Slutist's Legacy of the Witch Casts a Powerful, Feminine Spell
Karyn Crisis of Gospel of the Witches
Photo by Suzanne Abramson
Whether it's the Halliwell Sisters, Stevie Nicks, Hecate, or Melissa Joan Hart's take on Sabrina, feminine power and the archetype of the witch have always been synonymous. Kristen Korvette, a Brooklyn-based writer and founder of the feminist blog Slutist, sets out to celebrate the relationship between femininity and the craft with this month's Legacy of the Witch Festival at Saint Vitus.
Founded in 2013, Slutist evolved from Korvette's desire to cultivate a sex-positive space for discourse online. "I started Slutist as a place to publish writing about music, art, pop culture, and politics through a feminist lens," Korvette explains. "It started out with my writing and then it really took on a life of its own. Dozens of women from New York and around the country got involved and it became a more communal effort." Since its inception, Slutist has featured op-eds, interviews, and round-ups by feminists of all stripes that push past the boundaries of respectability politics and stereotypes while applauding what the mainstream might consider forbidden or taboo.
Offering its audience what Korvette describes as a "triangulation of topics," Slutist also investigates the meaning and power of traditionally derogatory terms like "slut" and "witch," cultivating a dialogue around those terms and how they have affected female embodiment and its subsequent narratives.
"I wanted to celebrate all the women I've met who have contributed to Slutist," Korvette says. "What better way to celebrate that than with a party? But then I was faced with the theme. It couldn't just be something self-indulgent. I wanted something more."
Korvette found herself drawn to the similar histories behind the terms "slut" and "witch." "I've always been interested in the way the words 'witch' and 'slut' have been used so similarly to police female sexuality," Korvette states. For Korvette, the reclamation of such terms can be transformative and empowering.
"Whether you believe in [witchcraft] metaphorically or literally, it's great. This festival has aspects that are true to what life practitioners might use, but I think it's for everyone. You don't have to believe in anything beyond yourself and the power of women. It's all-inclusive." Korvette's vision for Legacy of the Witch isn't just celebratory, as a portion of the profits go to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).
Legacy of the Witch's diverse roster of musicians, burlesque performers, artists, and intellectuals showcases how the archetype of the witch can be manifested into creative feminist acts.
For Korvette, music, specifically, was pivotal in planning Legacy of the Witch. "I've been writing about, playing, and obsessing over music my whole life, so there was no question [that it] had to be the main focus of the night," Korvette explains. Selecting acts that incorporate aspects of witchcraft and ritual into their songs, Korvette's inclusion of Azar Swan, Delphic Oracle, and Gospel of the Witches is more than befitting — it's inspired.
"Delphic Oracle's sets are always rituals unto themselves," Korvette says. "Christiana Key [frontwoman of Delphic Oracle] plans every moment down to the minutiae of the particular candles, oils, and herbs she brings, sometimes even handing out talismans she's hand-crafted to each audience member as part of her show. Azar Swan brings feminine power in her shimmering shawls and songs that pulse with passion, fragility, and spirituality. [Gospel of the Witches'] Karyn Crisis is a formidable presence. Her vocals are at once extreme and serene, and the lyrics on her new record, Salem's Wounds, delve into ancient rituals, the historical persecution of the witch, and the pains and pleasures of inhabiting a female body."
Music, for Korvette and the festival's performers, possesses a power of its own, and Zohra Atash of Azar Swan echoes that sentiment.
"There's an alchemy that happens when you make something out of nothing," Atash says. "Even more than that, if it resonates with other people, it's like a spell cast. I think music, songwriting, singing, and creating the visual identity is the only way I can communicate my emotions. I've never been particularly great at vulnerability or surrendering myself completely, but at least I can cleanse by writing and singing about it."
One of the festival's many participants, Pam Grossman, an NYC-based scholar and co-founder of the Brooklyn art and lecture space Observatory, views this not only as empowering but also as part of the zeitgeist. "It's a great alternative to so many other female archetypes that have been peddled at women over centuries," Grossman explains. "It's tiresome that [the] options for us traditionally are to be chaste ingénues or sexpots or selfless mother-martyrs." For Grossman, the witch offers more independence, and with that more power. "There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but I'm also interested in seeing images of women who have power on their own terms, who aren't defined by their relationship to another person, and who make things and transform the world around them....So much of the female experience is still considered taboo or shameful. Female desire — sexual or otherwise — is still not something society is terribly comfortable with."
For Grossman, much like Korvette, the power of the witch lies in the way her story can inform female identity. "There's something inherently empowering about finding personal resonance with a story — whether fictional or historical — and that's certainly true in my case," Grossman says. "The more I study witches, the more I see that she's quite hard to pin down or define. She's a composite creature that's been constructed out of thousands of years of fear and awe of female power. The one through-line is that she is magical. I'm a sucker for anyone who's on the fringe, and there's no bigger rebel than the witch. She stands for anything that challenges the status quo. Plus, the outfits are awesome. The witch is the ultimate creator. She conjures, she transforms, she manifests, and she does so without apology."
Creativity and transformation serve as similar sites of inspiration for Crisis. As one of the three bands billed for Legacy of the Witch, her occult-metal outfit Gospel of the Witches couples visceral instrumentation with melodic vocals and incantations. As illustrated by their latest LP, the role of the witch is pivotal for Crisis.
"Creativity as a process can be used by anyone for anything," she explains. "It expresses deep personal truths that, in some way, empower others to express their own truths. In the case of women and witches, expressing this ancient lifestyle — which has been so abused by the church and societies who shame women — is a natural way to be."
Crisis views Legacy of the Witch as an opportunity not only to pay homage but also to dispel bias. "This festival gives a public platform for people to express and experience aspects of witchcraft in modern times," Crisis explains. "It's offering a contrast to the belief that witches are evil and dance with the devil."
In commemorating Slutist's second year, Legacy of the Witch will also include tarot card readings by Cat Cabral, palmistry by the Tarot Society, an intentionally curated altar featuring a cast-iron caldron, flowers, and incense hand-picked by Korvette.
"We are going to do the scariest thing of all," states burlesque performer Chicava HoneyChild. "We are going to play and speak our truth with ferocity and joy."
Slutist presents Legacy of the Witch at Saint Vitus on Sunday, March 29. Doors 5 p.m., 21+, $10. www.saintvitusbar.com
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