Which Witch is Which

modern witch

(pictured: 21st century witch in her habitat)

The term “witch” doesn’t have the cleanest of reputations.  No surprise our cells recoil inward at the sound, with resistance, “No, not us!,” –considering it’s only been some 350 years since European ancestors were burned for such a label, terrorizing female healers for 3 centuries, no less.  (Some occurrences that would warrant a witch hunt: 1. giving someone the “stink eye;” 2. not being able to pay rent; 3. if a child in town got sick; 4. if a woman could swim).  How terrifying!

When I wonder, “Why is it that I feel afraid of being seen?  Why don’t I put myself out there more?”— I’m able to find compassion for myself in remembering that, according to epigenetic theory, it’s likely the fears of my ancestors are embedded in my DNA.  (Hailing from Germany, Ireland, and England, that fairy-witch blood is certainly strong in my veins).  Thus, the trauma trained into my cells is telling me, “Oh, you like making herbal medicine and dancing under the full moon?  Better keep that to yourself, otherwise… who knows what could happen…”

Despite associations with the devil a lá Halloween and movie stereotypes, witches were and are, in fact, the village healers.  The folk herbalists.  The knowers of the plant and animal folk.  The keepers of ancient wisdom and the wielders of ritual medicine.  Nowadays you may find them disguised in modern clothing and city settings, but in their blood and bones, still, are the secrets of the fields and forests.  

There is no need to fear the witch.  And if you feel repulsed by the name, I entice you to ponder your grandmother, or great-grandmother, or great-great-great-grandmother— go as far back as you need to find the woman in your bloodline who bled on the land, who made love with the elements, who heard the secrets whispered in the wind.  Who knew which plant in the garden to chew up and spit onto a wound to help it heal.  “Witch, witch, you’re a witch!”

Nowadays, many would be disgusted by the idea of spitting anything onto a lesion.  Bodily fluids are things to be kept at bay (unless it involves ecstatic pleasure, then people are willing to make exceptions.)  The magic of our bodies’ healing abilities is shut down in the favor of modern medicine.  Our natural cycles are repressed and denied, viewed as things to be masked by medications, and endured through sugar and caffeine.   

What is this fear modern humans have of blurring the line between person and nature? Are we not of this planet, just like the fox or the oak, the peacock or the lilac? We can see how lifestyle has favored resistance to the rhythms of the body and of nature. There’s this tendency to sterilize— to plug the holes, to bleach the tops, to spray the bugs, to cut the yard. (Can we just let the gosh darn dandelions grow in the grass, for crying out loud?!). This desire to be “sanitary” and “proper” comes at quite the cost. It’s temporary and illusory. Like a bandaid on a rotting limb.

A need to control the environment, to feel safe— yes, I understand this need quite well.  I don’t blame you or I for wanting space, for wanting to be in charge of our surroundings.  Because so much is so unpredictable, it certainly feels better to play the game of having control of anything at all.  But I urge myself and others to question: why am I doing this? (Whatever it is).  What is the effect?  (Immediate, but also the more distant ripple’s result).  

As the saying goes, “As above, So below.”  As without, so within.

Meaning: our environment reflects our inner world.  How we treat our surroundings is how we tend to our inner landscape.  As we close our windows and doors to the outside world, what is it that we’re trying to “keep out” from within our hearts and minds?  What wild and unpredictable parts of ourselves are knocking on the door, waiting to be welcomed in?

Ugggh, I know quite well, the angst of observing the “butterfly effect” of my choices.  (I bless the food I eat, but dang, I can only imagine the labor and environmental footprint required for me to have a carton of almond milk in my fridge or a bag of cacao in the pantry).  My inner witch is asking me: “How can you live more in consideration of the land?  Can you be more okay with surrendering to the discomfort?  Can you allow your wild desires to emerge, and just watch the energy unfold, without having to react or repress or run?”  

To be a witch is to be in communion with this wildness.  To surrender the power over to the forces of nature, praying that a walking stick and whatever grows along the path will be enough to keep us going.  To being okay with being hungry, but rejoicing with gratitude when our bellies are full.  These experiences are full of wisdom.  Witnessing what arises within, and riding the wave of each breath, each experience— these are the teachings of the Buddha, of the yogic masters, telling us we are much deeper than the surface-waters of our experiences.  This same pure presence and power of intuition is the “magic” of the healer, the witch.  With focus so sharpened and observation so unobscured by distraction, the healer can see the way through the forest where others may only see brambles and shadows.  

Well, where am I going with all this… I suppose I’d just like to reassure myself that it’s a perfectly alright decision to sacrifice my current comfy city-living situation in order to live closer to the land.  To sacrifice a washer and dryer in order to have the chance to plant a garden.  To know I’ll be freaking freezing in the winter for a chance to live near a trail that weaves through the trees up a secluded hillside.  To have shoddy internet and cell service for the opportunity to grow vegetables and raise chickens.  To see beyond the city lights the full glory of the Harvest moon.  

Indeed, my witchy ancestors require no less.

Growing corn on the porch; kernels collected from last year’s fall altar

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