Stop calling me a “Witch”

Disgruntled with the state of inequality in our society and finding that protesting released only parts of my frustration, I, along with two other women, reactivated the 1960s feminist activist group WITCH (Women’s International Conspiracy Theory from Hell) in November of 2015. Based on the concept that witches were the first guerrilla warriors and resistance fighters, and that in its inception, witchcraft was an act of social protest, we use theater, performance, and the powers inherent inside ourselves to demand justice and equality for all.

Though I have no doubt that the other founding members of WITCH share my frustrations, the opinions below are solely mine. The three of us have personal relationships with witchcraft, recognize the historical power of the figure of the witch, and value the overlap between ritual and performance. As with the 1960s iteration of WITCH, our rituals and actions focus on the social issues that feel most pressing to us and directly affect those around us.

We held our first action on November 1, 2015 in downtown Chicago. In front of the Thompson Center, which serves as both a transportation hub and a government building, we created a protected area of salt and sulfur, and led two chants, created specifically for the event.

Our second action took place on February 6, 2016 and occurred in conjunction with the performance festival Second Floor Rear. Unlike the first action, which introduced the group to the city by sending out protective energy to anyone fighting against injustice, our second action addressed the very real need for affordable housing in Chicago. Immediately after the event was posted, the personal attacks started. Though I can’t bring myself to go back and look through the hundreds of hateful comments to find a few of the most absurd, they are easily found on Facebook, The Chicago Reader, DNA Info, The Chicagoist, and WGN TV. In addition to comments where our personal beliefs and life decisions were mocked, most news sources were completely baffled by the idea that we could consider ourselves artists and witches, and simultaneously be committed to social justice in equal parts. Even feminist sources like Jezebel chose to make light of our action and compare the group to a movie where teenage witches cast love spells and make mean cheerleaders go bald, rather than discuss the complex issues of powerful women and the figure of the witch. (The only new source to take a serious look at our project and to present it in a non-mocking way was the Wild Hunt, a pagan blog.)

I live in a neighborhood that began gentrifying fifteen years ago — a neighborhood that is pushing out people of color — and I understand the part I have played. I am white, but I am also being pushed out. Though it came as no surprise, the assumptions that were made about us were ridiculous. We cannot help the fact that we were not born and raised in Chicago, but this is the neighborhood we call home. I am the only founding member of WITCH that is not a single mother who immigrated to America, but I am a person who has two part time jobs, a first generation college student with a ton of debt, who can barely pay my part of my rapidly rising rent each month.

During the action people were invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives. We then performed a protective charm that acknowledged the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Grassroots Illinois Action.

And to be completely honest, I expected a backlash with regards to our quest for affordable housing, especially when the media portrayed us as white girls (which for the record, though I am white, not all of us are) attempting to fight gentrification with witchcraft.

What I did not expect, however, was for Wiccans to be so pissed. Never in my life have I been accused to not being witchy enough. It’s actually quite the opposite. Though none showed up for the event, a group of Wiccans literally threatened to protest our ritual because they did not believe us when we said we have a genuine connection with witchcraft. (There is no right way to be a witch. If you say you are a witch, and feel you are a witch, you are a witch. End of story).

As an artist, activist, and educator I often find it necessary to take time for quiet contemplation, to mentally and physically recharge in the face of adversity. Though previous to my participation with WITCH I had not labeled myself as such, I most certainly have always identified as a witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me. Because of the complex nature of aligning protest with ritual, I have been accused of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating witchcraft, which is completely unmerited. Though during some points of my youth, I looked to Wicca as a spiritual outlet, I found the rules surrounding it restrictive, and too similar to my Catholic upbringing. Despite this, I maintain a sincere connection to witchcraft and the forces of nature, both seen and unseen. When troubled, I attempt to quiet my mind and look to divination stones for answers locked deeply inside my subconscious. I am extremely susceptible to negative energies, and when possible surround myself with compassionate people, especially in the face of injustices or following protests. I participate in rituals, visit sacred ancient sites, and wholeheartedly believe that any harmful forces I put into the universe will be returned to me.

That sounds pretty fucking witchy to me.

Though we use the word hex, we absolutely do not practice black magic. We are cognizant of the energy we release into the universe, and use the term “hex” as a way of signaling our disapproval of someone who is benefitting from the oppression of others. A fact that is immediately obvious if you look at any of our “hexes.”

So many people, both men and women, who learn about my interest in crystals and my moon rituals and my participation in WITCH, assume that I’m being ironic. They believe that no educated and thoughtful human could believe in such things. The internalized sexism of “young women calling themselves witches” speaks volumes. If you can believe in a virgin birth you can believe that certain rocks have different vibrations and that there is power in the energies of the earth. Catholicism is full of witchy shit and I don’t go around putting quotes around it. I wasn’t raised “Catholic.”

I will not let the patriarchy define me. You can laugh at me and belittle my ideas as much as you want. You can threaten me, but I will not be forced to choose what aspects of my life — art, social justice, spirituality — are most important. They are equally important. If anything, the gendered and bullshit way the media portrayed our action, and the way individuals continue to respond to our mission, in regards to both witchcraft and the idea of women participating in nontraditional forms of protest, is why events like this are vital. I will continue to participate in performances and actions that make men and people in power confused and frustrated for as long as I can, and everyone should join me. Because, if I’ve learned anything from the the anger and mocking I’ve endured over this, it’s true that nothing scares the patriarchy more than a witch.