Today is June 21, 2014, and it marks 18 years since I self-initiated as a witch. The ritual took place in my backyard with a number of fellow witch-friends in attendance, along with too many mosquitoes and June Bugs to count.
I had been on this road to witchdom for a couple of years, having searched for a spiritual tradition that was in keeping with my ancient Gaelic ancestors. I was even in a coven for a while, but their tradition was American eclectic and had way too much Wicca and ceremonial hogwash for my tastes. Unofficially, I had been on this path my whole life; it had only been a couple years prior to my self-initiation that I had begun to take on the mantle of witch and pagan.
As I related in my Samhain post, being a witch in reality is nothing like what TV and movies pretend it is. “Witch” is usually used as an insult, particularly against women. This past Samhain, I bought a sign that says, “You say I’m a Witch … like it’s a bad thing.” And for me, the word “witch” is utterly fabulous.
The word witch is thought to derive from a Germanic root word that alternately can mean “to be strong” and/or “to know” or “to be wise”. The term witch was used to refer to the local wise woman, the woman who knew the healing arts, midwivery, burial preparations, and often, relationship advice. Witches were the keepers of arcane knowledge from birth to death, and that scared the men in charge of Europe’s misogynistic religion and governments. Insecure men have always feared women’s ability to create life, and that fear was never greater than in the centuries of patriarchal rule before modern science could explain some of the mysteries of human biology.
I have often said that someday I hope to be able to call myself, fully, a witch — to truly be a wise woman. I’ve found that it takes much more than just calling yourself a witch to actually be a true witch. I’m not talking about covens and initiations either. You’re a person who strives to live in a wise way, a beauty way, the “Red Road”, according to the laws of Nature and Karma, or you don’t.
Many arguments can be made over who is a real witch and who isn’t. That’s another reason I left a coven and ventured out on my own. I just wanted to do what felt right to me and was in keeping with my Irish and Scottish heritage. Along the way, I’ve studied many religions, and I’m particularly smitten with the teachings of Indian religions as they pertain to enlightenment, reincarnation, and expansion of universal consciousness. While I will call myself an Energist, for reasons I’ll explain in another post, there is no actual name for what I do — it’s just Trish Witchyness.
Recently, an instructor from Pittsburgh University interviewed me for some doctoral work he is doing. He wanted to know about my spiritual path and how I do my “thang” as a solitary witch. We talked for several hours over the course of a few days, and it was a great conversation that brought back many memories along my journey.
I recounted a tale from when I was a child, about seven years old, when my mother wanted me to stop making mud pies in the backyard to get ready for church. I asked why we had to go to church. She said it was to worship god in his house. I asked her why we had to go to church to worship god because a church was made by men while the earth and water I was concocting into mud pies was actually made by god. Furious that I was questioning her religious bullshit, she growled for me to get inside and get cleaned up, and away to man’s building we went.
When I was nine, I was forced to become Catholic. I knew instinctively the church was evil. Maybe it was a past-life memory of being burned at the stake or something … or being an observant child, I could see through the hypocrisy and the double standards of the Catholic church when my mother, the recreational martyr, fell for all of it hook, line, and sinker. One day when I was 10, I asked one of the priests, “Which is worse: always to believe and never to question, or always to question and never to believe?” He sputtered, clearly unable to answer me, then a moment later began spewing some dogmatic drivel that I could tell even he knew was inadequate.
I hated the Catholic church, I hated my mother, I hated Catholic school, I despised it all. When I was 17, I graduated from Catholic school, and I vowed never to return to the church. I almost did not attend my best friend’s wedding because it was a wedding mass. So was my sister’s.
At age 17, my life changed when I met an American Indian ballet dancer at a major competition. His poetry about his spirit animal connected directly to the heart of me. But I’m not Indian. He suggested I begin searching for answers with my heritage, and so my journey into the incredible world of the Gaelic people and spirituality began. I knew I was home as I learned more and more about pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland. Even with the invasion of Christianity on the Gaelic peoples, many of the traditional stories and customs had survived. Considering how much of the pagan culture was absorbed and outright stolen by the Christian church, finding the links back to pre-Christian European spirituality is doable and documentable.
