What is a witch?
A hunched figure crouched over a cauldron stirring a mysterious brew in the midst of a kitchen cluttered with herbs, lotions and potions and all manner of unidentifiable items. The ceiling dangling with bunches of herbs drying and a roaring fire in the hearth. Is that a witch?
What about the green skinned hag, cackling to herself as she rides up into the skies on her broomstick having just pushed a couple of children into her oven. Is that a witch?
How about a bare foot waif of a girl (or boy) with long flowing hair adorned with flowers who sings as she/he dances over the meadows wearing tie dye clothes. Is that a witch?
A gypsy sitting in her caravan complete with headscarf and gold hoop earrings gazing deeply into her crystal ball? Is that a witch?
Teenagers wearing dark clothes, striped tights and black lipstick and heavy eyeliner dabbling with candles and skulls. Is that a witch?
The girls from Charmed dressed in skimpy outfits throwing fire balls at demons. Is that a witch?
From fairy tales to Hollywood
Sheesh…from fairy tales to Hollywood and everything in between we have some pretty interesting ideas of what a witch is and most of them completely and utterly wrong. Although I do have bunches of herbs hanging in my kitchen…and I own a cauldron and striped tights…
I think, and bear in mind this is my own personal view that there are a HUGE number of variations of what being a witch is. A real witch that is rather than a fairytale/Hollywood creation. The pagan umbrella covers so many different pathways and variations of those same pathways. At the end of the day each person is an individual and each journey will be very personal and different for everyone.
Down to basics
When you get down to basic details what makes a witch? In fact what makes someone a pagan? I think the common dominator to it all is … nature…probably…but not always…see how difficult this is?
But then should there be a common dominator? We are all individual and we are most certainly all unique, each and every one of us. But we do like our labels…
The problem with trying to put labels on paganism is that it covers so many different pathways. And within those pathways so many more individual journeys.
Just within witchcraft there are hundreds of different ‘trouser legs of reality’ (the term is blatantly stolen from the amazing Sir Terry Pratchett). I am a Witch and quite often referred to or refer to myself as a Kitchen Witch. But does that cover it all and what on earth is a Kitchen Witch anyway? Believe me I get asked that a lot.
Now whilst I do like to think I am a bit of a whizz in the kitchen I am also most definitely a Kitchen Witch of the witchcraft variety. I follow the path of the old ways and work with the Goddesses and the Gods. Living in harmony with nature and I work the Craft. So what makes me specifically a kitchen witch? I like to use whatever is at hand, I don’t need fancy schmancy tools or expensive items. And I work a lot of my magic when I am cooking food or working with herbs and plants. But…I also do a lot of things that could bring me under the label Hedge Witch – hedgeriding, foraging, herbalism…
A lot of my rituals have a Wiccan structure to them, but that is probably because I have worked through the Wiccan degrees. But I also add in bits of druidry and shamanic practice to whatever I am doing. I have studied and work with the magical practice of Hoodoo and use a lot of folk magic in my Craft as well.
Perhaps it makes me an Eclectic Witch but I am not sure about that word. Eclectic sounds to me like a term to cover ‘anything else left over’ a bit like being a Miscellaneous Witch…although I do quite like the sound of that.
Essentially my personal pathway is a collection of bits and pieces that I take from each new pathway I learn about. I am made up from pagan flotsam and jetsam. But what I have created is my very own unique and individual journey and that is how I like to work, it is mine and it works for me.
Be mindful of rules
Obviously there are some ‘rules’ within magic that are worth listening to and some areas of the Craft that are best left alone until you are experienced and know what you are doing. But I firmly believe that whatever you do in your own personal practice is never wrong. If it feels right go with it, if your intuition screams at you to stop then listen to it. Just because someone in a book or on the internet says “the athame must go on this side of the altar” or “you must use herb xyz in this spell” doesn’t make it right for you.
Books, teachers, the internet all these resources that are now available to us are brilliant. (Obviously I am going to say that being an author and a teacher … ahem…). But in my opinion they are there for guidance and to give support and suggestions they are not written in stone and should be flexible.
I guess it also depends if you like doing your own thing or prefer a strict structure. I think perhaps at the beginning of our journey it is better to have some guidelines to work by. There are things that I did when I started this pathway that I don’t do now. Either I don’t feel they work for me or are not necessary in my own practice. But I learnt, with each step I gained knowledge and most definitely experience. There is no shortcut to experience you can read all the information you like. You can have the ability to quote spells and magical text ‘til the cows come home but unless you actually put it into practice you won’t really learn from it.
I study, I like to study, I like to learn about new things and I love to research. I spent a long time just doing that; learning, reading and studying and I accumulated a lot of information. But it wasn’t until I actually got out there, outside into the world and took part in my first ritual with others that I really started gaining experience. Although I do still keep studying even years later…
To me witchcraft is my religion. It is my way of life it is who I am and how I live each day. It is a journey of self discovery, learning, growth and a very beautiful and rewarding way of life. Based upon reverence for nature, respect for all life and the planet that we live on.
Although I work with the Goddesses and the Gods, both entities of the great All. And I believe we all carry a part of the Goddess within us not all witches or pagans will have the same beliefs. The true explanation of deity is held within each of our own hearts whether it is in the form of the Goddess, Mother Earth, Father Sky, universal spirit or ‘the force’…
I started my pathway by following and observing the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. But I have found now that I tend to follow the seasons rather than set dates on a calendar and I work with the esbats to connect with the magic of the moon, this gives me a structure to work from.
I started out as a solitary witch but have been a member of a coven (both online and offline) for a few years now. And there are many witchcraft traditions that have covens but it doesn’t suit everyone.
There are many witchcraft branches, and they are most definitely not a ‘one size fits all’: Kitchen Witch, Hedge Witch, Green Witch, Hereditary, Wiccan, Gardenerian Wiccan, Alexandrian Wiccan, Dianic, Seax Wiccan, Fairy Witch. Add to that the other pagan (I use the term pagan for want of a better collective word) pathways: Shamanic practices, Ceremonial, Heathen, Hellenic, Stregheria, Cabot, Greco-Roman…the list goes on!
And then there are those that don’t want or feel the need for any kind of label. And I have met a lot of lovely people that follow a very similar path to mine, but would never dream of calling themselves a Witch or anything else.
At the end of the day if the pathway you follow works for you. If it fills you with joy, if it leads you to discover yourself and how to create a truly wonderful life then do it.
You don’t need a label…just be YOU.