Season of the Witch: Zohra Atash

This week, curator and writer Pam Grossman christened 2013 The Year of the Witch. She not only takes into account the numerological and mythological fecundity of the year, but also equates the witch archetype with female power in contemporary society, thereby turning her supposition into a grander feminist statement about women rising.

Grossman writes, “The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I’ve been able to come up with is “symbolic action with intent” — “action” being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world.”

In celebration of the year of the witch, Slutist found a few female creators to discuss the subject. Zohra Atash, the woman behind Brooklyn’s tribal dance pop duo Azar Swan, delves into the witch archetype and spells out how she’s harnessed her creative force for good.

What makes a witch?

A “witch” embodies strength, a creative force. She’s an alchemist. She recognizes beauty in elemental things. She’s not one to fuck with.

It’s interesting how “witch” has multiple definitions: principally she possess “magical” power, power on her own terms according to Grossman. But, subsequent definitions include “hag”, “spiteful”, “overbearing”. It’s sad how strong female energy and power is still subversive.

But, for a really educated encapsulation, look no further than the lyrics of The Eagles’ “Witchy Woman”.

Who are your favorite witches and why?

My favorite witches are the women for women. The list includes anyone from the girls I have spent time with who are victims of acid attacks on the other side of the world who sought asylum in the USA who still exude strength and humor, to Susan B. Anthony, to Kathleen Hanna, to Tina Fey, to my very own sister, Mariam, who traveled to Afghanistan back in 2002 to meet with folks in the Constitutional Commission regarding approaches to women’s rights in the new Afghan constitution. There are no shortage of them, deeming it impossible to pick favorites.

How have you harnessed your female energy for artistic creation/witchcraft in your life?

When you look at the way languages like French or Italian operate, every word is broken into masculine or feminine. If you wanted to do a sorta word association with images and I how I’d place them feminine or masculine, it would probably be an easy thing to do, but ultimately complete bullshit as female and male energy are two faces of the same force. I am a woman who loves red lipstick and creates outfits based on how animals dress. But, conversely, my first out of middle school job was at an oil change shop and all I wore coveralls while working that job for years. I love guitars and I learned to play, and I got guys to play with me, and they let me be the “boss”. It was a relationship of mutual respect, but still intoxicating as I felt empowered not only to have earned the spot, but to have found people who would recognize my creativity as vital and paid in its propers, even though I’m “just a girl.”

So in short, the best way I’ve harnessed by female energy was by confusing it by adopting things that are considered inherently male.

Historically, what is your favorite and least favorite application of the witch archetype? How has it harmed and how can it help? Do you see any similarities in the way the term slut is used today and the way the term witch was applied hundreds of years ago?

The notion that a woman wielding power is something nefarious is as old as the hills. Because I have an affinity for dark stuff, from time to time I find the caricature of “witch” sympathetic and oddly relatable. In our day, the mother of them all, The Wicked Witch of the West, was only avenging her sister’s death. And if we are completely honest, those shoes were rightfully hers to have. I’d be pissed too.

I do see similarities in the way slut is used, as it is just another way of shaming women for indulging in the exact same behavior that men are lauded for.

For skeptics and the uninitiated, how do you suggest one can indulge in the creation force/witchcraft in mundane, everyday ways?

For skeptics, take a long look at a woman’s belly. Under that flesh, with just a bit of outside help, is the apparatus to create and carry life.

For the uninitiated, it’s as simple as recognizing the magic that is all around you. The magic of the elements, the magic of landscape, however man made. I get an intense charge out of both.

Honestly, the moment you put yourself in a place of making something from nothing, something that was cooked up in your circuits, that’s magic.

Name one witchy thing you did today.

I’m recording vocals on my own for an upcoming single. If there’s not a huge dose of magic in the room while this is happening, I don’t do it.

Photo: Jason Rodgers