"The Witch," Lana Del Rey, and Satanic Feminism: The Trope of the Wicked Woman

Given feminism's occult origins, it makes sense that witchcraft and activism are both so popular right now.

This article contains spoilers for "The Witch."

At the end of Robert Eggers' movie The Witch, the main character—a young girl named Thomasin—removes her bloodstained clothes and wanders into the woods, following what appears to be an iteration of the devil who's been masquerading as the family goat.

She stumbles upon a circle of other naked women, convulsing and dancing around a fire. They start to levitate. So does Thomasin. In the film's final frames, her face breaks out into an expression of ecstasy.

This final scene is a marked departure from the rest of the film, which is mostly a story of Puritanical fear and tragedy. Cast out from the church, Thomasin's family tries to make their way in the woods, but of course things go very, very wrong, and Thomasin and her burgeoning sexuality are blamed for most of what happens. By the end of the film, she has nowhere else to go; her only choice is between Satan's rites, a life of unbearable trauma and lies, or death. So why has the movie been read as a feminist triumph? And should it be?

The answer lies in an old tradition of subversion. At the end of the film, Thomasin becomes a witch, the sort of powerful, untamed creature of the woods that Christianity and Puritanical culture has always feared—and blamed. The same progression has been followed by pagans and various Satan worshipers, all of whom were damned as infidels by traditional Christian beliefs, forming an enduring stigma that hasn't gone away but finding redemption in owning that stigma.

The witch woman archetype appeals because it completely shatters Puritanical norms and their offshoots, creating room for an ugliness, complexity, and aggressive liberation that is often not afforded to women, even as feminism grows and changes. In a world that demonizes and restricts noncompliant bodies, where women constantly face assault, and where marginalized groups are finally beginning to lash out at oppressive, age-old colonial forces, witchcraft is appealing because it breaks down the illusion that remaining in the system is moral, nice, or proper. Sometimes true kindness has fangs. Sometimes liberation means you need to use magic, or violence, or a brew of both. But it always comes at a price.

The Witch - Black Phillip - Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

Female Monsters of the Past

Our culture's fear and distrust of women is ingrained in one of our oldest stories, beginning with the moment Eve took the apple from Satan. In some interpretations, feminism begins before even that. As the story goes, Adam actually had a first wife in the Garden of Eden—a woman named Lilith. As the folktale goes, Lilith refused to submit to Adam's sexual desires and so was cast out of paradise. In the horror stories, she gained magic powers, married the devil and started stealing and murdering babies. (Interestingly, that archetype of the child-murdering woman can be seen in modern myths like the story of La Llorona, Hansel and Gretel, and dozens of urban legends from across the world about women who will chase and kill children).

But in reinterpretations of this folktale dating back to the 19th century, Lilith has often been viewed as the first feminist. A woman who didn't fit into paradise, who would not compromise her sexual desires for a man, and who found magic and liberation in her demonized status, Lilith inspired fields of other myths and legends.

Sexually deviant, long-haired women who live freely and refuse to become mothers and wives have always been taboo. They live in our imagination as everything from fearful banshees to the v*gina dentata.


Feminist Occultism in America: The Rise, Fall, and Reemergence

By the mid-20th century, Puritanical beliefs had metamorphosed into modern, media-driven ideas like slut-shaming, beauty bias, and ageism, and consequently witchcraft and Satanism reentered the public's consciousness. As feminism rose parallel to these ideas, women and marginalized people began to reclaim the archetype of the witch of the woods, tracing its roots through history and realizing that for many, witchcraft and occultism was a way of achieving power, of being liberated from a system that sought to control and subjugate them.

Similarly, the Satanic Temple generated an offshoot called satanic feminism, which connects back to the Garden of Eden story. If Satan gave Eve the apple of knowledge, then he (or she) was a kind of feminist liberator, saving Eve from patriarchy's clutches, these thinkers proposed. Occult theosophists like Helena Blavatsky wrote sympathetically about the devil, counter-reading the Bible's fear of Satan as a way for the Bible to preach fear of all non-compliant "others."

"We still have that part of our cultural memory," says Jex Blackmore, a Satanic activist and former spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, in an interview about why she supports Eggers' The Witch. "[But] the witch wasn't really created by anyone besides the dominant power structure, which was the church and a few idiocratic governments." Like witchcraft, satanism has a long history of being intertwined with feminism and anti-oppression work. "As Satanists, we are ever mindful of the plight of women and outsiders throughout history who suffered under the hammer of theocracy and yet fought to empower themselves," Blackmore said. "We question the authority of the state, as it has proven to be violent, racist, sexist, and classist, and embrace satanism on our own terms as a catalyst for political and social change," writes Blackmore in Bitch Media. In general, Satan has been read as a queer, subversive figure, an icon for anyone looking to reject good and evil binaries (and binaries at large).

Jex Blackmore

By the 1970s, satanic feminism, witchcraft, and other forms of occultism began to have a renaissance in America. Old Pagan goddesses like Nyx and Wiccan figures like Hekate began to replace traditional deities. In particular, Wiccan faiths grew popular and easily accessible, as books of rituals publicized ideas that had previously been known only in esoteric circles. Movies like The Wicker Man and books like Starhawk's The Spiral Dance publicized Pagan occultism and the West Coast's ecological feminism, synthesizing them into an appealing blend of radicalism and spirituality. At the end of the 20th century, writers like Gloria Anzaldúa (Borderlands/La Frontera), and Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run With the Wolves) proposed a new kind of healing through occultism, ritual, and writing and ritual that shattered binaries, linearity, and body politics.

