The article, although seemingly benign, puts Pagans and those who practice witchcraft in a bad light, and could encourage others to “punish” us as they would deem fit.” The petition has received 5,078 supporters to date.

While Pagans sent angry tweets to both the magazine and writer, several online media outlets reported on rising tension. The International Business Times wrote, “Many practicing Wiccans were not amused, and some accused the magazine of comparing witches to terrorists.” The Inquisitor published an opinion piece on the subject and Religion Dispatches posted a reaction from religion professor Joseph Laycock. On Nov. 10, Latson linked to that response in a tweet:

Although the backlash was notable, Pagan reactions were not uniform, and many felt the article wasn’t a problem. Osborne’s petition has yet to receive the requested number of signatures. Why? Because the Latson article focused on fictional witches and the legends surrounding Salem. When she said, “Witches aren’t real,” she was referring to the type of witch found in most Hollywood representations (e.g., Maleficent,2014; Witches,1990; The Chronicles of Narnia, 2005).

The word witch is, and has always been, a very loaded term. Outside of fictional representations, the word has many meanings, each of which evokes a very different culturally-dependent reaction. When someone says “witch” in a small Nigerian village, the meaning is entirely different from a person using the word while relaxing at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. It means something different within the walls of the Vatican than it does at a Pagan Pride event in California. And, it means something different today than it did 100 or 500 years ago. Contextuality is everything when using the word “witch.”

Considering the reactions, Latson’s article failed to adequately contextualize its subject matter in order to avoid criticism. The sentence “Witches are not real” was not encased in language that demonstrated an understanding or sensitivity to the term’s varied contemporary usage. This resulted in outrage.

Limiting her statement to Hollywood cinematic language, Latson’s statement about witches is mostly true. However, the article makes other claims, beyond those two statements, that prove problematic from a cinematic and historical viewpoint. The article suggests that fictional witches are more popular during times of trouble. This statement is not supported by film research. As with the word “witch” itself, the iconic meaning of the cinematic witch needs better contexualization in order to understand its popularity.

Dorothy Neumenn as Crone Meg Maud. Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.

1957, The Undead. Dorothy Neumenn as Meg Maud. [Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.]

Quoting Baker, the article compares current U.S. social climate to that of colonial Salem. It posits that the interest in witches:

…may have its roots in the post-9/11 panic over terrorism and what could be seen as a Salem-like erosion of civil rights in the name of security — or, more recently, in the revelations that the National Security Agency seems to be spying on ordinary citizens as stealthily as neighbors spied on neighbors in colonial Salem

However, fictional witches were not only popular in times of trouble. Witches were prolific in American films at the turn of century because filmmakers, who wanted to showcase a new entertainment product, used popular stories, such as fairy tales and histories, to draw in audiences (e.g, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910; In the Days of Witchcraft, 1913; Joan the Woman, 1917). Similarly, witches were popular in times of economic stability such as the 1950s and 1990s.

Film scholars believe the popularity of witches is less about social instability and more about the negotiation of gender roles. When discussing witch films, theorists focus on female agency and sexuality. As noted by Tanya Krzywinska in A Skin for Dancing in, “Witchcraft [in film] has become a language of resistance to the cultural norms of femininity…” (Krzywinska, p.117) These norms include beauty, family roles, career paths and power held within society.

While this very specific cinematic codification is consistent across time, it doesn’t explain everything. The use of the filmic witch as an icon of radical femininity is wholly dependent on time and genre. In the 1920s, when women were experiencing unprecedented social freedom, witches nearly disappeared from the American screen. In 1934, witches returned as the Depression took hold and traditional family structures were celebrated. At the very same time, the Catholic-based censorship office began its control of the Hollywood production (e.g., The Wizard of Oz, 1939; Spitfire,1934; Maid of Salem, 1937). In this case, witches were an example of what not to be.

