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Reluctant To Be A Witch?

Author: Liam Cavanagh
Posted: January 16th. 2011
Times Viewed: 6,350

Yes, you read that right.

Youíre probably wondering why anyone would be reluctant to be a Witch. You possibly may have not put yourself in that category before. Youíre a Witch? Of course! How reluctant are you? This is not a Facebook quiz, and there are no silly questions, I hope.

Seriously though, let me explain.

The term ĎPaganí has resonated with me for a very long time. Since puberty Iíve been using it; Iím now twenty-five. Itís been the official name of my religion, and when people have asked me about my religious affiliation, that would be my answer. Officially, within Pagandom I am a Witch, a Child of the Goddess. When Iím not practicing Ė something I have not done for a number of years Ė Iím still a Witch. I have a very significant and close relationship with the Mother Goddess.

However, the other night I had a bit of a realisation. The word ĎPaganí is actually used as an umbrella term to define religions that are nature-based in order to simplify terms and yet officially, itís not a religion, per se. Itís just a term to define something more broad-based. And for the years I had been using the name ĎPaganí, I had only used it to define my religion to the people I met because it seemed a little lighter than telling them that I was Witch.

I normally by-pass the giggling, the cracking jokes and the condescending, ďYouíre a Witch?Ē The realisation was that all these years I had been using the term to explain my religion, I had come to believe it myself; that I was a Pagan, and Paganism is my religion. Well, almost anyway. It made me wonder though. When and why had I stopped calling myself a Witch in the public domain?

Where I come from itís not exactly blasphemy if you arenít Christian. In fact, it could almost be the complete opposite. There is only a very small amount of people that I know who have an affiliation with the Christian religion, or any other religion for that matter. Itís such a small percentage that people actually double-take when itís mentioned that even I follow a religion.

Even the generation before me (Iím the Generation Y) doesnít really follow a structured religion anymore; though this doesnít reflect the entire generation in my country, Iím sure. But it seems clear to me that the people I meet who are a generation behind me believe that ďsomething is out there, but who knows.Ē That in actuality sums up their attitude, which I guess makes it easier for someone of a Pagan religion to be accepted and practice it without too much harassment. People are a lot more open than they were twenty years ago.

Subsequently, when the situation arises where I do explain my religion, I still call myself Pagan. And if people are smart enough to realise that Pagan is an umbrella term, theyíll ask more questions and Iíll tell them I am a Witch. To be honest, that never comes up though, and Iíll add that this hopefully doesnít reflect the people I surround myself with!

Therefore in reality I donít use the term Witch. Could this reflect my religious beliefs and lack of religious practice? Firstly, let me examine why I stopped using the term Witch.

To be honest I couldnít give you any dates. But I probably stopped using it well after High School. I remember when I was a teenager I used to call myself a Witch like it was my last name and at that point I was ready to deal with the consequences there on the spot. I wasnít sure if it was pride or if it was to get a little bit of attention. I always remember in my study and practice of Wicca (yes, I was Wiccan once) that one should never go bragging about the religion and calling oneself a Witch just to draw attention, because Wicca was and never will be about that. But youíll have to forgive me, I was a teenager.

I made matters worse by wearing the Pentagram, and looking back now, as well intentioned as I was, I imagine a lot of people thought I was an idiot because back then Charmed had just started its debut, and there still was a lot of misinformation out there. What they didnít realise is that the Goddess would form a greater part of my life.

So, looking back at the events that lead me to stop using the term Witch freely, perhaps it might have something to do with maturing through the years or, to put it simply; I grew up. I grew tired of the same old frowns, the arrogance and condescending laughs. As I became of prominence amongst my social and work life, I felt more and more reluctant to use the term Witch.

I do not think I am alone in this because I do believe that there are many Witches, and Pagans out there who share the same concerns. I canít be the only one thinking this. As a teenager, I was proving myself for myself, and not anyone else. Now that Iíve matured, I can see that the way one acts, speaks and presents themselves paints a very good picture for people observing, which leads to the old saying, ďFirst Impressions LastĒ. I am proving myself to the world, and for good reason.

