What’s In a Name?

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Today as I was walking along the beach, I tossed around in my head the word “witch,” also the word “Witch.” These words have been familiar companions since I began thinking of myself as maybe possibly sometimes a witch, well over twenty years ago. Since then the word has been at various times an albatross, an inspiration, a dare, a tired relic, an embarrassment, a shocker, a battle cry, a statement of fact, and a clever diversion.

I have never been completely comfortable with “witch” as a description of myself, my friends, or what we do. Yet we came of age with Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Witches, Midwives and Nurses. Being a witch was something to be proud of, set us square in the midst of a righteous chain of women healers throughout time, and dared to speak truth to power.

So as I walked today I spent a little time with the knowledge that I have grown less happy with the term Witch, though I refer to myself as a Pagan all the time. For one thing, while my entré to magic was through Witchcraft, those ritual forms are no longer central to my spiritual practice. Many elements of my training continue to serve me in good stead, but for the most part I have migrated to more extemporaneous, eclectic ritual acts more aptly described as constant conversations with the Gods. Lately I consider the highest spiritual achievement the ability to walk fully upright.

Another reason is that as a teacher, speaker, and dreamworker, my primary aim is to be understood. Too often, insisting that people think of me as a witch is counter to that goal, so I have stopped forcing myself to use the term when it doesn’t seem right. Instead, I let my intuition tell me which label is the best descriptor for the given circumstances. This feels much more authentic to me, and allows me to communicate effectively with a much broader range of people. And sometimes Witch is the exactly right word to describe who I am and what I do; just not all the time.

Finally, I have made peace with my Christian heritage for the most part. Not having to rebel against it means I no longer feel as spiritually bereft as I once did. Labels don’t matter so much anymore. Years of immersion in both Eastern and Western mysticism has given me confidence in my ability to tell truth from falsehood, and I feel kinship with like-minded souls regardless of spiritual identity.

I know not everyone will agree with me; I certainly have friends who use the word Witch proudly and who are dedicated activists on behalf of the Craft. But the story of the resurgence of Paganism in our time is ongoing, and best served by truth-telling whenever possible. This is my small contribution for the evening.

7 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

  1. Denise

    These are my feelings as well. I refer to myself as Pagan or shamanistic, but not as witch or Witch, since that is not my spiritual practice. Thank you for putting these feelings to words.

  2. Hecate

    I love the word “witch” and it describes what I am. I like it for all the reasons that it upsets people.

  3. Chas S. Clifton

    Do you think part of the problem with Witch is that we think that people will want us to DO THINGS for them? And we are not sure if we always can . . . or should?

  4. Anne Post author

    Yeah, that combined with their fear that we might do things TO them. It’s a real can o’ worms.

  5. Shiney

    I find that as soon as i grow able to relate to a word I outgrow it. I like this it keeps me unstuck. A poet friend of mine says she’s “too big for her skin”, I think, for the most part, that the human animal is just too darn big for words.

  6. Miles

    This is one of those issues that I’m wrestling with as well. It’s such a loaded word…and is it one that I feel I can truly own? I have always struggled with Capital Letter self-definition (other than my name) because using the capital letter in a definition imports such terrible meaning. Witch. Warrior. Catholic. All things I call or have called myself. The capital implies a relationship with a political organization outside the self. One of my first spiritual teachers told me that it was inappropriate to call myself a “Shaman,” since that name is one bestowed on someone by thier community, and speaks to an individual’s role in their community.

    And what indeed does “witch” mean to me? It’s interesting, since I can own it in a way I can’t own Hindu, Catholic, Qabalist or Ceremonial Magician. For me, “witch” connotes an intuitive, ecstatic spiritual practice that is based in realtionship with the Earth and with powers unseen. And that fits. So, sometimes I call myself Witch. Never mind that most of my personal practice looks Hindu right now, and has looked quite different at other times in my life.

  7. Reya Mellicker

    Great post, Anne. I’ve thought a lot about the word, too, as I’m sure you could guess. When I first started calling myself a witch it felt brash and powerful, in-your-face in a way I really liked. Now when I look back on my own reasons for calling myself a witch, I realize how pretentious my motivations were. Oh well.

    It’s no easier trying to figure out if I’m “really” a Jew or not. All paths offer a chance to celebrate spirit, body, season. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time trying to label who I am – time I could spend praying or opening my heart to God or Goddess or whatever you want to call it.

    Would a rose by any other name smell so sweet? My guess is: YES.

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