The Year of the Witch

The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise.
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This dramatic photo illustration of a nighttime scene with brightly lit clouds and large, full, Blue Moon would make a great background for many uses.
This dramatic photo illustration of a nighttime scene with brightly lit clouds and large, full, Blue Moon would make a great background for many uses.

Early last year, with all of the 2012 Mayan Calendar End-of-Days hubbub reaching fever pitch, I thought it best to figure out something to look forward to; after all, the apocalypse can be such a drag, darling. Yes, the world is supposed to end, but what next then? Surely there had to be a light at the end of the voidant tunnel. So several months ago, I proclaimed to my friends and readers that 2013 would be the Year of the Witch -- a statement made with equal parts sincerity and salt.

The numerological symbolism was obvious of course: 13 moons in a year, 13 fertility cycles, 13 witches in a coven. It's a number considered unlucky and unlovely for so long, we've seemed to have forgotten why, while still obliterating it from our tallest buildings. And so it's a number inherently bound up in feminine magic, and thus represents a deification of something persecuted; a profanity resacralized, unsullied and crowned.

The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I've been able to come up with is "symbolic action with intent" -- "action" being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world.

Amazingly, though not surprisingly, as soon as I named 2013 the Year of the Witch, I began to see synchronicities and sympathetic signs all around me. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, two of the past century's most quake-making reclamations of female power. Obama's inaugural civil rights incantation of "Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall" ("...and Salem," a friend of mine half-joked), began with the name of one of the most pivotal women's rights gatherings in history. This year, four women were sworn into all of the "Live Free or Die" state's top government seats. And Hillary Clinton, arguably the most powerful woman in American history, ended her tenure as Secretary of State earlier this year with the following words:

"If women and girls everywhere were treated as equal to men in rights, dignity, and opportunity, we would see political and economic progress everywhere. So this is not only a moral issue, which, of course, it is. It is an economic issue and a security issue, and it is the unfinished business of the 21st century."

A few weeks ago, renovations began to expand the Senate ladies room -- for the 113th Congress, no less. And the online world "stood with Wendy" as Ms. Davis attempted her 13-hour filibuster, and succeeded in delaying a vote that would have near-obliterated Texan women's sovereignty over their own bodies.

In the first half of the year, we've seen an unprecedented occurrence of powerful women emanating through our screens. The 70th annual Golden Globes were hosted by two women for the first time; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are the respective stars of their decidedly feminist TV shows, and two awards were given to Lena Dunham, the creator and star of her own appropriately enough named show, Girls. Tavi Gevinson (a real "voice of a generation") publicly declared that she believes in magic on her ever-more popular online teen girl magazine, Rookie. The Super Bowl -- the most watched television event in America -- had entertainment exclusively by women (and all African American women to boot). And whether or not Beyonce's half-time hand gesture was or was not an Illuminati sign is less interesting to me than the fact that the triangle is also the symbol of the triple goddess. Do I think that's what she intended? Almost definitely not. Yet there it was, flashing in front of millions of eyeballs, then self-replicating endlessly in a digi-jungle of tweets and animated gifs. Symbols are tricksters. Sometimes they speak in the subtlest ciphers. And sometimes, they bubble up in the collective cauldron via a black-leather-clad demi-goddess for all the world to see. And witch stories are being told all around us this year. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Beautiful Creatures, Oz the Great and Powerful, American Horror Story: Salem, and Witches of East End are just a few films and TV shows with 2013 releases. It's not that we haven't had centuries of these stories preceding us, but it seems we are witnessing a witchly tipping point.

It's long been considered that one of the primary symbols of feminine magic is the snake. There's Eve's serpent of course, but also the Minoan snake goddess, Medusa, Mami Wata, and Ix Chel to name but a few. Snake magic corresponds to the holiest cycle there is: Life, death, resurrection. Like a snake each month, fertile women shed their own inner skins. Symbolic snakes -- the ouroboros, caduceus, kundalini, Quetzalcoatl, the naga, the yin-yang -- show up in esoteric systems around the world and symbolize the life force (Read Jeremy Narby's The Cosmic Serpent if you want to trip out about how this all maps onto DNA). They writhe together in the balance of opposites, holding the tension of, well, everything, between their coils. Snakes channel the energies of the Great Mystery. They're associated with the underworld, the moon, ancient wisdom. And guess what this Chinese New Year ushered in on February 10th: Yup, the Year of the Snake. The Black Water Snake, to be exact. You can bet that when I heard about this, it made my third eye bug out.

I know some of you are thinking: but what about the men? Can't males be witches? Isn't matriarchy just as bad as patriarchy?

Well, that's the beauty of an archetype: it can be embodied by anyone, regardless of age, gender, looks, background. Girls are taught from the time they're born to empathize with both male and female characters. When I was growing up, I didn't only want to make out with David Bowie (hello, Labyrinth), I also wanted to be David Bowie. I could relate to the Holdens and Morpheuses and Bernard Mickey Wrangles as much as I could to the Phoebes and Rose Walkers and Princess Leigh-Cheris. And we're starting to see a new generation of boys who instinctively do the same. Black and silver Easy-Bake Ovens and gender-neutral Harrod's toys help, but so do parents who take all of their kids to watch Artemisian heroines like Merida and Katniss flinging their arrows. And there are certainly plenty of adult men who have been embracing the way of the witch. On a blatant level, I can't help but notice that each spell crafting class I teach has more male attendees than the last. But we also have leaders like Al Gore and Nicholas Kristof and Richard Branson and Prince Charles loudly championing environmentalism and women's rights. We have filmmakers like Joss Whedon -- who recently announced his inclusion of the Scarlet Witch character in Avengers 2 -- and Paul Feig who have been ardently championing female protagonists in the press of late. These men, and so many more, are helping to usher in an age of higher consciousness and female empowerment, and, though they probably wouldn't use these words themselves, they're positively swimming in yin.

And so, as the year progresses I predict we will all more fully channel the spirit of the witch. Honoring the earth and our bodies; shifting away from mass-market medicines and agri-business toward natural healing and whole foods; sharing our resources rather than focusing on mere accumulation of goods; collaborating and communicating more openly; helping to elevate women and girls to equality all over the world: these are all grand workings of feminine magic that we are manifesting together.

So for the rest of 2013 and beyond, I wish you more witching, more opportunities to claim your power, to slough off old skin, to ritualize your life. May your year have you feeling more attuned to the rhythms of nature, more connected to one another, and more plugged into planet and purpose. The apocalypse has happened, my friends, and it's still happening. Our task at hand is to bring about the end of the old world, but then to create something vital and shining and new. Instead of four horses, we're riding in on brooms.

Pamela J. Grossman is an independent curator, writer, and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the creator of, Associate Editor of Abraxas esoteric journal, and co-founder of the Brooklyn alternative arts space, Observatory. As a frequent lecturer and guest speaker, she explores the role of magic in contemporary life. Her website is

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