First, witches. My erstwhile significant other asked me the question: “Why are the males called ‘wizards’ and the females called ‘witches’?” I had no answer, except to know that the counterpart of witches are warlocks, and the counterpart of sorceress is sorcerer, but there does not appear to be a feminine version of wizard.
I know I’m venturing into a subject that most of my fine colleagues at BVC will know a good deal more about than me, but I’m exploring language. My old Third Edition Thesaurus gives a comprehensive list of synonyms for witch and warlock, sorceress, and sorcerer, but in its reasonable way steers clear of gender roles. These synonyms are listed in the 1000.00 section, starting off with occultism and moving into spell, charm before jumping to ministry. Peter Mark Roget developed an interesting data system.
An entymologist can explain which came first, the enchanter or the enchantress, not me. But I would place money on the male gender name being the original. “—ess” is easily added to titles of male occupations—actress, empress, princess—to describe a woman occupying the same role. But I am thinking it’s likely true, giving a nod to the portmanteau word “wizardess” for a female wizard, that “witch” is the only title truly and originally attributed to women.
This makes sense when one looks at the word’s origin: wicce. I was surprised to find in my New Oxford American Dictionary that wicca was masculine and wicce was feminine in Old English. Wicca means “witch”, in most references. (The modern Wicca religion was founded in the mid-twentieth century.) Synonyms for witch include hag, lamia, witchwife, hex. I have a feeling that power-hungry Christian moguls, anxious to quell the populace, turned the definition of the witch from healer, midwife or invoker of spirits into spellbinder, bewitcher and servant of Satan. Women, as always, were the easiest target.
What this discussion has to do with toe shoes is similar. While not a devotee of ballet, I do really enjoy movies set in ballet companies. It’s coincidental to the remark by my husband because I happened to watch Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes the other night and the idea struck me that only the female dancers wore toe shoes. (Ballerina. And what is a male ballet dancer called? Beats me. Danseuse, danseur.)
Wikipedia tells me that pointe shoes were first worn by female dancers in the mid-nineteenth century. Until this time, dancing on pointe was achieved by wires. (Who knew—an invention by a man, of course). The floating, ethereal look was wildly popular, and dancer Marie Taglioni was the first to eschew the wire and actually dance on her toes in pink slippers.
Since that time, pointe shoes have been engineered to provide support for longer performances. The women who dance this way dazzle me; beyond beauty, it’s the rigor. Discipline. The obsessive ambition these women have to sculpt their bodies for dance.
Classical ballet embraces on pointe dancing and will likely never stop. Ballet is just one of multiple dance forms. But only the other day, as I was watching Moira Shearer in her red toe shoes, did I wonder why the men never danced on pointe. While the men, Wikipedia informs me, would practice jumps and leaps, the women practiced pointework.
When watching ballet, who does ones eyes follow? The danseuse, of course. While I was taken with the torture of learning to dance on pointe, no matter how custom-engineered the pointe shoe is, I’ve come to realize that in dance performance, the women shine. Fred Astaire could dance like a demon, but we all know the joke about Ginger Rogers. And we all loved her gowns.
Therefore, we women sometimes forget how scary we are to men, and to ourselves. My husband and my friends’ husbands and partners agree nicely about who is in charge. On the stage, it’s the girls.
At the cauldron, it’s the girls too. And the priests were very, very scared.