7 Witch Sightings in Contemporary White Cultural Production

As Ruth Frankenburg makes clear in “The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters,” whiteness is not empty of content.[1] I share the following resources as a means of highlighting some of the content of white cultural production that has roots in precolonial European cultures through the archetype of the witch. These pieces were created in the United States within the last several decades by people who have been socialized as white.

Part of the value I see in highlighting the varied appearances of witches in modern white cultural production is for the positive portrayal of people who are white: these witches have a high level of integrity, are powerful healers, live simply and with deep connection to the earth, are sex positive, smart, and have fun. Showing that these qualities are possible for white people to embody alongside and as part of antiracist praxis could help white people move beyond the immobilizing guilt and shame that often comes along with coming into greater race cognizance.[2] The witch as a cultural identity for white people can also counter the tendency of whites to “conceptualize nonwhite cultures as superior—more authentic, natural, and sacred.”[3] I certainly relate to this tendency, and generally agree with James Baldwin that there basically is no “white community,” because you can’t really have a community based on slavery and genocide.[4] At the same time, a sense of cultural emptiness or desire to dissociate from one’s whiteness enables the proliferation of cultural appropriation, which my classmate Daigan wrote about in his post on Halloween. Cultural appropriation is another form of racism, and a way that “whiteness is always shifting, always reinscribing itself around changing meanings of race in the larger society.”[5]

I chose to write about witches because this is a common archetype we see around Halloween time, and I would like to center the notion that witches still exist, practice magic, and resist the capitalism and colonization that, as Zeus Leonardo posits, alienates white people from our souls.[6] Witches do this every day, not just on Halloween—or, as many witches call this day, Samhain.

Let me be clear, my selections feature pieces created by white women that are primarily about white women—yet this does NOT reflect an accurate demographic of the modern witch. Witches are not only gendered as female, and witches are not just white! I know amazing male and genderqueer witches, and I know amazing witches of many races and cultures. So now, without further ado— presenting 7 sightings of modern witches from contemporary white cultural production!

  1.  “The Last Wild Witch,” a children’s story by Starhawk, who is the author of over ten books on earth-based spirituality and one of the founders of the Bay Area Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.
  2. wise child“Wise Child,” a young adult novel by Monica Furlong. This is one of my very favorite books, and very instructive about some basic elements of practicing magic. Nine-year-old Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, a healer and sorceress who lives on the edge of a remote village in medieval Scotland. Juniper shares teachings that are simple, profound, and still relevant for people interested in earth-based spirituality today. 

  3. “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz,” a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Gregory Maguire. Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, is portrayed as a strong female lead with compassionate ideals–though when she refuses to use her powers in a way that’s not aligned with her values, she is targeted and forced into hiding.
  4.  “Witches,” a spoken word poem by Alix Olson. In her typical fiercely feminist, queer and political style, Alix redefines and reclaims the notion of witch through this poem, ending with “Cause real witch magic is just / Sisters loving each other.”
  5. “Ash to Ashes,” a song about death and the cycles of life from my friend Theao, recorded at Free Cascadia Witch Camp, an annual gathering of activists and witches based in the Reclaiming tradition.
  6. The Farmer and the Witch: Replanting the Seeds of Indigeneity,” an essay by Nala Walla that explores how the witch and the farmer, as remnants of European ancestral culture, can play roles in reviving the indigenous seeds of white people and solving the ecological problems we face. The essay can be read here on her blog, Ecosomatica. 

  7. Disenchanting the World: The Witch Burnings and Capitalism,” a discussion between Rain Crowe, Kate Yikes, and Isobel Charle on Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici and “the major role of witch hunts in developing capitalist culture, as well as contemporary witchcraft and how it can inform our anti-capitalist struggles.” The radio show can be listened to here.

[1] Frankenberg, Ruth. The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
[2] Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. “The Theory of Racial Formation.” In Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 103-136.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Baldwin, James. “On Being ‘White’… And Other Lies.” Essence April (1984): 90-92.
[5] Selections from: Kincheloe, Joe, et al., ed. White Reign: Deploying Whiteness in America. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.
[6] Leonardo, Zeus.  “The Souls of White Folk: Critical Pedagogy, Whiteness Studies, and Globalization Discourse.” Race Ethnicity and Education, 5.1 (2002): 29-50. 

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