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Imagining the (queer) Witch

‚ÄúQueer¬≠ing the Witch opens up the def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tion of who is con¬≠sid¬≠ered a witch. His¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly speak¬≠ing, the major¬≠i¬≠ty of accused and con¬≠vict¬≠ed witch¬≠es are iden¬≠ti¬≠fied as women; but why not expand the def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tion to include oth¬≠er com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties that face dis¬≠crim¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tion because they con¬≠tra¬≠dict the so-called norm?‚ÄĚ

TEXT Esther Bartke LEKTORAT Lara Helena FOTO Cottonbro

Lisa Simp¬≠son once asked: ‚ÄúWhy is it when a woman is con¬≠fi¬≠dent and pow¬≠er¬≠ful, they call her a witch?‚ÄĚ Every¬≠one has an image of the Witch in their mind. It‚Äôs cer¬≠tain¬≠ly not exact¬≠ly the same as mine, but it‚Äôs com¬≠plex and one is not any more or any less true than the oth¬≠er. Influ¬≠enced by his¬≠to¬≠ry and media, this image could look some¬≠thing like the Wicked Witch of the West, Bon¬≠nie Bon¬≠net from the Vam¬≠pire Diaries, or Baba Yaga from the Slav¬≠ic folk¬≠lore. The Witch is some¬≠thing we all know and yet their def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tion and inter¬≠pre¬≠ta¬≠tion is diverse and end¬≠less. Grow¬≠ing up inter¬≠est¬≠ed in every¬≠thing witchy while patri¬≠ar¬≠chal pow¬≠er dynam¬≠ics and every¬≠day sex¬≠ism revealed them¬≠selves to me, I start¬≠ed con¬≠nect¬≠ing witch¬≠es and witch¬≠craft with fem¬≠i¬≠nist beliefs and the¬≠o¬≠ries, like many before me did. Pow¬≠er¬≠ful witch¬≠es ‚ÄĒ which are often com¬≠pared to inde¬≠pen¬≠dent and (sex¬≠u¬≠al¬≠ly) empow¬≠ered women who could pose a poten¬≠tial threat to men, or more specif¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly: chal¬≠lenge patri¬≠ar¬≠chal pow¬≠er struc¬≠tures ‚ÄĒ were and are some¬≠thing invari¬≠ably fas¬≠ci¬≠nat¬≠ing to me. Woman, Church, and State from 1893 by Matil¬≠da Joslyn Gage is one of the first known attempts at link¬≠ing witch hunts to misog¬≠y¬≠ny. (1) And even though my own real¬≠i¬≠ty dif¬≠fers from that of  women in ear¬≠ly mod¬≠ern times, look¬≠ing at how they were treat¬≠ed I feel an odd sense of connection.

Notably, the infa¬≠mous Salem Witch Tri¬≠als are often used to describe misog¬≠y¬≠ny dur¬≠ing ear¬≠ly mod¬≠ern times and are ref¬≠er¬≠enced in var¬≠i¬≠ous con¬≠texts to this day. Witch hunts and exe¬≠cu¬≠tions of alleged witch¬≠es also took place in Europe, most¬≠ly dur¬≠ing the 15th to 17th cen¬≠turies. One of the more well-known bases for such prac¬≠tices, which has been very influ¬≠en¬≠tial dur¬≠ing its time, is the Malleus malefi¬≠carum from 1486 (Latin for ‚ÄúThe Ham¬≠mer of the Witch¬≠es‚ÄĚ) by Hein¬≠rich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. (2) Their work dis¬≠cuss¬≠es and argues for the exis¬≠tence of witch¬≠es and sup¬≠pos¬≠ed¬≠ly legit¬≠imizes the hunt¬≠ing as well as exe¬≠cut¬≠ing of alleged witch¬≠es. Fur¬≠ther¬≠more, James Sharpe states: ‚ÄúThe Malleus was marked by a deeply misog¬≠y¬≠nis¬≠tic streak‚ÄĚ. (3) In the con¬≠text of mod¬≠ern times, it might be com¬≠pared to anti-fem¬≠i¬≠nist ideologies. 

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Geschlechtsspezifische Ungleichheit in postindustriellen Wohlfahrtsstaaten

Geschlechtsspezifische Ungleichheit in postindustriellen Wohlfahrtsstaaten

In mod­er­nen Wohlfahrtsstaat­en gibt es noch immer erhe­bliche vergeschlechtlichte Unterschiede.
Schlag zur Hexenstunde

Schlag zur Hexenstunde

Die Geschichte der Hexe ist auch die Geschichte der Angst vor dem Fall des Patri¬≠ar¬≠chats. Mer¬≠cy Fer¬≠rars berichtet √ľber Ver¬≠fol¬≠gung, Ver¬≠bren¬≠nun¬≠gen und mit¬≠te¬≠lal¬≠ter¬≠liche Dildos.

