Date of Award
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Communication Studies
Bernadette M. Calafell
Magic, Resistance, Social justice, Witchcraft, Witches
This project joins other academic conversations regarding the dynamics of power, modernity, witchcraft, and magic within the contexts of Western hegemony. Occasioned by kairotic cultural events and the reinforcement of ideologies like those found in the Dobbs decision, QAnon conspiracy, and rise of Christian Nationalism, this project contends that evaluating the potential political power residing in witchery is necessary in understanding some of the nuances of hegemonic control and resistance to oppressive authority. Predominantly following rhetorical evaluations of magic found in the works of Gunn and Covino, I maintain a non-universal methodological practice that works to understand the various instrumentality presented in the subjects of analysis. In line with William L. Nothstine, Carole Blair, and Gary Copeland, I too contend that “universal, abstract, methodological strictures and formulae for critics” are ill-suited to/for contemporary rhetorical criticism – especially analyses like this project in which the topic demands attention to idiosyncrasies in order to gauge the discursive ‘bigger picture.’ My methodological praxis engages in what McKerrow (2017) calls the “new instrumentality” of critical rhetoric “that demands alternative approaches, especially in relation to reclaiming the utility of a meaning-centered orientation.” Though this project concerns itself with witchcraft and magic, the methods and theories deployed herein work to demystify dominant power structures by illustrating how, as Mckerrow (1989) states, “rhetoric conceals as much as it reveals through its relationship with power/knowledge.” Magic is a convoluted idea. This project seeks to attend to unpacking some of that mess in addition to analyzing the discourses and rhetoric of contemporary witches doing the same.
The supposed eradication of witchcraft and magic is the creation myth of modernity; it has and continues to be the foil for standards of propriety, righteousness, civility, and rationality. The witch has picked up many meanings on her/their journeys throughout historical space and time. Some of the witches presented in the chapters of this project exist in different, fictional Elsewheres. Others exist at different points in linear time and different conditions of materiality. There are other practitioners, not of marginalized identities, who are not heretical and instead deploy magic to reinforce the existing power symbolic/social order. Like Covino (2000), I dub the latter magi as “sorcerers, and they are markedly different than their witch counterparts. Unlike sorcerers, witches threaten the status quo because she/they transform the material with their transgression. In the chapters contained herein, I have tried to illustrate that witches all live and transgress differently. There is no singular image of the witch. There is no one generalizable truth for practicing the craft. The consistent characteristic seen among those analyzed is magic as a response to symbolic/social marginalization. The witch is a near-universal idea applied to femme bodies/characteristics, but it has been applied differently based on the conditions of slavery, colonization, neoliberalism, and variations in which epistemic violence has been enacted. The witch shapeshifts but agency remains the evergreen characteristic pinpointing her/their existence. This makes the archetype of the witch a point of identification for marginalized bodies – historically femme bodies – to gather around. Working as a type of discursive umbrella, the historical deployment of the witch archetype as a means to civilize and assimilate others into the standards of European modernity has had the unintended consequence of creating a broad but nuanced symbol for others across intersections to gather under. Witchcraft offers the exiles of society an alternative symbolic/social order that aids in their survival on the peripheries of hegemonic boundaries. Occult languages, connotations, and symbols offer a vocabulary for their experiences that ‘ordinary language’ has made ineffable. Witches’ spells are made impolite because they are deployed from mouths already considered dangerous and clamorous.
Within this framework we can see witches’ spells as a rhetoric of subalternity. Rhetorical meanings (re)/create in ways that defy traditional delineations of the ‘real.’ Witches’ spells are a priori impolite because they are deployed from twitching tongues already considered dangerous and clamorous. Like the ancient Cynics before them, spellcasting by witches/heretical magi is a form of parrhesia – an expression of truth telling that exposes the simulacra of absolute order conjured by the state. This, in turn, can inspire imagination, fantasy, and invention of a world considered unreal under current material conditions. Rejecting hierarchical placement in the symbolic/social order is in a sense, supernatural, paranormal, other-worldly. When we consider spells as rhetoric, we consider the available means of persuasion and agency for the powerless. These subaltern conjurations enact what Covino (1994) asserts is “the dynamic complexity of celestial and terrestrial intelligences that attend any word [and] render it a calculus of possibilities.” Such possibilities include altering the material conditions of systemic and systematic oppressive forces.
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K. Scarlett Harrington
Received from ProQuest
Harrington, K. Scarlett, "Something Wicked: Witches and Rhetorics of Resistance" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2286.
Rhetoric and composition, Regional studies, Mass communication