This entry is based on Day 3 of Wicca: A Year and a Day by Timothy Roderick.
I think, as Witches (or whatever you call yourself), we have a nice, looming obstacle in the way of peaceful practice. When I considered myself to be a Catholic Christian, my faith was out in the open (not everybody agreed with Catholicism, but still, it wasn’t a secret that I was Catholic). When I got baptized, it was a big event. When I had my first communion–another big event. When I got confirmed, my whole family came and watched and I got a big pink cake with a cross on it and like a half-dozen family heirloom rosaries.
If you strip away the common factor that makes these things acceptable to our society–Jesus–then suddenly you have a bunch of rituals, and, to be quite honest, rituals that could easily be mistaken for Pagan rituals. Baptism is water symbolizing birth and being washed clean, and a candle is lit to symbolize spirituality. Communion is partaking in the fruit of the vine and the work of our hands to worship (although, Catholics believe in transubstantiation, wherein the wine is really the blood of Christ and the bread is really the body of Christ, so that’s a little bit more involved). And at confirmation, I was anointed with oil and even given a different, spiritual name.
And yet. Those rituals are acceptable to society, and Pagan stuff is apparently terrifying.
Of course, it’d be nice to think that we have just the one obstacle–society–and nothing else stands in our way. That’s rarely true. In fact, I think that one of the biggest obstacles that blocks my way is, unfortunately, myself. Half the time, I don’t feel comfortable with what my path is, and with using terminology. Reclaiming and all that aside, it’s not an easy task to call yourself a Witch in front of friends and family, or to say that you do magick or spells. I know as well as they know what exactly comes to mind when you tell someone you’re a Witch. They start thinking you’re delusional, is what starts happening.
I mean, truly, it’s not all that different than believing in a Christian God who will answer your prayers (and yet somehow it’s a hundred times more appealing than relying on God). Either way, there’s some unseen force that exists in the Universe and you must appeal to it, whether that’s by sticking your own hand in and guiding it (magick) or praying (a whole host of religions, including Pagan ones), or calling on the saints for intercessions. But Witchcraft just sounds dirty to the untrained ear. And my ear is sometimes very untrained.
I liked Day 3 of the Wicca book I’m reading because it asked me, the practitioner, to Consider some essential words: Wicca, Witchcraft, Power, Ritual, Magic, Occult, Pagan, Spell, and Earth-Religion. Answer the questions for each: a) What is my comfort level using each word? b) How do I understand each word? c) How do I imagine each word impacts other people who are not involved with Wicca?
I don’t want to go into immense detail about what I decided for each word, because it’s pretty personal, I suppose. But I wrote a lot about skepticism, misunderstanding, and fear from both sides (myself and others). In the end, I narrowed it down to one word–confusion. I think that summarizes the negative emotions that both I and others feel about many of the key words that the book asked me to consider.
The book then asked me to write this one summarizing word on the side of a taper candle, to be burned away and the remaining wax buried far from my home. But in the meantime, it wanted me to think of where this emotion comes from. A scary cartoon about witches? the book suggested, or….
Well, I think I can understand where much of my confusion comes from. I was raised Catholic, after all, and while Witchcraft-removal isn’t the main thing on the docket these days for the Catholic Church, certainly drilling into my head that there is One True God and only those that believe in and worship Him can have eternal life isn’t exactly Witchcraft-friendly. Likewise, learning the history of Witches as only those Puritans who were tried and hanged in 1692-1693 and not as any real practitioners doesn’t do anything to help suggest Witches could be real people. And the way that some parents react to children’s books with magic themes (Harry Potter topping the challenged book list, anyone?) definitely paints a picture of a society where hostility towards Witchcraft is alive and well.
And yet, as I was lying on my back thinking of where all the negative stuff came from, I also thought about how I was drawn to Witchcraft–how it felt like the right thing, how my fascination with magic had been something real and strong my whole life, how even when I wrote fantasy stories, magic wasn’t something that you could just snap your fingers and get, but something real, something simultaneously tangible and intangible and physical and something that required your effort. I thought about how I fell in love with Renaissance festivals and the world of magic and whimsy there, and how every Halloween I was a witch or a sorceress. How Harry Potter didn’t make me want to be a Witch, but how wanting to be a Witch made me devour Harry Potter.
I know that this is all far from easy. I watched my mom absolutely mock my brother this weekend for considering himself an atheist, and I could only sit there and think how much she would be appalled if she knew of my Tarot cards and essential oils. I can hope that someday it’s not all so terrifying and confusing. I’m trying to melt away some of that confusion now.
Well the candle burns down. And only time will tell.
(And a happy full moon to you all!)