When I opened Owl in the Oak Tarot, more than one person told me that I shouldn’t refer to myself as a witch to the public. One woman told me she was afraid I would get hurt if I was open about being a witch. Another time I was at a networking event at a new age shop and someone asked about my tarot services, wanting to know more about me. I told her I was a witch and the look on her face was telling enough to know she wouldn’t be calling me. A woman who overhead walked up to me a couple of minutes later and said, “I don’t think she liked that you called yourself a witch. Maybe you should come up with a different way of describing yourself.” I responded, “I am a witch. How people react to that isn’t my problem, and it lets me know right away who is meant to be working with me.”
The irony of being in a new age shop and receiving that kind of attitude is not lost on me. Many people enjoy drawing from witch culture and practice while looking down their nose at witches. You want to work with the metaphysical properties of gemstones to bring about healing or other desires? That’s witch territory. You want to work with the spirits of herbs and learn herbalism? That’s witch territory. You want to be able manifest certain results in your life? That’s witch territory. You’re super interested in tarot and other forms of divination? That’s witch territory. You make wishes when you blow out your birthday candles? Witch territory. Petition deities, saints, or angels to help you? Witch territory. You banish or rebuke spirits in the name of a deity? That’s witch territory, my friends.
But not everyone who does one or more of these things is a witch. The priest rebuking a spirit in the name of Jesus wouldn’t be happy to be referred to as a witch, after all. These are just common components of many forms of witchcraft practice. However, to draw the line as if these practices are divorced from witchcraft instead of born from it, and elevate the practices while demeaning witches and witchcraft, is asinine. You can put these practices into whatever religious or spiritual framework you want and they are still at heart the work of the witch.
I’ve been told I’m going to hell plenty of times in my life. Someone with no authority threatened my fiancé’s job (he works at a church) over Facebook messenger because I’m a witch. I have a friend who shared my Facebook page and was confronted by her mother for supporting me. Being a witch carries with it historical and present day marginalization and ostracism. It is not an easy mantle to carry. It is even worse in a culture that pilfers our practices while simultaneously deriding us.
Many women are claiming the title of ‘witch’ in order to reclaim their power, but I will say that though these two are interconnected, reclaiming power isn’t all there is to being a witch. It is one component of a complex practice and lifestyle. A society that looks down its nose on women naturally looks down its nose on witches. However, it’s just as easy for the tide to change for women but not for witches, as the two are not synonyms and witches have always been “other.”
“Witch” does not belong to any agenda or movement. It is not a buzzword. It is not a trend. It is not a title focused on evoking imagery to propel change and be discarded later. It is a living practice older than all of these constructs. It pervades all of history and present day. “Witch” is not a title of defamation. It is a glowing recommendation of wisdom, knowledge, power, and action. It is an indication of connection, of clear sight, of something ancient at work that has been at work since the beginning of all creation moving through the people who have answered the call. It is the lineage of the healer, the observer, the scientist, the justice seeker, the shaman. Respect the witch. After all, the whole of humanity, our ancestors, our progeny, benefit from the Craft.
Photographer for main image: Heather Jerdee. Follow her amazing instagram @heather_jerdee