By the 1970s and after the social revolution, the horror film began incorporating versions of the witch figure. In these films, the focus is more on aberrant female sexuality than conventional social roles (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Carrie,1976; Witches of Eastwick, 1987; The Craft, 1996). And, in today’s market, the narrative positioning of the Hollywood witch trope has changed again as society plays with the acceptance of non-traditional cultural modalities. This can be seen in thematic and narrative complexities playing out in recent shows such as Salem, American Horror Story: Coven, the Witches of East End and others.

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem Poster

In addition, most discussions of cinematic witches, like the Time magazine article, fail to take race into account. Most Hollywood cinematic witches are white. The female, brown-skinned witch has a very different role and cinematic meaning within Hollywood language. Analysis of this type of witch reveals threads of racism, colonialism and the unfettered objectification of the “other” (e.g., The Devil’s Daughter, 1939, The Crucible, 1996; Salem, 2014)  This is an entirely different story.

The popularity, or the lack of popularity, of the witch in TV and cinema proves to be as complicated as the use of the term “witch” itself. In both cases, scholarship is not complete without acknowledging those complexities even on a small scale. Muddling this matter further are the many blurred lines between the various meanings – both fictional and real. There are shared details, such as black hats, cauldrons, magical work, healing and aspects of the Occult, that underlie our cultural understanding of the witch. These elements are often what lead to frustration and anger for those that identify as modern-day real Witches. Many people, non-Witches, don’t or can’t see the distinctions between the purely cinematic and fictional, the historical legends, the accusations in Africa, and the real, genuine practice of Witchcraft around the globe.

UPDATE 11/17/14: Prof. Emerson Baker, who was quoted in the original Time article, did issue his own apology on his site for the confusions that were generated by Latson’s story.

For some, the phrase “tea party” conjures up images of little girls in pink taffeta dresses, or perhaps angry colonists on tall ships or, better yet, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. What it doesn’t conjure up is 380 witches convening on the historic grounds of Exeter Castle in the UK. But that is exactly what happened this past weekend at the “Grand Witches’ Tea Party.”

[Photo by J.Moore]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

On Aug. 31, over 300 witches and others supporters, wearing pointy hats, capes and carrying brooms, arrived at Exeter castle to honor the lives of three British women hanged for Witchcraft. The Bideford witches are largely considered to be the last three women actually executed for the crime of Witchcraft under the 1605 statute.

As history tells, the judges believed that these women were innocent of their accused crimes. However, the men yielded to angry local mobs who called for a hanging. On Aug. 25 1682, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles were all sent to the gallows at Heavitree. Today there is a plaque on Exeter Castle commemorating their lives and marking the tragedy in their deaths.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Now 332 years later, modern U.K. Witches and their supporters rally at the same sight to call attention to the women’s story with the goal of having them officially pardoned of the accused crimes. In August 2013, author Christine Nash and local official Ben Bradshaw launched an e-petition to make this happen. However, the campaign failed with only 426 signatures. Ben Bradshaw is quoted as calling the hangings “a stain in our history.”

This year’s campaign was organized by local witch Jackie Juno and a group of her friends. However, the Grand Witches Tea Party became more than just a simple petition event. It grew larger, incorporating more expansive contemporary ideas within a respectful, yet festive, environment.

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Not only was the Grand Tea a rally asking the government to pardon the Bideford Witches; the event also aimed at becoming the largest gathering of witches in the U.K. or the world. Juno’s official count stands at a total of 380 people in all the regalia. She adds, “We set a new southwesterly record but fell short of world or U.K. records. But the main important bit of the day was the ceremony.”

The event began with a commemorative ritual dedicated to the three accused “willow” women. The ceremony was recorded and posted on YouTube in three parts. In retrospect, Juno says:

[The event] went beautifully, thanks to all the helpers and supporters of the event. I feel we did the women proud with the commemorative ceremony which was deeply moving.

The outdoor ritual included poetry, shrine offerings, moments of silence and sacred song. One of the organizers stepped forward to read Erica Mann Jong’s poem, “For Those Who Died,” which is a somber tribute to the many women who were tortured and killed as witches.

