Witch…..that word…… What does it mean to you?
Although many of us think of the burning times and the historical, female European witch, witchcraft is a diverse, worldwide, cross-cultural, gender-spanning, present-day practice. Witch and witchcraft today can include Wicca, paganism, Neopaganism, shamanism, neoshamanism, hoodoo, voodoo, Santeria, Santanism, demonism, as well as a variety of other culture-specific as well as mystical practices.1 The practice needs to be examined through a cultural lens specific to its provenance, as “witch” will have a unique meaning to a culture,1 and as a practice that spans cultures, practitioners should be sensitive to concerns of appropriation. Generally, witches across cultures and history are intentional healers and change-agents of themselves and their community, using tools such as intuition, divination, ritual, and ceremony (broadly, magic – “the art of changing consciousness at will”2) as well as connection to and knowledge of the natural world, such as biology, anatomy, and botany for their medicine. As healers with unique skills, witches have authority in their craft, that is, they have some recognizable power by their community, even if the practice itself is stigmatized or taboo.
Reclaiming the W-word and Her-story:
For centuries, the word “witch” (from Old English “witan” or “to be wise”3,4 (shamanic women and encyclopedia of myths) has been used to justify genocide against women, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of women, impacting families and entire communities.5,6,7 The burning times.2,8 Though “witch” certainly can include men and gender non-binary individuals, in Medieval to pre-Industrial Europe, estimates suggest that 80-100% of accused witches were female6, often in their 40s5,9 and tied to the healing arts5. The “witch craze” is described as “calculated ruling class campaign of terriorzation”5, following “well-ordered, legalistic procedures” implemented by the Church and State to claim control of the women and sexuality, lower classes and the medical care profession.5,9 The burning times continue in same areas of the world; indeed, reports of attacks on “witches” continue in Africa and India.10,11 Although current attacks on “witches” remain biased toward attacks of females, men are also killed in modern-day accusations of witchery.1 Further, the term “witch hunt” continues to be utilized during contentious, politicized situations.9 The word “witch” then, continues to be pervasively negative with serious, life or death implications.
The African context of witch parallels that of the European trajectory. The term ‘witch doctor’ was often pejoratively used – initially by European Christian settlers – to describe traditional healers or shamans. This negative connotation tainted cultural views on these traditional practices. In many African societies, the term ‘witch doctor’ is still used negatively in evidence of the colonial past. In many places, people have avoided the use of the term in favor of the traditional names for these healers and shamans (e.g, n’anga, sangoma, etc.).
Because of the gravity and weight of this word, people are doing work to deconstruct it, removing it from the negative, taboo, and assumed death. Far from composting ash, “witch” is resurfacing, reshaping, resurrecting, and assuming relevance; she has been, in fact, retuning to life with the suffragists in the earlier 1900s and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s.9 Rather than being ashamed of the title “witch”, women are using it to harness identity, power, and healing, and as renewal of traditional cultural practices. Today “witch” is a womxn (self-identified) or nonbinary person that is stepping into and re-claiming her/their power.8,9,12 She is “re-wilding” in re-membering herself, her instincts, and her intuition.12 She is a threat, a heretic, to social structures, such as the patriarchy (or, better yet, bell hook’s “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”) and consumptive capitalism that desire to keep women compliant and complacent, quiet and tractable.8,12 Witch is vastly defined today as: “a secular, spiritually empowered woman”, “change maker”, “one who is wise”, “opposite of victim”, “powerful being, healer”, “ostracized until people need something from her”, “long haired pagan lesbian”, “someone who is evil”, “with definite connotations of queerness”, “harnesses the energies of the world”, “has a relationship with nature and the wild world”, dangerous,9 challenges dominion and power-over mentality.2 Themes of today’s “witch” resonate with historical concepts, including her power or lackthereof, her challenge and politicization of perceived normative behaviors and expectations for women, her wisdom and understanding of the ways of the world, and her intentions for healing.
There are many ways to describe “witch”9,12 and the heterogeneity of practitioners, cultures of origination and influence, and spiritual and religious underpinnings, as well as the power of the word “witch” means that the practitioner themselves should be given the autonomy to determine their own definition and reclamation of the word.
