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The Witch Is Not Dead: The New Book Explores the Rebel History of Witchcraft and Modern Transformation

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Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

Look for “witches” and you’ll be able to see any of a number of representations: ugly, tempting young and sensual ladies; antiheroes and aspiring role models; evil creatures mixing deadly potions and righteous witches who help the girls find their way (in the manner of Glinda, the good witch in “The Wizard of Oz”).

A new Taschen’s title Esoteric Library it seeks to explore this richness of complex identities in a visually vibrant volume that is not so much a book but a fascinating homage to a figure and practice as old as time.
“Witchcraft” offers a deep immersion in the many facets of a centuries-old tradition in the Western world, weaving more than 400 classical and contemporary works of art with essays and interviews of what publisher Jessica Hundley describes as “a diverse group of writers, scholars and moderns “. practitioners, each embracing practice in their own individual way “.
In "witches saturday," artist Jacques de Gheyn II depicts Saturday with a pen and ink drawing of a rotating cauldron.

In “Witches’ Saturday,” artist Jacques de Gheyn II depicts Saturday with a pen and ink drawing of a spinning cauldron. Credit: Courtesy of TASCHEN

“I wanted to present witchcraft through symbolism and art, but also from personal and fresh perspectives,” Hundley explained in a telephone interview. “Much of the esoteric is often shrouded in secrecy and weighed down by stigma. With ‘Witchcraft,’ we worked collaboratively to introduce the subject in a way that seemed inclusive and less intimidating.”

With more than 500 pages, the compendium covers the history of witchcraft and the representation of witches in literature and fairy tales; the tools of the trade and the rituals that have been part of it for a long time. There are also sections dedicated to fashion, creative media and the witch in film and pop culture.

A story of feminine energy and rebellion

Although the word “witch” has its etymological roots (wicce) in Old English, the lineage of the “western witch” dates back to Greek mythology and the early popular traditions of Egypt, northern Europe and the Celts. .

Each culture represented the mystical figure differently, but some of its features were repeated in geographically widespread countries: a witch was a powerful goddess, often associated with home and love, but also with death and magic. Above all, she was a signifier of complex femininity.

William Holbrook Beard, "Lightning struck a flock of witches," United States, date unknown.  Beard depicts a fantastic vision of witches surrounded by the storm in flight: the coven sent by a lightning bolt up close.

William Holbrook Beard, “Lightning struck a herd of witches,” United States, date unknown. Beard depicts a fantastic vision of witches surrounded by the storm in flight: the coven sent to stagger by lightning up close. Credit: Gene Young / Smithsonian American Art Museum / Courtesy of TASCHEN

“The iconography of the witch, although it has changed over the centuries, has always revolved around the idea of ​​female power and has reflected society’s changing attitudes towards it,” said the book’s co-editor, Pam Grossman, in a telephone interview.

In the 11th century, as man-centered Christianity spread throughout Europe, perceptions of femininity changed.

The so-called witches (often any woman who deviated from the prescriptions of the monotheistic religion) began to be considered atypical within their communities, feared and isolated by their supposed connection to the devil.

By the fourteenth century, the collective imagination had rejected witches into outlawed heretics. Over the next three centuries, witch hunts and executions, including the Salem trials of 1692, would sweep both the Old and New Worlds.

In the work of Kiki Smith "Woman on the kneeling pyre," a female bronze figure on a pyre.  The statue commemorates the women who were burned by witchcraft.

In Kiki Smith’s play “Pyre Woman Kneeling,” a female bronze figure heads a pyre. The statue commemorates the women who were burned by witchcraft. Credit: Martin Argyroglo / Courtesy of TASCHEN

“The image of the witch that has crystallized in our minds – that of an evil and terrifying woman – was born of this exact period,” said Grossman, who is also a writer, curator and practice teacher. magic. “The advent of the printing press, in particular, really helped to popularize it. What it really was, of course, was even more scary: a threatening woman.”

In fact, what emerges from “Witchcraft” is that witches and their practice have long been a metaphor for women who want authority over their own lives (the coven, essentially a community run by women). , is also part of this metaphor). Browsing through the book, which includes works with names as diverse as Auguste Rodin, Paul Klee, and Kiki Smith, it’s hard not to notice how so many of them portrayed witches as fierce and powerful creatures even though they were shunned by society. .

