2: an ugly old woman : hag
3: a charming or alluring girl or woman
4: a practitioner of Wicca
(courtesy of Merriam-Webster)
I am currently reading a non-fiction book called The Witches, Salem 1692, by Stacy Schiff. I'm already lured by the depictions of young teenage girls who are thought to be possessed or bewitched by the Devil via the shapeshifting witchcraft of poor women in small town Salem.
Dark times. Dark times.
So far, I haven't read anything positive about witches. They are portrayed very much like the dictionary definition of witch (see above) by all accounts given (by men). I suppose this is to be expected. This was a very patriarchal Puritan culture.
A strong woman would not be supported in 1692 North American colonies (see also: 2016 America at Large).
Growing up, my understanding of witches came mostly from Disney cartoons and Halloween. You know the tropes:
- Green skinned
- Warty nosed
- Maniacal laughter
- Cauldrons of toad legs and bird wings
- Black cat familiar
- Rides a broomstick in the night sky
- Requisite pointy black hat
- Basically she was in cahoots with Satan.
- Basically she was a servant of all things Evil.
- And basically her aim was to hurt as many people as possible.
Just thinking about these stereotypes now makes my skin crawl.
I can't remember the first witch I met. I'm sure I was like, okay....whatever (with a slightly nauseated and repulsed internal reaction). But when I met Ylva, "witch" became something else. It became something beautiful and resonate and very real.
Ylva, who would become my second teacher in my study of shamanic ceremonial work, is a beautiful shining soul. She's funny and witty and sassy. When she's "in Spirit," her eyes are alive; sparkling and intense and clearer than any eyes I've ever seen. In those moments, I trusted that Spirit, the Goddess, the God (insert your name for Higher Power here) was completely present through her.
Ylva would talk about the Goddess and Spirit with such familiarity, it was as though their relationship was one of casual but intimate conversations over pizza, not formal piety and solemn worship (though to be fair, Ylva demonstrated this aspect of her relationship to the Divine just as often). And through this relationship of familiarity and formality and trust, Ylva would perform ceremony with clear boundaries and well-established relationships to the unseen in ways I had not witnessed before. Not in Christian circles, not anywhere. And certainly not represented in mainstream culture.
If Ylva was a witch, what were those representations I saw growing up? What were kids playing at on Halloween? Ylva never wore a black hat. Her skin wasn't green. There were ceremonial cauldrons but it wasn't about potions involving strange animal parts - though potions are real and shamanic practitioners and witches do use animal parts (wait for the #witchlife 2 segment. I'll elaborate).
Was I too, a witch? Studying with Ylva for three years, l was learning, among other things, about the cyclical nature of the inner life as reflected by the outer world and vice versa, about my personal cosmology, practical hands-on techniques to facilitate healing and to bring information to people, and how to nurture a solid relationship with Spirit. Was this "bad?"
Growing up in Christian atmospheres, everyone from pastors to peers would seem to insist than anything other than the Bible was unacceptable. I felt a stab of literal fear when I saw anything related to Tarot.* I never walked down New Age sections of Barnes and Noble as a kid, and if I did, I would hold my breath until I turned the corner to Christianity. Once in the "safe zone," I would exhale slowly and look at the row of C.S. Lewis books**, as if cleansing myself of any unseemly imagery I had perchance picked up in the previous aisle.
But in "witch school," it was all about:
- how to cultivate a relationship of beauty and gratitude to nature and to Spirit
- how the feminine and masculine aspects are represented in the world and in myself, as equals
- how to accept that I was someone inherently worthy and not "sinful" by nature
- how much lightness we carry around and tools we can use to shine in the shadows
- how darkness is not in and of itself a "bad" thing at all.
I found such joy and comfort and resonance in these teachings.
In those three years, I found someone who I could trust - me. And I cultivated a pizza casual relationship to the Divine as well as a reverent one.
Ylva never insisted that we ascribe to everything she believed in or taught us. She never demanded we were all witches by proxy. We got to choose along the way. We weren't meeting in secret. We weren't casting perverse spells on people. We learned about soul retrieval and how to bless homes for community. We shared our heartfelt callings, our terrible fears, and enjoyed moments of ecstatic witness with each other. We learned how to make altars for blessing and abundance, for creativity and love. We learned how to hold space for others with a safe and compassionate presence. As Ylva said, "Notice what you notice and how you notice it." Lessons were just as much about tracking our external surroundings as they were about monitoring our own biases, judgements, perceptions, and intuition.
If this was being a witch, I was one. Am one.
I am not a historian, though I wouldn't say no the study and practice of this profession; I do love a good mystery - #scorpio. I don't know much about the written accounts of witchcraft over the centuries. I do know that it isn't what you think it is; it isn't what I thought it was.
I believe that our mainstream perception of "witch" is inherently a projection of the patriarchy. Their fears relate to the strength of women and nature and the unseen. A woman who is connected to the natural world, who respects it and can bring healing (power) to others through her innate and unique ability to harmonize with Spirit, well, that must be scary.
I also understand that the term witch does not just corollate to cis/trans women. Witch includes cis/trans men too. But from what I understand, our perverted cultural stereotype marks witch exclusively to be one who is a woman.
That we fear strong women as healers, as politicians, as artists, as comedians, as writers, as pretty much anyone who is powerful, is more than disheartening. And while 2016 seems to have propped up the patriarchy, the white, cisgendered, and able-bodied men among us; the corporate body over the individual body, I think 2017 holds a richness for us in which to dismantle patriarchal perceptions and create new definitions for any and all of our vocations in ways that serve to heal and restore.
1: one who is credited with healing powers; especially : one who understands the importance of harmony with the natural world, often with the aid of the Goddess and God, Spirit, her personal allies and guides
2: a beautiful person
3: one who blesses and is blessed
4: a practitioner of hope, a light bearer, a wisdom keeper, a healer, one who seeks good, true, and beautiful transformation in the world
(courtesy of Erin MacDonald)
*I very much appreciate Tarot and have found it to be a helpful tool for myself & for others.
** I very much appreciate C.S. Lewis and many of his written works.