Magic items on a Wiccan altar.
(Photo courtesy of Content Pixie via https://unsplash.com/photos/pMKm9pybnTE)
For centuries, women have been targeted, victimized and suppressed under patriarchal influences in society and in organized religion. They were assigned strict gender roles to limit them to caretaking, household responsibilities and wifely duties. Imagery, myths and stereotypes that negatively frame witchcraft and femininity have mainly been used by religion to maintain a social order and discriminate against women. More specifically, the association of masculinity as strength and femininity as weakness stems from the myth of Adam and Eve, in which Eve is cast as Satan’s ally.
In the times of the Salem witch trials, women who practiced witchcraft were seen as evil people who worked closely with the devil. In her 2017 article in “A Feminist Perspective on the History of Women as Witches,” Maggie Rosen explains that while there was no gender disparity in community healers and magic practitioners at that time, it was mainly women who became victims of the witch hunts. Widows, postmenopausal women and elderly women—women who could no longer perform female gender roles to the expectation of their communities—became primary targets of patriarchal oppression. As Bianca Bosker points out in her 2020 article “Why Witchcraft is on the Rise,” these attempts to destroy and banish witchcraft and the occult were attempts to severely control and oppress women. However, despite opposing efforts by religion and the patriarchy, witchcraft has persisted and has recently helped usher in a new era of feminism.
Throughout history, rises in witchcraft coincide with rises in feminism and calls for social change. Wendy Griffin mentions in her 1995 article “The Embodied Goddess: Feminist Witchcraft and Female Divinity” that “female power isn’t the power over; it’s the power to do, the power to be.” Witchcraft, like feminism, values power in oneself rather than power over others in any type of relationship. In modern society, spirituality found in witchcraft can be personalized to individual or cultural traditions; there are no rules on how to be—or how not to be—a witch, which is why it remains appealing.
For myself, I have been able to explore and incorporate aspects of my Ukrainian heritage into cooking magic to honour my family and culture. Although mainstream witchcraft seems to revolve around astrology, tarot readings and crystal work, individual witchcraft practices range from cooking to gardening to meditation. Magic and witchcraft can be anything and everything. According to Bosker, there has been a stronger interest in modern witchcraft from women, non-binary people and people of colour, who through the practice, find authority, agency and empowerment. Despite historical efforts to frame witchcraft as evil in order to control and oppress women, witchcraft today, reclaimed by feminists and social activists, gives back the voices of people who are continually marginalized and oppressed in society.
- “The Embodied Goddess: Feminist Witchcraft and Female Divinity (Wendy Griffin, 1995)
- “A Feminist Perspective on the History of Women as Witches” (Maggie Rosen, 2017)
- “Why Witchcraft is on the Rise,” (Bianca Bosker, 2020)