How do you define witch?
My understanding of “witch” comes from my specific life trajectory, and my vision is mine alone and not meant to limit or define the W-word for any person or spiritual group. A witch recognizes her/their (even, yes, his) inter-being and interdependence with the natural world and all of life, but also has sovereignty, that characteristic women have desired for eons13,14 – a both/and, she is dependent and autonomous, a recognizable part of the whole. She is the eco-heroine, finding Truth, sustenance, and awe in nature, bleeding blue and green and with the moon, and striving for an honorable, holistic life. Unafraid of deepening and going downward, inward, she does inner work to heal her Self, transforms, rebirths, and applies her knowledge to aid her family, community, and culture. She is originality and creatrix of art; children, hearth, and home; and whole new forms of Being, often gifted in unusual ways that place her outside of mass culture. As such, she is political – renouncing status quo and escapist sleep-walking through the world, here instead to foster and facilitate beneficent change. She is the Lover and Beloved – aware that the greatest repair potential and healing modality is Love, a love encompassing all of humanity and earth, incorporating and yet beyond the physical and sexual, a Love that keeps her awake, compassionate, and humble.
Witch as archetype and faces of the Feminine:
Witch has always been with us, even before the burning times, as shaman, medicine women, priestess, creatrix, healer, warrior, and seeker of justice in mythology and archetype. She is Eve, with strength of millennia, bearing cultural burdens without crumbling. She is Mary, creating divinity wholly, holy on her own. She is Baba Yaga, hag, Hecate, callieach, the forsaken, forgotten, shunned by sexism and ageism, old wise (“old wives”) women of knowledge that extends beyond their earthly years. She is Maat and Kali, on the cosmic search for justice and truth. She is Ixchel, Inanna, Isis, Persephone and Morrigan, midwifing and healing transitions between selves, walker between worlds, accommodating and soothing birth and death. She is Medusa and Sedna reclaiming power and self after violence and harm. She is Oya, Yemaya, Maeve, and Durga: warrioress. She is Black Madonna, Gaia, Pachamama, Grandmother Spider – earthly, embodied, inherently nurturing deities. A shapeshifter, she exists in ALL faces of the feminine and all aspects of Being, not to be boxed in and stereotyped, extending too above and beyond gender and oppositions to bring us to our full way, our wise way – complete.
Can you see yourself in these myths and archetypes? Do you identify as witch?
- Starhawk. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics.
- Tedlock, B. The Woman in the Shaman’s Body.
- Walker, B. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
- Ehrenreich, B, English, D. Witches, Midwives, & Nurses.
- Shlain, L. The Alphabet Verses the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image
- Pearce, LH. Burning Woman.
- Sollee, KJ. Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive.
- Africa witch hunts https://www.seeker.com/seven-accused-african-witches-burned-to-death-1769174209.html
- India witch hunts https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/witch-hunts-today-abuse-of-women-superstition-and-murder-collide-in-india/
- Lister, L. Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic.
- Pinkola Estés, C. The Dangerous Old Woman, audio book series
- Blackie, S. If Women Rose Rooted.
Additional resources to consider:
Pinkola Estés, C. Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Redmond, L. When the Drummers were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm.
The Nephilim Rising www.thenephilimrising.com
Mystic Mamma www.mysticmamma.com
Rebelle Society and the Elephant Journal both have information on signs to look for that you may be a witch, including interests in healing and connections to earth and community. See: http://www.rebellesociety.com/2014/01/17/13-signs-youre-a-witch/ and https://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/07/pay-attention-to-the-omens-10-signs-you-might-be-a-witch/
Considerations of the sustainability of crystals: https://hibiscusmooncrystalacademy.com/ethically-mined-crystals/, https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/the-murky-business-of-feel-good-crystals, https://newrepublic.com/article/148190/know-healing-crystals-come-from
Sustainability of essential oils: https://www.nutritionalaesthetics.com/essential-oils-sustainability-concerns/
Written by AM. Material is copyright protected, please site accordingly
Please note that a version of this piece was published here: https://www.wildmoonwomen.com/single-post/2018/09/29/Witch-A-Reclamation