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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