Words Have Power – Why “Baby Witch” is Problematic

Words Have Power – Why “Baby Witch” is Problematic July 23, 2020

Words have power, and a great deal of that power lies in the connotations and the subtler meanings of the words we choose to use.  This is something I have talked about before, and I am certain I will talk about it again.  Words have the power to hurt or heal, teach or deny, clarify or obfuscate, and often the difference between the various extremes is choosing one word over another in an otherwise identical sentence.

The words we choose to use have power, and that matters. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I have seen the term “Baby Witch” used with increasing frequency in the past couple years.  The term never sat right with me, but social inertia insisted it was a great term to use.  “Baby Witch” was also frequently used as a self-applied label, which gave it validation, so out of respect for that choice I tried to ignore it even when it was not self-applied.  Most likely no harm was meant, and if I made a fuss about it, I was likely to get blasted for being too uptight, and further entrench the use of the term by those I upset.

Given the blatantly derogatory way in which “Baby Witch” is being used and memed over the WitchTok hexing kerfuffle, I have decided that the problematic nature of the term is too overwhelming to be ignored.

“Baby Witch” as a Self-Applied Label

Labels are best when self-applied.  That is true of all labels.  When you apply them to yourself, and they have meaning that resonates with your soul, they become a source of power.  When you do not choose the label for yourself and the externally applied label does not resonate with who you are, it can be cause discomfort, pain, and even anguish.  This is true no matter what aspect of yourself is being labeled, be it your gender, your sexuality, your occupation, your spiritual or magical path, or something else entirely.

If you like the term “Baby Witch” as a label for yourself, go for it!  If it makes you feel happy and secure, like a metaphorical hug, use it!  If you know a witch who emphatically chooses “Baby Witch” to describe themself, by all means use that term when referring to them.

“Baby Witch” becomes problematic when it is an externally applied label, put on by other people.

If you are using the term “Baby Witch” to describe yourself because you are new to the craft and have been led to believe it is the “correct” term for a novice witch, know that you are under no obligation to use that term.  There are a great many alternate terms for a newcomer which do not have so many problematic connotations.

There are multiple ways to interpret the label of “baby”, and most of them are bad. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“Baby” as a Term of Endearment or Harassment

The word “baby” has positive connotations as a term of endearment, but that term of endearment only applies when the relationship is a close one, and most likely of a romantic nature.  If you were to refer to your platonic friend as “baby”, it could easily be interpreted as overtly flirtatious. “Baby” is also sometimes used between family members who are not romantic (grandparent and grandchild, for example), but again, the relationship is close and very established, and this kind of platonic familial use is not universal.

It is an extremely rare person who takes it as a compliment to be called “baby” by a random stranger.  Instead, this is usually interpreted as harassment, and most likely sexual harassment.  “Hey, Baby!” is a cliché catcall which has gets thrown at female-presenting people in public spaces with disturbing frequency.

So, if you use the word “baby” to refer to people you don’t know, it is most likely going to be interpreted or internalized as harassment.  It might trigger an unsettled feeling in the pit of their stomach that something is wrong, or it might rightfully piss off and alienate them.  If you are trying to offer advice, and anger the recipient by harassing them, they are most likely going to ignore or deliberately defy your advice, no matter how poignant every other word you said was.

The Linguistic Meanings of “Baby” Matter Profoundly

The most literal meaning for “baby” is to describe infant animals, especially humans.  All other meanings and connotations derive from that primary literal meaning.

As a term of endearment, “baby” appeals to the profound love and caring which a parent ideally has for their child.  It appeals to the desire to protect and care for infants, no matter the personal cost.  Using the term “baby” is a demonstration of how deeply and profoundly a person cares for the other person, and testifies to the fact that they would be willing to do whatever it takes to protect and aid that person.

As a term of harassment, “baby” mocks those feelings of love and caring.  In harassment, there is no established relationship, or the relationship is such that there is no love or caring between the two people in question.  By using “baby” without the backing of genuine caring, it twists the endearment meaning, and instead uses it as a weapon by highlighting the fact that caring is absent.

