A week ago today in 1692, women needlessly lost their lives during the Salem Witch trials due to gossip, slander and religious pretence.
The word Witch, internationally, has many different meanings. In the past it has traditionally been a threatening, scare-mongering name given to women who supposedly dabble in craft and magic, colluding with the devil to cause harm to others. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world such as India, you can still brand anyone a Witch if you have enough money. A heightened level of fear is fiendishly seeded into the community, usually by men, and you might find there’s no way out. To a million Americans, witches are people who practice Paganism – a nature-worshipping, polytheistic, real religion. And then to the rest of us, they are characters that come out to play on the pages of a storybook, in a film or just at Hallowe’en.
In the developing world, it is usually the most vulnerable women that get given the title — but if you are poor, elderly, ugly, widowed, divorced, stubborn or just reject unwanted male advances you could be labelled one too. Sound familiar?
In Gujarat, for example, a man labelled a recently widowed lady a Witch simply because she had inherited land that he wanted by paying off a Priest. Under his command, the public dragged her out of her home and beat her until she finally gave up.
Witch.Alone, it’s a complicated word that encompasses negativity, fear and insult. But what happens when Witches come together?
A Coven. A team. A powerful force of close-knit, like-minded associates that stand for something bigger. A #MeToo and a #TimesUp is what. Today, those same women branded ‘Witches’ in Gujarat are now fighting back with NGO support. A group of defiant women literally arrive en masse to demand the police act in their honour at the first hint of abuse.
As one of the earliest forms of female solidarity, my favourite thing about a Coven is how it celebrates everyone’s contribution: Crones (wise elders), Mothers (women who create people or ideas) and Maidens (the young) each bring something to the group. And when men curated the term ‘old hag’ or ‘dakan’ in Gujarati, they make a big mistake. An older woman is the wisest Witch there is.
This International Women’s Day, I urge you to summon your inner Witch. Build your coven and press for the change you want to see. Alone, it can be scary but together it could be a lot of fun.
I’m on a witch hunt. You in?