I’ve run into a problem; people have opinions. Specifically, they have opinions on my work and I’m not at the stage when I want just anyone’s opinion on my pet project. Right now I’m in the “Let me gush to you about what I’m doing and please look appropriately excited phase.” My baby just isn’t fully formed enough when it can withstand other people barging in on it and trying to make changes, even if they’re necessary changes. However, I get that by bringing this project up as a topic, people are going to have questions and they’re going to have opinions out of a mostly not-misguided attempt to help. (Maybe I should have attached a rant warning to this…but stick with me.) So outlined here are a few of the questions/suggestions that I get the most that frustrate me for some reason or another. Mostly, these questions annoy me after I have laid my project out because I feel that people have not really been listening. Anyway, below are the questions/suggestions and my rational responses to them, and if we’re going for total honesty here, answering no to these questions has helped in that it has forced me to tie down what I’m attempting to do a bit more tightly.
Question 1: Are you going to talk about modern witchcraft/white witches/wicca/and so on?
The short answer is no, I’m not. The focus of this class is not on witches as actual living, breathing human beings, but as an abstract creation. I want to examine witches as figures, as symbols, as a myth born out of the fears and fantasies about powerful women held by both genders. I want to examine the traditional myth and lore about witches as myths that women have helped write in order to reclaim space and define themselves. I want to delve into sources and look at how that myth/archetype/symbol has/is being treated. But I don’t want to have people bickering about whether magic is real or not. I don’t want to discuss the healing properties of crystal and if the best time to brew beer is the full moon because of energy differences in the air. I don’t want to talk about whether “black witches” still exist and if so, how can “white witches” combat them. This has nothing to do with my personal beliefs, but that I feel such discussions would inevitably come up if this course were to touch on the idea of witches being real, especially in the area I live in. And I don’t want someone who has memorized the handy self-help guide “10 Steps to Becoming a New Age Witch” to try and prove/disclaim anything because they practice magic. Again, it has nothing to do with my personal beliefs, but more the fact that I want to try and keep the discussion focused. There is a lot of ground to cover, and so much exists that we won’t even touch that something has to go. So I threw the most “problematic” subject out.
Question 2: You should really try and cover the histories and cultures surrounding witches all over the world.
Well, yes, I should. However, I have never claimed that this class is going to teach people everything about witches, because quite simply, it’s not. There is entirely too much to cover for me to be able to create a class in one semester. I am doing what most professors do when they create special topics courses like this: I am building off of a personal interest and am trying to make a small bit of that accessible to other people. Do I want to spend four months looking at voodoo? Uh, yes! Do I want to delve into the myths of the Baba Yaga and see how Eastern European culture created a witch much different than say those in Macbeth? Uh, yes! Do I want to talk about Norse Mythology, the seeming lack of “witches” in Asian myth, the shamans of the Americas, and and and? Uh, yes! Unfortunately, I just do not have the time.
Question 3: Are you going to read Macbeth?
Sigh, no I’m not. Now hear me out on this please. It’s not that we won’t touch on Macbeth during the course of the class, or talk about it’s importance, because you really can’t talk about witches without talking about this play. I mean, look at the title of my blog. On the other hand, I am trying to use sources that maybe not everyone and their grandma has read. This is the case for a couple of reasons. One, students tend to get testy and lazy when they have to reread a source that they’ve already had to read multiple times for various other classes from high school onward. Two, I think that finding books/films/other sources that are new to the students will help promote discussion because the material within will be more exciting and interesting to them. Three, I tried to consider sources where the witches were not a plot device, but were the main subject of the source. Do not get me wrong, the witches in Macbeth are one of the most important plot devices in history. They are pivotal to the story and too the history of witches in literature in general. But, and there is a but, the entire story is not about them, it is about (and you guessed it) Macbeth himself. In contrast, four of the major characters in Conjure Wife are witches. The book itself is about witches and witchcraft and perceptions about both. I think that those characteristics make it a more worthwhile read for this class, especially since it will be easy to incorporate the importance of Macbeth without actually having to assign the text.
Question 4: Are you going to read Harry Potter?
No. No, no, no, and once more for feeling, NO. One, the Harry Potter universe is massive and there is simply no feasible way to incorporate it into this class. Two, I feel that at the end of the day, the Harry Potter series is about friendship, growing up, making the right choices even if they are the hard ones, and social issues. I do not feel that it is about witches. Did it popularize them? Sure. But magic isn’t something special per say. Magic is something that exists in this universe for most of the characters. Yes, yes, I know “muggles” do not have magic, but this story isn’t about them, and so once again, being a witch or wizard is a plot device. It’s not that there isn’t anything in these books at all about what it means to be a witch, but it is not the central focus. So no, we will not be covering Harry Potter.
Question 5: Are you going to cover the Salem Witch Trials?
Sigh, yes I am going to talk about the Salem Witch trials. They are an important part of American history that is central to a lot of the myth surrounding witches and it will be important to have a background in the factual history if The Witch and/or Wytches is/are added to the formal syllabus as required texts. However, I do not plan to make the trials a major focus. They are an example of how the history concerning the women known as witches were themselves transformed into legends and tales repurposed by those who came after.