The Aeneid

Witchy Women: Female Magic and Otherness in Western Literature

Tales of women as sorceresses and magic-wielders abound in the literature and mythology of cultures that promote the gendered binary of culture over nature, activity over passivity, and reason over superstition. In these patriarchal societies, women are marginalized from society and have no agency of their own; to get what they want, they must resort to outside-of-society means like magic. Problems arise when what women want has catastrophic results for men: a number of different literary genres, including Greek mythology, Shakespearean plays, and Roman literature, point out that women use magic either to bewitch a man into bed or to revenge an untrue lover. The wrath of wronged women like Medea, Dido, and Phaedra wreak havoc on the lives of men, and the beguiling powers of Cleopatra and the sorceresses of the Odyssey detain men from performing their masculine duties. Because of the negative impact that women's magic has on patriarchal order, the universal association between women and magic not only creates the perception of women as the "Other," but also reinforces it: because woman is the Other, she uses magic; because she uses magic, she is the Other.

That a good number of sorceresses are also foreigners is not...

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