0016: Fervor Friday With Author, Curator, and Educator Kristen J. Sollée
All of them witches, as a young girl I always felt a closeness to what one would call spirituality, energy, paganism or the occult. When I asked grand-mom about the super natural or spiritual aspect of life she told me “A natural witch ignores the trappings of religion altogether” at the moment in my life I had no idea what she meant but as I grew older those powerful words began to make sense. Now may have rituals like lighting a candle, sage-ing your rooms, drinking natural herbal teas to heal yourself or a loved one, All these beautiful rituals are traditions that have been ancient pagan practices. So we are all witches (you may prefer the term goddesses). The point is we all have the personal power to enhanced and focused through natural objects, crystals, candles, spells, and manifestations to be directed for accomplishing a goal. I am extremely honored to bring you Kristen J. Sollée an author and educator stepping into the forefront to helping woman reclaim the word witch and slut and aid you in rediscovering your authentic feminine power.
Kristen J. Solléeis the founding editrix of Slutist and a lecturer at The New School. Sollée’s signature college course, "The Legacy of the Witch" follows the witch across history, pop culture, and politics. Her critically-acclaimed book inspired by the course, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, was published by Stone Bridge Press in 2017. Most recently, Kristen has appeared on NPRand Huffington Post Live and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, George Washington University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Alabama to discuss the political history of the witch archetype. Her second book, Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine will be published by Weiser Books in the fall of 2019. She lives in Brooklyn.
Who is Kristen J. Sollée?
I’m an author, curator, and educator exploring the intersections of art, sex, and the occult.
At this moment, how do you spend your days?
As a freelancer, I have no set schedule, so my days often blur together. Either I’m getting up early to start writing, traveling for work, teaching, or indulging in concerts or club nights or rituals with friends.
Can you tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up right outside of Washington D.C. but spent a lot of time exploring the city’s underbelly as a teen. My parents divorced when I was very young and offered me wildly different life perspectives, so I was forced to construct my own beliefs from the jump—although both have certainly inspired my life’s work. I got the hell out of there and escaped to New York right after high school and have been here ever since.
How would you define yourself, and what purpose inspires you?
I am a seeker and a connecter. I love to bring disparate people and ideas and practices together to bear witness to the unexpected alchemy that results, whether it be in the form of books, music and art events, or communal gatherings.
Kristen, I understand that you have had an affinity for witches from a very young age. Can you go into detail on how you’ve established connection with the phenomenal Disney Witches?
Maleficent was my first childhood crush. I was drawn to her aesthetic, her laugh, her bad bitch energy, her unbridled power. I didn’t think much beyond that when I was 5 years old and my mom was showing me the Disney classics. I was, however, always drawn to the female villains, not the princesses, because they were multi-dimensional and flawed, like real women.
I am elated to explore your book and it’s teaching. Can you tell us all what valuable teachings Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive book offers?
Witches, Sluts, Feministsexplores the ways in which the archetypes of “witch” and “slut” have been used to punish women and police female sexuality, and how feminism has allowed women and folks on the feminine spectrum to reclaim these identities and archetypes as symbols of feminine power.
How or what inspired you to create your book?
The ideas in the book had been swirling around my head for years, but it wasn’t until Tina Horn, a brilliant writer (and a real sex positive mentor to me) came into my life that I had the guts to give form to them. I was teaching a course on the feminist legacy of the witch at The New School at the time, and Tina offered to connect me with the publisher she was working for…and it was all a whirlwind from there!
What was the biggest challenge bringing this book to life?
Honestly, besides just trying to make rent while writing, the battle with imposter syndrome was my biggest challenge. I didn’t know if I was smart enough, incisive enough, strong enough to tackle such a vast and vital subject and wondered every day if someone would have been better suited for the job. Nevertheless, I managed to finish the damn thing despite all that self-doubt reverberating in my brain.
Throughout your book, you highlight generations of witches, sluts, and feminists who’ve fought against and dismantled the patriarchy. Who are some of your favorites?
