You Say “Witch” Like It’s a Bad Thing

You Say “Witch” Like It’s a Bad Thing October 5, 2017

Just this summer, I heard someone say, “Well, yes, I communicate with spirits, perform energy work, and worship the gods… But I’m not a witch!”Not everyone is comfortable with the word ‘witch.’

witch hat broom cat owl pagan wiccan witch
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel, CC0.

The words ‘witch’ and ‘pagan’ used to be slurs against people who were healers, observed nature religions, or had extra-sensory experiences. Due to centuries of witch lynchings and religious intolerence that still creeps around to this day, those words may still have powerful negative connotations, especially in red or purple states.

I can relate. As a teen, I read books about Paganism and Wicca. Like a lot of books from the 1990s, some of them were silly, and some were definitely gray or black magic. I ditched the books – I knew I could do energy work without them. But there was something else, too. I feared the words ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft,’ and the blatant, confident use of one’s power discussed in those books.

As time went on, I read better books, like The Spiral Dance. I went to my first Pagan gathering and felt at home. Despite these new, positive experiences, I never took on any of the labels. I didn’t want to call myself anything. I merely was myself, performing rituals as my intuition guided me, and having profound spiritual experiences.

Ironically, this is the very definition of a witch.

Photo of the author
Photo of the author and her grumpy cat Kissika on Halloween.

I realize now that I was so sensitive when I was younger. I didn’t know how to be comfortable in my own skin, much less be strong. In mixed company, I modulated my energy, making myself smaller and obsequious to fit in. I could sense what was socially acceptable, so I conformed to their expectations. All the while, my soul rumbled, wanting to explode into expression. It begged for release from the chains of everyone else’s society.

I found other ways to say the word ‘witch’ or ‘pagan.’ Instead, I said ‘spiritual,’ ‘earth-based religion,’ or ‘women’s groups.’ I said ‘family reunion’ instead of pagan camping event.

Even while I was actively suppressing the words ‘pagan’ and  ‘witch,’ they came to me, unbidden. Once, in my early 20s, while walking down the street, an old beggar woman stopped me and my friend. After we told her we didn’t have any money, she pointed a crooked finger at us and said,

“You have a witch face.”  

My friend smiled at her, took my hand, and led me away. But it struck a chord within me. What did the old woman know? What did she see in me? 

I heard her voice again, years later, when I dyed my hair from blonde to what I thought would be my natural color, dark brown. Only, I had left the dye in too long. My hair came out black. With my dark hair, the deep shadows of my face came out. I looked like Morticia Addams.

morticia addams witch pagan wiccan goth
Queen Morticia, Creative Commons 2.0.

In that bathroom mirror, I saw myself as the old woman must’ve seen me. I saw what I was. I did / I do look like a witch.

Because I am a witch.

My heart beat fast. What was I was afraid of? It’s just a word, after all.

The answer to this question was not an easy one. After doing some shadow integration and staring at my fears, I realized I’d been afraid to claim my own power, even in a country founded on religious freedom.

That word that carried so much power that it scared people. A woman’s power is definitely a threat to a lot of people and ‘the way things are.’

Worst of all, I realized I’d been giving away my power to those faceless, nameless people, and their jealous, male god.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, CC0
Photo courtesy of Pixabay, CC0

“And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin.

When I meditated on the word ‘witch,’ I realized I’d carried around my fear of the word and the inherent power behind it for years.  The wasted energy had kept my spirit down.

I realized I could no longer give in to those fears about what I was. I knew I was a good person. Just different from them.

The energy of fear flipped within me. It was as if my soul cast off society’s shackles and rose up, becoming bigger and brighter. The fear was replaced by a surge of excitement.

I was what I was: a witch.  I had a right to claim my own power. I was a witch in direct acknowledgment of her path. Claiming the title and the path gave me more energy to be who I really was, and to do what my spirit wanted.

And you know what? Transmuting that fear into power is exactly the kind of things that witches do all the time.

Now, I say it with pride. I’m a witch.

It’s powerful statement, and also a challenge. It says, ‘I’m not hiding anymore. Are you going to burn me, or what? … No? Okay then. Moving on. I have work to do. Byee.’

These days, I’m proud to be a witch, and proud to practice as my spirit sees fit. I’m proud to exercise my religious freedom, and to claim my own power without experiencing fear.

And with wonderful new crops of books out all the time, like Lisa Lister’s Witch, or the Llewellyn Witch book series, it’s easier than ever to become comfortable with the W word.

Come on, give it a try. I dare you. I might even say you have a witch face. Besides…

if the show fits pagan wiccan witch

If you’re cackling right now, or at least cracking a smile, I’d like to welcome you to the witch party! Make yourself comfortable. I’ll put on some music.

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  • Catherine Green

    Hello, fellow witch! Your words struck a chord, because I was only able to claim the name properly during the past five years. Before that I felt awkward, embarrassed even, despite always having a strange sense of otherness about me, and a feeling of being “up there” rather than being “down here” in mundane life. Now I am learning how to be an everyday witch, in my own way, embracing my own magic. Samhain blessings!

    • Astrea Taylor

      Hello my witchy friend! Thank you for your kind words. I believe you’re right — we truly are embracing our path. Much love and Happy Samhain!

  • My studies lead me to believe men are also called witch also and the term warlock is just derogatory.

    • Astrea Taylor

      I haven’t heard that the term warlock is bad, but I believe you. I simply adore male witches. They’re the best. 😉

      • I believe it is in “Wicca Demystified” by Bryan Lankford. I don’t mind being a male Witch.

  • J Verdant

    “The words ‘witch’ and ‘pagan’ used to be slurs against people who were healers, observed nature religions, or had extra-sensory experiences.”

    This is just not true. It’s fine for people now to claim the word as a symbol of power, but we can’t kid ourselves. Throughout all of history “witch” meant a person who used magic to harm others (and usually only existed in paranoid imaginations). All those people you talk about who were healers, observed nature religions, had extra-sensory experiences, etc. made a good deal of their living selling protection against witches, wats to find witches, ways to kill witches, etc. If you called one of them a witch to their face they’d not only be offended, it would be an attack against their life and livelihood. And I’m not just talking about mythical “secret pagans”, this was the case even in ancient (and modern)?polytheist societies.

    Once again, it’s ok to claim (not “reclaim”) this term in the context of female empowerment etc. I think it’s great. But you can’t fault all the millions of people for whom witch is and always has been a bad thing. You can’t attempt to change a definition out from under people and then get offended when they keep ignoring you and using the original definition.

    What really squicks me out is people trying to apply the modern pagan definition of witch to the people killed in the witch trials. 99% of them were just normal Christians killed by mass hysteria. But a few (POC) victims may actually have been practicing elements of their native culture/religion. Saying “they were witches!” when witchcraft was and is a derogatory slander in many African religions is really, really gross.