Human babies are completely helpless and completely reliant on older humans for their care. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

For most animal species babies are helpless, relying completely upon adults of the species for their care and survival.  This is especially true for human babies, who are born unable to do much other than cry and eat.  In fact, as soon as they are able to move around on their own, we mostly stop calling them babies, even though they still need constant supervision to ensure their happiness and survival.

Babies have no agency.  That is, they are incapable of acting on their own behalf, or even clearly communicating their needs and feelings.  They know absolutely nothing of the world, and due to that ignorance can be frightened by the most innocuous things, like farts or unexpected movement.  They are also completely unaware of things that are genuinely dangerous until they experience harm.  Babies are as helpless as helpless gets, because they lack both the physical ability to act on their behalf, and the intellectual awareness to have any clue what is going on around them.

When you use “baby” as a synonym for “novice” or “newbie”, that choice is based on the status of infants as new to everything.  They do not even technically know how to be babies.  They are simply stuck as babies.

So, yes, it is accurate to say that “Baby Witch” means new to everything witchcraft, but so does “novice witch”.  But where “novice” has connotations of boldly exploring a new subject and growing through that exploration, “baby” has connotations of helplessness, idiocy, and lack of agency.

Babies need a completely different kind and intensity of care compared to a novice who has full autonomy and is exploring a new subject. Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Ideally the “baby” learns and grows, but a baby learns and grows because that is naturally what happens as you age.  Exactly how much and how fast a baby learns is usually a direct result of how much effort the parents put into the infant.  For “Baby Witch”, this places the bulk of the emphasis and credit on the teacher or mentor, and implies the “Baby Witch” is doing it wrong if they lack a teacher or mentor.  “Novice” places the emphasis on the newly minted witch to put in the effort to study and learn and grow, whether those studies are solitary or under the guidance of a teacher or mentor.

The big difference here is agency.  Babies have no agency.  Life happens to them, and they just have to deal with it.  Novices have full autonomy and are deciding on their own path and learning as they walk the direction they choose to go.  Whether they have someone advising them or not, the choice in what steps to take is ultimately theirs.

“Baby Witch” is Diminutive and Degrading

“Baby Witch” is diminutive and degrading because it denies newbie witches their personal agency.  It relegates them to status as helpless beings who need to be cared for, and who are incapable of deciding what is best for themselves.

It implies that the “Baby Witch” needs to simply absorb whatever is being told to them, and lacks the ability to be discerning about their own education, needs, and desires.  It ignores the fact that the “Baby Witch” is in fact capable of tremendous agency, and may already have learned a great deal before consciously deciding to start down a witchy path.  It insists that the “Baby Witch” needs to be carried down the path to becoming a “true” witch, rather than letting the novice walk their own path.  It strips the “Baby Witch” of the validation of self-confidence, and implies they are wrong if they have any.  It denies them their personal power.

Using the term “Baby Witch” also implies that more experienced witches are inherently smarter, wiser, more aware, more knowledgeable, and more skilled than the newbie.  Sadly, that is not a guarantee, for there are witches of all experience levels who lack one or more of those qualities.  Age and experience are required to truly develop those traits, but age and experience alone do not guarantee those traits will be developed.

We must each figure out for ourselves where our paths lead, and what to label ourselves. No one else can do that for us. Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Calling another witch a “Baby” also ignores the fact that a witch is a witch, no matter the level of experience.  No one is required to add a qualifying or modifying label to define the kind of witch they are.  You can if you wish to, but it is not required.

A witch is a witch because that is what they choose to call themself and their path, no matter if they started on that path today, or one hundred years ago.  Given the profoundly individual and unique natures of witchy paths, it is entirely possible you will not fit into any particular broader classification of witch.  I certainly do not.

