Witches and Feminism

I just finished reading an excerpt for my Teen and Children’s Lit class at college.  The excerpt is from The Witch in History by Diane Purkiss.  I doubt this will be the first article/excerpt I blog about from this class.  This excerpt looks at the cultural representation of the witch, and what it meant to New England societies during the witch hunts in the first part, and in the second there is a conclusion about the overall portrayal of witches in culture.

For the first part, I would like to look at a question the excerpt made me think of.  It proposes two ways that witches are culturally signified during the sixteenth up until the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.  The first is that of disrupting the domestic sphere that is the provence of the woman in the society.  A witch would cause a cow to stop giving milk, cream not to churn into butter, or sicken a child or animal.  The second is that witches, in their actions are "leaky".  Women in general are more "leaky" than men.  Her definition is that there is a fear during this time period that women, due to their feeding of infants, are able to "absorb" in some way others, and that infants even are fighting between this need for food and fear of absorbtion, and that the witch, in causing inappropriate intimacy through her actions absorbs in some manner.  My question is how much of the second signifier we see in the anti-feminist literature, or is it more exclusively the first, or is it yet others not discussed in the excerpt I read.

For the second part, there is a quote that I think summons up the critical issues for feminists:

"For despite the subtleties of radical feminists, historians and modem witches, the dominant image of the witch is still of a shrieking hag on a broomstick, the Wicked Witch of the West."

How has that view, that of the "wicked witch" affected the culture?  Is it a significant part of Patriarchy, or is it a more minor part of the overall culture?

And, overall, is the discussion of the portrayal of witches in particular something there should be a feminist discussion, or is it best subsumed into the larger discussion of the portrayal of women in general?

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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