When I was 21, I volunteered with a ballet company in New Orleans. One day, I decided to go inside a huge cathedral — St. Patrick’s, I think it was. I went to one of the last pews and knelt. And waited. And waited. And waited. I looked around. Nothing. I bowed my head. Nothing. I looked at the shiny brass and gold trinkets, and the porcelain statues, and the stained glass, and the wooden reproduction of Jesus on the cross. And felt nothing. I began crying. Because I felt nothing. I left. Still crying. I wanted to belong somewhere, and this was never going to be it.
I didn’t have a name for what I was or what I believed at that time. About a year later, a theatre friend asked if I’d heard of Wicca. I hadn’t, but when I looked into it at the library and bookstore (this was pre-internet), I resonated with some of what I read, but not all of it. Some of Wicca seemed as regimented and hierarchical as the dogmatic church I despised. Turns out that Wicca was founded by two former Anglicans. And as another friend used to joke, “Episcopal is just Catholic with an ‘E’.”
It was that journey (and the dawn of the internet) that allowed me to find other soul-path querents who go by many names: Wicca, Witches, Pagans, Neo-Pagans, Druids, Eclectic, Ceremonial Witches, Asatru, etc. Too many to list. The coven didn’t work out, but it allowed me to see what I didn’t want on my path. I left in the Spring, and it was that Summer Solstice that I held my self-initiation in my backyard on June 21, 1996.
Walking the witchy path has not been easy, especially considering I live in Mississippi. Being “out of the broom closet” has been a challenge from Day 1. I have endured personal taunts and threats, rude comments left on my vehicle (thanks to my “Born Again Pagan” bumper sticker) whenever I went to the store, work, the post office, the gas station. I even lost a job because I wasn’t Christian. But like any other closet a person chooses to come out of, being free trumps being a slave to the ignorance of others, especially here in the Bible Belt.
I composed a musical, Witchcraze, to correlate the terrorizing good ol’ boys of the Bush regime with the torturous witch trial masterminds of 1692 Salem. Having studied in depth the arrest warrants, the trial transcripts, and the re-trial transcripts, I can say for a fact that nothing I have endured comes close to what was done to the women of previous centuries, when “witch” was a label that carried heinous torture and a death sentence.
So, I’m a witch. And I’m a pagan. And an Energist. And a tarot card reader. And a Libra. And a Tatrika and yogini. And a composer, and a nerd, and a bookworm, and a Democrat, and a Streisand devotee, and a single-mom, and a wannabe chef and cafe-owner, and a kettlebell enthusiast, and I’m right-handed. Pick any of those labels, and someone is going to have a problem with me because of how they perceive that word and what they think it stands for.
I am a writer: a lover of words and sounds and syllables. I know what “witch” means, and to me, witch is a beautiful word. Witch is a sacred word. Witch is a word women (and men) have died for, and it is a word I choose for my goal in this lifetime: to be a wise woman, to be a strong woman, to live a life of expansion and understanding. Most of all, hearing or seeing the word witch makes me feel something. I feel a connection to all the women (and men) who defied oligarchical, elitist oppression to live and die free as freethinkers and religious and political dissenters. And that makes my activist heart proud.
Aroused and witchy,
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While I am a sex-positive & pro-sex movement activist, I think it’s sad that the majority of the body-positive photos of women I see are in and amongst the BDSM and sexualized violence porn of Tumblr. There are many amateur sites that feature full-figured women, but the amateur photo-snaps are not of the technical quality of a professional photographer. And where are the professional photographers taking professional photos of real-sized women, using beautiful lighting and honoring the female body? The average sized woman in the United States is a 14/16. You can be a size 14 or 16 and still be healthy. Why aren’t we represented in the media and culture? Do I really need to go into a rant about matriarchal cultures of the past and the ancient preference for curvy women, immortalized in goddess images like those found at Willendorf? Seriously?