Today in 2019, occultism has been reappearing with a vengeance. Topics like astrology, tarot, and political, progressive interpretations of them have never been more popular, finding a home with everyone from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who has been called a witch by some conservatives) to Lana Del Rey.

Lana Del Rey Confirms She Used Witchcraft Against President Trump | Billboard News

Modern occultism is often deeply political, a way of merging anger at established systems with spirituality, community, and internal work. Some argue that these rituals are shaping the sort of meaning and healing that people, particularly women, have been seeking. "In the absence of effective, socially enforced structures by which abusers can face justice for their actions, rituals and ritual behavior take on a vital spiritual, psychological, and social role for survivors," writes Vox. "They foster community and solidarity. They enable the processing of trauma."

Considering the general state of affairs right now, it's inevitable that people would be turning to spirituality in order to foster solidarity and connection in an ever-more scattered world.

Trauma is by definition a kind of blockage, a darkness that cannot be surmounted. In this way, acknowledging trauma and personal darkness, rage, and taboo emotions through witchcraft and occultism is similar to psychoanalysis in that it forces these grievances into the light, and potentially liberates them. Though women aren't typically burned at the stake for being witches anymore, violence against women is a tremendous and deadly problem, and things are much worse for poor women and women of color.

Still, none of this is to say that witchcraft is an all-encompassing solution or a healing force on its own. If anything, it's a way of coming to terms with brokenness and accepting the damages that come with being alive; it couldn't be healing without systemic and structural changes.

The Problems and Future of Occultism and Feminism

So back to the original question: Is what happens at the end of the film The Witch a feminist victory? Could we say that as she rises into the air, Thomasin is dealing with her trauma, becoming a better version of herself?

In spite of everything, I'm not sure we can. The truth is, by the end of the film, Thomasin had no other choice—and neither did many women who defected to witchcraft. Often, they needed these communities to literally survive; they had no option to return to the garden. The archetype of the witch woman is shaped in order to exist in opposition to patriarchal structures and the pain they cause; in that, it still defers to the patriarchy in some way, and it's still shaped by and around trauma. This isn't the case for all occultism, but still.

In an ideal form, occultism and the shattering it involves would evolve towards redemption and towards the creation of a better world outside of oppressive structures, one where people would be free to live as they choose from the get-go, not just when everything falls to pieces. And to be redemptive, these theories must be taken further, outside of just a focus on gender and into a focus on race and class. Ideally, occultism wouldn't only deconstruct and defect; it would would evolve towards the creation of something else.

Liberalism and Feminism Were Born From the Occult

Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.


Waterparks Dive Into a Pool of Emotions On Their Latest Album

Houston native rock band continue to usher in latest era with the release of FANDOM.

Waterparks' latest album, FANDOM, is raw. Raw in its lyricism and its handling of fans, fame, friendship, and love.

FANDOM was worth the wait, delivering 15 tracks that add a new dimension to Waterparks sound. The in-your-face punch of the melodies introduces FANDOM, and it's "sour green" aesthetic in a big way, especially with the album's lead single "Watch What Happens Next," and its follow up "Dream Boy." Vocalist, Knight, who also directed the music videos for this album, is aiming at those who expect too much, reward the trio too little, and the dark side of what life post-"blow up," and post break up, has left him with. "I want fans to feel emotionally wrecked after listening to this album." shared Knight. "There are so many different feelings expressed throughout it, and I don't want to say that it's an emotional rollercoaster, but it's an 'emotional rollercoaster.'"

The band isn't holding back on FANDOM. Emotions are real and served with punching melodic riffs and guitar solos from Geoff Wigington and drummer Otto Wood, maintaining the album's vibe through consistent beats. "Obviously, with time, we've grown and have become better musicians," said Wiginton. "On this album, the guitar lines cut through, and the drums just sound so tight."

It's invigorating to hear someone speak so frankly about the pressures of fame. They, of course, aren't the first band to address those that have wronged them, but the sincere snarl and growl in Knight's vocals make it seem a bit more personal and authentic.

"War Crimes" gives a glimpse into everything that's plagued Knight and the band in the last few years. The lyric, "Behind my forehead's an assortment of things I'd like to forget," kick starts the foot-stomping beat, followed by lyrics like "my death will be the fandom / give back my halo you stole."

Another major theme on FANDOM is heartbreak and the post-relationship way of thinking. The lyrics are somehow blunt yet cryptic, showing vulnerability to Knight, especially on tracks like "High Definition" and "Never Bloom Again." Still, this thread also carries through on the higher energy "Telephone" and "Easy To Hate."

While lumped into the pop-punk category, FANDOM creates a division between Waterparks and the rest of the genre because of experimental melodies – the club classic dance break on "War Crimes" being a definite highlight as well as the electro-pop reminiscent "Telephone" and the folk-esque "IMHSBALIDWD."

Fans may never know what Friendly Reminder might have sounded like, but it seems like Waterparks made the right choice in scrapping it.

Be sure to listen to FANDOM and check out the band's latest music video for their song "Easy to Hate," directed by Knight.

Waterparks - EASY TO HATE (Official Music Video)