17 February 2017

The W Word

Let's talk about Witches. It's a popular topic these days. I'm noticing that I have a strong reaction to how younger women are using the word and I'm curious about why that is. I have a great respect for words and names, I believe they have their own power (although I'm not sure if I think this is a good or bad thing), so I try to be careful about how I use them.

My first version of Witch was the typical childhood fairy tale bad gal. The black pointy hat, the hooked nose, wild hair, broom, cat, and warts. Always the warts. I was given a Pelham puppet when I was about five - love those things - and it was this one. I was never quite clear on why she had green skin but the rest of it I accepted without question. Remember, this was in the days before The Blessed Jo Rowling and all who followed in her footsteps, making Witches and Wizards cool for little kids.

Later I learned more about the terrible hunts of the 17th Century and my internal image of a Witch became more that of a persecuted wise woman who was 'probably just a herbalist', and more than likely 'a bit gobby'. Next up, in my New Age years, was an awareness of Wicca and the feeling that only practitioners of that should be called Witches. This was happily superimposed with the wondrousness of the Buffyverse, The Craft, Charmed and (*puts hand on heart* *sighs*) Practical Magic.

I discovered the concept of hedgewitchery only in the last few years and found that I could really identify with it. I've dabbled in various versions of earthcentric faiths and practices but always ended up going solo and patching together my own way, so hedgewitchery kinda fits. I have a 'We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn*' t-shirt and when I wear it, I mean it.

Ack tho. 'Witch'. Does that not make me sound like some teen emo who likes to play dress-up and drone on about how 'different' she is, along with a dozen friends who look exactly the same? I just recoil from it because grow up.

But I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of the more spiritual of them are hosted, and guested, by women who are anything from 20 to maybe 32, 33. Their experience with the word Witch is different. Not to say they aren't aware of the history because mostly they are well-read, intelligent women who are curious about their roots, but it's just different. Maybe it's the post-New Age culture. The way the world is more open to the esoteric and what used to be 'alternative'. It's no longer something to be hidden; it's cool. And suddenly everyone's a Witch. Meditate? Witch. Like plants? Witch. Essential oils? Witch. Believe in spirit? Witch. Candles? Witch. Yesterday I heard someone describe Jesus as 'The Grand Poobah of Witches".

My knee jerk reaction was WTF? (That's pretty much my 'go to' reaction for anything these days.) Then I caught myself and asked why. The word Witch has evolved and if young women are reclaiming and celebrating it, is that wrong? Of course not.

I'm still not ready to embrace it myself though, however fitting it may be. I bought domains based on hedgewitch. Can't bring myself to use them. I love the whole hedge/edge thing with all my tree-hugging heart and I'm very comfortable there but the W word? Not yet. Maybe never. It just feels disrespectful on the one hand, and childish on the other. I wish it didn't. Also, if I'm as honest as I promised I would be, I feel excluded (by myself) because I'm not young and hot anymore. I don't look like the Instagram Witches. I know that's crazy, but it's true.

Do you have feelings and/or experience around identifying as a Witch? Have you found your way into peace with it? I'd love to know your thoughts.


*Pedantics Corner: when people rewrite that as 'We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren't able to burn' it makes me want to scream. READ IT OUT LOUD. Where's the rhythm?! Oy. I know. I'm that petty.


  1. i do use the word witch to describe myself, with layers of both humor and utter seriousness. i'm fine with it. at the same time, i share your reservations in many ways. there is a history there that is deserving of deeper knowledge and respect and transmission. and the callowness of the very young (or very pretentious) trying on of anything, "witchiness" included, is always a bit queasy-making...not to mention the predatory market forces seizing upon it and inevitably trivializing it...

    and i'm far more comfy with the hedgewitch moniker and aspects, like you. i'm a loner, not a coven joiner. (although my friends and i do lunch weekly at the local indian restaurant, and we all call it "coven lunch", so...) i doubt if i look like instagram witches? quite possibly some days i do; i wear a lot of black, i like shiny crystal-y adornments, i have long hair...other days, i'm wearing rose-printed linen. the outer tends to inversely relate to the inner mood; all is rarely as it seems.

    i think that younger people have greater comfort with the W word because they've grown up in the age of the interwebs, with access to many images of witches and a post-second wave feminist verbal environment that made witch just one of many possible monikers. it also is less charged than it used to be for those who are conversant with folklore and non-western or non-monotheistic religious traditions. if shamanism is a respected and reclaimed thing, why should witchcraft be any different?

