… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

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…?
Β© starofseshat 2008

14 responses

  1. boleskine93

    What you wrote needs to be talked about and needs to be understood. Let me give you my three cents.

    The word Witch, and Wicca have such widely understood – and misunderstood – meanings. Is a Witch someone who wears a pentacle because it pisses off her parents? Or is a Wiccan a bored housewife who wants a little more fun in her life? How about someone who was molested by the christian church, and now thinks that calling herself a Witch is the perfect act of retribution? Because I can name a person from each of these groups.

    In America, Wiccans are seen as sort of fluffy nobody’s, and I understand that it is different in England. Here, anyone can buy a pentacle and declare they are Wiccan. No work required. I have distanced myself so much from these fluff burgers that I wear my pentacle inverted, which is far more symbolic of my beliefs anyway.

    And of course, the silly Wiccans (here, not there) gasp audibly at the “evil” Satanist. But of course, they don’t really believe in Satan, who is an invention of the christian church, right? So why all the fuss ladies?

    They constantly throw the “threefold law” in my face. A law that is completely man-made (I thought they hated dogma?) and has no meaning in the Natural world. Nature, I have said and will repeat, is neither “good” nor “bad”. If they are referring to Karma, it’s such a twist as to make it unrecognisable.

    Are you a Witch? Well, what exactly IS a Witch. In my view, Witches work Magick. If a person claims to be a Witch, but doesn’t work Magick, and uses the word purely for a spiritual definition, I would think thrice about the seriousness of his/her efforts. I have to wonder why the Witch word is used; why not Pagan?

    Just like I wonder (loudly) about the MANY Wiccans and Pagans who claim to be “serious” in their paths, and yet they get married in the Christian church! Think about it; you must be able to name MANY who have. This is UNIMAGINABLE to me. You are either Pagan, or you are Christian. You CANNOT be both. PERIOD.

    Some definitions need to be constructed, if just in our own minds. In answer to your question, are you a Witch. I would say no. Although you work powerful Magick, your path is not the same, your Gods & Goddesses are not the Wiccan archetypes. I’d have to say no.

    October 22, 2008 at 5:36 pm

  2. starofseshat

    I agree with everything you have said Boleskine. Since I am not a witch by your definition, should I then ‘settle’ for pagan? I feel I am more than that. And perhaps that is the issue for other non-magick practising witches … they feel they are more than ‘just’ pagan. I don’t know.
    I know that I would definitely like to draw a line between me and the fluff burgers (as you so nicely put it πŸ™‚ ), and yet, you are right, I haven’t actually found fully like-minded people amongst the witches. As friends YES. As magickal allies, not really. I have said before that I have found greater sympathies with my tendencies amongst magicians, and yet even there I don’t quite fit the mould.
    I’m not by any means saying I am unique, just that I haven’t quite found my niche, my ‘community of magickal souls’ yet.
    So if I am not a witch, what am I? Answers on a postcard, please (or just submit a comment!) πŸ˜‰

    October 22, 2008 at 6:29 pm

  3. boleskine93

    I hesitate to use the term “eclectic”. It seems to be a much bandied about term, especially by people who really seem to have no core beliefs.

    If a person works with many pantheons, yet has one that they truly worship, then I would say their Gods define them. To be eclectic means you draw from many sources. Does that mean all eclectic pagans are really Chaos Magicians?

    Who are your Gods & Goddesses? Do you follow the Egyptian ways? Are you a practitioner of Egyptian Magick? Are you a Magician, then?

    October 22, 2008 at 6:56 pm

  4. starofseshat

    hhhauk-t’! Scuse me while I spit on the floor. Try and hesitate a little more with the term eclectic. I have no time for eclecticism – nothing can be learnt be spreading yourself thinly over multiple pantheons and traditions. How can you hope to gain the loyalty and strength of the gods, if you are a spiritual SLUT and hop from pantheon-bed to pantheon-bed taking what you fancy as you go along. NOPE.
    My gods and goddesses are Egyptian. I try to follow the Egyptian ways. I am a learner in Heka, Egyptian Magick. But calling myself a Heka practitioner sounds on the one side grander than I actually am (I am still learning) and also dryer … I feel that as a Heka practitioner I should come over, wobble a few of your joints and make you walk much better πŸ™‚
    And magician? Again – too grand, giving me way too much credit.
    I guess until I have learnt more and experienced more, I don’t actually deserve a name. I haven’t earnt it yet…

    October 22, 2008 at 7:03 pm

  5. boleskine93

    You are Pagan. Enough said. If someone wants to delve in deeper, then you can explain more. I know members of the OTA, a Solomonic Magick temple, who simply refer to themselves as Pagan.

    I refer to myself as a Pagan. After all, who could put a label on me?

    October 22, 2008 at 7:07 pm

  6. starofseshat

    You mean, who could put a label on you and still come away with both hands intact? Hmm. Nope. No one I know.

    As you know though, I have had people read my blog and judge me by their own witchy standards (and found me sorely wanting – oh me! oh my! how hurt and wounded I was … cack!). I guess in some ways I still search for the one word to describe me that will send fluffs running away from me and show the others my seriousness … but actually, even as I write those words, I am bored by the topic and think I don’t really, really care what they think of me. Ultimately I just want to be left in peace to get on with it.

    I care what you think. I care what my friends think. You know the heart of me. That suffices.

    October 22, 2008 at 7:19 pm

  7. starofseshat

    I woke this morning and realised what my issue is in calling myself ‘pagan’ (not that this is BOTHERING me or anything!! Tsk.)

