"Exploring the Witch's Way:
Transgression and Transformation"
with Dr. Kay Turner
Kay Turner has researched, written about, and performed the witch figure for over twenty years. This workshop will serve to summarize some of what she has learned and give participants both knowledge and performative experience of two aspects of witch lore and practice: transgression and transformation.
Using traditional texts as a basis for interpretation and discussion, we will investigate four witches from different parts of the world: Hekate (Greek myth), Frau Trude (Grimms’ fairy tales), Witch Wife (Mexican and Central American tale), and Morrígan (Irish myth and lore). They are quite different from each other, but all of them utilize transgression—rule breaking, boundary crossing, sex and gender upending—as an impetus for transport and transformation. Their associated emblems are feathers, fire, and crossroads, and we will engage with these in small, affirmation/binding rituals following each of the four reading-discussions.
The witch is a great teacher. Her syllabus is long, her curriculum is difficult. It is impossible to know her fully or to access the complete range of her powers. We remain her students, eager to explore the witch’s way.
For this session, please bring a veil of some kind ( can be very simple—piece of cloth, shawl) black feathers, a source of fire such as candle or matches, two wood sticks of equal size (manageable, not large), a bit of dirt, and a jar containing compost matter such as vegetable peelings, rinds, apple cores—the more putrid, the better! If you can’t bring all, or some of these items, you can draw them, write them on bits of paper, or simply imagine them. You’re welcome to read anything that I or others have written about witches, but no reading is required before the workshop.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Kay Turner is an artist and scholar working across disciplines including writing, music, performance, and folklore. Turner holds a PhD in folklore from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the past president (2015-2018) of the American Folklore Society. She teaches as Adjunct Professor in Performance Studies at NYU. Her books include Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars; Baby Precious Always Shines: Love Notes Between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; and, with Pauline Greenhill, Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms. She has published several pieces on fairy tale witches in Marvels and Tales, the journal of fairy-tale scholarship. Turner's current book project What a Witch queerly rethinks the witch figure in history, story and performance. What a Witch includes an ongoing series of performances exploring the complexities of the witch figure. Recent “What a Witch” performance works include “Persephone’s Return/Persephone’s Revenge” (2020, postponed due to pandemic); “As the crow flies, so….” (2019); Night Hag: Visitation“ (2018); Before and After: What the Witch’s Nose Knows that Andy Warhol’s Nose Can Never Know” (2017); “Hansel and Gretel Queered (Devouring)” (2017); “Spurning Fertility, Smashing Tchotchkes” (2016, 2018, 2019); “The Black Kiss” (with Mary Beth Edelson), 2014. Workshops include “Spinning ‘The Three Spinners’” (2019) and “Performing Witches in Times of Conflict” (2017).