What being a witch means to me.
I remember when I read Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s Witches, Midwives, and Nurses (which you can find here). I was coming out of the dark age of my own upbringing. A Christian anti-pagan haze was lifting, and as I explored different histories and realized how the picture had come to be over millennia, I was both innervated and afraid.
I was afraid because out of my upbringing I had been told to fear the witch, the one who practices magic, who manipulates casting mysterious spells and conjuring the powers of the dark. Oddly enough, I had just met a woman who was to become a mentor of mine — and she was most definitely a type of witch. Whether “good” or “bad” I was going to find out.
Witches are known by many names. Also sorceress, healer, “old wife”, medicine woman, bruja, to name a few. Men can also be witches, wizards or magicians, but today I am focusing upon my journey and, specifically, some herstory.
As Ehrenreich and English write,
The witch-hunts left a lasting effect: An aspect of the female has ever since been associated with the witch, and an aura of contamination has remained—especially around the midwife and other women healers.
I am coming late to the witch post party. In fact, the @naturalmedicine challenge has already ended and I haven’t had a chance to read most of the other posts. You can find them here. So I’m not sure who, if anyone, covered the witch hunts and the lasting scar that this has had over the psyche of women and also clouded future generation’s ideation of the witch & her role in society. Viscerally, however, at my gut, I have a feeling that to many when the word witch is spoken we think of a “bad woman” – she who is out to get us, do us harm or put a spell on us that goes way out of our, and perhaps her, control.
The extent of the witch-craze is startling: In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries there were thousands upon thousands of executions—usually live burnings at the stake—in Germany, Italy and other countries. In the mid-sixteenth century the terror spread to France, and finally to England. One writer has estimated the number of executions at an average of 600 a year for certain German cities—or two a day, “leaving out Sundays”. Nine-hundred witches were destroyed in a single year in the Wertzberg area, and 1000 in and around Como. At Toulouse, four-hundred were put to death in a day. In the Bishopric of Trier, in 1585, two villages were left with only one female inhabitant each. Many writers have estimated the total number killed to have been in the 7 millions. Women made up some 85 percent of those executed—old women, young women and children. (Source)
The violent history against those women (and men) who were dubbed witches is the cause of this bad connotation with the witch. The political, religious, medical and other reasons for the witch hunts are a post unto itself, but again I will direct you to the aforementioned book for further exploration.
Suffice it to say that the witch hunts have left a deep & lasting impression in our collective consciousness that we are only now starting to challenge, reclaim and bring the power of the word/meaning to the light of day. Women, especially, are stepping out of the shadows, resurrecting and knowing the powers within which led to their persecution generations ago.
As I researched all of this, paralleling with magical people I was meeting in my life (and my mentor turned out to be a very good witch,) I realized that we had all been sold a false bill. The witch, traditionally feared for her dark powers, is a shadow persona cast by the Christian church. Seeking to demonize the Other in their bid for ultimate control of the mind of the populace, the witch became the enemy. This combined with her “otherwordly” skills gained through connecting at a deep level with nature, herself, the spirit world, etc led to a mass killing and demonization of the witch.
People usually fear what they cannot explain, after all.
Yet, what I have seen since this period in my life is a resurgence of many who are disclosing this history and reclaiming for themselves what is a very potent path.
We carry the history in our DNA and yet we walk through the fire into the light of day.
For the witch was traditionally a healer, one connected to the herbs and healing ways, cycles of the moon, local place and its people, herself and powers within & beyond her.
It makes sense in a culture of control, domination and fear, when the ruling powers wanted to monopolize religion, medicine, even the process of birth, that this character, the witch, would stand in their way.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to be able, have power.” It forms all or part of: dismay; deus ex machina; may (v.1) “am able;” might (n.) “bodily strength, power;” main; machine; mechanic; mechanism; mechano-; mage; magi; magic.
Those who wanted to control the magic, or power, of the laypeople had to shut down the witch. A disempowered populace is easier to control.
Yet, as I mentioned earlier, many of us are breaking out of these age old shackles, tapping into our personal power that we innately hold and that connects us with the same power that puts leaves on trees in spring, causes the ocean’s tides, and propels the entire cycle of life. No one can ultimately control this only put blocks in the way towards the realization of us as one and the same.
We are connecting with nature and each other, learning the healing power of plants and of the power that moves through us. The witch is still among us and as the old characterization wears off, we clearly see that her potential lies in each of us.
To me, I consider many parts of myself a witch. Many activities that I take part in are perhaps similar to witch activities of old. Herbal craft, self exploration, gardening, honoring of cycles, celebration of womanhood and fostering a relationship with the natural world through connecting to and inhabiting a place.
Within each of us is a latent power that yearns to be wielded, a current that moves through and animates all of life that seeks on outlet to the sea of the source. We are not the source, rather a conduit for expression of limitless power. Let us all remember our blessed potential as humans inhabiting the Earthly sphere and celebrate the witch once more.