In addition to the ceremony and the gathering of signatures, the organizers also collected donations for the international organization Womankind.org, a “women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Womankind.org partners with other organizations around the world to “tackle the day to day issues that affect women’s lives.” Womankind’s projects include education and outreach, ending violence, gaining independence and protecting women’s health.

The organizers of The Grand Witches’ Tea Party sought to create a connection between the persecution of the Bideford Witches and the difficult conditions under which many women live today. A local Wiccan practitioner told an Independent reporter, who was present at the event,“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture. It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

During the ceremony, Juno read the following poem:

I am your grandmother killed for celebrating All Hallows. I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point. I need all women who hear me to speak up for those without voices. I need you, every man who loves me, to protect me to make the right choices. I am your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your daughter. I call from beyond the mystery to say no to the horror and betrayal and the slaughter. We must right the wrongs of history.

At various moments, attendees raised their brooms and besoms to show support and solidarity for the cause. Juno says, “After the solemnity of the ceremony people enjoyed a fun and very friendly picnic, meeting new friends and old.”

As the event’s title suggests, many witches were seen drinking tea and enjoying the sunshine. Several bands entertained the group including The Mysterious Freakshow. On its Facebook fan page, the band wrote, “Witches, witches everywhere! Fabulous day at The Grand Witches Tea Party! The magic in the air was tangible. A true inspiration.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Juno was pleased with the turnout at the 2014 Grand Witches’ Tea Party. She added, “Folks traveled from far and wide to attend and we hope to hold a similar gathering next year.” She and several of the organizers are working to set up an organization that will continue this work. Although now just in the planning stages, the new organization will be called, “The Merrivale Group.”  In the meantime, they are currently counting the donated funds and enjoying the incoming photographs, videos and stories being shared on the event’s Facebook page.

[Note: With the exception of the plaque, all photos included here were taken by professional Pagan photographer James Moore of Balmy & Zen photography. They were used with permission but remain under strict copyright. For more shots of the Grand Witches’ Tea, go directly to Moore’s FB page.]

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. This week? It’s (almost) all about Halloween, and Pagans, and Witches, and how we celebrate (or don’t) during this time of year. So pull up some of that leftover candy, and let’s get started…

Ashley Bryner, senior Druid at CedarLight Grove. Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Ashley Bryner, senior Druid at CedarLight Grove. Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

  • Let’s start with the New York Times, who decided that this Halloween was going to be about Druids. Quote: “How many folks will spend the next few days and nights worshiping the old gods? The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey put the number of American Druids at 29,000. But then, many Druids connect with the practice of paganism, and the survey counted 340,000 souls in this category. Add another 342,000 wiccans (fellow travelers), and Samhain starts to look like a pretty big party. Of course, that number would swell if you were to include the ancestors who have passed on — and Druids do, especially in this liminal season.” Author Ellen Evert Hopman, and members of Ár nDraíocht Féin are quoted in the piece.
  • CNN decided to go with Witches for Halloween, and found one who isn’t fond of the secular holiday. Quote: “Trey Capnerhurst dons a pointy hat and doles out candy to children who darken the door of her cottage in Alberta. But she’s not celebrating Halloween. In fact, she kind of hates it. Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch, and Halloween stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty.” Capnerhurst goes on to claim that “traditional” Witches are hereditary, and Wiccans are converts. Which is a new one on me, since “trad” Witches generally means Witches who are members of an established initiatory line. Anyway, the article also interviews sociologist Helen Berger, who shares some basic data on the number of Pagans in America. Amusingly, the American Spectator got their underwear in a bunch over this article, so there’s that.
  • Some Wiccans have no real problem with Halloween, it should be noted.
  • While I’m making the rounds of the big-name publications, I can’t not mention the Newsweek article on how Witchcraft and occult practices are becoming, like, super-hip among young people these days. Quote: “We’re currently in the middle of an occult revival, says Jesse Bransford, a New York University art professor who co-organized an occult humanities conference earlier this month. He sees a connection between increasing interest in the occult and postrecession anxiety. Magic ‘has always been a technique of the disenfranchised,’ he says. ‘It’s something you do when the tools you have available don’t seem like they’re enough.’ These people aren’t just wearing black lipstick and watching witches hex each other on-screen; they’re also experimenting with, well, sorcery.” Let’s hope this augers an uptick in the quality of Pagan music.
  • Meanwhile, Paper Magazine interviews some event promoters in Bushwick, who are drawn to Witchcraft as an aesthetic oeuvre to operate within. Quote: “I think people just want to believe in something. But with Bushwick I think there is this underground movement, or a want to bring people together, that doesn’t have any formality to it. It’s just people who have their own rituals coming together. I think the social commentary aspect of it is there, but it’s super-subconscious. And I do think there’s a dark energy that people are now willing to talk about in a playful way. At least for us it’s playful. We’re definitely the entertainment side of Wiccan culture. Bushwiccans.”
  • For this Halloween, Reuters decided to focus on psychic scammers. Quote: “The law relating to such activities is not always definitive, Little said, noting that fortune-tellers and others who offer occult services often use a ‘for entertainment purposes only’ disclaimer to prevent legal problems. Even as people who sell occult services move online, some continue to run storefronts, offering psychic readings for a small fee and trying to talk customers into paying more to resolve problems.” However, I suspect that most party-goers looking for a quick tarot readings are fairly safe. Just don’t let anybody “cleanse” your wallet. Seriously.
shutterstock 1114023