    for me, a witch is simply a person who recognizes nature as her home, both physically and spiritually, and who is not constrained by any cultural definitions of womanhood. she may look and act and believe as she wishes, because she is fully at home in herself. she knows that she is one face of the divine, as are all beings and all that exists, and her ultimate spiritual authority is within herself, grounded in the acceptance and celebration of her own body-mind as an expression of all nature. both force and frailty. creation and destruction. gentle and fierce. all opposites united. any woman---or man---who understands this is my sister or brother in witchery, even if that's not a label they might choose for themselves.

    there is a "yes" in witch, an acceptance of Life in all its complexity. a willingness to find in ourselves the rhythms and flows that echo the greater forces of life. i like that greatly.

    1. Thank you for this. I love all of it so pulling out a line to add to is impossible. Just please know I love it! Writing this post was so liberating that I almost came back and edited it into something very different. Ultimately I felt happier leaving it as a marker in my process. But I'm feeling the 'yes' pretty strongly. And so what if we don't look like the Instagram Witches? Those poor, poor girls don't look like us : )

  2. oy vey. I considered not commenting because i have SO much to say on the subject.

    i certainly do identify with the W word, but would never identify WITH the W word. I tried it on....then Wicca and it's exclusive bullshit really soured the experience. Also, a group of women i was hanging out with (online) at the time, suddenly came over all Lineage and it put me right off. Even more than Wicca. I didn't identify with Wicca,but apparently they are the ONLY ones worthy of the moniker of witch. So, you can imagine my reaction.

    hedgewitch. utterly and profoundly. but, in the way of the hedgewitches of old, i prefer the misted edges...;)

    as for the young 'uns....i applaud the inclusiveness of their approach...which goes miles beyond the utter fuckwittery of my own experience so that has to be good. but, like all things in the internet age, the use of certain words flogs the meaning out of them..so i fear the W word might be one of them. along with soul, alignment, journey etc. etc. ;P

    i like nofixedstars definition -- a person who recognizes nature as home....all of that. yes.

    and while we're on the topic, something that makes me super uncomfortable is cultural appropriation. i think that's rampant in the post-new-age, sage-burning, abalone-shell-wafting world. i'm deeply, deeply wary of people who monetize this form of spirituality. i believe it's open and accessible to everyone, YES...but not something to be profited by. it feels all kinds of squick. which is undoubtedly a wildly unpopular viewpoint...and despite having it explained/justified to me by various people it still doesn't sit well. at. all.

    but that's a soapbox for another day.

    sorry for the mega-comment.


    1. Oh Mel. Can you just write my blog? It would say exactly the same things but in better words! With, not WITH. Yes. I shared your reaction to Wicca back then. Still do. I'm not a club-joiner.

      Cultural appropriation is a massive deal for me. Massive. It has blighted my experience with Reiki because the original practitioners were so secretive about it that I feel us westerners shouldn't mess. That said. Usui himself gave his blessing to Tanaka going to the US and teaching. What he would've thought of the way she taught it I shudder to think, but the implicit blessing is good. I've come to think of it in a similar way to yoga. Something so good must and will spread and evolve, but we need teachers who will steer us along the right path spiritually. I genuinely believe my teacher does that.

      New Age was so clumsy, so monetised, so tacky and open to abuse. Still is. I hope with all my heart that the current wave of awareness doesn't descend (any further) into the same pit. So far, they're doing alright : )
      And I love mega-comments.

    2. Oops. I need to add that I misremembered something. It actually wasn't Usui who okayed taking Reiki to the west. And it was Mrs Takata, not Tanaka. Note to self: don't comment in a hurry.

  3. I'm late (again) to this, but just love it. All of it - including the comments. And like Mel, I nearly didn't comment because I do feel as though I've got too much to say on the subject.

    And where to start? Since childhood I've been a nature-worshipping heathen. My first words were the names of plants. Herbs were a passion when it was uncool and I felt the need to hide my secret herb gardening from my peers.

    Over the years, I've felt both thrilled and repulsed by the W word. Now it's woven into my politics, (as a feminist , mother, and earth nurturer). Those are the things I associate with the word now. It's now my umbrella term for all of the above.

