Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell
Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, shortened W.I.T.C.H., was the name of many related but independent feminist groups formed in the United States during 1968 and 1969 and who were important in the development of socialist feminism. The name W.I.T.C.H. was also sometimes expanded as "Women Inspired to Tell their Collective History," "Women Interested in Toppling Consumer Holidays," and many other variations.
W.I.T.C.H. was formed when the New York Radical Women (NYRW) split in 1969. The group divided, mainly as a result of disagreements about the role of consciousness raising (CR) groups, into the Redstockings (the new home for CR group advocates) and W.I.T.C.H. (a group that advocated political rather than personal action). W.I.T.C.H. members tended to be "politicos," social feminists, who strongly identified with the New Left, and radical feminists, who supported an autonomous women's movement.
The group was established in New York on Halloween 1968, at which point they adopted the name "Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell" and its acronym, WITCH. The group changed their name to suit their purposes, albeit retaining the fixed letters of W.I.T.C.H. For instance, during a demonstration against the Bell Telephone company, the group used "Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harassment". Other examples included "Women Infuriated at Taking Care of Hoodlums" and "Women Indentured to Traveler's Corporate Hell".
The group were devoted to overthrowing the patriarchal dominance of society, and according to the scholar Cynthia Eller, they chose to do so in "witty, flamboyant, and theatrical ways". They carried out political stunts, all of which were witch themed.
Understanding of witchcraft
In their leaflets, WITCH adopted the witch-cult hypothesis by claiming that those persecuted as alleged witches in European history had been members of a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion which the Christian authorities then sought to suppress. In their manifesto, WITCH propagated the erroneous claim that nine million women had been burned to death during the witch trials in the early modern period. This claim had originated with the first-wave feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage.
- If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be invisible or evident in how you choose to make your witch-self known. You can form your own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a group) and do your own actions... You are a Witch by saying aloud, "I am a Witch" three times, and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.
There was no centralized organization; each W.I.T.C.H. group was formed independently by women inspired by the ideas and example of previous actions. Their activism mainly took the form of "zaps", a form of guerrilla theater mixing street theatre and protest, where they used attention-catching and humorous public actions to highlight political and economic complaints against companies and government agencies, frequently involving the use of witch costumes and the chanting of hexes. Witches often appeared as stock characters in feminist Left theatre, representing the misogynist crone stereotype. In one instance, the group members entered a popular restaurant, Max's Kansas City, where they distributed garlic cloves and cards reading "We Are Witch We Are Women We Are Liberation We Are We." At the same time they chanted "Nine Million Women, Burned as Witches" and questioned the women diners. In another instance, W.I.T.C.H. protested the firing of a radical feminist professor by entering the sociology department of the University of Chicago and leaving hair and nail clippings all over the building.
On Halloween 1968, women from W.I.T.C.H. staged a "hex" of Wall Street at a branch of Chase Manhattan Bank, wearing rags and fright makeup; Robin Morgan stated that the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined sharply the next day. W.I.T.C.H.'s earliest pronouncement targeted corporate America, not men, as the enemy. In a later statement, they pledged to free their brothers from oppression and stereotyped sexual roles.
In 1969, W.I.T.C.H. held a protest at a "Bridal Fair" at Madison Square Garden. Members wore black veils. They handed out pamphlets titled "Confront the Whoremakers", chanted "Here come the slaves/Off to their graves", and had a mock "unwedding" ceremony. The protests also involved turning loose several white mice at the event, which Fair attendees began scooping up off the ground. The event resulted in negative media coverage for W.I.T.C.H., and some dissention among members over goals and tactics.
In February 1970, the Washington coven (W.I.T.C.H. chapters were called "covens") held a protest during a Senate hearing on population control. They interrupted Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough's testimony by chanting and throwing pills at panel members and people in the audience galleries.
The "zap" protests used by W.I.T.C.H. may have helped inspire the zap action protest tactics adopted shortly afterwards by LGBT activists, and still in use.
Members of W.I.T.C.H. included Robin Morgan, a child television star in the 1950s and a member of the Youth International Party in the late 1960s, who became an important feminist. Some W.I.T.C.H. documents were included in the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.
Other members included Rosalyn Baxandall, Brooke Alderson, Cynthia Funk, Florika, Judy Duffett, Peggy Dobbins, and Naomi Jaffe. Peggy Dobbins and Naomi Jaffe who went on to join the Weather Underground Organization. Soon after the breakup of W.I.T.C.H., Robin Morgan repudiated her New Left-aligned politics, and embraced a kind of radical feminism that was strongly opposed to "the male left".
Writing in 2006, the journalist Margot Adler expressed the view that while WITCH was considered to be "a fringe phenomenon" in the women's movement at the time of its existence, by the early twenty-first century its sentiments would be embraced by a larger proportion of feminists, if still a minority within the feminist community.
W.I.T.C.H. were a political rather than a religious or spiritual group, however several scholars of Pagan studies have considered them to be partial precursors to the Dianic Wiccans, members of a feminist-oriented form of Modern Paganism which developed in the United States during the 1970s. According to Adler, WITCH's key assumptions about the nature of witchcraft and its connection to women's liberation continued as the "wellspring" of Dianic Wicca and other forms of feminist-oriented Paganism.
- Brownmiller, Susan (1999). In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. p. 49. ISBN 0-385-31486-8.
- Eller 1993, p. 55.
- Echols, Alice (1989). Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1787-2.
- Eller 1993, p. 53; Adler 2006, p. 181.
- Adler 2006, p. 181.
- Eller 1993, p. 53.
- Adler 2006, p. 208.
- Clifton 2006, p. 120.
- Adler 2006, p. 207.
- Eller 1993, pp. 53–54; Adler 2006, p. 181.
- "Historical Dow Jones Closing Prices 1961-1970". Automation Information. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Echols, Alice (December 29, 1989). Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975. University of Minnesota Press. p. 440. ISBN 0816617872.
- Bradley, Patricia (2003). Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 63–64. ISBN 9781578066131.
- "Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970)". [WorldCat.org]. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
- Jessela, Kara (2009). "WAVE HELLO". Bitch Magazine (45): 47–49.
- Echols, Alice (December 29, 1989). Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816617872.
- Adler 2006, p. 182.
- Eller 1993, p. 54; Adler 2006, p. 181; Clifton 2006, p. 120; Doyle White 2016, p. 58.
- Adler, Margot (2006) . Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers and Other Pagans in America (Revised ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303819-1.
- Clifton, Chas S. (2006). Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Oxford and Lanham: AltaMira. ISBN 978-0-7591-0202-6.
- Doyle White, Ethan (2016). Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Brighton, Chicago, and Toronto: Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-754-4.
- Eller, Cynthia (1993). Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. Boston: Beacon.