Tarot cards.

  • Well played Yorkshire post, well played.
  • If you enjoy reading about Christians freaking out about Halloween, you’ve got your pick of the litter. Right Wing Watch, as always, picks a doozy. Quote: “Why am I concerned about the way Halloween, the media and our current culture encourage the celebration and trivialization of spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies and walking on the dark side with demons? Because the supernatural world is real, and no one is immune to it regardless of their education or worldview. God is real. Angels are real. Satan is real. Demons are real. Real gladiators and real Christians died in the Colosseum and circus even though many Roman leaders and citizens just considered their destruction an evening of entertainment.” See also: Southern Baptists talking about the “theological complications” of Halloween, and the Christian Post runs an editorial about the dangers of Wicca. Fun stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. You know, feasting with Satan!
  • The Christian Science Monitor debunks the Salem Witch Trials, while scholar Owen Davies notes that the suspicion of witches has lived on far past those infamous trials. Quote: “Two centuries on from Salem and many Americans were still living in an essentially similar social, cultural, economic, and religious environment. The vicissitudes of life on the edge were all too real, and so was the fear of witchcraft as an explanation for misfortune and envy. Over the last three centuries, thousands of Americans, mostly women, have been abused for being suspected witches. Hundreds of court cases arose from accusations of witchcraft. Most startling of all, it is clear now that we know of more people murdered as witches in America after 1692 than were legally executed before that date.”
  • At the Washington Post, Starhawk contributes a piece on the holiday, noting that on Halloween “the past and future live.” Quote: “For us, Halloween is the time of year when we come together to honor our ancestors, to mourn our beloved dead and celebrate their lives.  In this autumn season, when the year itself appears to by dying.  As the leaves fall, and the harvest is gathered in, we celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain or Summer’s End.  The veil between the worlds is thin, we say, and those who have gone beyond can now return and visit us again, reminding us that death does not destroy our connection to those we love.” Elsewhere at WP, playwright Jeffrey Stanley extols the freaky fun of the supernatural.
  • UC Berkeley’s blog focuses on Americans and the occult, noting its ongoing popularity throughout this country’s history. Quote: “We have no polls, of course, to track occult beliefs before the mid-20th century, but, as I pointed out in a prior post, early Americans were deeply immersed in an enchanted world of spirits, incantations, and witches. Puritan ministers in colonial New England struggled to point out the contradiction between, on one side of salvation, pleading with God to shed His grace on an ill loved one and, on the doomed side, casting a spell to drive out an evil spirit that one believes caused the illness.”
  • The Los Angeles Times profiles Panpipes Magickal Marketplace, which is deemed “authentic in the way of a great London bookstore, yet with a glint of religion about it.” Quote: “[Co-owner Vicky] Adams is not a witch herself, she says, merely a pagan who says there are thousands of others like her across L.A., and she’s just here to help, no matter your chosen deity. ‘It’s hard,’ she says at the end of a busy day. ‘I had a customer who watched me work. When I finally got to him, he said, ‘I’m a psychologist and I get $400 an hour to do what you do.””

