W I T C H E S
(Week of 9/22/18)
I met my first real witch when I was 15, at a Wiccan Halloween celebration in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. She was nice, and also mildly terrifying. But she made a nice cider, and the evening was interesting -- a lot of dancing and thanks and talk of combining forces to create a better world. It also wasn’t one I had thought much about until I read the BuzzFeed article below about the explosion of Witch-ery in the current age.
I was skeptical of the headline, “How Witchcraft Became a Brand”, expecting to find an expose on an Insta-padding fad amongst Whole Foods shopping girls who like saying the word "coven." But the article dives a little deeper, offering some worth-a-peruse marketing insights into the current moment of "chaos," and how witchcraft offers individuals the promise of control.
But the thing that really got me, as we started compiling this week’s list, was an insight by Simon Armitage in the documentary he narrates about a witch trial in 17th-century Britain, linking that moment of witchery to the Scientific Revolution. As society transitioned from religion to science, the fundamental principles of truth and reality became unstable; the collective psychological insecurity that resulted, Armitage posits, was a perfect breeding ground for irrational, manic action.
The parallel to today struck me hard, and made the witch trend of today feel more profound at the same time it made those of the past feel less surreal. For all that I have thought about how the Digital Revolution has affected our individual psychology and interactions with others, I’d never linked the Western world’s present flammability with a collective anxiety about the nature of truth and reality itself. But it does seem an interesting framework through which to view current events, and understand how easy it is to get wrapped up in the exhilarating rush to find the real witch.
With that, we present this week’s list on Witches. If you’ve only got time for one item, we recommend the documentary in the first link – “The Pendle Witch Child” – which is both informative and easy to digest. Two bits on the Salem Witch Trials – the In Our Time podcast, and The New Yorker article – are a little more academic but sure to teach you a lot about an event you thought you knew. The BuzzFeed article has some good links to modern trends, and the digItal edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, the authoritative text on witch hunting from 1486 is fun to peruse (or the Wikipedia page). We threw in another documentary from National Geographic on witchcraft around the world if you want to compare expressions, and topped it all off with The Eagles' “Witchy Woman” because by god, what a tune.
Hope you enjoy,
Witches in 17th-Century Britain
Video: Timeline, “The Pendle Witch Child”
Witches in Salem
Podcast: In Our Time, “The Salem Witch Trials”
Article: The New Yorker, “The Witches of Salem” by Stacy Schiff
Article: BuzzFeed, “How Witchcraft Became a Brand” by Corin Faife
The Malleus Maleficarum
Digital Text: Malleus Maleficarum
Documentary: National Geographic, “Witchcraft Myths and Legends”
Song: The Eagles, “Witchy Woman”