Women in Print : Witchcraft and the Popular Press. Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, April 11th 2015 – report

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This was an interesting and inspiring day,  and hopefully just the start of a much larger conversation on the subject.

The breadth of approaches to the subject was what made the day especially interesting,  considering scholarly close reading of the various affordances of witchcraft and its metaphorical use in literary forms alongside the ways that witchcraft enables us to think of the ‘craft’ involved in our making and imagining the world as performative knowledge meant that no one approach was privileged, and demonstrated what an interdisciplinary idea ‘witchcraft’ is- and how it had, as more than one person put it, ‘fallen through the gaps’ in conventional scholarship.

The sense of the witch as an integral part of the ‘imagined village’ was very strong and the ways that this positions traditional forms of knowledge and skills- both in the 20thc and in our contemporary social imaginary.

It was very interesting to see how the positioning of witchcraft emerged through various methodologies, especially the contested territories of the past – from historical surveys weaving threads of witchcraft through the art of women surrealists, interrogating  the relationship between art made for the gallery and art that takes place in gardens and kitchens, and the sorts of questions that are being asked about the kinds of historical knowledge that have been applied to the subject, who is allowed to be an ‘expert’ in the field and so on.

The ridicule of scholarship that has taken place in the past- Theo Brown being described as ‘that old witch’, the energetic refutation of ‘self taught’ folklorists,  and the vituperative reaction to Margaret Murray’s hypothesis also gave cause to reflect on the ways that the subject of witchcraft is itself somehow deemed disreputable.

There was some very interesting analysis of our visual understanding of witchcraft- in the juxtaposition of traditional and modernist motifs in the formal qualities of bookjackets, the line drawings depicting witches as ‘disordered’ and how these mapped the zeitgeist of the times, and created cultural currency for the idea of witchcraft.

It was fascinating to see how the ways that we are visualising the witch and considering the magical in our contemporary responses to the subject – from drawings of objects, collecting personal stories and memories, walking the same landscapes, shadowing the same skills, and experimental conjuring from the essences of the landscape.

A dominant idea was that of collage, or even bricolage- of thinking through objects and making as well as putting  many different forms of writing together. As Katherine Hodgkin pointed out this is an approach associated with 20thc literary and art practice,  but it is also a helpful way of framing practice-based knowledge, and as an approach to encountering the subject of witchcraft.

The idea of witchcraft  as emergent and performative knowledge was beautifully evoked by the Folklore tapes in their performance at the end of the day, and for me, pointed to an interesting hinterland, the wild edges of scholarship and approaches to the subject, blending field work and research into practice.


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