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by Christine Johnson-Duell

As a teenager in the 1970s, amid psychedelic posters and doorway beads and a great deal of gauzy fabric, I pinned this quote to my bedroom wall:

A witch lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of us. There is no joining WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a witch. You are a witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal. You are a witch by saying aloud ‘I am a witch’ and thinking about that.
From The W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto:
Women’s
International
Terrorist
Conspiracy from
Hell
New York, 1968

I loved the irreverence, daring, and humor in this provocative quote and adopted it as my personal manifesto. It felt very grown up to have it on my wall.

I was raised in something like a matriarchy. In my mother’s Sicilian family, women outnumber men three to one. I knew my Sicilian grandmother until I was three years old and knew all but one of her seven siblings. Throughout my childhood, every one of my grandmother’s sisters cared for me, literally and figuratively, and they modeled for me and my cousins how to make a community of women.

I am pretty sure these devout Sicilian women would not have understood my attraction to the W.I.T.C.H.  Manifesto. But, my mother was a charter subscriber to Ms, we canvassed together for the ERA, and she believes deeply in a woman’s right to a voice, a profession, to be free to make her own choices.

In our house, women’s work was public, political work. It was “untamed, angry, joyous” work that sought to become “immortal.” But I was always interested in the part of the manifesto that says, “dare to look within yourself,” which meant, to me, solitary, quiet work.

Hedgebrook offered me space to do reflective work; to “look within,” do work that seeks to be “immortal” and enter a community of women—and men who support the work of women.

At Hedgebrook, I finished a book of poems and discovered the project I am working on now. But most important for me—as a worker, parent, and wife—my role as writer was acknowledged, reinforced, and honored. I am a writer and I have a community, like the one my Sicilian great aunts modeled, that supports me in that role.

I lost track of the W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto after high school but I found it recently, during the Hedgebrook virtual retreat weekend in May.  My assignment for that weekend was to finish a paper purge of files from the past 30 years (with the expectation that clearing office space will result in clearer head space) and I discovered the manifesto in a yellowed file folder. I loved finding it on a weekend that I was connected to Hedgebrook. As I reread it, I found it still resonates, is still provocative, and is still wryly funny.

Last week, I returned to Hedgebrook to volunteer and saw a quote pinned to the wall of the longhouse. Its sentiment was so familiar that it made me smile:


Hedgebrook supports women so they may speak the truth, tell their messy, sometimes unpopular stories, break taboos, find their voices, their outrage, their delight, their power in the world.

Eve Ensler
Hedgebrook Creative Advisory Committee

2011 is not 1968 and I am, of course, no longer a high school student. (In fact, I will soon be the mother of a high school student.)

The W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto is an artifact of an earlier era, but if it is a different time and I am a different person, then Ensler’s words are an excellent update of my personal manifesto—one I’ll carry as I did the W.I.T.C.H. Manifesto—because there is still opportunity for outrage, delight, anger, and joy, in a community that supports the work of women. And there’s still plenty of work to do.

 

Christine Johnson-Duell
About Christine Johnson-Duell

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