Why aren’t women allowed to be “heavy” or real-sized in magazines and on TV and film? Why aren’t stretch marks a sign of accomplishment for giving birth rather than a source of embarrassment or shame because our skin isn’t flawless anymore?
Why is a thigh-gap so sought after by teenage girls and 20-somethings? Is it because they don’t know that thigh fat makes sex feel really, really good for the guy? AND for the woman?
I’ve seen a statistic that girls see 400 ads per day telling them how they should look. Is anyone telling teens and young women they are beautiful the way they are?
One of the best things about the amateur porn on Tumblr is the real bodies. The women have real breasts — large or small. They have thigh fat and butt fat. They look healthy and natural. Usually, the men are not overly muscled; they are athletic but not steroid- addicted, bodybuilder over-muscled. For the men and the women, their bodies look normal and natural. And the best part — the orgasms are real. Real people with real bodies having real orgasms. Who knew?!
We come in all shapes and sizes, and these shapes, sizes, skin tones, hair textures, and nose and lip shapes should be reflected in the media. Diversity is a beautiful thing. Women who are naturally skinny are beautiful, and so are those of us who are not.
Be you. Be proud. Be seen.
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In response to a reader’s comment on my usage of “his-story” and “herstory” in this post, I wrote this little response.
The terms herstory / her-story are used in feminist writings for the precise point of underlining exactly how much women have been left out of the masculine narrative of world events, i.e., history. I even wrote a musical called Herstory, dealing with this very topic. (To hear a few demos, go to my personal site: TrishCausey.com.)
It’s not so much an etymological derivation I’m going for with his-story or even her-story, but rather a play on words, making the distinction between history — the narrative we’re taught in school and take for granted as “accurate,” and his-story — the overwhelmingly one-sided male version of world events that its orchestrators consistently and conveniently left women out of — all of which echoes the current political climate, a.k.a. the 2012 elections that prompted the right-wing Republicans’ “War on Women,” that caused Democrats and social activists to ask the question: Where Are the Women?!
As they say, the conquerors write the history books, and this is true whether it is women being left out or the “other side” of the story being obscured to make the conqueror look better.
When I was in school, “World History” consisted only of the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, a paragraph or two on ancient China, a hiccup on India, and then jerking off to the wonders of Columbus and the so-called “discovery” of the “New World.” This hardly covers all of world history, and frankly, it’s a piss-poor job of a “survey” of history as well.
Archeological evidence around the world proves women were involved in all aspects of society: fighting in battles, doing daily domestic chores within a tribe or clan, leading religious activities as priestesses, acting as medical healers of an entire community, and officiating in government as judges and/or chieftains or queens. The fact that the emphasis on goddesses is so prevalent on ancient cultures sheds but a glimpse of the extent to which women might have been revered.
From the rise of the imperial, patriarchal regimes of antiquity through the 20th century, women who really wanted to participate did so in “drag,” dressing as a man in order to fulfill their purposes in helping with a cause. Women who were openly independent, standing up to oppressive religion and government or fully participating in teaching the next generation of girls the women’s mysteries, were accused of Witchcraft and summarily arrested, tortured, and executed in one form or another, burning at the stake being the favored method in Europe, while hanging or even stoning was preferred in the “New World.” And yes, I wrote a musical on this as well: Witchcraze.
Women have not only been erased from history (i.e., Hatshepsut’s statues in Egypt de-faced and her named chiseled out of the stone to erase her legacy — quite literally), but women have not been accurately included in history to begin with. In medieval Europe, the tradition of not even recording girls’ names when they were born was common — because girls were not important. But boys’ names were recorded because property, family names, and inheritances were passed down through the male line under the patriarchal societal system.
