Monday, 17 January 2011

What is a Witch?

Aine from the Deepest Well posted and interesting topic last week, she was asking what is a Witch and if Wiccan meant the same thing. I think to many people it does. The pagan religion of Wicca has been spread so far by the mass media, not always favourably, that being pagan, Wicca and witchcraft have all been rolled in to one. Do I believe that both Wiccan and Witch are the same thing? the answer would have to be no.

My understanding of Wicca is that it's a religion that follows a central god and goddess and also includes what I would call formal witchcraft, so most if not all wiccans are also witches. I think that Wicca as a religion was officially set up about the 1920's but as so much of it was taken from older sources it's very hard sometimes I think to see where or how religions really did start. All religions develop and progress with time, even in Christianity different groups have set up all with slight variations on the main concepts of that religion. Just because a religion is thought of as new does that make it less valid? all religions have to started somewhere. Any Wiccan's reading this please feel free to comment on any mistakes you think I have made as my understanding of the religion comes solely from what I have read.

I am an animist pagan and I choose to follow the northern tradition as a religion, I will write a post about my own spiritual beliefs another time but in referring back to the first paragraph of this post, as soon as I say I'm a pagan many assume I'm also a witch. To make this clear, I do not see witchcraft as part of my faith, so for me the two are separate things. Am I offended if I get called a witch? no I find it amusing. Would I call myself a witch? possibly. The problem is the word 'Witch' means different things to different people, yes it's linked with paganism, the Wicca religion, also folklore stories or even just a term for wicked woman. The word brings to mind someone who wears a tall pointed hat and does spells. That image is now firmly entrenched through the likes of film and stories, it's like the old westerns where the good cowboys wore white hats and the baddies wore black. 

My old Collins English Dictionary gives this definition;

Witch n. person, usu. female, believed practise, practising, or professing to practise (black) magic, sorcery, ugly, wicked woman; fascinating women.

I have highlighted what I think is the most important word in that definition 'Believed' most of the stories we have of witches come either from folklore, fairy tales or the documents from the witch hunts of the Middle Ages. The witch hunts were one of the most horrific periods of christian history, when many innocent, mostly women, were put to death because superstition and hatred. Some of the biased views formed in these times remained in effect until the last century for many people and even into today for others. I do believe that some of these women may have been practising magic as we think of it today, in those times working with herbs and spells, words of incantation were the nearest many could get to medical help and along with many of the old religions there was a firm believe in what we would term today the supernatural. Many, many more would have been put to death on the words of another to settle old scores, in the pursuit of greed over another's lands, as a forms of self protection and also simply for hatred of something they themselves did not understand. To put this into context today, anyone women who spoke out of turn, used natural remedy's, kept a cat, read horoscopes, had property and scores of other things we never even give thought to, would have run the risk of being called a witch and killed.

The other words that stand out for me in that definition is the 'Fascinating women' bit for that's what I find these women from ages past. My interest in witches comes firstly from a social and historical point of view, I see them for the most part as being ordinary women who live and got caught up in terribly extreme times of political and religious change. They do influence my crafting interests because I want to remember them as women who had a life apart from their current pointy hat image and maybe try to combine them as real women with an image they never asked for.

Modern witchcraft may now be linked with Wicca but many I've talked to, who declare themselves a witch don't practice that religion. For many witchcraft is simply that a craft, something they learn and there are many names, such as hedge, green, cottage, hearth etc.for them being a witch is not about faith but about living a more natural lifestyle and trying to harness magic by the use of spells etc. I do believe in magic, I think it's all around, I can see it in the stars at night or a rainbow that comes after the rain. I do not think witches themselves are magical, but they are someone who feels connected to life in 3d rather than the 2 dimensional world many choose to live in. Personally I don't do circles or magic spells, but I do try to be aware of the magic around me in everyday life, to connect and work in tandem with nature. Being a witch isn't something someone does, it's an integral part of who you are.

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