    But as a witch I resemble something a lot more Terry Pratchett than any sexy IG or "Charmed" character, (actually, I think I'm a rare soul who didn't like Charmed, because maybe it was the LA thing but they just seemed like vapid, unkind, boy-crazy frenemies to me, and I had such a visceral reaction to those women).

    I'm off on a tangent now. And I've been watching all of Buffy with my girl, (nearly done), because that I do adore, and I'm so glad the Moon-girl loves it too.

    So. "Witch" is a guiding light for me. It shows me my healthy, wild, instinctive pulls towards what is true and life-supporting, gentle and fierce. Kind and cooperative. Hedge-witchery is what I gel with. I recoil from covens and hierarchies, (although at this stage of my life, I'd love to connect more with others whilst remaining solitary). But hierarchies and self-important posturing is anathema to me. I also think at this stage of the earth's turning, it's also potentially destructive and counter-productive. It feels as though it just mirrors all the old, unhealthy ego power structures we can't afford to replicate.

    Wicca has never appealed, (for reasons above - sorry, but I just can't get behind "high priestess" outside of tarot deck). And simply because, to me, I may as well turn to Catholicism, (that will probably come across as outrageous). But for someone who was never raised in a religion, and raised by people who were wary of religions (and authority in general), wicca seems highly church-y, and pomp-y and ceremonial, in an inverse way.

    But...I do also love that there are younger gens embracing it ALL, (even the bits that don't gel with me - because it needs all the colours and permutations to be expressed).

    Perhaps for many in those younger age groups it's an identifier - a way of finding one another and sharing a sense of political as well as spiritual unity. Especially as so much of these connections are made online now. I feel quite excited by the possibilities there.
    It felt too...dangerous when I was young to step forward and into the W-word, (fear of persecution, cult-y, silly).

    Now when I hear "witch" being tossed about, it can sometimes sound a bit flippant, fetishistic, and style-driven. But hey - it's no longer an ugly, dirty, hateful word. A lot less like a punch in the guts or a slap in the face, (like a lot of words flung at women throughout history). And much more like a playful challenge and a claim to what has always been ours and that we have every right to return to - that belonging *to* life and land, and sexuality and freedom.

    Whilst I get that in these times, everyone is trying to survive, I do find the monetised New Age hustle sticks in my craw. It feels a bit emperor's new clothes, (but with rainbow unicorns). I often find myself saying, "well, I don't need to pay $300 for that, when I can go and stand in a paddock at dawn and get the same effect".

    Ok. Enough of the long, tangential babble. Such a brilliant topic, Jo. xxx

    1. I'll say again, I LOVE long comments! Especially ones like this that are so packed full of goodness.Thank you for writing it : ) And I love that I get to hang out on here with a bunch of hedgewitches : ) xx

  4. Oh merde. I wrote a freaking essay. didn't realise how long this was until I hit "publish". *scurries off to hide under the bed*.

  5. So, word to the wise - ha! see what I did there? - this is looong. Soz.

    Late, later, latest. Am writing this in Wordpad so that when Blogger eats my comment, as it inevitably will, I won't give up and sigh and walk away defeated as I so often have in the past! :)
    Sooooo. Witches then. I didn't know they existed until I went to do a degree in theology in 1996. One of the modules in my first year was the oh-so-glorious Feminist Theology - which I'd happily spend a lifetime on - and it was this, and prescribed texts that I still have on my bookshelves, that introduced me to the basic idea that there was more to be considered than just a big, bearded bloke in the sky and his nightdress-wearing son. Even if they did apparently deserve capital letters at the start of their pronouns. (Now there's something for me to discuss with my self-described gender fluid daughter. God / Spirit / All That Is: the ultimate in gender fluidity. Or should that be the Ultimate? Hmm.) Anyway, yes, wow - what a shock! Spending most of my days hearing/reading/studying abour Early Church Fathers and male disciples, and male theologians with their never-ending battles over semantics and then, out of the blue, here come all these questing, intelligent, witty, seeking, knowledgeable women who want to know where they fit in. Because, after all, even Jesus had a mother. And Mary had much in common with Isis, and the stories all tangled toward to some ancient-er origin if one looked back far enough. And when you did go back, suddently there were all. those. matriarchies.
    So I read these feminist theologians, and then I found feminist thealogians, and soon after, the Pagans showed up. There were Wiccans, Witches, Shamans and Druids embracing the web - hah! of course! - and Witchvox was my place to hang out for ages. And then I found the likes of Mary Daly and realised that a lot of what I understood of the world didn't have regular words to describe it. I admired her determination to make up her own while I, in my usual apathy, was content to feel rather than to insist on names and labels.