That’s it for now! There are a lot more Halloween-themed articles that feature Pagans, Witches, or occult practitioners, out there, but I feel this is a representative sample of what’s out there. Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

This past week we witnessed a crescendo of frustration and fury fly from the global Pagan community in the direction of a Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” and a Facebook Group called “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force.”  The rally cries came by way of social media, blogs and email.  At this point, I would include the links but the “pages” were removed by Facebook around 4pm EST on Thursday, August 23 2013.

FB PageThese offending Facebook “pages” advocated for the extrication and burning of alleged witches and wizards throughout the world. Using a Christian fundamentalist context, the moderators repeatedly preached their gospel on the evils of witchcraft while celebrating all attempts to defeat it.  As proof of witchcraft’s existence, the Fan Page displayed a photo of a South African-Zimbabwe sensationalist rag called H Metro Zim with a headline that read something like “Woman gives birth to frogs…daily.”

Let’s first examine the pages themselves and who owned them? The answer is important because it contextualizes the accusations and religious zealotry. The Facebook Group, “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force” appears to have been launched in February of 2013.  It was moderated solely or in part by a Botswanan Pastor named Anthony Matildah, whose own personal Facebook page seems to have also disappeared. The 247 member group communicated in both broken-English and native African dialects including Setswana.  Most of its members were from the sub-Saharan countries of Africa.

The Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” was launched on April 3, 2013 by someone of sub-Saharan African-descent. However, this person confessed to “not [having] been back to Africa in 20 years.” He or she communicated in perfect British English and in at least one other African dialect. Based on my own research, I believe the owner resides in the U.K. as did the majority of the users making up the Page’s 340 likes. In recent years, Scotland Yard has in fact noticed an increase in the number of Witch Hunt cases in the UK and a noticeable growth in popularity of U.K.-based African Christian Churches. It is entirely possible that the page owner was a Pastor or, at the very least, a devout follower.

sapralogoAt first everyone assumed that the two pages had the same owner(s); however, they in fact may have no connection.  Regardless, they were certainly aligned through intent and discourse.  Both advocated for faith-based violence and, in doing so, perpetuated a culture of fear rampant in sub-Saharan Africa. Damon Leff, Director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), coordinator of the Petition to Stop WItch Hunts in South Africa and Founder of Touchstone Advocacy said:

[Witchcraft] accusations occur not only in small impoverished villages…. Accusations occur across economic and social status lines.  Accusations are frequently made by ordinary people, not necessarily Christians, and not necessarily as a result of Christian influence. Traditional African beliefs often drive accusations, where traditional healers do play their role by divining suspects of suspected witchcraft activity…No single African country has been immune to its fair share of witch-hunts. Many of these countries already have legislation that forbids accusations of witchcraft… However [this] legislation does not address or seek to correct the beliefs which motivate accusations.

As suggested by Leff and noted in a BBC article on the subject, witchcraft in these cases is defined by a supernatural practice with clear malicious intent. The beliefs are a fusion of fundamentalist Christianity and traditional African folk beliefs. Some pastors use the fear of witchcraft to extort money out of their congregation and have even convinced parents to abuse their own children. This witchcraft is a distorted product of theological extremism gone very, very wrong.

accusation

As such the witchcraft in these cases is not the same as the Witchcraft practiced within the spiritual or ethical framework of a Pagan or Nature-based religion or any other similar positive folk or healing practice. The verbal attacks made on these two Facebook pages were not anti-Pagan.  As best clarified by Circle Magazine Editor Florence Edwards-Miller, this distinction is not at all dissimilar to the Anti-Defamation League’s differentiation between anti-Semitism (a people) and anti-Judaism (a theology.) The Facebook pages attacked a people, not a theology.

