Who are you calling a witch?!
The problem of names and definitions rears its head all too often in the pagan community. I can’t remember seeing this much confusion in my brief contact with the Roman Catholic Christian Church; but there they had a 2,000 year old history to draw on (however rocky the foundations and censored the progression of that history), and there are very clear rites of passage to becoming a Christian, or more important (to them) a Catholic. My mother believes that non-Catholic Christians are as bad as non-Christians; they are all wrong and therefore damned. That’s a very clear definition and boundary.
There is no such clarity in paganism, and most certainly little clarity on the term ‘witch’. As we progress along our own personal paths our tolerance to fluffydom fades and is quickly replaced by frustration, because that’s not what ‘we’ are, and others may judge us by their standards: they “give pagans a bad name”. Maybe.
I think labels can be very disingenuous, but people want to know how you label yourself, so they can compare you against the list of their own criteria and see where you fit into their world picture. This is human nature. We like to know where we stand with other people; are we singing from the same hymn sheet? The greatest disappointment can come when we assume that a person is one thing, and then further down the line we realise they are everything we despise; the shiny copper glamour of the initial meeting turns a green patina against the ravage of our elemental criticism.
I have spoken a few times on the blog about what I am, what label I go by. Naturally this changes over time as I consolidate the tendencies of my path. Changing labels – that’s something people dislike even more than not having a label! Often people have kindly urged me to ‘just be’, to defy the definition. Maybe. If I were to live in a solitary bubble not engaging with other pagans and non-pagans, then that would be fine. But conversation and discussion means we have to have common words, we have to agree on our definitions or never get passed “Hello, you’re a what?!”.
I know that it can be extremely threatening to some people when others start bandying around pagan categories: this is what makes you Wiccan; this is what makes you a witch. The fear is that they will fall betwixt and between and not find recognition in ‘the community’. As pagans we are already outsiders; insult to injury if we are then labelled outsiders by other Outsiders!
However, for the pagan community to be solid, for witches of all shades to have a chance at survival, we need to start looking at definitions, and what makes us who we are. The discussion is being had in small gatherings and circles all over the world. Everyone has an opinion. There is little consensus, and the fact is, we have no pagan pope to lay down the law, and if we did we would probably truss him up with the law stuffed in his gob and fling him off a cliff … actually maybe I’m projecting; that’s what I’d want to do with him, other pagans would most likely sit around him in a circle and blow incense and loving thoughts at him in the hopes that his spirit be released from the constraints of dogma. Yech!
I try very hard to let other people self-define. Yes, I balk at the Pagan Dudes who equate paganism to music festivals; at the fluffies who do not think beyond a love spell and write Isis with two hearts as dots over the ‘i’s. Grrrr. I can feel my blood boiling as I write. But I had a discussion earlier today with someone I respect and love greatly, and he has shown me that, actually, yes, I am irritated by people calling themselves something they are not. I’m quite quick to see who’s a doer and who’s a talker. Sometimes the talkers talk because they are scared of doing; they want it desperately but words are the closest they get to it. It’s hard to walk the line of respect for another’s limitations; especially when you agree with someone else’s criticism. Half the time I sit and bite my tongue. It’s not for me to say who or what a person is.
I suppose the summary of the current state of affairs is: take every label with a pinch of salt: the labels that people give themselves and the label you choose for yourself. I am still unsure how to label myself: I practise magick, I perform pagan rituals, I worship the gods of Egypt, I talk to spirits alive and dead – does that make me a witch? I don’t know. I deliberately choose the word ‘witch’ because there is such disagreement over what one is, that I think I could slip past the bodyguards at the door and party with the rest of them.
Ultimately I may disagree with how people define themselves, but I can’t judge them and their path. It’s how they get through life. If calling themselves a witch or Wiccan helps to give them strength to soldier on; who am I to question that? As frustrating as it may be at times. I rejoice in communion and like-mindedness wherever I find it, whatever its name. The important thing is to know where I am going. I am dedicated to the Egyptian gods. And even though my experience is a neophytic speck of dirt compared to others I know, magick is my life and focus for my future. I’ve gone too far to ever go back. So would you call me a witch…?
© starofseshat 2008