This winter a coven gathered in The Teacher’s Club – a Georgian mansion in Dublin – for the first annual Witch Con.
Being seen as a witch has historically been a pejorative accusation. It was used as a death-sentence against powerful, non-conforming women on the fringes of society.
Female witches are persecuted for their gender. Wizards have held court in patriarchal society, their magickal practice posing little conflict to their public life. Merlin was not a witch but a powerful man with a good job.
Yet witches have lived in secrecy, in fear of execution, or self-sufficiently as outsiders making a living from those seeking magickal intervention in their community. Many modern witches understandably desire to distance themselves from the cartoonish stereotypes of witchcraft in mainstream culture. Though witch representation in popular culture is often riddled with inaccuracy, fear and ignorance (exception: The Love Witch, 2016), it also lures many witches to explore their curiousity about magick.
All and any witch identities were welcomed at Witch Con but there was a strict No Wizards rule, (much to the disappointment of one witch who wanted to drag-perform as The Weather Wizard). The witch identity was open to all genders but was primarily a femme concept. Witch Con encompassed high-femme glamour, hags, crones as well as sexless monsters. Witches were informed not to arrive in their civilian attire but in their witch garb: there was a mask made of black metal rings, there was blood dribbling freely onto black micromesh.
All attendees were required to register with their witch aliases (Evil Love Hell, right here), listing their background and practice. The tone of the form encouraged embellishment, imagination, construction of a character. Cassandra Hawthorn, organiser Anthony’s drag witch persona, introduced all witches in the opening ceremony as they presented their gifts to the altar (one witch, Brigid, offered an unholy communion of broken hearts). Cassandra was also offering discounts on her magickal training courses which she shamelessly promoted throughout the night (good things happen to witches who hustle). ‘Astral Plane TV’ were also present, conducting interviews and committed to filming the entire night with a cardboard TV camera and a boom-mic made from a duster.
The night was highly performative and by no means taken too seriously. Instead of distancing ourselves from popular culture witches, these identities were celebrated and performed with vigour: broom gags all night, a cackling competition, and an examination in one presentation of the 1990’s movie The Craft. This is not to say that there was not a depth of true occult knowledge in the room on the night, shared through entertaining presentations as well as in conversations outside the main room, a space where witches could discuss their practises one-on-one and share skill sets and resources. Topics covered included web-hexing, the occult history of weather control, the Caileach, and workshops on talisman-making and cleansing.
Encouraged to fictionalise our witch personae, we were freed to extend beyond our daily selves, unencumbered by [the drag – weight/burden] of reality and to banish scepticism altogether. Performance itself is a magickal art and this night had no binary of performer / audience. There were no observers at Witch Con.
Spontaneous bacchanal chanting and dancing erupted alongside the organised workshops and presentations. We were encouraged to smuggle in booze. I thought I had brought with me a swig of whiskey, which turned out, in the magick of the night, to be poitín (Irish Moonshine or “Evil, poisonous hag hooch” as once described by a friend from the UK I gave a sup to). We stomped our heels singing ‘Ó Ró Sé do Bheatha Abhaile’ and shook the antique floor.
Amanita Phillaides gave a speech on the Caileach and Síle na Gig. She adopted the squatted stance during her presentation and we witches followed suit in an experience that was the yonic mass of my dreams. I found myself taken away, squatting as low as I could and shifting my weight around imagining dragging my vulva on the floor like a snail, covering as much ground as I could like St. Brigid with her cloak.
My presentation was about using one’s body to attain magickal states, citing Austin Osman Spare’s Death Poses and erotic piercings, yoga and dance. I mentioned a recent experience where a man who envied my dancing said that he was only accustomed to dancing to a particular style of music. I gave him my technique for allowing the body to flow without self-consciousness. It worked instantly and he danced happily all night. I demonstrated my technique to Witch Con, ending with a banging choice of song which instantaneously saw every witch in the room turn it completely loose. Thankfully I presented more or less at the end of ceremonies as this scene almost caused us witches to be kicked out of the venue! The witches left the Teacher’s Club foaming at the mouth for the next bit of devilment and with a new vigour for plotting, bewitchment and dancing.
By Caoimhe Lavelle
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