Feminism’s Dark DNA

COMMENTARY: The occult has a long history of being a way for women who feel powerless to exert their power and to control others — especially those they feel oppress them.

Millie Bobbie Brown, Gisele Caroline Bündchen, and Vanessa Hudgens.
Millie Bobbie Brown, Gisele Caroline Bündchen, and Vanessa Hudgens. (photo: Laviru Koruwakankanamge/Lili Ferraz/Joella Marano / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Over the last several decades, the number of celebrity women involved with the occult has continued to climb. This year alone, supermodel Gisele Bündchen called herself a “witch of love,” dabbling heavily in tarot cards, crystals and astrology, while actress Emma Watson publicly expressed gratitude for her coven: “Thank you to the witches in my coven who were so pivotal in helping me arrive at where and who I am now,” Watson said. “You are my Avengers and you inspire me and kick ass. It takes a village, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Vanessa Hudgens is also a big occult fan. This spring, Hudgens released a new unscripted series called Dead Hot about witches and spirits filmed in Salem, Massachusetts. The Princess Switch and High School Musical actress said, “It was a lot more personal than anything I’ve ever done. I’m not hiding behind a character as I normally do in films — this is me, exploring something that I am very passionate about.” 

She added, “So much about witchcraft is also practiced in sisterhoods and through female relationships, and through lifting each other up and creating a safe space where you can tap into the unknown and really reach your fullest highest power. That's such a beautiful, powerful thing.”

Beyond celebrities, the occult demand continues to swell with witch walks happening, even in small town America, while in England one can now get a master’s degree in witchcraft and magic. Psychics, tarot cards, astrology, crystals have all become mainstream.

Although seemingly a new fad, witchcraft and the black arts are as old as time. Witchcraft has a long history of being a way for women who feel powerless to exert their power and to control others — especially those they feel oppress them. But like any kind of occult, the practitioner gets in deep and then finds it difficult to get out. What starts out as attraction or fascination then turns to condemnation and torment through guilt. The “nones” of our culture are particularly susceptible to its allurement, without any proper formation about what is good and what is evil.


The Feminist Link

Millie Bobbie Brown reported in the latest issue of Glamour magazine how she discovered she was a feminist: a visit to a psychic. Her revelation is a poignant reminder of the connection between feminism and the occult. There are three main elements of feminism that have been there since the beginning that I discovered in researching my book, The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us (Regnery, 2023). The first is free love, or an erasing of monogamy and the family; the second is radical egalitarianism, or what has come to be called “smashing the patriarchy” by getting rid of any kind of hierarchy, whether in the Church, the military, or government; and the third is the occult, practiced by most of the main feminist leaders from almost the beginning of the movement. 

Feminism’s core beliefs were first articulated by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). While his wife, Mary Shelley, was writing Frankenstein, Percy Shelley was conjuring up his own creature — the first woman, whom he called Cythna, to be detached from husband or children entirely. Cythna’s only relationship, not accidentally, was with the devil. 

Shelley himself practiced the dark arts, going so far as to spend a night in a tomb to make contact with the devil. He also offered a new version of the book of Genesis and the fall of man. 

In Shelley’s reimagined reading of it, based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, Eve is no longer the means of the fall, but through the serpent is given an opportunity for a special kind of knowledge.

Decades later, long after Shelley’s death, Elizabeth Cady Stanton took up the diabolical torch. A native of New York, Cady Stanton was involved in the drama of the Second Great Awakening, which involved an abundance of mediums, seances, and spirit tables — or tables where knocking could be heard via the spirits. Cady Stanton’s own spirit table, the one she sat at, is the inspiration for the Seneca Falls Conference, considered a seminal event of feminism. 

Cady Stanton’s interest in what was known as “spiritualism” wasn’t just a passing fancy but supplanted the Calvinism of her youth. This spiritualism fit hand in glove with the new burgeoning feminist movement because it removed men entirely as any kind of mediator between the material and spiritual worlds. Women could easily conjure up the dead and listen to the spirits directly instead of having any kind of dependence upon a pastor or priest.

Second wave feminism moved even deeper into the dark arts, with the 1970’s book The Sisterhood Is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan, providing some hand spells in the book for everyday or emergency use. Witchcraft under the second wave took on a new allure as the Sexual Revolution moved deeper into what were previously forbidden perversions. Mallory Millett reported that in the early ’70s, her sister, feminist leader and author of Sexual Politics, Kate Millett and 11 friends spent one Halloween sitting around a table, naked, with nothing but bowls and knives on the table, while a giant snake slithered around. Mallory didn’t stick around long enough to see what was for dinner. Mallory's story isn’t an isolated incident; stories of the occult during this era abound.

Feminism’s promise of independence has not created a blithe freedom. Instead, it has led to generations of women who are less happy than women before them, with increased numbers of depression, suicide and substance abuse. The poor are particularly hard hit. Without hope of ever getting married, poor women often find themselves in an odd relationship with the state, called bureaugamy, where their needs and the needs of their children are met by the state rather than a husband. The cultural popularity and instant access to the occult now available, with its dead-ends, guilt, torment and enslavement, is also not bringing anyone, regardless of class, closer to happiness. 

Christians have made repeated efforts to reform feminism into something compatible with their worldview. The effort, in some respects, is a bit like contemporary efforts to resacralize Halloween. The difference between the two is that Halloween actually has authentic roots in Christian theology while feminism does not. 

From its core, feminism has been about the myth that women could become radically independent and self-reliant, free from husbands and children. The occult is gasoline on this feminist fire, spreading the lie that this ideal can be achieved through the power and control the occult affords. What this popular but broken vision misses is the true heart of woman, the heart that yearns for rich, stable, and life-giving relationships. 

Most of us think of feminism as a beneficent force for good in the lives of women, but like the occult, the glowing promises of each do not match up with the harsh reality they actually provide.