When I participated in a medieval historical re-enactment group, the name nerds were sticklers for making sure everyone’s persona had a legitimate, verifiable name for the time frame and nationality of the persona. As a 12th century Scot, getting my name “approved” was difficult because females were not recorded except in extreme cases, such as a wealthy (for Scotland) couple only having a female child survive to adulthood. (The fact that the Scots at this time were also on the last legs of independence in their indigenous culture, which had an oral tradition not a written language, made documentation difficult as well.) So while they wanted me to prove my name did exist, I told them to prove it didn’t. They couldn’t — because women were not included in the male narrative from the beginning.
I’ve often asked the question — Name 5 famous women from American history. Most people name Betsy Ross, Harriet Tubman, maybe Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe Susan B. Anthony. But no one ever gets to 5 names. They rarely get to the 20th century when women finally earned the right to vote in 1920 and marched in the streets for equal rights in the 1960’s and 1970’s! That shows just how much women have been excluded from the important facts in American his-story. Our brains are drilled on the male war mongers, the American Revolution, the male Founding Fathers, the male presidents, even the male dissidents, the bloody American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Women were there! Obviously, we were there, or none of us would be here today! But in the common narrative of history, “Where Are the Women?”
It is time to re-write the history books — not as his-story, or even solely her-story, but to tell the tale of all of us.
A current series on BBC Two is shaking up the bubble of religious misogyny that the Catholic church and fundamental conservatives don’t want you to know about.
Bettany Hughes, anthropologist and author of The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life and Helen of Troy: The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, has appeared in several programs for the BBC and PBS highlighting ancient history and women’s place in it: Helen of Troy, The Minotaur’s Island, and When the Moors Ruled in Europe.
Hughes’ latest foray into the world of highlighting women’s contributions to world history is the BBC Two series “Divine Women.” She brings to light information about women’s involvement in religion, not only as supreme mother goddesses and priestesses to the masses, but goddesses and women as true forces to be reckoned with (think Kali), when women were revered for their ability to both create and defend themselves and their loved ones as they saw fit — essentially, these females were in complete control of their bodies and their own desires, a great reminder for women today!
Women’s independent nature has repeatedly been attacked for centuries in the form of witch trials and anti-suffrage movements. The inherent fear and jealousy that many men have toward women was first cultivated by the patriarchal, imperial regimes of antiquity in the original #waronwomen that we are fighting to this day.
Hughes’ soft-spoken, well-educated British delivery lessens the blow of shockingly empowering information, that heretofore, only we Pagans and heathens seem to have known. Elevating women to the status of not only equals in religion, government, and society, the evidence shows women were actually viewed as superior to men just as female goddesses overshadowed male gods. This may come as a surprise to religions that forbid women to be priests or governments that refuse to allow women to fight on the front lines of battle — all because we have vaginas, the part of woman men love and fear simultaneously.
In reading a review by a clueless male UK writer, he thought the first episode was slow, meandering, and overall lame. When I confronted him on Twitter, I substantiated my arguments with facts (and passion), and he accused me of being a “bot.” I guess that’s the social media version of when women are “emotional” or “high-strung,” we’re just experiencing the effects of being “hormonal” at “that time of the month.” He again proved that the average man simply cannot tolerate an empowered, strong, kicking-butt-taking-names woman — similar to the insecure men who banded together to erase women from history and religion, relegating women’s only value in society to giving birth to healthy sons and cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking meals, raising the kids, and laying back for lackluster sex whenever the husband was horny.
Whether you believe in a duality of a higher spirit or not, the time has come to re-write the his-story books that erased women from its narrative. We regurgitate the names of male generals and the battles they waged and call it “history.” We revere the “Founding Fathers” with no regard for the women who were our “Founding Mothers.” This series, “Divine Women,” is a brilliant step in the right direction of getting accurate information about women’s true role in the history and the her-story of the world.
For now, UK audiences can watch it on BBC Two. When it hits the DVD section of Amazon, I am definitely buying it!
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!