It can sometimes feel difficult working an office job, especially for a whimsically-spirited person, like me, who wishes they could get paid to typewrite pun poems and glitter-glue their eyelids shut as a method of achieving the most glamorous nap. Dolly Parton already hollered all that needs to be hollered about this, but I am grateful that my 9-to-5 generally ain’t so bad. The other day I reminded myself of this as I sat on the floor of my office performing a witch ritual – or “witchual” – with a couple of coworkers.
We mixed a small pot of tea tree honey, Peace, Love and Peppermint tea leaves, and some dry herbs that I had been hanging from an old light fixture above my desk. This sacrificial offering was placed snugly between the gangly limbs of a once-cursed clown puppet we’d somehow found amidst the day-to-day drama of office life. I lit some dried sage as if it were incense. It smelled like weed and Occupational Health and Safety infringements. Fight the Power.
Our witchual involved some simple, makeshift spells for kindness in the workplace, particularly on behalf of a coworker who was meeting with a venomous manager later that afternoon. We expelled these hopes into the universe through clumsy attempts at incantation, in a gesture more for ourselves than for the sake of cosmic causality. It helped and she reported later that it had, in fact, worked. I appreciated that my world would accommodate for the tomfoolery I held so dear. We found out later that a coven of women had attempted a binding spell on Donald Trump that day and felt quietly connected.
Amidst our wishy-washy attempts at witchcraft, I started thinking about the witch trials in 16th and 17th century Europe, as well as Salem. There are times within history that now tend to inspire a collective eye roll at how ludicrous and uncivilised our predecessors seemed to be. Really, though? Because it seems like we still are. I see the witch trials as an intersection of the population’s God-fearing sensibilities and a historical distrust of women (although yes, a minority of the accused were men), which is not unlike society’s modern fears of paganism and female autonomy. We may see this specific form of persecution as far-fetched and antiquated, but much of its rationale still exists within the constraints currently imposed upon women.
The reasons why a woman would be denounced with accusations of sorcery were vague at best and contradictory at worst. Some of these included: breaking any rule in the bible, having a blemish on your skin, being outspoken, being poor or being rich. As you can imagine, this made it pretty easy to be a potential witch. As ridiculous as this all sounds, I often feel that our own era is equally frustrating, albeit veiled by the normalization of modern sexism. Biblical teachings may not be proselytized as overtly in the public arena as they once were, but we are still far from achieving truly secular governments. The fact that abortion rights are still not a simple reality is largely due to religious opposition. Outspoken women are still stifled and women are vilified for exercising agency over their own sexual choices. Instead, they’re expected to conform to male projections of their sexuality. The contradiction of desirable versus undesirable femaleness lives on, although it has shapeshifted its way through changing zeitgeists.
This evolution of Western misogyny, on one hand, feels defeating. But it also gives me something valid to say when it is argued that women are now treated equally and feminism is obsolete. Misogyny is engendered by prevailing cultural norms and adapts to societal advancement. In one century there might be witch trials and another there might be revenge porn. ‘Isms’ can be channeled into different forms as effortlessly as people insist on carrying their bigotry through generations rather than cutting loose this historical dead weight.
It is no doubt a snug little nook in which my professional life sees minds that spark with magical ideas and we can freely set them alight, up and into the vents for all to inhale. Though, shit still ain’t easy for a witch, or a bitch, even if they are different than they once were. All the coolest people of this century would’ve been burned for suspected witchcraft. While I am relieved that this fate is unlikely, that’s not to say we won’t face being burned in one way or another.