The stigma attached to the word Witch isnít any news to modern day Pagans and Witches of course. We all know where it started and there are many theories about how it started. But unfortunately it is still prevalent today, though many have been put to the grave. Our books on religion are still in the ĎOccultí section at Borders, and people often ask us if weíre a Black or White Witch, and if we cast love spells ... you get my drift.

Then there are the television shows: Take Charmed, for example. The Witches are portrayed as positive protagonists, leading normal lives. But then you see them also battling demons and other supernatural beings. There was Buffy with Willow, and the Eastwick women ... yes they were all Witches who, although unrealistic, were all empowering and positive. Except, they either had extraordinary powers or were able to do things that humans cannot physically do (though this is debatable) .

So, what we are presented with here is a double-edged sword. Our portrayal of modern-day Witches arenít what they used to be, but they still represent something that puts us in the same class as say, a vampire for example. Furthermore, in general our society has the tendency to group things that deviate from the norm, which can be quite negative to groups like us. People fear the minorities because they believe itís a threat to the norm, though the fear is only imagined. Still, regardless of unrealistic media portrayals of Witches, we can say itís a fairly good indication on how far weíve come.

I wouldnít say itís humiliating using the word Witch in front of the masses, because thatís not how I feel. Itís just a little crushing when people who you respect -- whether you work with them or are good friends with them -- donít take your religious affiliation seriously. Sure, Iím a little status and image phobic. Iím male, ambitious, and want to go far in the world. I present myself as astute, sincere, responsible, kind, noble and well educated because I believe that will bring me the life that I want for myself.

But, some people with the most open of minds canít seem to understand why a person of my prominence would involve myself in something like Witchcraft. So this certainly reiterates that there still are misconceptions around simple terms like Witch and Witchcraft. This makes it obvious to me where the Pagan effort to instill tolerance in our society needs to be and stay. As proud of my religion as I am, Iím still a little reluctant to use the term Witch because Iím worried about what it could do to my image. I realise that last statement might be disrespectful and I apologise. Some might even say it reflects what I think about my own religion.

And this is where Iím torn.

I donít want to be the laughing stock. I donít want my friends to make good-natured jokes about my religion. (Yes, they are my good friends and they would only ever make those jokes with my sensitive nature in consideration.) They do take my religion seriously, but then I guess when it comes down to it, they would probably think it a little weird, and leave it at that. I only have a few Pagan friends, and they arenít anywhere near my close circle of friends which makes it hard at times.

Although Iíve always been a true Solitary, at times Iíve always wanted to cast a look at someone who would smile in silent agreement when a myth or two has been bought up about my religion. However I do implore you that I am proud of my religion; Iím proud of my religion, and the magic is creates, and all those things Witches can do that most people cannot. We have three steps forward than most people, and one amazing way of knowing happiness that so many people crave these days. I know that I would not be where I am in the world without Her guiding me, complete, fulfilling, or this successful without Her.

Furthermore, being a Male Witch, we donít always have it easy as some of the females do. I donít like to push this subject because I am of the utmost belief that gender should be written out of history, amongst other things, and all sexes should treated equally and fairly, and hopefully one day, not even have to come into discussion. Within the Pagan Community Witches of all sexes donít batter an eyelid, and our teachings would benefit the wider, mundane world. But still, a Female Witch will raise an eyebrow and a smirk; where as a Male Witch will raise a whole lot more than that.

Another reason could be that, I no longer practice actively anymore. Even as I worship and celebrate the Mother Goddess, I donít actively practice ritual, meditate, burn incense, run around in a trance, and cast spells although that doesnít make me any less a Witch. The most I would do is keep a pack of tarot cards, and personal prayer. However the ceasing of being an ďactiveĒ Witch possibly contributes as to why I stopped using the term Witch to explain my religious choice, or at least thatís what I believe. It could be that Iím just more reluctant to use the term Witch outright because I donít feel like Iím doing it any justice, since I no longer am an ďactiveĒ.

With that in mind do I still have the right to call myself a Witch? Of course. A Witch is one who changes, one who wills. The old saying, ďWhere thereís a Witch, thereís a way, Ē comes to mind. I may not work with fancy tools, or cast circles, and seek to celebrate the Motherís cycles as often I once did, but I am still a Witch in every sense of the word. I still create, I still will, and if Witchcraft has taught me anything over the years, itís that I can attract to me anything I desire, by Her Mysterious Ways. If we need to heal, to bring prosperity, bring love into our life, and get that car serviced, we can do it. But I donít think I need to justify why I can still call myself a Witch to any of you, because the best part of the Pagan Community is that we are all of a like-mind.

