A man tells that when he lost his penis a witch came to ask him to return. She told him to climb into the tree and take the one he likes best in the nest where they kept the male organs. And when he wanted to take the biggest she said: you should not take that because it belongs to a parish priest. This extract don’t come from any milesian fable or racy tale but a manual to justify the slaughter of millions of witches along the Old Regime.
The delirious images of this inquisitorial treaty, the Malleus Maleficarum (XV), oozes fear and curiosity towards women’s sexual pleasure, condemning as work of the devil transformed into succubus or goat. It expounds with relish in describing the Sabbaths, their nasty habit of kissing the anus to the Devil (osculum infame), making cooked with dead children, putting skin of toad on their bodies to fly and prance with brooms… Wih this they intended to attest of alleged infanticide, sinful and evil practices.
During early Middle Ages womar was not subject to the husband as ishe would be with the outburst of capitalism, she helped the family maintenance as equal besides being connoisseur of home remedies that passed down from generation to generation. As Silvia Federici (Caliban and the Witch) explains, behind the witch-hunt behind was a coalition of counter-revolutionary and pro-capitalist forces (feudal lords, merchants, popes…) that pretended to exterminate these popular and femenine wisdom (midwives, healers…) to centralize knowledge in the hands of the emerging professional associations (all-male); and they labeled as heresy any attempt to counteract the abuse of power (peasant revolts, sectarian movements …), in addition to gradually obliterate communal identities of villages by the fence of land and the start of privatization.
Against ecclesiastical corruption, heretical groups such as Bogomil and the Cathars proposed recover the spiritual values of religion. Interestingly, asceticism and mysticism consideration of the sexual act were not incompatible in those religions of pantheistic nature. Homosexual practices were common among the Bogomil, for rejecting procreation and marriage. Many men and women (women could officiate at liturgies and administer sacraments in these cults) were burned at the stake for libertines, that is, to practice an unorthodox sexuality and exercise control over their own bodies, controlling birth with abortion herbs, etc.
With the advent of Enlightenment theoretically dilluted ignorance and superstition that stir up the hallucinatory fever. The genocide stopped but not misogyny related to the demonization of women as worldly incarnations of ancient and twilight goddesses (Hecate), tragic (Medea) and lustful (Circe) wizards. All vindictive and dangerous, much to the taste of ninteenth century occultists and decadents. Joris-Karl Huysmans literature (full of black masses) contains scenes with an air of Malleus: the hierophilic imagination at the service of female depravity.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that women appropriate the sorcerous imaginary rereading it as emancipatory and revolutionary power, identifying themselves as witches.
First were artists that the historiography includes in the Surrealist group but whose personality denotes that this labeling is insufficient. Leonora Carrington dared let out of her body to hyenas, owls… nocturnal wildlife that was the transcript of the most primary, their sexual and emotional impulse entrenched in her gut, of her haunted soul by her own alchemical ghosts. Unica Zürn also built her own cryptographic universe, as that kind of grimoire, the Hexentexte, a compendium of anagrams accompanied by drawings whose stroke as fine lace is woven by an automatic pulse. Witches scriptures she called it. Let us pause a moment in that Zürn drawing depicting a three-headed lady taking the body of a teenager, how reminds us triplicity of Hecate, guardian of the crossroads, of the three roads, the three faces of the moon.
Both suffered confinement in psychiatric centers, witches mutated in hysterics by modern medicine as Benjamin Christensen pointed in that rara avis silent film, Häxan (1922).
Paraphrasing Pilar Pedraza (Brujas, sapos y aquelarres) witches were owner of fire and their victims. The man feared his ability to control the animal, mineral and plant kingdom. Neopagan religions such as Wicca and subsequent ecofeminists currents compensated that broken bond by androcentric imposition.
Kiki Smith women live with birds and wolves, are themselves are born wolfish or hinds when not captivating Circes but far removed from sexist stereotype of femme fatale. They undermine this pattern, are the reverse: are natural, spilling their menstrual flow, breeding, aging, belong to the cycles of life, to the sacred. They are community, wisdom doesn’t die with them. Smith restored the mythical forces associated with the midwives, healers … Has a sculptural series of women on pyres (2002), referring to that femicide that lasted three centuries. Crossed arms and serene faces assimilated to the image of Christ, but the cross has been cutted off and logs piled under those anonymous bodies, burned in the name of God.
In La reina de las Putas Rocío Boliver was crucifyed by herself, tyed with barbed wire. Bitch, demonic witch, nymphomaniac, multiorgasmic masochist, this Mexican performer has devoted his career to stage the psychological pain of being marked by desiring too much being a woman. Pioneer of post-porn, their actions atomize the objectives of commercial pornography showing herself as object-subject masturbatory grotesque, abject, in an erotic-sacrificial drama.
Indeed, although medicine can no longer sustain unblushingly the existence of nymphomania or madness-of-the-nymphs, male imaginary continues demonizing excessive female sexuality.
Boliver recent performances have an added subversive force, when she expose herself as menopausal women, sexual, aged … we associate with old and goyesco witch, which talks Pedraza as counterpart of witch assimilated to the femme fatale. The female body, when it is no longer fertile, lush and beautiful is hidden, is taboo, suspicious: procuress or agent of the devil.
For Guatemala Regina José Galindo body is also physical support from which to denounce the women humiliation, but not from personal side but as postcolonial scapegoat. He walked through the streets of Venice shaven and naked, she wrote in his thigh the word “bitch” with knife incisions, allowed a gang member torture herr; a surgeon reconstructed her hymen … forceful actions that unearth local conflicts but can be extrapolated to global realities.
After all it is about the empowerment of their own body as the witches of yesteryear. Beatriz (now Paul B) Preciado, in Testo junky, called narcoticosexual witchcraft those practices of voluntary intoxication using mandrake and other aphrodisiac or hallucinogenic plants. When writing this text under the effects of hormonal self-experimentation she recovered somehow that sorcerous knowledge usurped by pharmacological industries, and at the same time masculinizing her body to resist against the biochemical manipulation of identities (estrogen for women, testosterone for men).
Arthur Evans, in his reconstruction of the queer history in relation to witchcraft (Witchcraft and the gay counterculture, 1978), stands Joan of Arc as trans figurehead, because beyond the political intricacies in which was involved, her main “heresy” was defending her transvestism as a religious duty. She dressed and “behaved” as a man, she admitted sleeping with women and, to top it off, had her first revelation in the tree fairies. Lesbian, apostate, close friend to pagan cults… the judgment was clear. The history of witchcraft can also be read as a systematic policy of extermination of sexual dissidence and gender ambiguity.