Con¬≠nect¬≠ing witch¬≠craft to fem¬≠i¬≠nism also inher¬≠ent¬≠ly means queer¬≠ing the archive. David Halperin argues that every¬≠thing con¬≠tra¬≠dict¬≠ing the norm is queer. (4) I would agree, and add that women being accused of witch¬≠craft in a soci¬≠ety that fears mag¬≠ic and iden¬≠ti¬≠fies witch¬≠es as dan¬≠ger¬≠ous out¬≠casts falls under said cat¬≠e¬≠go¬≠ry as well. In her paper, Queer¬≠ing the Spin¬≠ster. Sin¬≠gle Mid¬≠dle-Class Women in Nor¬≠way dur¬≠ing 1880‚Äď1920, Tone Helle¬≠sund notes: ‚Äú[t]he queer¬≠ing of the spin¬≠ster is more than any¬≠thing linked to her ambi¬≠gu¬≠i¬≠ty. [‚Ķ] Her con¬≠tem¬≠po¬≠raries did not man¬≠age to cat¬≠e¬≠go¬≠rize her, as she lived her life in the gaps between var¬≠i¬≠ous def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tions, per¬≠cep¬≠tions and cat¬≠e¬≠gories.‚ÄĚ(5) Although Hellesund‚Äôs research focus¬≠es on a dif¬≠fer¬≠ent time and anoth¬≠er cul¬≠tur¬≠al con¬≠text, her argu¬≠ments on queer¬≠ing the spin¬≠ster can be trans¬≠lat¬≠ed into ear¬≠ly mod¬≠ern societies.

‚ÄúIn the¬≠o¬≠ry any woman might be accused of witch¬≠craft, but in prac¬≠tice a dis¬≠pro¬≠por¬≠tion¬≠ate num¬≠ber of accused witch¬≠es tend¬≠ed to be old, social¬≠ly iso¬≠lat¬≠ed, poor and to have an estab¬≠lished rep¬≠u¬≠ta¬≠tion in their com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties for being trou¬≠ble¬≠some.‚ÄĚ (6)

The old spin¬≠ster stereo¬≠type also links to today‚Äôs queer cul¬≠ture. Old, unmar¬≠ried women liv¬≠ing alone or with oth¬≠er unmar¬≠ried women might be queer cod¬≠ed through my 21st cen¬≠tu¬≠ry queer lens. But, as Halperin and Helle¬≠sund put it: being queer includes every¬≠thing that is exclud¬≠ed from the norm. His¬≠to¬≠ri¬≠ans are retelling what has hap¬≠pened from a spe¬≠cif¬≠ic view¬≠point. Thus his¬≠to¬≠ry will always be inter¬≠pret¬≠ed sub¬≠jec¬≠tive¬≠ly. To chal¬≠lenge main¬≠stream het¬≠ero¬≠nor¬≠ma¬≠tive telling of his¬≠to¬≠ries, queer¬≠ing what we know about witch¬≠es might offer new per¬≠spec¬≠tives and vis¬≠i¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty. As Ann Cvetkovich argues ‚Äú[t]he impor¬≠tance of fan¬≠ta¬≠sy as a way of cre¬≠at¬≠ing his¬≠to¬≠ry from absences, so evi¬≠dent in queer doc¬≠u¬≠men¬≠tary and oth¬≠er cul¬≠tur¬≠al gen¬≠res, demands cre¬≠ative and alter¬≠na¬≠tive archives.‚ÄĚ (7) Espe¬≠cial¬≠ly queer rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tion lacks in the way his¬≠to¬≠ry is told, which is why the need to cre¬≠ate one‚Äôs own is indisputable. 

In con­trast to the Col­lec­tive Imag­i­na­tive Queer Archive of the Witch, the UK Nation­al Archives offer a more con­ven­tion­al and data­based approach to the witch. One can find sev­er­al doc­u­ments con­cern­ing witch tri­als in ear­ly mod­ern Eng­land, from accu­sa­tions to witch­es’ con­fes­sions. (8)

Pex­els

Room for imag¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tion and a community‚Äôs sub¬≠jec¬≠tive feel¬≠ings is what dis¬≠tin¬≠guish¬≠es the Col¬≠lec¬≠tive Archive of the Witch from a tra¬≠di¬≠tion¬≠al archive like the Nation¬≠al Archives in the UK.