    1. I suppose that the main difference in my experience is that I am not aware of having a close connection with nature. I am not a planter of things, or a grower of gardens. I love walking in the countryside but it's not something I need to do to survive in the way that I think you, Jo, need to. I came to witchery via books and the web, and I was fairly young (eighteen or so) when I first found it. As such, I have never thought of it as the preserve of any one group in particular. I read about the Witch Trials and the Inquisition but was more offended that women were made to suffer this way, end of story. It seemed in keeping with the notion of clerical celibacy, a wife becoming the property of her husband when she left her father's home, dowries, FGM,etc. It was one more dismal and miserable chapter in the way that men royally fuck. shit. up in order to maintain control. It reads no differently to me than the vicious murder of millions in WW2, or the vileness of slavery, or apartheid, or the knotted problem of racism in the States and elsewhere. It was, all of it, and still is, a dark and heavy insistence of the absolute power of the white male. (Strange how they're all destined for such things by God, isn't it?) I admired the Christian and Jewish theologians who struggled to find that balance - the notion of the divine as an All That Is, rather than a He. I admired and respected those who fought to find an inclusive narrative for everyone that (ugh, shoot me now) empowered human beings rather than chaining them to old, worn dogma.
      This is all a terribly long-winded way of saying that, to me, a witch (or a Witch, if you prefer) is someone who finds the balance, someone who works with and seeks to integrate both male and female energies, and who understands that there is power in the world: creative, passionate power that runs through every single one of us, and every single thing. And that this is why those who use ritual employ rocks, crystals, herbs, flowers, metals, water, salt, etc. And that the power that's there is not Good or Evil but simply Is. I don't have any 'practice' now, and I don't adhere to any one path. I can go for months or years without considering any of it at all but at my core, this is what I feel to be true. And So I believe any woman can be a witch. It may sound snooty or conceited but I don't concern myself with what others call themselves. I believe that Witches seek until they find what feels true to them, and so I am a witch as much as anyone but I do feel that there is an inherent feminism and/or womanism to being a witch. I feel that a large part of witching is being ready and open to accepting the power of women - all women - to try and effect balance in a world that is still so very lopsided. Witchiness, I feel, it traditionally seen as feminine for a reason.

  6. Okay. Imma just point everyone at your comment and then go and sit down okay? Nailed it. Thank you. Xxxxx

  7. This is really an interesting post. I am a solitary person who does not believe in gods or goddesses except as archetypes, and groups are not for me (though I might like a good knitting circle). But I do think of the earth, its vast vitality and capacity for creation, as sacred. The planet, for me, is the source of all divinity and that is expressed through its every landscape, gesture and creation. I have tried on some labels for size: "pagan," "witch," "oak-loving druid" (ha). I wouldn't feel comfortable defining myself seriously or solely by any one of them, at least out loud...yet they all hold a portion of truth. But I have begun to take days off from work (the pagan seasonal holidays), to recognize and honor them in my own way. And as an "older" woman, I am more and more identifying with the wisdom, beauty and power of old women, and the place they hold in the web of life. I adore the witches in the Pratchett books mentioned above...they are wise, humane and practical women, who know who they are and recognize their own power for good or ill. It is not about appearances, or conformity, it is completely about substance and actions. (There is actually a quiz on the Discworld publisher's site to find out "which witch are you?"—I'm a straight up Tiffany Aching :)).

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  9. I found my way here from your IG (which is lovely, by the way). My mother always used the term Witch when I was a child. She raised me to honour the Goddess, to listen to the wind and the waves and the land; she taught me to meditate, and how to raise a cone of power. She never once shied away from the word, and for most of my adult life I have embraced it. The thing is, it doesn't quite fit my own beliefs. I find myself at the edge, on the hedge, and I love it there - but I only use the term Witch to make it easier to identify my beliefs to those around me (I use Pagan in a similar way). I have not yet found a word for my exact spiritual place in this Universe. Perhaps there is no word. I definitely believe that Names, and even Titles, hold a tremendous amount of power, and we must use them with care. Your post has brought me back from trying to explain myself to others, trying to make others feel comfortable. My beliefs are my own, and there is never a good reason to misuse the power that Names and Titles provide us. <3