If this is all dandy and such, then why is Pagan a term I should use to make things easier? Because at the start when I chose to call myself Pagan it wasnít because I had the attitude I had now, but rather it made it easier to explain to the masses my religion affiliation. If anything, Pagan is more than likely to put someone to sleep than the term Witch that is likely to get a ďWhoa? What? Are you a Witch? Cast a spell!Ē Sometimes I could tell someone Iím Pagan and that would be the end of the conversation due to sudden disinterest for reasons unknown. But if I rewound time, and said I was a Witch instead, all eyes would be on me.

However we cannot forget that there will always be those who call themselves Pagan of course, because thatís how they identity themselves, especially if they take different beliefs and different practices from different Pagan paths. As well as that, there will always be Witches who call themselves Paganís, not because itís safe, but because it reflects their identity and religious and spiritual path.

Using the term Pagan is safe, and itís been made quite clear why Iíve used it and still do. But it does make me wonder how many other Pagans out there who are Witches, or even Wiccans for that matter, who supply the term Pagan almost immediately. It becomes apparent in the Pagan community that one question prompts further questions, and we all know this isnít a new phenomenon. These questions simply illustrate the fact these reflections such as what Iíve discussed imply bigger issues in our search for validation, culturally, spiritually, and religiously.

How long do we have to keep on going, and using Pagan as the Ďsafeí term to identity our religious affiliation? Has it worked for us so far? Or do we need to change, and take a punt; Start calling ourselves Witches outright? One can see the progress our varied religious and spiritual paths have taken since Old Man Gardener went public about us back in the forties. Could it be that there is a need for change, to leave the status quo behind; if we have more of us out there who educate and proclaim their identity as a Witch, loud and proud, will we be better off?

But letís face it, it wonít be easy. It wonít be an easy road for you or me. The stigma attached to the word Witch is hard to let go of, and this is quite apparent. Itís hard to let go of past prejudices, and pain. Reflecting on this topic has been twofold. Itís reminded me what I truly am, and the very significant step I am about to take, that of coming out of the broom closet again, though this time, Iíll be stepping out into the adult world. Furthermore, reflecting on this topic has also made me realise how naive I truly was when I was young. I remember thinking why more Witches didnít come out of the broom closet, and often shook my head because I was out there, and not hiding my religion. But now I do realise, because I donít think I ever came out of the broom closet completely. I am to leave behind those fears because I believe the Goddess has willed me to do it this way, and She has told me itís for the bigger picture.

In regards to the wider Pagan community, it could be important for Witches Ė and Paganís in general Ė to reflect on their fears and attitudes and really break it down; is our reluctance to use the term Witch keeping us where we are, slowly progressing as we always have? How much good can come from staying in the broom closet? How much good can come from being shy and hidden? Or, how much stronger are we staying hidden and slowly forging our way?

Are we stronger? Or are we compromising something that could be important to our religious validation? Is our reluctance stopping us from progressing in a potentially momentous manner? Do we need to break away from the broom closet, as an obligation to our brothers and sisters? For those brothers and sisters Ė the Druids, Celts, Asatru, and Reconstructionists Ė could stepping up our effort mean further validation for them also?

For me personally, if it means greater than before tolerance for our people and our religion, and people are less likely to crack a joke about our choice of vehicle, then Iím all for it. If I need to become a public figure to do so, then I will. If I can wear my pentagram, and call myself a Witch and have people view it as sacred, rather than silly, then itís worth it. Because if itís one thing Iíve learnt, itís that being a Witch is more than just a title; itís a unique gift and blessing we can use for something good, that good starting with ourselves.

Because, where there is a Witch, there is a way.

I would like give credit where credit is due. Both contributed ideas that have been used in this essay; one of the three wise men, Lindsay Breach who I will have to start paying as my unofficial editor and a surprising Witch who came out of the closet just in time; Lauren Irvine, both from New Zealand.

Copyright: Liam Paul Cavanagh


Liam Cavanagh

Location: Wellington, New Zealand


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