From Witch Hysteria to Sephora Kits: Reclaiming Words and Power

by Sara Tantlinger

Witchcraft possesses some deep and dark historical roots that make it a fascinating area of endless study. While men were also targeted during the trials, such as with Giles Corey who was pressed to death by large stones[1], the word “witch” itself is more often associated with women and carries quite a few connotations. So while we have gone from witch hysteria to the concept of being a witch as something more trendy, (and I mean hey, I enjoy listening to my Queen Stevie Nicks and am happy to blast “Sisters of the Moon” anytime of the year while twirling around in a black shawl, so I understand the appeal), but at the same time, the actual study of witchcraft has become deeply commercialized by superficial brands and consumers.

Earlier this year, perfume-brand Pinrose announced they were going to sell a “Starter Witch Kit” through Sephora stores with a retail price of $42. The kit was set to include

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“Starter Witch Kit” https://hellogiggles.com/news/sephora-starter-witch-kit-pulled/

sage, rose quartz crystal, and tarot cards, according to altpress.com[2]. The backlash from those citing witchcraft as a real religion and not a gimmick to make teens feel on trend was loud enough to get the kit pulled from being manufactured. I was kind of fascinated by this whole ordeal because it reminded me of how, over these many years, we have gone from witch hysteria, associating it with the devil, and of course murdering real women over false accusations, to trying to package it into something pretty and aim it at target audiences for entertainment purposes. I don’t identify as a witch religiously, but I can certainly identify with the rage that comes from being damned over something until it suddenly becomes fashionable.

One of the reasons why I am interested in the whole concept of witchcraft is because of the power that one word holds. When I hear the word, I think of a woman who is not afraid to use her identity and power, who is in touch with her individual spirituality, and who, at the end of the day, does not care if her power scares those who toss the word around like an insult. Okay, in that regard maybe I do identify with some aspects of being a witchy woman, but I know the word has different definitions, practices, and aspects that make it truly hard to logistically define. But then again, I think women are sick of being defined in static ways, which is one of the reasons why I roll my eyes when I hear the term “strong, female character” in the writing world. Well yeah, all women are strong. I don’t need to be told that. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an

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Willow Rosenberg: https://buffy.fandom.com/wiki/Willow_Rosenberg

incredibly strong witch, but she was also wicked smart, a loyal friend, and experienced some incredible growth in terms of her identity, sexuality, and overall powers. I imagine she’d easily flay open anyone who came to try and execute her for witchcraft. While her powers at one point came from some dark places, she never sold her soul to the devil, which is what many believed witches did during the times of the trials and witch hunts.

Witch hunters primarily focused on nonsensical confessions and often linked a woman accused of witchcraft as being someone who had sexual relations to the devil. Take the story of Märet Jonsdotter, for example, who was accused of having intercourse with the devil, riding a man as a horse into a legendary meadow, and attending witches’ Sabbaths there. In 17th century Sweden, she was the first to be tried during their witch hunt, also known as “The Great Noise.” [3] At first, she denied the accusations and was not able to be executed until the laws changed as witch hysteria continued to rise. The laws in Sweden changed in regard to confession, and Jonsdotter was accused of witchcraft, sentenced to death, decapitated, and then burned at the stake. Unfortunately, much of this happened after one of Jonsdotter’s suitors was attacked by another suitor, so I get the feeling her death was more due to the patriarchy as opposed to casting curses in the meadow. [4] This whole concept of women being synonymous with the devil throughout history and religion is something I’ve embraced as being delicious and hilarious because in my mind, it all comes down to people fearing women who use their power to embrace their ambitions and perhaps choose to live an unconventional life that does not appease societal norms.

Witch is power, not a commercialized trend or makeup kit, and women should be reclaiming the word and taking back how we define it, just as we have done with many other slurs and insults. We get called these words and many others, usually for scaring those who don’t want women to be in charge, and frankly, those people should be scared. If anything, I believe in the power of rhetoric and words, so taking back what others use as an insult and evolving it into a meaning of empowerment for women is true magic in my eyes.

 

  1. http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-curse-of-giles-corey/
  2. https://www.altpress.com/news/sephora-pulls-pinrose-starter-witch-kit/
  3. https://listverse.com/2012/11/10/top-10-notorious-witches/
  4. https://www.revolvy.com/page/Märet-Jonsdotter

 

 

 

The Write Awakening

by Sara Tantlinger

From a young age, writing followed Kate Chopin in many ways. She read often and kept

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Kate Chopin

journal entries and some private poetry, but her fiction didn’t really surface until after a series of tragedies impacted her future. Throughout Chopin’s life, she lost her father, husband, mother and other relatives all before she even turned 34. Left with six children, her husband’s debt, and a great struggle with depression, her obstetrician and a family friend both advised her to use writing as a way to heal and focus, and as a method to provide income. [1]

