“Magic at its core is just operating instructions for an interconnected world.”
– Milla Prince
I can’t remember when I first self-identified as a witch. It began when I found a book about witchcraft abandoned in the choir room when I was 12 years old and sometime between that and casting my first spell I had slipped into the identity, like trying on a garment made of an inky-coloured silk. I found it fit me well and so I wore it off and on for over ten years. Somehow it always settled in comfortably next to my interest in science. They were my twin stars of intellectual and emotional rigour; neither seemed quite complete without the other. Science gave me a deep and satisfying curiosity about how the material world works, while magic gave me a sense of awe about why it mattered, illuminating the thick web of interconnections between living systems. I practised alone through high school, then with others at University, then alone again when I moved to the UK, though less and less as time went on.
Similarly, I can’t remember when I stopped identifying as a witch. I dismantled my small library of dictionaries of crystals, encyclopaedias of herbcraft and guides for solitary practitioners when downsizing books over a year ago, but by then I had long-since stopped thinking that magic mattered to me. While I knew other witches and magical practitioners, it felt like I had shed that identity when it was no longer appropriate for my life, like ‘High School student’, or ‘room mate’.
What has brought it back again? I keep asking myself this question and I’m not sure I can point to a single answer. A dozen little things pulled me back toward witchcraft over the last year, and what’s more, I think I’m not alone in this. We live in a pivotal time for human rights and environmentalism and I get the sense that others are feeling called to witchcraft or other forms of healing practice at this moment too.
I can honestly say that I don’t know what magic is, how – or even whether – it ‘works’ (for whatever given value of ‘work’). All I know is that it’s important to me and it helps me engage with the work I want to do in the world. Of course you can’t simply wish the world’s problems away through magic. But I believe that reflecting on a situation, performing a ritual and setting an intention, whatever that looks like, has a profound psychological effect on the practitioner. Even if there’s nothing ‘supernatural’ going on, it’s important to feel like the pragmatic effort you’re putting forth to change the world is working toward something bigger and subtler than the conspicuous gears of predictable cause and measurable effect. Witchcraft needn’t be anything beyond what is present in front of us, but is perhaps a map for inward- and outward-, backward- and forward-looking compassion.
“A witch is a someone who understands the language of the seasons and the skies, who cares deeply for the hearts and the hands of those who surround her. She is one who recognizes the sacredness and the essential nature of the cycles of both Life and Death, honors the fertility of the soil and the self, and sows seeds, not just for this season, but for the generations who will come forever after in the future, if only we can remember how to live well and walk lightly on this Earth today.”
Witchcraft is self-care. Witchcraft is revolutionary.
“A witch is a fearsome creature, inspiring terror and awe, channelling a primal, visceral energy in the name of peace, progress, justice and harmony. A witch is a conduit for transformation. A witch taps into the power within and harnesses the power without in service of a better world.” – W.I.T.C.H. PDX
This is from the manifesto of an intersectional feminist, anti-fascist group of activists who don the archetypal black robes and pointed hats to leverage the ‘otherness’ of witches in opposition to a status quo that can be cruel and neglectful to those who are different. This is the same status quo that treats animals, plants, ecosystems as subjects, divorced of feeling, waiting to be exploited. It treats indigenous people, immigrants, working class people and future generations as irrelevant to calculations of value. Being present with nature and people around us, seeing what we are consistently asked not to see, means practising a radical awareness. We have to look into the shadows of our society and of our own souls and do deep, difficult work to heal what needs healing. Witchcraft reminds me that I have the power to face that darkness, that change is possible, and that nature needs me to pay attention.
The world is scary and frustrating and anything that gives us the strength to keep fighting for justice is worthwhile.
“The world may be on fire, but so are we. We’re fire-makers, tenders, keepers, control burners, and fire-breathers. We’re motherfucking dragons, y’all.” – Milla Prince
So, light your candles in their grinning gourds tonight and, whether or not you call yourself a witch, may your power shine on places that need uplifting.
So, these are my random thoughts about the word ‘witch’ as an identity and my history with that word. I hope you enjoyed this bonus Halloween post and that you have a safely spooky or satisfyingly spiritual evening, depending on which you prefer!