The Contradictions of Using “Baby Witch” in Regards to WitchTok Hexing

As I mentioned above, I have seen the witches involved in the Witctok hexing controversy frequently referred to as “Baby Witches”, both in commentary and in memes.  In these cases, “Baby Witch” is definitely being used in a derogatory fashion, to demean and belittle those who are supposedly doing all this hexing.

“Baby Witch” is being invoked as a label specifically to infantilize those being labeled, to imply that they are like errant children who need more supervision, and most likely a spanking to teach them better.  Alternately, it is being used because the commenter is acting as an adult defending the “Baby Witch” from attackers.  I do not know if the witches doing these hexes are actually newbies or not, but the label is being justified by the perception of TikTok as used predominantly by people in their teens or early twenties, who are more likely than not new to the craft.  However, I am certain not all TikTok witches are newbies, and it is disrespectful to make such an assumption.

Even more contradictory, though, are the statements which infantilize WitchTok witches, and then go on to imply these witches actually are capable of accomplishing something by hexing the fae, moon, and sun.  (Spoiler alert: NONE of us are capable of that, no matter how skilled or experienced.  We are, after all, human.)

So, are these witches so new and inept that they might not know which end of the athame to hold, or are they so incredibly powerful they can accomplish feats of magic even deities in legend fail at?  You cannot have it both ways, and I do believe that both points fall far short of reality.

Are WitchTok witches inept children, or capable of legendary feats of magic? Probably neither. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Be Polite and Respectful to Each Other

Even if someone is new, they still deserve to receive respect and politeness.  I am not talking about the “this is the person I look up to and admire for their teachings about witchcraft” kind of respect.  I am not talking about ignoring grievances.  I am talking about basic courtesy and respecting that the other person is a human being with inherent dignity.

When we treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of age, experience level, ethnicity, skin color, specific path, etc., we foster good will, community, and mutual growth and learning.  When we treat each other disrespectfully, we end up with a nightmare of traded insults, hexes, curses, and drama that only damages our communities and alienates people.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Sure, newbies are more likely to make more mistakes, but experienced witches make mistakes as well.  That is part of being human, and it is important to be compassionate about mistakes when they happen.  When you try to correct or comment on someone else’s mistake, and start with insulting terminology like “baby witch”, the obvious lack of respect negates any positive impact your words might otherwise have had.  When we are not respected, we tend to deny respect in return, especially if we have a healthy level of self-confidence and self-respect.

Use terms which are polite and welcoming, and you will strengthen your communities instead of alienating people. Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Alternate Terms

It is entirely reasonable to be uncomfortable calling yourself just a “witch” if you are not yet certain what that even means.  It is entirely reasonable to want to label yourself in a way that announces your status as a newbie, to inform people that you will be asking novice questions, and to encourage forgiveness of any faux pas.

It is also entirely reasonable to want a term you can use to refer to newcomers to witchcraft, and thankfully there are number of alternatives to “Baby Witch” which are not problematic or degrading.

  • Newbie witch – connotations that the witch is new and open to learn.
  • Novice witch – connotations that the witch is new, and actively, eagerly engaging in learning.
  • Beginner witch – connotations that the witch is new and just starting to figure things out.
  • Amateur witch – connotations that the witch’s skill level is undeveloped, but improving.
  • Fledgling witch – connotations that the witch has all the tools they need, and is experimenting to learn how to use them effectively.
  • Rookie witch – connotations that the witch is new and open to learn.
  • Acolyte witch – connotations that the witch is training in a formal or semi-formal environment.
  • Neophyte witch – connotations that the witch is training in a formal environment.
  • Trainee witch – connotations that the witch is training under the guidance of a teacher or mentor.

I recommend against using “learning witch”, as we should all be constantly learning, no matter how long we have or have not been practicing.  If you use “learning” as a synonym for “new”, it implies that at some point you stop learning (like at some point you stop being new), and that is simply not the case.

We each have a unique path, and that path is valid and should be respected, whether we are well into it or just started. Image by Valiphotos from Pixabay

So, witches, whether you have been practicing for one day or one hundred years, respect each other, no matter where we each are on our personal paths.  You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.


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