....Does Anyone Want To Form a Coven?

by Adrianna Michell

As a child, my mother would claim to be a witch. I was constantly bewildered by her ability to win any card game, to know which child had snuck into the snack cupboard. As an adult, I am still fascinated by the witch (and I do believe that my mom may be one). Witches, Sluts, Feminists by Kristen J. Sollee marries feminist theory with the ephemeral representation of the woman in black. 

Sollee works through conceptions of witchery, the sexualized and the depraved, the innocent and the evil of contemporary and historical witchdom. Sollee explores the witch-as-hag woman, the most pervasive witch one may have seen. The green faced, wart covered, black clothed and tattered old woman is peppered through children’s programs, novels, and Halloween stores—proliferating stigma against women’s sexuality. 

The dichotomous woman as hag or woman as whore archetypes Sollee presents and deconstructs call back to the Salem witch trials, a case study that Sollee relatively debunks. She points out that no women were burned at the state during the American witch trials, a myth that sensationalizing may be to blame for. Rather, a handful of women were persecuted for their sexuality and emotional presentations; the community was turned in on itself, friend looking to friend for a scapegoat. This is the central idea of Sollee’s book: witches as we have come to know them are really patriarchal vestiges meant to control or demonize women. 

The book brings feminist theory into a vernacular that is understandable by a variety of audiences. Staying away from complex academic references, Sollee uses a narrative voice that feels more conversation than one would expect from a survey of ephemera. She queers the idea of a witch, she implicates modern slut-shamers, and she praises the self-assertive femme that ventures into the world, broomstick in hand.

What is most remarkable is how Sollee situates contemporary politics within a long history of witch hunting. Modern witches are necessarily referent to witches of the past. Witches hung with a noose in yesteryear are connected with political figures like Hillary Clinton, queer witch communities and publications, and friendship circles. Whether a group of femme folks gathering over crystals, or a political movement taken up under the moon, sex-positivity now is a continuation of past witchdom.

Witches, are figures of tension, ones that complicate narratives of what a woman is supposed to be, of what sexuality is supposed to be. Whether the witch-riding-broom depiction is really a witch-riding-dildo or not, the witch is a subversive figure. Sollee welcomes all to take up the broomstick and pointy hat, while understanding the power in witch collectivity; as she says, “the witch’s speech revealed the full destructive potential of the female voice.”

While Witches, Sluts, Feminists does not claim to be a complete survey of witchery, I must point out that it felt lacking in representations of women/witches of colour. More reference to queer and racialized witches would have given her narrative more complexity, but also more gravity. Overall, Sollee’s work should serve as an introduction, not an end point, and her ever-present voice allows the reader to engage in a way that denser theoretical discourse would not allow.

After reading, I am left with one question: how do I conjure my own conceptualization of sex positivity in my own life? Oh, and anybody want to form a coven?