I want to be a witch! Correction--I want to affirm the witch in me. No, I'm not planning to don a pointed black hat and matching gown, paste on a wart-covered nose, and buy a new broom for Halloween. Nor am I going to see The Blair Witch Project. I don't need a reminder that the old "evil witch" stereotype lingers on. I simply want to acknowledge that had I been born in the wrong place during the period when thousands upon thousands of women were labeled witches and terrorized, tortured, and murdered in all manner of barbarous ways, I probably would have been among them--and so would you.
A woman was denounced as a witch if she didn't mind her mouth, her dress, her attitude. You were a witch if you weren't properly submissive. A witch if when tossed into deep water you floated or swam, instead of sinking and drowning. A witch if you had moles on your body, had a birthmark, a disability, were too comely, not comely enough, too tall, too short, too old, too different looking. You were a witch if you spurned the wrong man, if you took lovers. A witch if you lived an independent life, if you were a healer, a midwife, an herbalist, a sage. A witch if you weren't deemed pious enough, if you dared to express beliefs that didn't fit with the prevailing norm. A witch if you questioned male authority or simply didn't fit someone else's notion of what a woman should be. A witch if you dared exercise the right to make choices in your life.
Imagine the terror women lived with upon hearing the stories of the femicidal rage that was roaring through the land, witnessing the public executions, watching as women who dared defend their mothers, sisters, kin, friends were condemned to share their fates. And watching other women turn and point the accusatory finger at someone else to settle an old score, to keep the witch hunters from knocking at their own doors, or because they came to believe the lies. "No, I'm not a witch but . . ." How many women moderated their behavior, tamped down their spirits, lowered their eyes, their heads, their voices, pretended not to think "unseemly" thoughts, stifled their anger? 'Tis a wonder that there were any women left alive and that those who survived weren't all stark raving mad.
Witches were said to dance with the devil, kill babies, enjoy sex too much or too little, steal men's potency and their power. They were spoilers, troublemakers--unnatural. Sound familiar? No need for pointed hats or brooms or black cats. All you need to do is call yourself a feminist. Depending on where you live in 1999, you may be stalked and terrorized, brutalized and murdered for being a feminist--for daring to exercise choices, for refusing to lower your head, your eyes, your voice, for teaching girls to read, demanding your rights, affirming yourself as a human being. If you are an abortion provider in these United States of America, you become the witch. If you dare to run an underground school for girls in Afghanistan, you become the witch. If you challenge your harasser, you become the witch. If you denounce polygamy in the state of Utah or in some countries in Africa, you become the witch. If you dare say that incest and sexual abuse are not some random aberration but rather a deeply imbedded thread in the fabric of this society, you become a witch.
Would that we could cast spells.