It’s so hard to choose, there are so many I’m indebted to! Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States, was a spiritualist medium, a sex worker, and an advocate for reproductive rights and free love. Maryse Condé, the author of I Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, re-wrote the story of accused Salem witch Tituba into a funny, fictional sex positive tale of redemption that challenges white supremacy and exclusionary forms of feminism. And I love love love Annie Sprinkle, who was doing work fusing spirituality and sexuality long before it was in vogue.
Can you explain what the fourth wave of feminism is, and what it means to you?
So, there is still debate as to whether the fourth wave even exists, but back in 2009, Jessica Valenti said, "maybe the 4th wave is online." I view fourth wave feminism as a variety of feminisms that are fueled and shaped by digital connectivity and digital mediums.
In your opinion what is the legacy of the witch?
It takes me an entire semester to even scratch the surface of this subject with my students! But in very general terms, to me it is a lineage of power and persecution that reveals how the feminine has been alternately devalued, celebrated, and reclaimed.
You make mention of three types of woman that were considered witches, or whom were charged with utilizing witchcraft: the midwife, the fornicator also known as the Slut, and the feminine mystic. Can you dive into why they where deemed witches and what separates each of them?
The majority of women accused of witchcraft in the early modern era were older, poor women. (And yes, many men were accused, too!) However, there were midwives who were accused, there were sexually deviant women who were accused, and there were “cunning folk” (what we might call mystics) who were accused. It was not common practice to always cite the occupation or attributes of the accused in court records, so we don’t have reliable numbers of each type of woman accused of or executed for supposedly practicing witchcraft. What we do have are writings from the time that disparage women who did not fit the model of Christian piety, chastity, and humility. And we know the witch trials were often used to consolidated Church or State power. So in that sense, there actually wasn’t any kind of marked distinction between the many types of women accused of witchcraft: they were all deemed bad and they all suffered the consequences.
Who where the feminist W.I.T.C.H.ES? Can you tell us about their history and their impact?
W.I.T.C.H., or the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, was founded on Halloween in New York City in 1968. This feminist action group harnessed the aesthetic of the witch in their political theatre protests, and set their sights on capitalism and corporations as the engines driving sexism of the day. They hexed the New York City Stock Exchange, protested a bridal fair, sent hair and nail clippings to a school that fired a radical feminist professor—all types of guerilla theatre protests. Although the original W.I.T.C.H. covens only lasted for a few years, there are a variety of new W.I.T.C.H. groups that have sprung up in the wake of Donald Trump’s election dedicated to fighting white supremacy, xenophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc.
I love that you are bold and pulled the curtain open on the true origin of the witches’ broom? Tell us more on how you discovered it, and its reference to the dildo?
The witches’ broom has been a phallic symbol since it was first depicted between the legs of flying hags in late medieval art. However, there are also trial records and demonological writings which suggest women accused of witchcraft used household objects like broom handles slathered in a salve made of belladonna, mandrake, henbane, and other plant matter that would cause hallucinations when applied vaginally. It’s an easy jump to make the dildo comparison given all these delicious details!
What type of witch do you identify most with?
If you mean witch in the sense of actual witchcraft practitioners, I identify with eclectic witches the most: those who create their own forms of syncretic magical practice drawing from their ancestry and community as they see fit. I’m not part of any initiated tradition, so I identify with witchcraft that is self-directed.
What do you think is the biggest misconception women have regarding sex magick?
That it requires a wild orgy or even another partner! Solo sex magic can be just as powerful.
What was your witch-awakening like; perhaps the first moment you realized magic worked, or that you, yourself identified as a witch? How did that moment affect your life?
My mother is an intuitive so I grew up being confronted with the metaphysical realm in a variety of ways. I can’t pinpoint any exact moment I realized “magic worked,” but I really tapped into my own personal practice in a deeper way after being bed ridden with a prolonged chronic illness. I’m grateful for that time as it completely transformed my outlook on life and magic and manifestation.