Pop cul¬≠ture has trans¬≠formed, trans¬≠lat¬≠ed and reimag¬≠ined the Witch. Imag¬≠in¬≠ing the Witch cre¬≠ates an ever grow¬≠ing col¬≠lec¬≠tive archive. This archive can hard¬≠ly be con¬≠trolled and is unlike¬≠ly to ever be fin¬≠ished. Exam¬≠ples of it include books, movies or songs. There is real¬≠ly no lim¬≠it, for it  exists and grows main¬≠ly in our imag¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tion. Fear Street: 1666, the third part of a Net¬≠flix tril¬≠o¬≠gy series, plays with the Queered Archive of the Witch. The two queer pro¬≠tag¬≠o¬≠nists Sarah and Han¬≠nah are in love. ‚ÄúTheir love isn‚Äôt only for¬≠bid¬≠den but direct¬≠ly asso¬≠ci¬≠at¬≠ed with witch¬≠craft.‚ÄĚ(9) The show thus com¬≠bines the his¬≠to¬≠ry of witch hunts with queer¬≠ness of the alleged witch¬≠es. Sarah and Han¬≠nah con¬≠tra¬≠dict the norm of an ear¬≠ly mod¬≠ern soci¬≠ety and there¬≠fore are seen as trou¬≠ble¬≠some. Such instances of rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tion in a show or any kind of media can give the queer audi¬≠ence a sense of own¬≠er¬≠ship over their his¬≠to¬≠ries. Queer¬≠ing the Witch also opens up the def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tion of who is con¬≠sid¬≠ered a witch. His¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly speak¬≠ing, the major¬≠i¬≠ty of accused and con¬≠vict¬≠ed witch¬≠es are iden¬≠ti¬≠fied as women; but why not expand the def¬≠i¬≠n¬≠i¬≠tion to include oth¬≠er com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties that face dis¬≠crim¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tion because they con¬≠tra¬≠dict the so-called norm? 

Kris¬≠ten Sol¬≠l√©e, author of Witch¬≠es, Sluts, Fem¬≠i¬≠nists, argues that the cur¬≠rent, ris¬≠ing inter¬≠est in witch¬≠es goes hand in hand with women‚Äôs rights move¬≠ments like #MeToo.(10) Witch¬≠es seem to have a cul¬≠tur¬≠al impact that reach¬≠es from TV shows to demon¬≠stra¬≠tions for equal rights. The con¬≠no¬≠ta¬≠tions of the Witch also shift¬≠ed, at least in west¬≠ern coun¬≠tries. Being a witch once meant being hunt¬≠ed and pos¬≠si¬≠bly exe¬≠cut¬≠ed, but now a lot of women are will¬≠ing¬≠ly using the term to describe them¬≠selves. Reclaim¬≠ing the word ‚ÄúWitch‚ÄĚ and adding new mean¬≠ing to it also belongs in the Col¬≠lec¬≠tive Imag¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tive Queer Archive of the Witch. Nev¬≠er¬≠the¬≠less, it must be not¬≠ed that my asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tions and expe¬≠ri¬≠ences with witch¬≠es and witch¬≠craft def¬≠i¬≠nite¬≠ly come from a priv¬≠i¬≠leged per¬≠spec¬≠tive. They are filled with pop cul¬≠tur¬≠al ref¬≠er¬≠ences, roman¬≠ti¬≠cized prac¬≠tices and a more or less accu¬≠rate trans¬≠la¬≠tion into fem¬≠i¬≠nist beliefs. I am using witch¬≠craft and the term witch to feel empow¬≠ered, while actu¬≠al witch hunts are still tak¬≠ing place and putting women in very real dan¬≠ger. (11)

Think¬≠ing of empow¬≠er¬≠ment inter¬≠sec¬≠tion¬≠al¬≠ly is inter¬≠twined with the ongo¬≠ing process of fem¬≠i¬≠nist move¬≠ments. A queered archive should also hold space for active¬≠ly anti-racist archiv¬≠ing. Author Maryse Cond√© chal¬≠lenges the vic¬≠tim¬≠ized Black Witch in her work as she rewrites the sto¬≠ry of Titu¬≠ba, one of the first con¬≠vict¬≠ed witch¬≠es of Salem. ‚ÄúFor Cond√©, His¬≠to¬≠ry is a nar¬≠ra¬≠tive dis¬≠course that can be suf¬≠fered, or it can be tak¬≠en on and invert¬≠ed in a way that rejects the val¬≠ues of the col¬≠o¬≠niz¬≠ers. [‚Ķ] she wants Titu¬≠ba to sub¬≠vert his¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal per¬≠spec¬≠tives and cul¬≠tur¬≠al codes rad¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly in order to re-invent her¬≠self in her own words.‚ÄĚ(12)

