As you might have seen, we at Catalyst decided to launch a retreat for this coming March called Woo Woo Weekend. It will be a 3-day, 2-night retreat full of yoga, meditation, tarot, crystals, reiki, and more.
If you are familiar with our mission, this might be something that is a little different than what you’re used to. This will be the first time we run a program that isn’t 100% targeted at disrupting the wedding industry, but rest assured, it is deeply rooted in feminist principles. Many still shy away from things that are “magical” or “witchy” because we have been trained to fear such things since literally the moment people stepped off the ships in the New World. In reality, witchcraft and magic have a long history of women attempting to better themselves and their society and being punished for it — something I think a lot of modern feminists can relate to.
Witchcraft and Reproductive Rights
Long before modern science had developed methods for contraception (we are talking about ancient Greece and Rome here, folks) the use of herbs was common as a form of contraception or abortion. These practices continued for centuries, and Aristotle even discussed the issue at one point, saying “[T]he line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive." — aka the time of birth.
Witch hunts were a way to crush women with impunity, to punish the Planned Parenthood of the time.
As Christianity grew and took over most of Europe, attitudes shifted. In 1487, a witch-hunting manual was published in Germany called Malleus Maleficarum, and it declared that midwives who used herbs and other similar methods to perform abortions were witches. So suddenly, a practice to protect the lives of women that had been around for centuries was declared witchcraft. It was nothing magical; it was science. And as we still see today, the fear of women and science meant that men in power felt the need to push back. Between 1626 and 1631, during the Würzburg witch trials in Germany, some 900 individuals were killed, many burned at the stake. This included children, apothecaries, and “pretty women.” No seriously, it’s on record that they listed victims as “pretty women.” WTF guys.
Witch hunts were a way to crush women with impunity, to punish the Planned Parenthood of the time. Many of our modern attitudes toward contraception and abortion grew out of this period of fear.
The Class and Gender Politics of the Salem Witch Trials
Spoiler alert guys: no one killed in the Salem witch trials was actually a witch. Instead, as the hysteria grew in Europe as detailed above, the Puritans in the New World started to FREAK OUT. They were suffering from disease and harsh winters (‘cause they were living in Massachusetts in the 1600s) and assumed that this was God’s punishment and that there were evil forces at work among them.
As fear intensified, many took this opportunity to punish the women in their midst. Bridget Bishop, a 59-year-old, was the first woman hanged for witchcraft during these trials, and it is believed that she was likely accused because she was an outspoken woman who owned a fair bit of land — aka a woman with more power than many men were comfortable with at the time. Her husband had passed away leaving her as the owner of land in the central part of Salem, and it is even believed that her stepsons may have helped accuse her as a way to get back their father’s land. Fun stuff.
Other women who were killed included those who argued with powerful men in the town, those who were homeless and seen as a burden, and those who were too old to be useful. It became a way for those in power to exterminate women they saw as a nuisance. Soon other greedy men got involved and started accusing the powerful men to steal their power. It was a whole lot of fun, and women paid the ultimate price for this political corruption.
Why It Matters
For me, it has a lot less to do with whether or not you believe you can actually perform spells or magic. Celebrating the woo woo and witchy things in life means honoring all of the women who died for trying to practice science or for trying to demonstrate their intelligence and power. It’s honoring the history of women who were persecuted for no reason at all, or for providing important health services to those around them.
So we will gather together at Woo Woo Weekend to further explore the mysteries in the world (I mean, remember how people thought the world was flat? How naive of us to think we know EVERYTHING now), and to enjoy that we can gather together as a group of powerful women without fear of persecution. We can harness our collective energy to find a way to make a real impact in this world and to honor the strides made by all the women that came before us.
Jen is the Creative Director of Catalyst Wedding Co., has multiple cats, and has seen The Craft more times than she'd like to admit.