Whether they are aged witches or hypersexual young beauties, they are the embodiment of a rebellious spirit that “wants to subvert the status quo,” Grossman said.

A resurgence of witches

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the persecution of witches ended (at least in the Western world) and witchcraft began to be recognized as the last vestige of pagan worship, the magical figure was once again rejected. This time, it became a fantastic theme and also a symbol of female rage, independence, freedom and feminism.

Behind this last “rebranding” was the suffrage movement, which used the archetype of the witch as the persecuted “other,” an example of patriarchal oppression.

Witchcraft regained popularity in the 1960s as second-wave feminism saw witches and their covens as expressions of female power and matriarchy (on the side of activism, there was even a group of women who, in 1968, founded an organization called WITCH).
The Boston-based group, WITCH Boston, meets on September 19, 2017 at Boston Common for a demonstration against the end of the DACA program.

The Boston group, WITCH Boston, meets on September 19, 2017 at Boston Common for an opposing demonstration at the end of the DACA program. Credit: Lauren Lancaster / Courtesy of TASCHEN

The practice returned during the 1990s, after the Anita Hill hearings and the rise of third-wave feminism; and then again in the wake of the 2016 Donald Trump election and the #MeToo movement.
Over the past four years, the practice has become widespread, stimulating articles, podcasts i Instagram accounts.

“I believe that for many women and, increasingly, queer and non-binary people, the witch has come to represent an alternative to institutional power, as well as a way to harness her spirituality in a way that is not mediated by someone. something else, “Grossman said.

“Witchcraft is a means by which you can feel that you have some agency in the world. And since much of it is about creating your own rituals, it allows people from different backgrounds to participate on their own terms.”

Antoni "Bones" Johnson, "Lilith,"England / Ibiza 2018. In his latest series, Anthony "Bones" Johnson painted scenes that honor the alchemical forces of nature and the power of women.

Anthony “Bones” Johnson, “Lilith”, England / Ibiza 2018. In his latest series, Anthony “Bones” Johnson painted scenes that honor the alchemical forces of nature and the power of women. Credit: Courtesy of TASCHEN

The witch narrative has also evolved on the screen, and “Witchcraft” devotes its last pages to it.

From the scary western witch in “The Wizard of Oz” to the beautiful Samantha from “Bewitched” and the tenacious Sabrina from “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (who couldn’t be further from the show original starring Melissa). Joan Hart), the witch has gone from bad to protagonist, and from someone you would be afraid of to someone you might aspire to be.

“Whether they instill fear, seduce, use violence, or act for the general good, the way the visual arts represent witches always reflects the cultural moment of which they are a part,” Hundley said. What has remained unchanged over the centuries, she noted, is that the very nature of the witch is to contain all these archetypes within her at all times.

“The witch is in a state of constant evolution,” he said. “It’s a shape changer.”

“Witchcraft” is now available in Europe and will be released next month in the US.

Add to the queue: Empower the witches

Witchcraft and activism are woven together in this Gothic fantasy novel by Alix E. Harrow, set in an alternative America where witches existed, but no longer exist. The year is 1893 and the Eastwood sisters, James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth and Beatrice Belladonna. – Join the New Salem suffragettes as you begin to awaken your own magic, transforming the women’s movement into the witches’ movement.

Frances F. Denny’s photographic project “Major Arcana: Witches in America” ​​is an ambitious visual document of the modern face of witchcraft. Denny spent three years meeting and photographing a diverse group of witches in the United States, capturing the different ways in which the “witch” is expressed.

I’LL SEE: “Homeland: Fort Salem” (2020)

The witches become superheroes in this action-packed series, currently in its second season. Three young witches recruited into the U.S. military, Raelle Collar, Abigail Bellweather, and Tally Craven, use their supernatural tactics and spells to defend the country against a terrorist organization known as Spree, a witch resistance group.

LISTEN: “Between the worlds” (2018-present)

Presenter Amanda Yates Garcia talks about tarot, psychology, mythology, pop culture, witchcraft, magic, art and history along with a number of special guests, in a podcast that aims to explore the multiple expressions of practice.

Set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the third season of the FX horror anthology series “American Horror Story” focuses on a coven of witches descended from Salem trial survivors as they struggle to survive the outside world . The show is about femininity and race, as well as questions about modern feminist theories and practices.

Top image: titled “Ritual”, this 2019 work by photographer Psyché Ophiuchus shows a ceremonial circle taking place at Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye, at dusk.

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