Recently I heard someone say that witches are people who do evil magic, work with the dead, and that in most if not all cultures, a witch is someone who does bad things. This was not said as a way of insulting witches. No, it was intended to make witches seem like badasses, and to say that we had better own up to our badassery if we want to use that word to describe ourselves–if we are not badasses, then we had better not call ourselves witches. It reminded me of this piece of crap art I saw once where a sheep’s face turned into a wolf’s. The basis for this definition of witchcraft: “Just look in the dictionary.”
First, let’s deal with the dictionary issue. A dictionary is created by very fallible human beings to help the user understand what might be meant by the use of a word in a particular context. It is not meant to be a book of truths or of absolutes. It’s about defining words in a particular situation, a moment in time, a social context. It doesn’t define practices, people, ideas, etc. It is just about helping us understand how a word is being used, nothing more. A dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive.
The dictionary does not define social groups and is not used as a reference book by any of them. People who call themselves Christians, for instance, do not look up the dictionary definition of the word “Christian” to get a good idea of who they are or how they should act. If they did, they would find definitions that might well have little to do with their practice of Christianity. And bluntly, there is no reason why they should look up the definition of “Christian” in the dictionary because they define what a Christian is through their lived life. Their action in community defines “Christian,” not a dictionary.
This is why it is not a good idea to rely on a dictionary definition to support any argument whatsoever, and certainly not an argument that a “witch” is a badass who does bad things.
But okay, let’s set the dictionary issue aside and look at how “witch” supposedly pretty much the world over means someone who does things like make a cow’s milk dry up or menfolk become impotent or cast the evil eye or makes a field barren or any number of other shitty things because they are badasses. “The world” think of witches this way.
I can speak from my own experience on the question of how “the world” defines a particular group. “The world” thinks Jews are money-grubbers, that we secretly run the US government, we run the banking system, we control the media, we make the US work with Israel, we imake countries go to war so we can profit off it, we incite black people against white people just for the hell of it, I guess, we are an unspoken part of the alleged war on Xmas, and on and on and on. But “the world” does not get to define what a Jew is or does. Only Jews get to define that.
The same thing holds with witches. Witches get to define what a witch is, not “the world.”
Let’s look at the practice.
How many of the witches you know fit this definition? Pretty much none, I’ll wager. And having run an occult supply shop for 16 years, I have met a lot of people who call themselves witches. The few who have defined themselves a badasses who do bad things typically have a website where you can buy a candle for $1000 to put a curse on your ex. Ya know? IOW, they are more like shysters or con artists than witches. Maybe they got their definition of a witch from the dictionary; who knows.
To me, this badass witch thing is reminiscent of deriding people for being fluff bunnies or Wiccans. Like if you do not have a huge bone collection and regularly pal around with the Almighty Dead, you have no right to use the word “witch” in reference to yourself. You are a pussy and need to stay on the porch because you can’t run with the big dogs.
Bah fucking humbug, kids. Just as a dictionary does not define the practice of witchcraft, neither does a single individual. We have no pope, dogma, or orthodoxy.
One concept of traditional witchcraft that I really like is that of the Crooked Path. The way I understand this idea, the witch’s path goes now to the left, now to the right, now to the dark, now to the light. I could add other aspects to that, like that for me, the Crooked Path is about the moment, not the goal, that it’s not in a rush, that it’s a slow, sensual experience, that it’s solitary but might have a history (others have walked that path before), that it reveals the hidden and the unexpected, and more. But I will stick to the idea that it veers now to the Left Hand Path and now to the Right Hand Path. There is no room for badasses on such a path. A witch on that path might curse or cure.
Personally, I would much rather hear about someone else’s practice and what works for them than to hear them talk about how others are not real witches. I’m sick of that shit. And I bet most of you are too.
Just to bring this entry full circle, let’s go back to the dictionary definition of “witch.” You know what the 4th meaning of “witch” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary? It’s not evil-doer, badass, bone collector, pal of the dead, eater of poisons, or any of that. It’s “a practitioner of Wicca.”
So let’s spend our energy on creating new and powerful practices instead of ranking other witches.