On Being a Witch: The Relationships at the Heart of the Craft

On Being a Witch: The Relationships at the Heart of the Craft March 9, 2018

Hello, beautiful creatures.

About a month before I joined the ranks of the Pagan illuminati bro-witches Pagan bloggers on Patheos, several of them wrote a series of blog posts about why they’re on whatever path they’re on: witch, Druid, Pagan, Wiccan, polytheist, or whatever else. Not having been numbered amongst their august company at the time, I missed out on all the fun.

Fortunately, though, I don’t mind being late to parties. Since the magic of the Internet makes it possible for me to participate in the festivities ex post facto, well, here we are.

I wear a lot of labels related to my spiritual practice—initiate, Feri, sorcerer, polytheist, devotee of handful of gods, occasional teacher, perpetual seeker—and I could write an essay on each one, explaining in excruciating detail what I mean by each term and why I identify that way. Perhaps I will, at some point. Today, though, I’m going to focus on the word which, for me, encapsulates all the others: witch.

Previously, I wrote that witchcraft is what witches do, which says nothing useful and everything you’ll ever need to know. What, then, is a witch? Beyond any consideration of sectarian allegiances or religious fidelity, what do I mean when I use that word? Here’s a starting place of sorts:

I use the term “witchcraft” to refer to an ambiguous but quantifiable category of magical practice rooted in, and derived from, a cosmological schema defined in part by the network of relationships between the practitioner and the forces with which the practitioner treats, including the natural world.

That’s pretty broad as definitions go, which is intentional. It doesn’t say anything about what a witch believes, which is also quite intentional. While there are absolutely forms of witchcraft with a religious dimension to them—I am an initiate of two of them, after all—what defines witchcraft for me isn’t belief, but praxis. My definition is concerned with what a witch does: namely, engaging in particular kinds of relationships with spirits to achieve desired ends.

And right there is the key to understanding what I call witchcraft, and the heart of why I call myself a witch.

(Photo by Will O on Unsplash.)
In the end, it all comes back to being in relationship:

With the people I am blessed to call my kith and kin: siblings, friends, lovers, ancestors, predecessors, the trooping hosts of Faërie, the massed ranks of the Mighty and Beloved Dead.

With the spirits which inhabit and animate everything around me, including the land on which I live. I’ve heard it said that if you scratch a witch, you’ll find an animist. Like all such aphorisms, it’s not true in all cases, but it’s certainly true in mine.

With the Gods, both those peculiar to my tradition and those others with whom I’ve developed understandings.

With all the parts of my self, including my own history and the choices I make to determine what my future will be, and who I will be.

And, ultimately, with the mythic archetype of the witch… or rather, with the range of archetypes imposed on and inspired by the figure of the witch: the reclusive worker of wonders bright and dark, the sexy temptress of inquisitorial and cinematic fantasy, the aged hag in the cottage at the edge of the woods, the wronged innocent sent to the gallows or the pyre, the magister in his cloak of black and crown of horns, and most especially that mysterious, ambiguous Other at the edge of our awareness, the one who calls into question everything we believe we know and understand about our world, our lives, ourselves.

If witchcraft is what witches do, then the witch is the Other who does the work of being in relationship, garnering power and wisdom from the outer margins of the acceptable, making their will manifest to better a world which would just as soon see them burned alive.

Why am I a witch? Because I would have power and wisdom, of course, and would manifest my will to better the world, even at the risk of burning my fingers… or worse. Over and beyond that, though, I’m a witch because it’s the only lens through which the world makes sense to me, the only name I know for the nameless reality of my relationships with the numinous that permeates all of existence.

Until next time, dear ones, take care of yourselves. ♥

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