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Witch?

I have rewritten this post a few times now because I am not sure how to word it properly to get my view across in a way that makes sense…but I feel like this is an important viewpoint that I need to put out there, so here it goes… (apologies if it is a bit rambley)

There is a word that has become a word of power and reclamation in this modern time of down with the patriarchy feminism and #metoo…the word Witch. This word bothers me…I am sorry if this word is a large part of your identity, I am not out to offend…there is just something about this label that doesn’t sit well with me…

Did women even call themselves Witches before they were told that’s what they were?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question…maybe they did…maybe I am wrong and it was a label embraced by women before the Church took it from them and twisted it into a lie…

The origins of the word Witch are hard to nail down. There are many different theories floating around, but the word “Witch” as we know it today does not seem to appear until the 16th century. It is thought that the word originates from the old english words wicce (masculine) and wicca (feminine) that are believed to refer to a wise man or woman. These words then evolved into the word wicche which was used to refer to both men and women. Then by the 16th century, which happens to be around the time the Witch Hunts began, the word had evolved into the word we know today, and was almost exclusively used to refer to women. Men were referred to using words like Wizard, Warlock or Sorcerer. 

Sit with those words…Sit with Witch. Then sit with Wizard, Warlock and Sorcerer. What comes up? Wizard brings up wisdom, Warlock and Sorcerer bring up power, but Witch almost always brings up distrust and fear. Even in movies, more often than not, the Wizard is a good guy (eg. Merlin), and the Witch is a bad guy (eg. any Disney movie). During the Witch Hunts no one was ever labeled as a Wizard and killed. These weren’t the “Sorcerer Hunts.” I guess maybe this is one reason women want to claim Witch as a word of power. Men get all sorts of words of power…

The idea of someone who uses magic and sorcery to hurt others did not begin with the word Witch. Many old languages around the world have different words for this so the concept definitely predates the Witch Hunts. But how many people willingly choose a negative label for themselves? Especially one that could get them killed?

Today we are told that most of the women killed during the Witch Hunts were regular women, healers, herbalists and midwives whom the church (ie. powerful white men) believed got their power from cavorting with the Devil. (Maybe because these women would not cavort with them…). Almost anything could get you labeled as a Witch and killed. Too beautiful or too ugly; too good at your job or not good enough; saving a life or losing a life…anything could get you burned.

I understand the urge for modern women to reclaim this word as a word of power, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how the women at the heart of this word, during the Hunts, actually felt about it. How was this word actually viewed by them at this time? What did that label/archetype actually mean to them? How did they choose to label themselves? I can’t help but wonder how much of the label Witch is just something we modern humans are placing onto our ancestors because we think we know how things were.

Personally I don’t like to use this label for myself, even though I tick off pretty much all of the boxes required. I can’t help but wonder if the women of the day would have actually chosen a word steeped in such negativity to define themselves? (Keep in mind that this word was viewed much differently in those days than it is now.) Put yourselves back then. Would the village wise woman or midwife have chosen to call herself a Witch instead of a healer? Given the views of the day, she would not have had any work! 

Many history books call these women Witches, but don’t forget that history is written by those in power, and the ones in power during this particular point in time were not very fond of women. This was not a new sentiment. With the rise of male dominated Christianity, came the decline of the Goddess, and anything femanine went down with her. By the time the Witch Hunts began, women were already seen as less than. That pot had been brewing for quite some time. A random man didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that that was the day he was going to hunt women. The word Witch already had connotations to it that were much older than the Witch Hunts.

If you are of European descent, these women were your ancestors. I think their view of this label should be taken into account when we decide to label ourselves with it. 

I am not saying that magic hasn’t always existed. Magic is simple. Many people use magic all the time and don’t even realize it! I am not saying that ancient midwives didn’t use magic spells or potions to help a mother labour, or that priestesses didn’t use rituals with herbs and gems to call down the Goddess. What I am wondering is if they willingly used the term Witch to describe themselves.

This is me thinking out loud…maybe I am wrong. Maybe I just don’t get it…that’s totally possible…there is a lot in this world I just don’t understand…

But what I do understand is my feeling when I use the word Witch. I don’t think it is as simple as reclaiming a label and turning it into a word of power. Is “re”claiming even the right word? Or are we simply claiming something forced on us as our own?...Rebranding maybe…

If you use this word to describe yourself, please don’t take anything I have written personally. As I said above, it is not my intention to upset anyone. If you want to refer to yourself as a Witch, by all means go for it! If that label gives you confidence and power and a feeling of identity, then ignore everything I have said above. I do believe the meaning behind the word can be changed to something positive if enough people adopt it.

But…

I don’t want to label myself something that may have been forced upon my ancestors unwillingly…again, that’s just me…