American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Hex the Kyriarchy: The Resignification of the Witch in Feminist Discourse from the Suffrage Era to the Present Day

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Kimberly Coates (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Andrea Cripps (Other)


The mythopoetic histories of prehistoric matriarchies and European witch hunts written by second-wave feminist Goddess worshippers and witches have been roundly critiqued by feminist academics for their uncritical reproduction of conventional patriarchal gender archetypes and their neocolonial appropriation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color’s spiritual practices, deities, and symbols. Feminist scholars have argued that these narratives serve only to depoliticize feminist politics and prevent meaningful progress in the feminist movement. The goal of this project is not to refute or dismiss the critiques of these scholars, rather, this dissertation builds from these critiques to explore whether feminist Goddess worshippers and witches are doomed to perpetually repeat the sins of their foremothers, or if contemporary feminists are finding ways to engage, resist, and rewrite the neocolonial, racist, and gender essentialist tropes inherited from their first and second-wave forerunners. Refusing the binaries that ally secular, progressive activism against private, regressive religion, this project uses a mixed-methods approach of queer-feminist discourse analysis and focus group interviews to examine how the discourse of feminist Goddess worshippers and witches has produced the witch as an indelible figure within feminist activism and spirituality. It traces the figure’s evolution throughout the eras of suffrage, radical second wave, and contemporary feminism. This project contributes to the existing literature by building a hermeneutics of repair using Melanie Klein’s object relations theory and Stuart Hall’s concept of oppositional reading to complement the critiques generated by feminist scholars working from what Paul Ricoeur calls a hermeneutics of suspicion. I offer a critical, queer-feminist analysis that employs both modes of hermeneutics to feminist discourse and focus group interviews to analyze how the spiritual practices and writings of Goddess feminists and witches serve as strategies that continuously cite and re-write the figure of the witch through and within the contemporary feminist contexts of each era.