chapter  6
32 Pages

Self-fashioning by women: choosing to be a witch

We rarely think of witches in connection with agency. Agency is the power to shape one’s own life and story. Being accused of witchcraft is thought to remove your identity and replace it with one that is not of your choosing. Having a reputation for witchcraft is seen as something which is done to women, not something they do. Anyone who participates in such labelling is seen as the mouthpiece of a patriarchal ideology of submission. The agency of witches in shaping their lives, reputations and confessions is thereby erased. Women involved with witchcraft entered vigorously into a struggle to control the meaning of their own lives. Usually, we know about their activities because they eventually lost the fight to determine how they were seen and what stories could be told about them. This should not lead us to underrate their energy and ability, even if the version of that story which has come down to us was written by others. Some women actively sought a social identity as magic-users, though not necessarily as witches. Others accepted and reinterpreted the identity of witch when it was suggested to them by others. Still others showed a different kind of agency: they created stories about themselves using cultural materials which had become devalued by the elite. Finally, women’s confessions show women accused of witchcraft shaping their own stories.