Can you dive a little deep into how you conjured the very powerful Slutist?
During the abovementioned time when I was unable to work or move around that much, I started Slutist. I suppose it’s a little ironic that a sex-centric site was literally conjured from a bed, but that’s the truth.
I wanted to write and curate work that explored art and sexuality and feminism in ways I didn’t see much of back in 2012. Soon after, I began to realize that a majority of contributors who aligned with the word “slut” also identified as witches. And so Slutist soon became a place to amplify the voices of witches, sluts, and feminists and has been ever since!
I personally feel the word “Slut” is empowering as it challenges the norm. What are your views on this powerful and profound word?
I personally find it empowering as well. I identify with “slut” as an orientation, not queer or bi or pansexual but “slut.” However, it is not for everyone, and nor should it have to be. Not everyone has the privilege to wear or discard the signifiers of slutdom so easily depending upon race, class, culture, and background. So I recognize how “slut” impacts different people in different ways, and how it’s much easier as a white, cis, woman to say “I’m a slut” in public forums and still be able to work in certain sectors and maintain a certain safety and lifestyle.
Historically, woman have been deemed inappropriate, casted out and or punished for acting on their carnal lust and desires. For example, the originator of “the original sin” Eve was casted out of paradise. Why do you think that woman that hold great power with their sexuality, knowledge and strength pose a threat to those with insecurities?
Because empowered women can’t be controlled and subjugated in the same ways as disempowered women can be!
There are still many modern day witch hunts that happen today. Why do you feel society is not talking about these acts, and what can we do to bring these issues to the forefront?
A lot of issues which predominately impact women—particularly women of color—are too often ignored, which is why contemporary witch hunts in places like Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, and India aren’t covered as much as they should be. That said, there are journalists doing good work in these areas, and we as readers should amplify and share it, and at the very least talk about what’s happening with our friends and families and colleagues.
Your book is very empowering, as it offers women a way to be the decision makers when it comes to their pleasure and power. What would you like to say to the people that are a little more hesitant to go to read such a strong, sex positive, and empowering book?
I’m grateful my book has resonated with so many folks of all ages and lived experiences, but I know it’s not for everyone, and that’s perfectly OK. However, I believe knowledge is power, and you certainly don’t have to agree with all of the perspectives in any book to get something out of it…
What led you to embrace your sensuality, and why is it so important?
Embracing my sensuality and sexuality is vital for my own self-acceptance and healing, but I’m always finding new ways in which I have been socialized to deny certain desires. I consider it an ongoing process to resist the sex negativity that pervades our culture.
Sex, self-pleasure, deep intimacy… are topics that don’t seem to be as readily or openly accepted by society yet. Why is this?
Sexual freedom and deep intimacy threaten most oppressive systems of power that want to keep people alienated from one another and from themselves so they are more easily controlled.
When you are caught up in your head, or just really busy/distracted in life, how do you get back to earth (and into your body)?
Meditation, masturbation, breathwork, pilates, sigil making, and playing music are all ways I bring myself back into the moment and into my body.
Do you have a favorite ritual?
I love the communal rituals I do with my coven sisters. They are some of the most powerful I’ve been a part of so I don’t want to give away too many details…
What do you want to tell woman who are seeking to take on their own passion projects, and make them their career?
Sometimes a passion project can be suffocated by trying to force it to become a sustainable career. But at the same time, focusing on work that is deeply meaningful can revolutionize your life. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and nobody but you can know what’s right.
What would you say has been your biggest take-away/lesson learned since starting your own company, launching your website, or writing a book?
Don’t be tethered to an outcome, but instead immerse yourself fully in the exhilarating and challenging process of exploration and creation. I think that’s the only way to really enjoy the work you’re doing without being held hostage by reviews or profits or public reception or the opinions of others.
Kristen, thank you for sharing your time and energy with us. Where can the Kinktra lovers find you?
It’s an honor to be featured!
@kristenkorvette on Instagram
kristensollee.com is where I share most of my work these days.