There is something of a dominant feminist narrative about those persecuted during the witch trials of early modern Europe and then its colonies. It is often assumed that nothing was going on that looked remotely like the demonic craft so feared by the priesthood, that this was all a fabrication to solidify and centralize patriarchal power, and that the women targeted were simply healers or women whose knowledge, power, and respect among the locals was deemed threatening.
This story has been a necessary step in many ways. It rightly casts the patriarchal Church as the villain of the narrative and allows us to begin to imagine these “healers” as ancestors and as mothers in a larger movement.
But this narrative also robs those very women of their agency and power, because witchcraft is Real, and it is capable of harm as well as healing. And as Peter Grey notes in Apocalyptic Witchcraft, the accounts of those witches put on trial bear too much striking similarity to be merely the result of fabrication. To be sure, these accounts were extracted under brutal torment, but the rich tapestry of stories and practices surrounding curses and demons and the Devil appears to indicate an extant folk tradition being interpreted through a patriarchal lens, not merely a defamation of harmless, fangless healers.
Ritual Abjects is a noise band, performance art troupe, and coven that finds itself in this same rich tradition of anti-imperialist malefica. Our shows, which we hope are enjoyed by all, are designed specifically to empower the oppressed and curse the Empire. It would be impossible here to exhaustively name all our enemies, though certainly patriarchy is among them. In the world that we can see, that is most readily available to our most obvious forms of physical sight, the situation seems quite dire indeed. The gaze of patriarchy dominates. But in the hidden world, in the realm of the invisible—however you conceive of its ontology, we aim to show you that this world exists and has a direct, visceral impact on the more readily visible one—I think we are winning.
The name “Ritual Abjects” refers to a concept in post-structuralist theory. Many of us may be more familiar with the subject/object divide and the process of objectification whereby “subjects” of power with their own rights and reverences are rendered as objects, as inanimate instruments of power. The abject is something different altogether. It is cast out from this entire exchange, shut out and ignored because acknowledging its existence would rupture the entire frame upon which interactions of subject and object rest. My claim is that one of the things demonic craft can do is ritually enact a return of the abject, revealing a way to utterly destroy the oppressive regime in which these subjects and objects manifest.
This Saturday in Columbia, SC, only a few days after the Crow Moon, Ritual Abjects will be performing a glamour spell: it is both a subversion of the present capitalist demand placed upon women to be glamorous in a way that is safe and unassuming and the origin of this demand’s stolen power. Its core principle is Non Serviam.
We will be performing with two other artists brilliantly challenging and engaging in their own right: Infinitikiss and Ahomari. This show is a part of the ongoing Infinite Room community arts project. Doors open at 7:30pm, show starts at 8:00pm at Tapp’s Art Center. So come join us, this Saturday or whenever you’re ready. It is not patriarchal order but another power entirely that compels you.