Writing as a form of escapism is a familiar concept to anyone who practices the craft. Before misfortune stole Chopin’s loved ones away, she was someone we sometimes think of (perhaps without meaning to) as being a person “immune” to depression. Her background was that of belonging to a wealthy, established family. She was a Southern beauty, well liked and considered a great conversationalist. But even then, Chopin was in search for a personal freedom that remained elusive. Like many of us who deal with inner struggles, Chopin hid her vulnerability from others, but she used writing to convey and perhaps to make sense of the complexities within her thoughts. As a teenager making her social debut she wrote in her journal, “I dance with people I despise [. . .] I am diametrically opposed to parties and balls; and yet when I broach the subject-they either laugh at me-imagining that I wish to perpetrate a joke; or look very serious, shake their heads and tell me not to encourage such silly notions.” [2]

Chopin’s determination not to sacrifice her personal freedom is a theme that comes up many times in her writing. The stability, or instability, of mental soundness is haunting. What Chopin dealt with was not easily escapable, but the vulnerability she exposes in

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Chopin with her 4 sons.

her writing, even at the sake of her reputation is something still currently admirable and needed. Even after marrying Oscar, Chopin upheld her freedom and developed a reputation for herself as not conforming entirely to societal expectations. Chopin is someone I come back to and read again and again because her struggle of not wanting to sacrifice her spirit is so relatable.

I remember being a voracious reader since elementary school. At that young age I was always reading Harry Potter or the Goosebumps or Fear Street books. However, I don’t remember actually writing much until after the unexpected loss of my father when I was in 7th grade. The concept of escapism was deeply embraced because well, middle school sucks for just about everyone, but dealing with depression at that tender age and missing someone you were close with so terribly makes for the grayest and thickest of fogs to wade through. But like Chopin, I wrote through the dark times. I wrote horrible, angsty poetry, sad song lyrics, ideas for grand novels I insisted to myself I’d write someday (newsflash to younger me—it’ll take you the 2.5 years you spend in graduate school to write that damned novel, but be proud of this because 1. The book doesn’t entirely suck 2. Your poetry gets so much better, and 3. You’ll be a published poet and that kind of rocks because your love affair with poetry will continue to breathe life into you when the gray clouds threaten to suffocate).

Another reason I often return to Chopin is because her struggle of obligation toward what was expected versus what she wanted to do for herself is a familiar battle for writers, too. Those questions of what do I change for the audience or what do I write for myself often linger and combat each other. As someone who writes horror and happens to be in possession of female body parts, comments such as “you’re a nice girl, why do you want to write this stuff for?” often arise…and that’s probably the nicest/cleanest version of that comment I’ve gotten. I love writing horror, especially with a feminist bent, because it allows me to explore my own discomforts, push boundaries, and write without apologies. I look to Chopin’s utter bravery for continuing to write after she Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 1.00.53 PMreceived such harsh reviews for The Awakening. Such negativity would have been enough to permanently discourage someone from trying to publish anything again, especially since that novel conveys such pure openness at the expense of risking reputation. But now the novel that was considered obscene and received scathing criticism is considered one of the most important works in literature, especially feminist literature.

Chopin wrote on. She persisted. Her search for freedom of the female spirit would not be silenced. Her fearless attitude, her ability to embrace the soft, perhaps more vulnerable sides of being human, of being a woman, with the tough, gritty, strong and often unseen sides will forever serve as inspiration for me and hopefully countless others. When I scrapped my original plan in undergrad and decided to take on creative writing, I was terrified to share my work with peers in such open settings, but I found I could take constructive criticism from others. I could handle rejections from publishers. After that, my fears faded into something completely manageable. I love feedback. I hunger for conversations on what can be improved and how to write better, and that’s why I love writing. This is the craft of constant challenges, of endless outlets and genres to try. The call to write is like a needy, hidden organ in your body — full of blood, waiting for you to decide how much you’ll squeeze out onto the page today.

Some things will hurt, whether they’re comments from others, a rejection you thought surely wouldn’t happen, learning someone you respected in the industry isn’t all that great…there’s a lot of things that happen in this field. But if we can learn anything from Chopin, I believe it is that the power to persevere lives inside all of us. Women are tough as hell. Like Chopin, we know, inherently, how to swallow the crap down and turn it into fire, to forge rage into determination, to use determination to embrace our talent and satisfy ourselves with our work before worrying about what others think. Chopin was ahead of her time. There was something mystical about her, and her calling to write is something I am deeply grateful for because her influence, her awakening, helped lead me to mine. She showed me how to confront my own truths, the ones hidden away in the shadows of the soul.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” –The Awakening [3]

So here’s to souls not perishing in tumult, but rather learning to embrace the entangled chaos of a writer’s life. Here’s to the middle-school me who learned to write about more

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Photo by MaxPixel.  “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander…” The Awakening

than ghosts and sadness and silly boys. Here’s to women who dare to be both vulnerable and tough, who know how to live with both the sunny days and the storms within them. You are summer days and you are thunderclouds with lightning always poised, waiting to strike anyone who may try and steal your sun or your storms. Remember, the successes of others do not take away from your own — they never have and never will. Your daily courage and your own survival, these are your successes. You are awakened, and you will not be contained.

 

 

Works Cited:

  1. American Literature. “Kate Chopin.” https://americanliterature.com/author/kate-chopin/bio-books-stories.
  2. Deter, Floramaria. “Kate Chopin: In Search of Freedom.” ThoughtCo, 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/kate-chopin-in-search-of-freedom-735149.
  3. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Norton, 1996.