    Would we accept calling all Christians, Muslims, Jews, Bahai’ists etc. non-pagan? Would they? Don’t you think they would be making a bit of a fuss if they felt they could only ever say, “I am a non-pagan” with the proviso, ‘if they want to know more they can ask me and THEN I’ll tell them about my Christian/Jewish/Whatever beliefs.’

    Do you see what I’m trying to say? I am more than a pagan. Just as a Muslim is more than a non-pagan. I think the terms although technically and generically accurate actually mean diddly-squat when you are trying to self-identify…

    I understand that there is the occult stream in paganism (and just DON’T even think that because you are a pagan you are by definition involved with the occult – it takes a tad more than that); and that such streams would avoid publicly identifying themselves and hence would not be bothered by being named in the pagan community. There are certainly things I do and believe that I would not wear on my sleeve for all to see and judge. BUT … there is the overworld sphere of engagement (as opposed to the underworld) where labels are bandied about with such carefree ignorance – perhaps one of the largest shards to drive a wedge through the pagan community. If we can’t identify ourselves to each other, how can we be identified by the world ACCURATELY and not just as baby-eating, devil worshipping, sexual profligates? (I’m allergic to babies after all, and the little bones keep getting stuck in my teeth…)

    We spoke last night about Thelema in respect of me, and that is definitely a discussion I want to pursue with you during my visit (amongst MANY other discussions!).

    Anybody else want to join in, or shall Boleskine and I just keep chatting πŸ™‚ LOL

    October 23, 2008 at 7:10 am

  8. Arnametia

    I would like to but in if that’s ok:o)

    I do think of you as a Witch Seshat. To me you ARE a Witch. I call myself a Pagan Witch.
    You and I had a similar conversation the other night about how Wicca is perceived differently across the pond from us so the name Witch is also bound to have different connotations.

    I do not do spells (at least not at the moment – this may change as I evolve along my path) but I feel myself worthy of the title of Witch in the way I work with Nature and animals, the way I live my life, my observation of the moon cycles, seasons and wheel of the year.

    I definately feel your lifestyle smacks of ‘Witch’ but I also feel you may change this further along the line to Wizzard!
    I know you are proud to call yourself a Witch, as am I. Whatever anyone else thinks really doesn’t matter.
    Witchdom is in the eye of the beholder!

    Just my simple view!

    October 23, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  9. starofseshat

    Yeah. I see you as a witch too, Arnametia.
    I think I am morphing these days… but a wizARD?? Oh please?? No-never-not-on-your-nelly… Haven’t met a good one yet :-p

    October 23, 2008 at 12:49 pm

  10. starofseshat

    Although, Arnametia – you may not do spells, but from what you were talking about the other night, you definitely do a form of magick, my dear …

    October 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm

  11. This whole thing of definition is really very interesting. To show just how pedantic people can be, the Christians I grew up with would never have accepted that Roman Catholics at all. RCs were seen as totally unscriptural in their practice and the Church of Rome was preached of as the place from where the antichrist would appear. So, even in the arena of so-called Christian religion, people don’t agree!

    I know of many people who would not call themselves Witch, because they do not feel they deserve the title as they don’t work magick – and don’t want to do so. These people often refer to themselves as a Priestess or Priest of the Goddess. Others, because of their close connection to Nature, and Nature Spirits, do see themselves as Witch, and of course one doesn’t have to be Wiccan to be a Witch!

    I see myself as Pagan, and will describe myself as a Hedge Witch, if pushed! I use this title because I work alone, and I work with my gods and ancestors as they have revealed themselves to me through my own practice. I practice a revealed religion. Some have said I am a Magician, and I know I am not. I know I am not because I am nowhere near worthy of that title because of the little I know and because I am so unpractised in the area of magick. I see myself as someone in contact with their gods, who works with them and who seeks to achieve a higher level of consciousness through my contact with them. I call that being a Hedge Witch.

    I agree that definition, in a world where titles are banded around like some kind of quick fix supermarket brand, are required, but I feel that each individual, who has a relationship with their gods, knows who and what they are because this has been revealed to them personally through their own relationship with Source. We are called to know ourselves and ourselves we do!

    Seshat – you are who it has been revealed to you who are. You know your name, yourself, your calling, your destiny, your will. You are Witch!

    October 23, 2008 at 5:27 pm

  12. starofseshat

    Yeah, absolutely. I know that the Christian brands are all warring for a prime time slot on Salvation TV. I know that internal squabbles are integral to any human endeavour, but we have to keep pushing the discussion otherwise there will never be progress. Why make the same mistakes as the Christians?
    “Priest or Priestess of the Goddess”?? That’s a new one on me… sounds conveniently vague. Hm.
    And thanks, Andy, for that rather rousing hulloo at the end of your comment πŸ™‚ My sense of humour suddenly saw me chained to the railings of the Town Hall chanting, “I am Witch!” suffragette-styley! I must dig out my oversized pantaloons and cast off my tightly strung corset of pernickety definitions!
    Let it all hang out!! LOL
    Okay, I can tell I’m tired. I’m losing the plot here. Time for bed.

    October 23, 2008 at 9:37 pm

  13. Arnametia

    Sorry – you think you are tired!!! I meant Magician not Wizard! Sorry!!!!

    October 24, 2008 at 10:17 am

  14. starofseshat

    Phew! That’s okay then πŸ™‚

    October 24, 2008 at 10:20 am

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