However, as pointed out by Damon Leff:

Witch-hunters will never first ask if their victims are Pagan Witches before attacking, as they are unlikely to draw any distinction between one kind of witch or another, and so it is understandable that Witches everywhere should feel personally offended and threatened.

cog-joint-logoAnd, offended we were. Sometime in April “Witches and Wizzards” and “Witches Must Die By Fire,” began receiving counter posts and complaints from concerned Pagans.  However, the Fan Page went private from April to August during which interest waned.  When the Fan Page reappeared on the scene, an avalanche of protests began which included abuse complaints to Facebook, calls to media affiliates, petitions on Change.org, You Tube Videos and blog posts. Babette Petiot of “News & Liens Paienne” even contacted Interpol which is based in her home town of Lyon, France.

As word spread, Pagan organizations became involved. On August 20, Lady Liberty League issued an open letter to Facebook asking it to “revise [its] decision and disable these and all future pages calling for violent witch hunts anywhere.” On the same day, the Covenant of the Goddess responded by saying, it “cannot condone a public call for the death of any one person or group regardless of religious affiliation or lifestyle choice.”

Pagan FederationIn Russia, Pagan Federation co-coordinator Gwiddon said, “What is surprising to me is the reaction of Facebook staff that seems to be completely ignoring this issue, despite the repeated notifications from witches and pagans.” In the U.K., The Pagan Federation’s Mike Stygal agreed asking “why [should] Facebook allow pages that are clearly aimed at inciting hatred, violence and murder to continue to grace their social network?”

With 100s of complaints being turned away or ignored entirely, there was nothing to explain Facebook’s decision. On Tuesday I was able to reach Facebook’s Public Policy and Communication Department. After several exchanges, they promised to be in touch with an explanation. But the pages went down before I ever got a response. So I contacted Facebook again.  They confirmed that the pages were removed by them.  Then they offered this short explanation when I asked “What happened?”

With over one billion users worldwide, we always encourage our users to report content that they believe violates our policies here and it looks like we didn’t receive any violations [on these pages]…. It could be possible that users may have reported that they violated under different terms…”   

As the moderator of an international free-speech forum, Facebook handles two million abuse reports per week. As Emily Brazelton explains in her book Sticks and Stones, the Facebook system is mostly automated leaving reviewers only seconds to handle each complaint.  If two identical complaints are rejected, any future similar complaints are ignored. (Brazelton, Sticks and Stones, pg 268-269)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

It may be that our voices were, at first, lost in that automated shuffle. However, in the end our mounting pressure broke through and Facebook took corrective actions to uphold its own policies. In reaction, the Covenant of the Goddess together with the Lady Liberty League responded with gratitude urging “the Pagan community to join [them] in expressing [their] thanks to Facebook for listening and making this positive change.” They added:

We hope Facebook will to continue to be a leader in the effort to address violence and hate wherever it festers.

This felt like a win for many of us who celebrated from behind our computer screens.  But was it really?  Should we even be celebrating? What are we celebrating? The notoriety of these pages took us, first world Pagans, to a place labeled “witchcraft” where our nature- spirituality, our ethics, our mythology and our beliefs intersect with something far more horrifying.  While these Facebook pages may not have been directed toward us, in viewing them we reached a point of liminality where distinctions between Witchcraft and witchcraft were no longer made.  That is scary.

Now that the pages are down, we can move beyond that surreal point back into the security of our own world. Unfortunately, the removal of these two Facebook pages created no comfort for those living in the affected regions of Africa or elsewhere. Should this week’s events be a wake-up call for Pagans and Witches worldwide to reconsider our relationship with the accused? Now that the “fire” is put out, should we re-evaluate our responsibility, as a People who claim the word Witch, to those people who are dying because of the word witch?

Never Again the Burning Times??

Courtesy of Flickr's emilydickinsonridesabmx

Courtesy of Flickr’s emilydickinsonridesabmx

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.