Feminism, Spirituality and Identifying as a Witch

One of the questions I’ve heard over and over is, "Do you find a lot of people have a lot of stigma around you being a Witch?"

Almost as many times as people said they were scared of getting their cards read.

The short answer is yes, there is some stigma. But as always, stigma is a result of ignorance.

According to “The Tibetan Buddhism Reader” by Reginald A. Ray

"Our regular, mundane understanding of religion is somewhat simple: it's a belief, a dogma that we have about some superhuman being or supernatural energy outside our being that has power and control over our universe and over sentient beings. This mundane understanding of religions is a theistic view. In the usual meaning of religion, that particular external being or external energy is holding our computer keyboard and is doing the programming for us. We don't have any power, we don't have any energy, and we don't have any choice. We have to work with that situation; we have to wait and see what comes up on the screen.

In Buddhism, to the contrary, we are holding the keyboard; we ourselves are the programmers. We program our software, and we press the command keys on our keyboard. Depending on our own skill, our own energy, and our own knowledge, we get what we want on the screen. The reason the Buddha taught the dharma was to teach the command keys. --The Dzogchen Ponlop Rindpoche" p. 36-37

When I first read this passage I was struck because this is almost exactly my understanding of witchcraft. Granted, I don't follow a specific pagan religion. I'm not Wiccan or an initiate of a secretive coven. I follow a Self Priestessing Path with Sisters in Celebration, a loosely guided 13 Lunation Self Study Course that repeats. I remembered seeing similar interpretations of witchcraft in other places, so I started digging.

According to Dorothy Morrison, in The Craft:

" defined as the change of any condition by ritual means. It's nothing more than a simple matter of channeling focused energy toward a specific goal. In fact, Christians do it all the time. They pray for something and they get it...We strive to live in perfect love and perfect trust.

We also believe we are perfectly capable of handling whatever comes our way, and that we have the tools and the power to change our personal realities; that we can be whomever or whatever we want to be and hold any station that appeals to us. This means, of course, we must be totally accountable for ourselves, the goals we reach for, and the paths that we choose to follow. This being the case, though, we have no one to blame but ourselves when things go awry or get our of hand. It's an enormous responsibility." p. 4-6

I think if there is one thing I most wish could become common knowledge about card reading, crystal healing, altar building, etc. is that it's an opportunity to take back our power. It's a recognition of just how much control we have over our experiences. Witchcraft is a return to the knowledge that we all have: yoga calls it the Inner Teacher, Christianity calls it the Holy Spirit, new age teachings call it the Higher's all the same stuff. Instead of searching for an outward Savior we are saving ourselves, one candle and crystal at a time.

Of course, we can't ignore the way that our society has demonized Witches for centuries. Burning women at the stake, drowning them, stoning them to death...all this and more was done to 'destroy witchcraft.' This was, in part, a result of the institution of patriarchal systems. I'd like to clarify that 'patriarchal' does not mean 'male,' and I'll borrow from Ruth Barrett and her description in Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries:

"My use of the word "patriarchy" includes our attitudes, beliefs, and behavior, both conscious and unconscious, that perpetuate a culture of dominance and subordination ("power over"), in contrast with creating an egalitarian culture where power is shared. Patriarchy is the polluted water in which we all swim.

I do not use the word "patriarchy" interchangeably with "men." Historically, men have been and continue to be the primary perpetrators of our dominator heritage; however women and children cannot help but swallow this polluted water to a greater or less degree...patriarchy perpetuates itself through body shame, addictions, internalized self-hatred, child abuse, battering, eroticized violence...Until we become aware that patriarchy is both an internal and external system, and work to heal from its effects, we will continue to think and behave out of this...paradigm." p. 11-12

One last bit of background before I go into the meat. Let's look at the ways in which our society demonized and punished women using the title of Witch. If you want the full story, I highly recommend this article by Natasha Chart called This is How They Broke Our Grandmothers The short version is:

"There were never witches. Not in the way men said, anyway.

Once, there were many Indigenous polytheist and animist faith traditions in what is now Western Europe. Their customs supported varying levels of respect and authority for women. They had holy women, woman healers, and woman leaders.

Once, there was a church that was a kingdom, built on the body of the Roman Empire, which itself was built on the abduction and rape of the Sabine women. This church was a principality in truth, ruled by princes who had a lust for land and gold that was almost as insatiable as their burning hatred for women.

They converted heads of state and demanded tithes of members, while leaving most local governance alone. They created a very early, very ephemeral transnational empire that required little in the way of personnel or men under arms, and was mainly concerned with governing what’s often classed as the private sphere.

Eventually, the church’s client states had a problem keeping their peasants in line, because the church and the aristocracy wanted to steal all the land and privatize it for themselves through enclosure of the commons... Male tradesmen coordinated boycotts of female competitors and of men who worked with them. Women who persisted in trying to engage in public trades were harassed, called “whores” or “witches,” or were even assaulted without repercussion.

Eventually, to be a woman in public alone was very nearly synonymous with being presumed a witch or prostituted woman. Violence against women was both normalized and sexualized. Women were increasingly driven into prostitution if no man supported them or if they were pushed outside of polite society through accusations of misbehavior, unsanctioned relationships, or sexual abuse. In the sex trade, upstanding men in their communities could torture these women at will, their victims the only party subject to legal sanction.

In order to do their part in solving the problem of the revolting peasantry and acquire their own share of the former commons, the church stepped up to bless this destruction of women’s rights and independence with the seal of divine approval. Their priests invented witches. That is, they invented women who worshipped and had sex with the Devil, who then gave them ludicrous powers — what feminist historian Max Dashu calls “diabolism.” The church further asserted that everything that wasn’t approved as Christian was diabolism... Diabolism was so broadly defined that any female rejection of male authority was potential evidence of witchcraft. Any woman could be a witch. Any look or word that offended a man, any angry speech, any unnecessary fraternization with other women, any sexual activity outside church-approved relations — all could trigger a charge of witchcraft."

And this is the basis of how women had their rights to property, welfare, and the ownership of our own bodies stripped from us.

I know this is a lot. The first time I read that article, I bawled. My body remembers. My heart remembers. I could taste the metal in my mouth and smell the burning flesh of my sisters.

And that's when I realized why I loved the title of Witch so much.

It is a reclamation of that which was used to hurt me and my sisters. It's a giant fuck you to the system that demonized and degraded us into terrified victims, left us cutting and starving ourselves into submission. Left us both turned on and ashamed by the thought of being tied up by our lovers or by being the ones who tie. Its a walking away from the culture which questions our ability to make our own decisions about when and how to procreate, work, dress, eat, and generally exist. Witches are not property of our fathers, brothers, and husbands. Witches are not sheepish, scared women.

Witches are badass bitches of both light and shadow. We are grown ass humans with our own willpower, the ability to manifest our desires, to take ownership of our sexuality, look our brothers and sisters in the eye and show up fully authentic, even through our fear.

I could call my spirituality anything. I could say I'm a yogi, a buddhist, a new age spiritualist...agnostic or mystic...but it feels essential for me to claim my path and my designation as a Priestess and Witch.

For myself, my planet and community. For every sister who died because men feared her.

For each who was drowned or burned because she saved a dying sister in childbirth. For each who was murdered for far less.

I am a Witch.

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