In Kindergarten, I was a witch for Halloween. Specifically, I was the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. My mom made me a black cape and dress, and an excellent pointy witch’s hat. She painted my face green and my lips red, she darkened my eyebrows . . . and I looked in the mirror and burst into tears.
“I’m ugly!” was my lament.
But my distress dissolved during trick or treating, when I enjoyed camping it up and got a lot of delighted attention from moms all over town. I’m not sure if that’s where my fascination with witches started, or if started sooner, but it definitely didn’t end there. The witches in stories inspired equal parts fear and admiration. Maybe I was drawn to them because they were women who got a different narrative than the princesses (or the peasant girls who became princesses). They took control of their destinies. Some of them–many of them–met unfortunate ends, but they were women who had power of their own, rather than needing men to protect and save them. Being a child who almost always felt small and weak and scared, how could I help being drawn to figures who were powerful, even if they didn’t always use their powers for good?
I’ve heard a lot of jokes that the kindergarten witch costume is the root of my paganism. Which I have to admit is funny in the same way I think it’s funny saying I’m gay because I never had a Ken doll and my Barbies got lonely.
Of course, it’s important to realize that a witch in a movie or a story is not necessarily meant to be a representation of a modern, neopagan witch. The word “witch” has a long history–much longer than the neopagan movement–and we pagans don’t own the term. We have, however, done a lot of work to reinvent it, which I appreciate.
The classic definition of a witch, according to Webster, is “one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers.” But even Webster’s has acknowledged the evolution of the term, and now also includes a further definition of a witch as “a practitioner of Wicca.”
Okay that doesn’t QUITE cover it, but it’s an improvement, right?
I’m neither wiccan (at least not technically or officially), nor in possession of supernatural powers (my abilities are all natural, whether or not I can explain how they work). But I still consider myself a witch. The truth is I don’t know that I’ve ever read a definition of the word that explains all I think it means, but I’ve been looking around to see how other people define it.
A male or female member of the Wiccan religion, if capitalized; or a practitioner of Pagan magic, if lowercase. “Witch” and “Devil worshipper/Satanist” are mutually exclusive terms.
And from Wren at Witchvox:
A practitioner of a nature-based/revering or folk belief system, art or religion. Not all Witches follow the same belief system. Some practice what is called the “Old Religion” which has its roots in Pagan pre-monotheistic folkways and beliefs and which usually follows the agricultural seasonal cycles. Many Witches believe in a polytheistic deity structure usually based upon the local gods and goddesses of the area of origin. Witches may practice alone as ‘solitaries” or in covens. There are also family groups or traditions that trace their practices and beliefs within the same close group throughout several generations. Some Witches consider Witchcraft to be a religion while others simply practice witchcraft as a magical art.
I still feel like something is missing from these definitions, though they are excellent as answers for a non-pagan who wants to know what we mean when we call ourselves witches.
But my definition of “witch” is kind of outside of words. It’s a feeling, a knowing, a way of being that goes beyond specific actions or practices. It’s full of thunder storms and wind and rain, dirt underfoot and stars overhead. It’s a kind of awareness and responsiveness to the currents of energy around me and I can’t really explain it in a concise, intellectual way. I just know it’s there, it’s real, and I’ve felt it for as long as I can remember.