Witches: Proto-Feminism and the Collapse of The Patriarchy

Eddie Ejjbair
3 min readDec 28, 2023

Modern witch stories often depict witches as feminists avant la lettre (meaning, before the concept existed). What’s interesting about this is that it is done by both feminists and anti-feminists alike. The former seeks to re-appropriate the image of the witch, while the latter seeks to associate feminism with witchery’s more malign aspects. Both, however, say almost exactly the same thing, but come to two very different conclusions.

Take, for example, Silvia Federici’s Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women, and Edward Dutton’s Witches, Feminism, and the Fall of the West. The first is told from the feminist perspective. Federici argues that a witch was a woman who resisted the patriarchal order, one who lived outside the confines of society, practising holistic medicine and behaving in what was considered an anti-social way:

They threatened, cast reproachful looks, and cursed those who refused them help; some made nuisances of themselves by sudden, uninvited appearances on their better-off neighbors’ doorsteps or made uncalled for attempts to have themselves accepted by giving small gifts to children. Those who prosecuted them charged them with being quarrelsome, with having an evil tongue, with stirring up trouble among their neighbors, charges that historians have often accepted

Federici does not deny the veracity of these historians, but asks, instead, ‘what drove them to so fiercely hate some of their neighbors as to plot to ruin them economically by killing their animals, spoiling their trades, and inflicting deadly torments on them?’ For Federici, the answer is the ‘increasingly misogynous institutional policy that confined women to a subordinate social position with respect to men and severely punished any assertion of independence on their part and any sexual transgression as a subversion of the social order’.

This is precisely what anti-feminist Edward Dutton writes in Witches, Feminism, and the Fall of the West. According to Dutton, ‘witches tended to be anti-social, undermining group cohesion under conditions in which group cohesion was vital’. He argues that, ‘critics of patriarchy, feminist and otherwise, do not stress its evolutionary logic, particularly a logic that would promote social cohesion’.

--

--

Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’