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Circe: Tochter der Sonne und feministische Ikone

Circe: Tochter der Sonne und feministische Ikone

‚ÄúEr war ein weit¬≠eres Mess¬≠er, ich kon¬≠nte es f√ľhlen. Ich k√ľm¬≠merte mich nicht. Ich dachte: gib mir die Klinge. Manche Dinge sind es wert, dass man f√ľr sie Blut vergie√üt.‚ÄĚ

The Col¬≠lec¬≠tive Imag¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tive Queer Archive of the Witch cre¬≠ates space and vis¬≠i¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty for minori¬≠ties in a far more acces¬≠si¬≠ble way than aca¬≠d¬≠e¬≠m¬≠ic the¬≠o¬≠ries com¬≠mon¬≠ly do. Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ties are still a place of priv¬≠i¬≠lege. Hav¬≠ing access to it means to have at least one of the cap¬≠i¬≠tals defined by Bour¬≠dieu, prefer¬≠ably the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic one, aka mon¬≠ey. Learn¬≠ing through pop cul¬≠ture, e.g. films, books or fan¬≠fic¬≠tion, may not ful¬≠fill the high¬≠est stan¬≠dards of schol¬≠ar¬≠ly teach¬≠ing, but it reach¬≠es and teach¬≠es peo¬≠ple in ways uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ties can‚Äôt. As the late author and social activist belle hooks put it: ‚ÄúWhether we‚Äôre talk¬≠ing about race or gen¬≠der or class, pop¬≠u¬≠lar cul¬≠ture is where the ped¬≠a¬≠gogy is, it‚Äôs where the learn¬≠ing is.‚ÄĚ

The Witch in the con¬≠text of the Col¬≠lec¬≠tive Imag¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tive Queer Archive offers a space for learn¬≠ing out¬≠side of the con¬≠ven¬≠tion¬≠al class¬≠room that should not be underestimated. 

And to answer Lisa‚Äôs ques¬≠tion: they call them witch¬≠es because they are still scared of us. 


1 Cf. Gage, Matil­da Joslyn. Woman, Church and State. Litres, 2018.
2 Cf. Sharpe, James: Instru¬≠ments of Dark¬≠ness: Witch¬≠craft in Eng¬≠land 1550 ‚ÄĒ 1750. Ch.7: Women and Witch¬≠craft. 1. publ, Hamish Hamil¬≠ton, 1996. p. 170.
3 ibid.
4 Cf. David M. Halperin: Saint Fou­cault: Toward a Gay Hagiog­ra­phy. Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, Oxford 1995, p. 62.
5 Helle¬≠sund, Tone: Queer¬≠ing the Spin¬≠sters: Sin¬≠gle Mid¬≠dle-Class Women in Nor¬≠way, 1880‚Äď1920. In: Jour¬≠nal of homo¬≠sex¬≠u¬≠al¬≠i¬≠ty 54.1‚Äď2. 2008. p. 44.
6 Sharpe, James: Instru¬≠ments of Dark¬≠ness: Witch¬≠craft in Eng¬≠land 1550 ‚ÄĒ 1750. 1. publ, Hamish Hamil¬≠ton, (1996). p.172.
7 Cvetkovich, Ann: In the archive of les­bian feel­ing, An Archive of Feel­ings: Trau­ma, Sex­u­al­i­ty, and Les­bian Pub­lic Cul­tures. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press: Durham, 2003. p. 271.
8 Cf. The Nation¬≠al Archives ‚ÄĒ Home¬≠page. The Nation¬≠al Archives, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/ resources/ear¬≠ly-mod¬≠ern-witch-tri¬≠al¬≠s/. Last access 12. Dezem¬≠ber 2021.
9 Upad¬≠hyaya, Kay¬≠la Kumari: Fear Street: 1666‚Äė Brings The Tril¬≠o¬≠gy to a Very Gay Close. Autostrad¬≠dle, 19. Juli 2021, https://www.autostraddle.com/fear-street-1666-gay/.
10 Cf. Sol­lée, Kris­ten: Witch­es, Sluts, Fem­i­nists.
11 Cf. Spiek­er, Markus: Grausame Real­ität: Hex­en­ver­fol­gung in Indi­en.
12 Moss, Jane: Post¬≠mod¬≠ern¬≠iz¬≠ing the Salem Witch¬≠craze: Maryse Conde‚Äôs I, Titu¬≠ba, Black Witch of Salem. In: Col¬≠by Quar¬≠ter¬≠ly 35.1 (1999): 3. p. 11.

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