What do you know of the negative associations with the word Witch? How do you feel about the fact that so many witches were persecuted and burned in medieval times? Would you like to see witches and Goddess-religion made acceptable in today’s society?
–Shekhinah Mountainwater, Ariadne’s Thread
This month we began a small study group using the book Ariadne’s Thread. I’ve wanted to work through this book with a group of women for years and it finally is working out to do so. One of the topics of our first meeting is the fear many women have of the word “witch.” This comes up in the Red Tent class I teach also. Indeed, when I plan Red Tent events, though I do use goddess imagery and I am goddess-oriented in my personal spirituality, I am careful not to include the word “goddess” in the chants or rituals, because I want to make sure to speak to the womanspirit within all of us, rather than being associated with any one framework of belief. Red Tent spaces have the ability to transcend any particular belief system and welcome women of many backgrounds, inclinations, and beliefs. They aren’t specifically “Goddess circles,” though they honor the divine feminine through their very being.
Once at meeting for breastfeeding women, I mentioned wanting to start a group called “mothercraft” or “womancraft.” Another woman there said it sounded interesting, but if that is what it was called she would never come. I surmised because it sounded too much like “witchcraft.” I think many women retain a deep-seated, historically rooted fear of being labeled witches. Maybe that sounds silly, but this fear is a real one. It is important for women to gather in sacred circles together without fear of labeling (or of needing to identify as anything other than women’s enjoying a women’s circle!), but it is also important to look at the word “witch” and explore why it might feel so scary to be thought so.
I appreciate this no-nonsense quote from Starhawk about the power of the word “witch” in her essay Earth, Spirit, and Action: Letting the Wildness In: “The word ‘Witch’ has power. If we don’t examine it and counter its negative associations, if we don’t go through that process with it, then it’s like a stick to beat you with.”
This connects to a recent article about young women and women’s spirituality in which we find this wonderful gem:
“the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” –Sady Doyle
In her article, Doyle also quotes Starhawk:
“I think that part of the power of the word is that it refers to a kind of power that is not legitimized by the authorities,” Starhawk says.
“Even though not all witches are women, and a lot of men are witches, it seems to connote women’s power in particular. And that’s very scary in a patriarchal world – the kind of power that’s not just coming from the hierarchical structure, but some kind of inner power. And to use it to serve the ends that women have always stood for, like nurturing and caring for the next generation – that, I think, is a wonderfully dangerous prospect.”
One of the classes I took for my M.Div degree at Ocean Seminary College was called Stigmatization of the Witch. It was a very intense, sad, and challenging class. One of the lasting lessons from it for me was this: …when political and religious tides were turning in the ancient world, those who wanted to dominate and control didn’t go for the leaders of countries, for political heads of states, or for those in powerful jobs, they went for the priestesses. They went for women who held the cultural stories and ritual language of the people. They went for the healers and nurturers and those who took care of others. They destroyed temples and sacred images and books. They almost succeeded in total eradication of the role of priestess from the world and worked really hard to take midwives and wisewomen out completely as well…
In the Womanrunes system, the Witch’s Hat rune is the Rune of Magic. It is a strong rune, one that asks you to stand up, to name and claim, to be unapologetic and unafraid and…to claim your magic. When we reached it in the current Womanrunes Immersion course, I was thinking about women and fear and witches and I found myself creating a Claim Your Magic layout for use with Womanrunes or any other oracle card system.
Feel free to give it a try and claim your magic!