I am very vocal in the position that what a witch is should be clearly defined. I often find it strange that many people are intensely unwilling to define what a witch is, but that those same people want to dictate what a witch can or must do. They won’t try and say certain magical practices are necessary for a witch, and some won’t even assert that witches even need to do magic. When it comes to social positions, the magical community, politics, and relationships with the world around us, people who aren’t comfortable saying what a witch is are incredibly comfortable saying what a witch must do and who they must be in the eyes of others.
A witch…can do whatever the fuck they want. A witch should be themselves. A witch can shape that self, or mask that self in whatever way allows them to work their power in accordance with their needs, desires, or situation.
Witchcraft is a power that belongs to the witch innately. That power others the witch. That power creates a liminality within the witch. That power makes the witch a witch. That power can be inherently possessed or it can be acquired, but it is always intrinsic to the witch’s being. Because the witch is a witch as a matter of what they are, statements about the requirements for beliefs, lifestyles, or behaviors based upon the character or the archetype of the witch will generally fall flat.
Still, there are elements of witchpower which will connect with who the witch is.
The witch is liminal, and the witch is other. Being liminal means that even while being other, some witches will have the capability to navigate dominant and mainstream social structures even while not fully fitting them, and even while being to some degree separate from them. There is a power to this.
When we try to assert that the witch is the outsider or the voice of the downtrodden, we ignore that witches have also been at the highest echelons of society. When we take the position that witch and magician are interchangeable then we have to recognize that magicians have often been important parts of dominant social structures. If we take the more historical view of witches as humans who have an engagement with the supernatural which others them, makes them different from other humans, and gives them access to power, we can still find witches who have had various relationships with the social order.
The witch is a possessor of power which can instill fear and a force which ranges between the neutral and the antagonistic. The power of witchcraft makes the witch dangerous because it is their own power, not a power accorded to them by others. Even a kind and helpful person with power like that will have an edge which can be frightening. There is a nature akin to electricity. Elements of how that power is shaped within a person can create realities which compound the fear, the danger, and the relationship with the antagonistic.
That relationship with the antagonistic is seen in folklore. Witches are often the enemy. Witches subvert social roles. Witches cause misfortune. Other magicians stop witches.
While having elements of form and soul which are different from the typical human, the witch is still human and humans are dynamic. They aren’t typically all one thing or another thing all the time.
The ability to clap back, to stand up for oneself, to push back against things, or even to be dominant and assertive can feel like antagonism. When those elements are present along with unpredictable and illicit power, then it is reasonable for folklore to characterize it consistently as dangerous and something to be avoidant or wary of.
Interestingly enough, the idea that a witch has to be the power in opposition to dominant structures is served by this image of antagonism. The desire of people who want to assert that the witch is a force of opposition often want the witch to be the noble powerful beacon for the poor and those forced to the margins. People want the witch to be a kind and inspiring version of Leland’s Aradia. They don’t want an antagonistic nature, they want kindness with the capability to punch up. The relationship with being something that can and should be a source of fear, and which may run strongly towards the antagonistic doesn’t easily fit that image, but it isn’t entirely counter to it either.
Historical witches don’t only punch up. They might punch laterally. They might punch down. The power to punch is theirs to do with what they like. We can have preferences about how we think a person should act. Those preferences don’t define who is and who isn’t a witch. That power and relationship to magic does.
My main point here is that witchcraft is about power. It is a power that shapes and changes you, and it is a power that is yours. You live that power as you feel you are drawn to. It isn’t an archetype that needs to be a convenient tool of social expression.
Why am I making this point now? I haven’t posted a lot of blogs in awhile, and have mentioned a couple times that I’m building a bunch of content to start releasing consistently. So, why this today?
On the one hand. I like making this point. This point is important to me.
On the other hand, the subject has come up elsewhere. Three people who write good and popular material, contribute importantly to the magical community and deeply consider things they see have all blogged about the subject.
Ian Chambers’ July 4th blog post “Remembering the Witch in Witchcraft,” is very good. I agree with a lot of it. I feel like it gives a little too much quarter to the idea of religious witchcraft and hints at economic persecution instead of real witches regarding history in a way which I feel reflects a populist sentiment more than what was consistently happening. But those things are small moments in a piece which he explains is a stream of consciousness reflection. The piece works. It gives an image and an idea to think about.
John Beckett’s July 9th blog post “The Witch Stands in Opposition,” takes inspiration from and kind of responds in agreement with Ian’s piece. They’re both patheos bloggers, so this is kind of normal there. I don’t entirely disagree with John’s take. John doesn’t outright frame it as a political position as many people do, but it feels like he dances next to that framing, at the least. Elements of it are also weird given positions John has taken on witchcraft and magic otherwise. Some of the specific places it goes, I don’t think works. The post is popular though; it’s accessible, and for those reasons maybe some of those points within it need consideration.
Jason Miller responded to John’s post, also July 9th…since…that is today, with the blog post, “The Witch Doesn’t HAVE to Stand in Opposition.” When he showed it to me, I told him I had just read John’s post and had been debating responding. When I opened Jason’s post I saw that what I intended to open with, “a witch can do whatever the fuck they want,” was pretty similar to how Jason thought to respond, “the witch stands wherever the fuck they want.” Jason addresses some interesting nuance. Where I look at the ability to be the inside-outsider as a form of power, which I view as a power related to the dynamic quantum liminality of the witch that can often relate to the friction that creates magical charism, Jason addresses the idea that the witch can be other in a way which is encompassing, larger than, and above the structure. It’s an interesting way of exploring the idea. It's a perspective that especially makes sense coming from Jason when you consider Hekate, who stands at the center, looking in all directions, reaching out through them to encompass everything. He also addresses how forcing a sense of otheredness on the basis of a specific set of social criteria doesn’t work - and can even be detrimental.
I think to a degree, all four of us are talking about things which kind of underlie our own work and are addressing those concepts in juxtaposition to the concept Ian started with - where is the witch in the contemporary concept of witchcraft.
I think all four posts are worth reading and considering, but looking at the various opinions adds depth and a range of perspectives which all bring something to the table.
Part of me wants to break down specific thoughts on “The Witch Stands in Opposition,” but this post is long enough, and doing that maybe isn’t the point. I’ve kind of addressed why the witch doesn’t get told what they need to do and the irony of people doing that. That is more what I needed to do. As the reader, I think there is value in you taking your own power, holding it up, letting it hold you up, and from that perspective, diving into each of our interpretations and deciding what they mean when juxtaposed in the liminal space which is your own personal crossroads of existence and experience.
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