She was dressed in black. She wore a cape. There was a broom right by her throughout the entire show. She told us of spells. Of course, she must be a horrible, grotesque witch? Or so you thought.
Mary Lynn Hopps, director of Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) and professor of women’s and gender studies, “bewitched and bedazzled” the audience on Halloween night at the annual Witch Lecture.
Carrying on the tradition that started eight years ago, she successfully graced the audience with her knowledge of witches and raised awareness about the misconceptions and stereotypes around witches that still live today.
Michele Tarter, associate professor of English, began the lectures eight years ago with “the intent of informing everyone about the persecution of ‘wise women,'” Hopps said. Since Tarter is on sabbatical due to research and publishing purposes, Hopps, her best friend, carried on with the lecture.
The lecture, full of historical facts, offered strong evidence for the persecution of these wise women and their innocence – primarily through the description of their religion.
Wicca, an earth-based religion focusing on the divine feminine, has been recognized as a religion since 1985. But recently, as Hopps said, “The symbol of the Wicca religion, the pentagram, has not been allowed to be placed on graves for it is considered a satanic symbol.” Of course this has impeded the growth of this healing religion.
The pentagram, which currently denotes Wicca and consequently, satanic symbols, is a five-pointed star encased in an outer circle. It has been traced back to its first appearance around 335 B.C., when it was first used in royal inscriptions as a symbol of truth. In modern times, it has been misconstrued, just like the idea of witches.
“Unfortunately, it goes along with every other stereotype,” Ashley Reichelmann, vice executive chair of WILL, said. “It’s a shame that this religion, which is really one of power, beauty and nature, is seen as something totally different.”
Just like everything else in our country, she added, “everyone thinks that you have to place something in a category instead of just appreciating it for what it is.”
The lecture, which presented serious facts in a light way, was supplemented by participation from students, some of which were WILL members.
Eliana Reyes, junior communication studies major and member of WILL, and David Knecht, junior education/English major, provided a contrast between what society thought and what was true. Reyes told the truth about the women’s healing occupations while Knecht interpreted their actions in a different way and said, “She is a witch.”
Following that small act and pictures of the grotesque instruments used in the torturing of witches, 13 WILL members (a very appropriate number for Halloween) dressed in black and took the stage one at a time to share recent facts about witches. They spoke of the religion of Wicca and the story of the broomstick, which was actually used in Pagan marriage ceremonies to represent fertility.
Hopps’ main point was that there is an everlasting fear of the “power, body and sexuality” of women. The “burning times,” when women were burnt alive if accused of witchcraft, was the “women’s holocaust,” Hopps said.
These events came about because the healing and wise nature of women was “threatening to the hierarchy of men,” she said. She added that this fear is now “burned into human’s consciousness.”
At the conclusion of her speech, Hopps taught the audience spells, including the most important one: love. With the help of the WILL members and students, she concluded with a traditional witch ending – “Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again.”