Watching a recent Geico commercial, it just dawned on me that a witch riding a broom is one of the most heinously sexist icons of human history. Not only does it present the notion of the bitter old hag, but her mode of transportation is a cleaning instrument. Thus, the fear of the old hag is that she has somehow liberated herself from the rigid confines of her womanly or wifely duties, and, even worse, she has liberated herself by turning the tables on gender roles by using an instrument of her enslavement as an instrument of liberation and terror. Of course, there is also the phallic symbolism of the old hag straddling the broom handle, which makes her a succubus, which is the nightmare of male-dominated societies. And while the succubus appears to men as a beautiful female, her goal is to seduce and cause the male harm, so the witch is presented as how the succubus actually looks to warn and convince men against the evil powers of women. Ironically, what became known as witches were originally the sage women of the earliest times of human history.
"…sage women that learned the value of healing herbs, and other types of homeopathic treatments. These women were actually very wise when it came to their knowledge of herbal remedies. Many people received aid and were helped by the homemade remedies made by these wise women. These astute women, skilled in the art of natural medicine, also sometimes functioned as midwives and assisted in the delivery of babies, using various plant-based medicines to ease the pain and suffering experienced during childbirth." (“The History of Witches”).
Yet, the spread of Christianity across Europe changed how these women were perceived.
Little was understood about healing and medicine in those ancient days, and as Christianity spread across Europe, many clergy from the church felt very upset by the existence of learned women who were healing others with medicine and other remedies. As far as the church was concerned, all healing should be done strictly through men in the church. There were many others who felt that if a person was sick or ill that it was God’s punishment for some sin committed and the suffering that came from it was just something that must be dealt with by the afflicted person. Over time, the healers began to be associated and accused of various things including heresy, being anti-Christian, and eventually many were accused of devil worship (“The History of Witches”)
And while many of these sages were not Christian, how most of the world feels about witches or understands what witches are, or rather were, is based not on biblical scripture but on the fear of men and their need to dominate women, which caused them to pervert biblical scripture as a means to demonize and marginalize sage women into the current global notion of witches. Thus, it cannot be surprising that most intelligent and assertive women are viewed negatively in most male dominated societies with the witch being just one of the many ways that art is used to subjugate women.
Of course, most will argue, “Man, it just ain’t that deep.” But, humanity must remember that the greatest trick of both the Devil and the CIA is to convince people that they never existed. Or to put it another way, for approximately 6,700 years or until the European Renaissance, all art was the essential part of tribal or cultural rituals or emanated from some religious (teaching) purpose. However, once the Age of Industrialization gave mankind what it never had before, leisure time, art was removed or separated from ritual and became a use of leisure time, and worse, art for art’s sake. Over time, the notion of the innate socio-political nature of all art became unknown to the masses. Let me be clear. Art never stopped being an innately socio-political creation, but as art became gradually more concerned about leisure and, later, a vehicle to earn large amounts of money, it becomes less politicized, mostly due to the owners of companies (books, records, films) who realize that it is easier to sell art that provides the fantasy of mental and emotional release (often foolishness), which soon becomes mindlessness and later perversion. This is the natural progression of art without ritual (purpose or teaching). This is not to say that prior to the 1700s that the commoners, peasants, and, even, slaves of all civilizations did not have their own, often, bawdy art, but that art usually made commentary on the ruling class; it was not mindless spectacle, such as much of today’s reality television, the epitome and precursor being The Jerry Springer Show, for spectacle is the only thing that can occur when art is removed from ritual (or when the purpose of educating is removed from the production of art). And for even more clarity, art never stopped being propaganda. To paraphrase W. E. B. DuBois, all art is propaganda because all art, by its very nature of being celebratory or educational, either supports of denounces something. So, the fact that so many people living after the 1700s do not realize that all art is propaganda does not stop art from being propaganda. (Just becomes one doesn’t believe that fat meat is greasy doesn’t mean that it won’t give one hypertension.) People’s misunderstanding of art’s innately socio-political nature simply causes them to be more vulnerable to the powers of art. (Because the angels didn’t know that Satan is a pimp, their lack of knowledge allowed him to more easily pimp them, in the same way that Jacksonians didn’t know that former Mayor Frank Melton was a pimp, and we see how that worked for the city.) By not realizing that the thing to which people are allowing themselves to be exposed is actually affecting how they understand and engage life makes it easier for that thing, especially art, to affect and influence them. So, any negative portrayal of women or people of color, no matter how minor or playful, negatively affects women and people of color because making people familiar with those negative portrayals eventually causes people to be accepting of those portrayals. Accordingly, the regular practice of calling women “bitches” and “whores” or the regular portrayal of the person of color as the criminal or the mindless physical specimen makes people more accepting of these notions, which, then, can be used to justify the types of socio-political policies created by a society, especially a society based on white male dominance. And of course the extreme of this is “justifiable” or “legitimate” rape of women and the murder of young African American boys because they adhere to the white supremacist notion of criminal, especially when wearing a hoodie, or a white t-shirt, or baggy jeans. Furthermore, these constant negative portrayals of women and people of color can eventually cause those groups to accept those notions about themselves and perpetuate their own second-class citizenship and demise, such as the manner in which African American women attacked Gabby Douglass’ hair.
Again, this is all possible because most people living after the 1700s do not realize the innate political nature of all art. The poem, “Riverscape,” by JQ Zheng, who is a quality poet and solid editor, opens with an epigraph from Robert Carpenter: “You don’t really need a reason to spend time on a river, do you?” Zheng’s point of using Carpenter’s quote is not just to present art for the sake of art but to make the case that poetry is somehow above or separate from the pondering of man’s socio-political issues. The problem with Zheng’s premise is that the correct answer to Carpenter’s question is a resounding “yes!” As Wordsworth, Emerson, and Thoreau have all shown, spending time on a river is an innately socio-political act because the countryside or the riverbank symbolizes the metaphysical or the spiritual for most humans as a contrast to the urban clang of so-called human progress, which Tolstoy, Eliot, Natasha Trethewey, and others have shown to be a corruption of the divinity of nature. So, spending time on a river is an innately socio-political activity, and writing a poem, story, or song or painting a portrait about the river are all socio-political activities where one is either juxtaposing the rural and the urban or forthrightly celebrating the rural over the urban. And not to understand this is to allow those that do understand this to maintain the power to use art to control the masses. Whether it is Akhenaten using his poem, “The Hymn to the Aton,” to seize complete and unquestioned political power or whether it is President George W. Bush quoting “Psalm 23” to galvanize America in support of a war based on a lie, when people do not understand the innate socio-political nature of art, it leaves them vulnerable to those who do understand art’s socio-political power. Thus, it is critical to the development of healthy civilizations to ensure that more individuals are able to analyze the ingrained or imbedded sensibilities of a group or society as presented in the art that they create to understand who they are and what they believe, especially in regards to their notions of marginalizing or demonizing (othering) certain groups of people, namely women and foreigners (people not of their tribe or group). Understanding the history and meaning of witches allows humanity to understand the history and struggles of women. And while Geico’s portrayal is “all in good fun,” a play on words, per se, it can also speak to or communicate the types of latent sensibilities of marginalizing certain groups of people that societies can mindlessly perpetuate because that same society does a poor job of developing a mass of critical thinkers.
DuBois, W. E. B. “The Criteria of Negro Art.” The Norton Anthology of African American
Literature. Eds. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1997.
“The History of Witches and Witchcraft.” HalloweenExpress.com. October 7, 2012. October 7,