“We need witches right now,” says Elissa Hall, a Portland-based witch, in a recent article for Bustle. “While Trump’s election is disastrous, it is a call to action for witches, at least for me personally. It’s time to unleash that power we’ve been cultivating because there is so much to protect.” This sentiment is echoed by many, along with another: the call for the return of W.I.T.C.H., or the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. During the inauguration protests on the 20th and the Women’s March on the 21st, many Portland residents witnessed cloaked figures holding signs reading “Witches For Black Lives” and “A Time To Build / A Time To Burn.” Photos promptly began circulating on Instagram, lifting our spirits. Haute Macabre reached out to this new Portland reincarnation of W.I.T.C.H. for more information.
The original W.I.T.C.H. was an activist group from the late 1960s, established in New York City by socialist feminists. They protested bridal fairs and placed a hex on NYC’s Financial District; spin-off covens were later launched in Chicago and Washington, DC. Like many efforts of second-wave feminism, they occasionally missed the mark: their manifesto was filled with gendered language, claiming “you are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.” Additionally, original W.I.T.C.H. Robin Morgan’s 1978 memoir describes the organization’s worries about alienating “mainstream women.” While we think their efforts in the 1960s were incredibly important, we were overjoyed to read that W.I.T.C.H. PDX is adapting the purpose and spirit of their forebears to the modern era:
For us, that means retaining their desire to dismantle the patriarchy and fight for justice using the symbol and innate power of the witch, while being inclusive to all genders and centering intersectionality and anti-oppression as our core values. — W.I.T.C.H. PDX
Haute Macabre Interview, 1/24/2017
HM: Can you talk more about being an anonymous organization, and how that’s central to your activism? Your website says you use anonymity “as a tool to dismantle the white supremacist patriarchy,” and I’m wondering if in particular you think it could be a way to push true intersectionality to the forefront?
W.I.T.C.H.: For us, being anonymous is first and foremost a powerful symbol of inclusivity, because many people can imagine themselves among us, and see in us a long ancestral line of witches and powerful women throughout history. We believe a witch really can be just about anyone. We understand that the oppression of any group contributes to the oppression of all, and the mystery associated with our anonymity is also a rejection of patriarchal categorization and control.
We don’t want the focus to be on any of us as individuals and we don’t ever want our group to have a particular public face or to be associated with a particular person. Our movement aims to be bigger and more fluid than that. Our individual identities are not as important as our collective goals, but at the same time, as an intersectional group we bring a lot of different backgrounds and perspectives to the table and actively work to amplify the voices of people who are typically left behind by the broader white, middle-class feminist movement.
In this era of selfies and social media trending, the anonymity factor is also an exercise in disconnecting our egos, individually and as a collective. It challenges us to be authentic in our activism.
We hold ourselves and each other accountable to practice what we preach. We each individually volunteer for intersectional causes in our community as a requirement for membership, and we hope our actions as W.I.T.C.H. will speak for themselves.
HM: Similarly, can you talk about using the symbolism of the witch to fight gender essentialism? Much of the modern feminist dialogue around witchcraft is still very trans-exclusive, and as a non-binary person I was thrilled to see “being inclusive to all genders and centering intersectionality and anti-oppression as our core values” on your site.
W.I.T.C.H.: Well, historically, witches haven’t always been female, and gender is a social construct anyway. We believe that femininity belongs to all genders and we’re against policing gender identity. If everybody was engaging with the feminine, and engaging with the empowerment of witchcraft – whatever that may mean to you – the world would be in a much better place.
Roughly half of our members are queer and many don’t identify within the gender binary. As anyone who’s ever read a mainstream book on witchcraft knows, there’s a lot of heteronormativity and gender essentialism that can be uncomfortable to witches who aren’t straight and cisgender. We want to encourage people to think about these concepts in a different and more inclusive way.
HM: This is a bit biased coming from a fellow PNW-er, but do you think there is a reason this movement, a synthesis of witchcraft symbolism and activism, happened here first this time around?
W.I.T.C.H.: The Pacific Northwest has long been a hotbed of activism and radical thought, but also of racism. We’re so close, geographically, to the birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement, plus Portland has a vibrant queer community that’s ahead of the curve in many ways on gender and other forms of social justice. But our city has a history of marginalizing and displacing people of color and Oregon as a whole has a violently racist past and a large population of white supremacists. There are a lot of things to work on right here. We’re hoping to help effect change in our own community and inspire people to do the same nationwide.
The landscape and climate here provide some really rich soil for witchcraft to flourish, too, and witchcraft holds an important place in all of our personal lives, so we think it’s just a natural fit.
HM: When did WITCH Portland come together as an organization? Was it in response to the election, or prior to it?
W.I.T.C.H.: A few of us have been kicking this idea around for years, and the election just galvanized us into action. Within days, we had our first meeting, started working on our costumes and grabbed a domain name. The time to do this was yesterday, but we’re working hard to catch up. Apparently there was a trickle of articles published in various outlets last fall about the original W.I.T.C.H. that we didn’t even notice at the time. Clearly people were ready for this group to reemerge.
HM: How should people follow along with your activism?
You can keep up with what we’re doing on Instagram and Twitter (both @witchpdx) and on our website at witchpdx.com. Locals should just be on the lookout for us as we go out into the city for our rituals and actions. We hope to use our public profile to encourage and inspire activism in a variety of forms, and we’ll grow the ways in which we do that as we evolve.
** a note from Haute Macabre: We are NOT the W.I.T.C.H. group and cannot help you join or form your own local chapter. Please visit WITCHPDX.com for details.