I’m heading off to Alberta Canada to co-teach at a new gathering of activist, edge-walking, queer, intersectional folk. Some of the people planning to be there are Pagan, pagan-leaning, somewhere or other on the spectrum of the variouspaganisms out there, but others are clearly not, or don’t know enough to know if they are or aren’t. One potential attendee asked the organizers “So what’s all this about Witches?”
I was asked to write a little something about why I use the word witch.
There’s a great deal of history and made up history and baggage surrounding the word “witch”. One notion I particularly like is that of the empowered wise person living on the outskirts of the village. Folks didn’t want to know much about the work the witch did, but they certainly appreciated the knowledge the witch had, especially when they were in need of the witch’s services.
As we journey around the world, through time and through culture, we find witches practically everywhere. The names might change and so may the circumstances of how one enters into the work, but the basic functions are present. Witches are healers. Witches are attuned to the forces of nature. Witches weave together the strands of the past, the present and the potential of the futures. Witches travel to unseen places. Witches work with allies, human and otherwise. In subtle and not so subtle ways, witches facilitate change.
Many of the people that find themselves at a Reclaiming Witch Camp are activists and world changers. In the dominant culture, you know out there with the Dockers pants and golf outings and 9-5 jobs, with ever so polite people that just want to be in debt and comfortable with their privileges, we’re still looked at as the dangerous or weird folks on the fringes of the village. “Regular” folks don’t want to know much about us or the work we do, until they realize that their water supply is being poisoned by a reckless corporation and it’s time to get involved somehow. Or when their child comes out and no one in the family knows how to connect with the LGBTQQI community and any of the support resources that are available. Then, all of a sudden, we activists, we queer ones, we pierced ones, we young ones, we old ones, we witches are sought out and consulted for our specialised knowledge. Our hut in the deep forest has been transformed into the Community Center, the street protest or a Twitter page, but the work remains the same and we are still here doing the work.
At my First Witch Camp, which could be viewed as a metaphor for jumping headlong into a community of witches, I reclaimed so much of my vital self. I also left a great deal of what was no longer serving me in the ashes of the ritual fires. I (re)discovered amazing, wonderful, terrifying, joyful, powerful aspects of myself. I vacillated between feeling hyper-connected to everyone and everything and being totally vacant…actually, not vacant but empty. And empty in the best way possible, like a vessel waiting to be put to good use.
Throughout my travels in the witch world of camps, festivals, conferences, classes, workshops, and cross-tradition rituals, I’ve seen the tremendous value this community of witches places on social justice, deep witnessing, honest self-appraisal, silence, joy and action. I find the company of witches to be a place where I can compost what I no longer need and plant the seeds for what I will need as I carry my work out into the world.
So yes, I am a witch. I do the work that witches have always done.
Notes: The witch house picture was found here and used with permission. The protest picture is from Rueters and the photographer is Shannon Stapleton
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