Oh ho ho, it’s that time again witches! Time to give a good hard look at ourselves, and at a little controversy.
A lil’ background on today’s Witch n’ Bitch: Basic Witches by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman is the Book Club of Shadows pick for the month in my private group for Patreon patrons and this book has sparked just a little nugget of controversy in the witch-o-sphere lately. I really mean it, it’s small. It’s entry level witch controversy. NBD
This adorable, modern grimoire tags itself as a guide on “how to summon success, banish drama, and raise hell with your coven”, and features inclusive artwork and references to important moments in politics from the last year – like the Brock Turner Hex- alongside spells, meditations, guides on demons and familiars, witchy history and divination. So where’s the issue?
The book begins with introductions to our authors, and their own views on witchcraft… and this is where some folks are taking issue.
from Page 15 of Basic Witches:
“In this book, witchcraft doesn’t mean occult or religious practices that historical witches may (or may not) have engaged in, nor does it mean the religious practice that is a sacred tradition for many people worldwide.
For our purposes, witchcraft means the kind of mundane pursuits that might once have resulted in accusation: enjoying sex, controlling reproductive health, hanging out with other women, not caring what men think, disagreeing, and just knowing stuff.”
WILD. I mean, I’ve read books on witchcraft that don’t seem to be about ACTUALLY being a practicing witch but was more about adopting a witchy attitude or life ethos – but they never actually SAID IT. Wild.
In a section about the authors themselves, it even says Jess Zimmerman is a “lifelong atheist and doesn’t believe in mysticism or the occult”.
Throughout the book I had to continuously ask myself… are you a witch if you don’t believe in magic, the occult, or “mysticism”? Is this just taking the modern label of secular or athiest witch to the next level? Or is this… you know… watering down the punch so to speak?
I don’t want to tell you what I think, I want your opinions! I will say, however, that I do have a positive review of Basic Witches coming your way. I have great respect for Jaya Saxena ever since she interviewd me for the Daily Dot during the Brock Turner Hex , and I loved how modern and inclusive the book is. I won’t tolerate any rudeness being lobbed towards the authors on my behalf or because of this question. I just want you to think about it, and then I want you to talk about it in a productive way.
SO HERE’S THE QUESTION:
Do you have to practice magic(k) to be able to call yourself a witch?
And just to stir the cauldron a bit:
What do you consider “practicing magic(k)”?
Do you have to cast spells in order to be practicing magick?
Do you consider yourself a witch based on this?
Would you take witch advice from someone you don’t consider a witch, but who uses the label for themselves?
What do you think non-magic-practicing people get out of taking on the mantle of WITCH?
Got something to say? Share your thoughts by using the tag #WitchNBitch on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, or instagram, or shoot me an email before Friday, March 2nd. You can also comment right here on the post! I’ll be expanding on this issue, and sharing perspectives and thoughts that you share with me, in an upcoming episode of the podcast, where I will also share my full review. (If you don’t want me to share your thoughts, that’s ok too and you can just let me know. )
One thing I want you to include no matter what you have to say is whether or not you’ve actually read the book. it’s ok if you haven’t, but I’ve seen multiple reviews of this book that explicitly state that they haven’t even read it!
Then tune in to The Fat Feminist Witch podcast on Wednesday March 7th, after 1pm, for my episode on Basic Witches; Witches, Sluts Feminists; W.I.TC.H.; The Satanic Temple and the power non-practicing-people and even “aesthetic witches” are getting out of calling themselves WITCH.
Want to see how these #WitchNBitch topics work? Check out the last one:
The book that prompted it: Book Review of Shadows: Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Elaine Teague
#WITCHNBITCH Topic: “Plantation Magic”
#WITCHNBITCH Responses: Plantation Magic
Episode 21 – #WitchNBitch: How White Witches Talk About Black Magick
5 thoughts on “#WitchnBitch Topic: Witch, Ya Basic!”
I believe this is a good place for debate but I’m not sure how to answer the question. I just finished reading a feminist book on the history of witches oriented around the history of medecine and the one focus there was on witches is that it was invented men who had an agenda on the of women in society and didn’t like female healers, self-thought women and most probably free spirit. The thing is that we can’t ignore the fact that the word witch and what it means was first invented by christian to scare the population and kill every woman who didn’t want to follow the church orders, basically. So in that sense, I understand the view of the people who wrote that book, reclaiming the word and something close to it’s original meaning to say “I have control over my body and my mind, I’m free to be who I want to be”. I think that’s great, especially from a feminist point of vue.
On the other hand, witchcraft means something else for a lot of people today and I feel it wouldn’t make sense to say you can be a witch without practicing. For example, you can’t buy crystals for their meaning but do nothing with it at all, nothing spiritual in any form, and say you are a witch because you have crystals. It just doesn’t work with the spiritual definition of witchcraft. It’s like saying you are a yogi because that one time you did a Tree position and posted it on instagram.
I love this comment and wish I had a gif of Kermit sipping his tea at the ready
The thing that first jumped out at me was actually the use of the word coven. Like, “witch” has been really used and abused as a concept, but when you pair witch with coven? It really starts to lean in a magical direction for me. What does a coven DO if not practice witchcraft? (Granted, I’ve not read the book, so I assume it’s answered therein).
But that’s the real sticking point for me. Reclaiming witch in a non-magical way is one thing, but taking witch and coven and whatever else, without taking the rest of it seems weird to me. I would love to know what they feel they get out of it.
(Also, this train of thought REALLY begs the question “what is witchcraft”, if doing it is how I define a witch. My knee jerk is “any conscious manipulation of reality, through whatever means is comfortable”, but that would totally include protesters and I’m not saying they automatically are. Ugh. So messy.)
As someone who attends a very liberal university, I have noticed the word “witch” become extremely popular among the many women I know. Often it is a term not used to denote religious/spiritual beliefs, but rather an identity of “fuck-the-patriarchy-I-am-a-strong-independent-woman.” (Which is an awesome identity to have!) This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, as I see my own spirituality and practice become a commercial trend at stores like Urban Outfitters and Free People. I’ll admit…I’m torn. On one hand, there’s a part of me that believes claiming you’re a witch for simply owning a crystal is like claiming to be a Christian because you own a cross necklace. Adopting the term “witch” due to its current trendiness likewise seems to be adopting an identity while ignoring the history of intolerance towards practitioners. But that being said, I have to remind myself that the thousands burned on accusations of “witchcraft” in early modern Europe rarely identified as witches themselves.
With this in mind, I have to ask–what “counts” as witchcraft, and isn’t imposing strict rules inherently contradictory to the nature of the craft itself? People choose this practice for many reasons, but one reason I hear over and over again is the desire to break free from the structure of organized religion. If we start creating strict rules for what type of witchcraft “counts,” we run the risk of falling into that same pattern. In addition, to disregard a witch for being an atheist becomes a slippery slope. Not all witches are pagan. There is a long tradition of witchcraft that exists in Christian countries such as Romania, and practices such as Voodoo and Santeria often involve the blending of pre-colonial African faiths and Catholicism. (That also brings in the issue of race and prejudice against the practices of marginalized groups, which you delved into beautifully in the last #WitchnBitch.)
Anyway, looking forward to the podcast and excited to hear your thoughts!
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