I’m a witch. Says so most places I’m present in any written forum. There are people who would laugh out loud at that statement. And quite simply those people can go fuck themselves. Here are several reasons:
- The person who taught me my spiritual practice, my Spiritual Art, called it “witchcraft”. Because there’s no other word in the English language really. This is the best one to describe this practice and Craft, this complex of ideas, beliefs, practices, rituals, rites and spiritual exploration and participation. That person, my teacher, also called themselves “witch”. Because a person who practices witchcraft is a witch, in the same way that someone who paints pictures is a painter. It’s not very difficult. The word might cover a lot of diverse ground, but it’s really still not that complicated. I am compelled in life not to redefine people for them. Particularly when I honour and respect the ideas and practices and have adopted them myself. Witch it must be. I use the word then, as a mark of respect.
- It’s a historical reality. Yes, that’s right, learn at something. People in Europe have been called witches since the early modern period because they practiced witchcraft. It is a contemporary reality in a number of places outside of Europe globally. In the case of contemporary societies outside of Europe and the Anglo-sphere, in places in Africa, South America and South East Asia, and historically in Europe, it’s not a nice word. People are and were persecuted, and have done and continue to die because “witch”. In this way, and for those like me who draw on the practices and evidence we have of Early Modern Europe (and let’s be honest, some rather recent periods), using the word is a reclamation. It is a metaphorical finger that says “the historical and continued negativity associated with this complex of practices, and the persecution based on spiritual beliefs and practices must stop, and you’re going to have to deal with the fact I have rights, and am a valid contributor to society, AND a witch! Bite me!”
- It is a cultural reality. The idea of the witch is ubiquitous within Western Culture. I grew up on the European Fairytales, Disney, the witch is a thing, for good or bad that does a thing, plays a role, and more recently is tied up with ideas that are tackled by contemporary feminism. Most real-life witches I know are very happy to engage with (and are often the most ravenous consumers of) contemporary pop culture and historical artistic witch references because these are not currents that we would deny. These reference do not spring from a cultural vacuum and we don’t live in one. The roles that make-believe witches inhabit resonate with real life witches; as artists themselves, creators, poets, healers, spiritual guides, outsiders, revolutionaries, rebels, forces of darkness, fairy godmothers, embracers of and participators with the magic of the world. For every way a make-believe witch could be dangerous to their make-believe society, the real-life witch understands that the very act of engaging with a magical, spirited world is a similarly dangerous idea in reality. In every way a make-believe witch could be a blessing to their make-believe society, the real-life witch understands that the very act of engaging with a magical, spirited world is a similarly blessed idea in reality.
Unfortunately, the word witch has become a by-word for “bitch” in contemporary Australia because the later is an offensive term, and witch is not. And because the people who are looking for an alternative are actually not that clever, not to mention their reasons for needing such a negative description of women is a bit thin besides… Um… #mantears It hasn’t apparently occurred to anyone that the reasons witch and bitch are interchangeable is not because we allow our kiddies to use it and dress up a certain way recognizable as witches on Halloween and see it as harmless, but because of the reasons the word and image was infantilised and made harmless in the first place. Witchcraft, certainly in my life, is powerful, and the reasons society filed down its claws, are the very same reasons I sharpen its teeth. It’s not a mistake, bitches also and most definitely have both teeth and claws.
It is, however, fair to say that the response to Peter Dutton’s recent “witch” comment should be negative for all Australian women. Because he’s an arsehat and that he’s a Parliamentary Minister is an affront to all thinking people everywhere. He was not extolling the virtues of alternative spiritual practices, or calling a person correctly as they self-identify. He’s a wanker. Lately, though, there’s been as much cause to beat one’s head against a wall for the response as there is for the initial tomfuckery.
Photograph: Van Badham, sourced from ‘Mad Witches’ by Cosette Paneque @ Magickly here.
Dressed in black, wearing pointy hats, striped stockings, and brandishing broomsticks, a group of activists gathered in Melbourne’s Federation Square on Friday to draw attention to the government’s woman problem and demand a genuine stance against sexism. That’s understandable and a cause I can, and do, get behind. But are any of them Witches? Do any of them realise, or care, that “witch” means something to other people out there?
Jennie Hill, founder of the Mad Fucking Witches Facebook Page told The Huffington Post Australia, “We’re trying to bring attention to the whole idea of reclaiming the word witches as a positive word.”
I guess she missed the memo that Witches have been working on changing the public perception of us for about 60 years just as women have for much longer than that.
Indeed, thanks for appropriating my spiritual practices Aussie feminists…
Forget that The Huffingpost article begins by describing Dutton’s text as “gaffe” like it was some sort of problem with autocorrect. Why can’t we expect more from the response? Like, the thorough thinking through of all the ramifications of our public discourse on all those in our society? Again, Paneque has managed to sum the underlying issue up perfectly:
The activists are not reclaiming ‘witch’ and they are not embracing the stereotype; they are using it. Speaking to The Age, protest co-organiser and prominent writer Van Badham said Dutton’s behaviour was “completely unacceptable”. She’s right, but then she goes on to say they’ve gathered to defend witch’s rights. But what they’re really defending is a woman’s right not be called a witch in political discourse. That’s an entirely different thing.
It is an entirely different thing. And it is problematic, for me, and countless other people who practice witchcraft and embrace the term witch publicly to define themselves and their valid, contemporary spiritual practices. Making witch a dirty word (again!) is going to have ramifications for quite a few of us. But thinking past the end of their wart-riddled crooked prosthetic noses is not something I’ve come to expect from anyone, regardless of whether or not I am allied with their underlying point of view. Particularly in Australia.
I found myself in a convo with a good friend and fellow pagan recently, and when I came away from it I thought to myself, gods I am so negative right now. Though the conversation was more specifically about some of the thought bubbles floating about in relation to specifically the Australian Pagan Community, my point was simple: “they’re pagan, but they’re still Australian, what do you expect? We’re just not that clever.”
That’s tragic. As I read through Paneque’s post today, there it was again. The tagline that should be present under all official government pages and Australian publications: “Err… We don’t mean it like that.” The disclaimer one should take with them when entering into the public/political/social discourse of contemporary Australia; the simple phrase that actually means “um… We didn’t think that far/we didn’t know that was a thing/we don’t actually know what this word means.” The classic Aussie sense of pisstake humour is fast becoming the reaction used to mask indignation. “You took it the wrong way, lighten up” is code for “honestly I don’t know what you just said means and thinking about it hurts my head. I don’t see why I should be expected to think (at all) that far ahead. I meant well, it’s funny, clearly this is your problem.”
Unfortunately, for those residents with brains, it’s fast becoming our daily problem. As either and both sides of every public debate sinks into the Abyss of The Stupid, there are a few of us having to wade through the shite and the “unintentional” ramifications at every turn. There are a fair few people that need to realise that Twitter’s 140 character limit was not designed as a life rule appropriate for use in other forums, or as a guide for various modes of thought.
So, thanks, Aussie feminists, for dragging us further into the mud of the sordid public discourse that most Aussie witches, especially me, wish wasn’t a thing in the first place, let alone take center stage in. In the meantime, try not to demonise any further the alternative spiritual practices of minorities. And if that’s too hard, here’s a 140 character rule of thumb: If you don’t know what a word means, aren’t 100% sure who uses it, or are unaware of the full scope of its application; DON’T USE IT, BITCH!