“Whether the witch appears a horrible, Satanic hag or a knowledgeable, capable woman has everything to do with who calls her into being. She always reflects the beliefs of her beholder.”
Witch, bitch, slut, whore, lesbian, pussy, cunt, dyke, feminist. Words have power and intention, and the slew of negative words for women with power and agency seems never-ending. As women work to reclaim and empower these words with positive meanings, we’ve seen the pop culture rise of feminism and, specifically, witch feminism. Kristen J. Sollee, a professor and the founder of Slutist, has written a book about the intersectional history of feminism and witchcraft, aptly titled Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive.
This accessible guide is engrossing and succinct. Each chapter is only a few pages, but don’t let the slimness of the volume fool you. There are no wasted words, for words have intentions, as we well know, and Sollee provides informative background information in each chapter, slowly building on the history of witches, sex positivity, and feminism. There’s also interviews with many self-identified witches including Pam Grossman and Jinx Blackmore, and a brief Q and A section in the back where other self-identified witches answer queries such as “What is a witch?” Spoiler alert: most answers are some variation on “a powerful woman.”
It’s wonderful to behold a volume that traces the history of witchy feminism that’s mostly intersectional and queer-friendly. Each chapter builds lightly on the previous chapter, allowing the reader to gradually combine this knowledge for whatever purpose they need.
There’s a questioning of the commodification of the witch and of feminism, and the book provides no easy answers to any of the queries it raises. And that’s okay. The point of Witches, Sluts, Feminists is not to give you the answers; it’s to provide you with information and background so you can do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
Sollee addresses the differences between the European witch trials and the Salem witch trials, the main difference being sexuality. European witches fornicated with the Devil, rode broomsticks (dildos), and generally elated in their sexual prowess. In Salem, it was much less about sex, and more to do with power, primarily because the Puritans were more prudish. And it’s still the same in America today; we have such a horrible cultural relationship to sex and our bodies that seems to stem from when the first Europeans arrived in what we now call America.
Epigenetics is discussed as well in Witches, and it absolutely makes sense that we, as a collective country and as individuals, have inherited trauma and passed it down from generation to generation. The personal is political and even if you have the most progressive and understanding parents, you’ve most likely endured traumatic events that changed you and your view of the world, probably involving words like slut, cunt, whore, bitch, or witch. To quote page 57 of the book, “When ‘bitch’ won’t suffice to denigrate a woman, ‘witch’ adds the element of supernatural evil that has no male equivalent in common use.”
Personally, I grew up with a feminist, certified herbalist, midwife-for-the-Amish for a mother (Witches references midwives a few times, as they have also been an ancient symbol of witchcraft, along with any other type of female healer). She has told me for years that more babies are born around the full moon, buys a lunar calendar, does energy work, practices yoga, and believes in the powers of color and herbs. Halloween is her favorite holiday, and she transforms the house into a haunted inversion of itself, and always dresses up as a witch. Or, as she might prefer it, a crone. She makes herself ugly with prosthetics and face paint, includes the pointy hat and striped tights, and taunts neighborhood children as they come up to get candy from her. She relishes in the witch power, but absolutely, resolutely, will not identify as a witch at any other time.
I, and many other young women, have reclaimed the witch mantle. My roommates and I call ourselves a coven. We perform rituals, and I myself set daily intentions as I get ready for the day, among many other examples. We, and many like us, are taking back the power from these words that have been used to bind us and scare us for centuries.
Witches, Sluts, Feminists is a marvelous little grimoire for any woman, whether or not she identifies as a witch or a slut or a feminist. It’s not a perfect volume, and at times can be a little superficial, but it’s not supposed to have all the answers. It’s a primer, an educator, a feverishly read jumping-off point that will propel you to research deeper and explore the depths within yourself. For we are all witches, no matter what anyone says.
You can follow Kristen on Instagram and Twitter and keep up with all her projects on her website. Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive is available for purchase through Slutist or Amazon.