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What is a witch?

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

What makes anyone a witch? What does the word “witch” even mean?

The root of the word ‘witch’ is from old English and during the Burning Times of Christian empire building in Europe, the word became synonymous with women who continued to practice their Indigenous traditions or were strong-willed and were seen as not submitting to Church authority. These women were tortured, drowned or burned alive and this brutality drove remaining knowledge-keepers of the Old Ways far underground because the consequences of not religiously following Christian laws were deadly.

The same violence was used by the Church against those who were judged to be sexually deviant including transgendered and queer people. The word ‘faggot’, which meant a bundle of wood, became a slur against sexually deviant people because both were for burning. This practice of violently enforcing religious fervor and Christian binary ideals planted the seeds for what would later become the colonial strategy to wipe out Indigenous People around the world.

With this brutal history of treatment, with ongoing discrimination and hatred towards witches by monotheistic practitioners, and with the mockery of witches by turning us into mythical, usually evil, warty-nosed or hyper-sexualized caricatures, why would anyone claim to be a witch?

There are some who feel that to declare yourself to be a witch is an act of feminine empowerment and reclamation of what was stolen by the Patriarchy, and it’s an inner journey to arrive at a place of knowing that the title “witch” is yours to carry.

There are many who associate witches with practitioners of Wicca. Wicca is a modern pagan religion that was born about 70 years ago and has grown quickly as safety of religious practice has grown and people are no longer at life-threatening risk from Church communities.

There are others who associate witches with those who practice, as best as they know, the Pagan Old Ways of Europe, or many other cultural healing traditions from around Mother Earth. Witches can be anyone who works with metaphysical forces in traditional ways.

My story is none of these, and is rooted in all of them and more. Each witch’s journey is unique and is an inner journey, as much as it is sometimes supported by community or covens, and mine is no different. Much harm has been done by naming other people as witches, only the witch can truly know who they are.

Until a few years ago I didn’t think of myself as a witch, it wasn’t something that I aspired to, I was and am, just me. It’s in looking back that I see my path was laid out to bring me to that place of knowing.

My earliest memories include dream flashbacks of being burned alive and of encountering animal spirits in dream space that I eventually became guides throughout my life. I was fascinated by gemstones and crystals and began collecting when I was able to pick up a rock in my tiny fist and continues to this day with an ever-growing display on window sills and shelves lined with crystals. I spent much of my childhood in the forests around where I grew up on Vancouver Island, I got to know plants well including which ones I could eat and use and by the time I was a teenager I was competent to navigate and survive for extended periods in nature.

My interest in plants turned towards medicine and I took a diploma in herbal medicine and read many herb books cover-to-cover in my quest to learn more. I was deeply blessed in my early 20's to learn from Indigenous knowledge-keepers about Indigenous plant medicines and the awareness of the metaphysical healing powers of plants became foundational to my learning and practice with plants. I started a small medicinal tea and salve business selling mostly at farm markets but when my first child was born I could no longer find space in my life for that as well as my studies and teaching work.

I did a BA in “Cosmological Perspectives of the Relationships between Humanity and Nature” that was steeped in Native Studies and Plant Biology then did a B.Ed in Outdoor Education and Native Studies teacher. In this time I was deeply blessed to have been given teachings by Anishnaabe Elders and traditional people, been supported in vision quest, participated in ceremony and was honoured to support three different people as a regular fire keeper for their sweat lodges. I will be forever grateful for the teachings I have received from Indigenous cultures, which have been formational to how I perceive the world. May I find ways, for the rest of my life, to reciprocate these gifts.

For about 12 years my path was aligned with the Lakota and Anishnaabe ways that had been passed onto me but I was never able to reconcile that no matter what I learned I would always be a white settler and that Indigenous ways could never be mine. With the encouragement and teachings shared with me by Indigenous teachers I deepened my journey to learn what I could about the Old Ways of Ireland and Scotland, of the Isle of Mann and Poland, where my ancestors came from through research as well as dreaming and spirit travel. Meanwhile my piles of tarot and oracle cards began to grow.

I spent most of my life living in the bush, the Canadian wilderness, in remote communities such as Masset, Sioux Lookout and on Cortes Island where I co-founded an intentional permaculture community and deepened my connection to plants through years of living from the land while feeding and caring for the health of a growing family. Gardening and harvesting food and medicine from the forest and beaches was integrated into my seasonal cycles. I began to understand what the plants were teaching me and I continue to receive their teachings as I sit with plants and listen deeply to what they have to share.

I found psychedelics, beginning with mushrooms that I picked while determined to learn all that I could about the abundant fungi of coastal ecosystems, and the magic mushrooms transformed me. With their help I was able to heal depression that had plagued me for much of my life and later as I began a journey that included several years of regular Ayahuasca ceremony, ceremony with Huachuma (San Pedro) cactus, and mushrooms was finally able to see and begin to heal the trauma of my past, including damage from domestic violence and sexual assault. I have an ongoing deep gratitude for these sacred medicines and how they helped me enter a new phase of my healing journey and begin a complete rebalancing of my nervous system damaged by complex PTSD.

A ceremonial tool from among many I've crafted. Owl wing fan.

And I did not think of myself as a witch. It wasn’t until, one night on a dark moon I heard spirits talk to me for the first time of many. They said to me “hedge witch, call yourself a hedge witch” and when I began to read about what this meant, I felt a knowing, a deep knowing in my bones only comparable to when I discovered the word transgendered, and that it was a word that I could step into as belonging to me. I am a hedge witch. This is my journey of knowing, of support by community and of connection to Old Ways.

And so… several years later, still on my healing path, still deeply supported by plant medicines, I take one more step into my role as a witch and offer to the world the potions that I have been called to create, again and again, in dream and inspiration, in spirit journey and reflection. A deep part of my practice as a witch, a part of my practice as a human, a connection and deep love of the magic of plants, now held by my new business Moon Cat Magicals. May healing magic flow through all of us, whatever words, whatever labels we carry.

My herbal magic store:

And what about you witches of the world? What makes you a witch? How do you know that you are one?

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