Today is a day, on Halloween, when it is safe to publicly name myself: “Witch.”
Sort of …
In this country, America, which supposedly has religious freedom as one of its foundational tenets—a nation that has existed for over 200 years paying lip service to this holiest of freedoms—how free are we, really, to name ourselves in our faiths?
Many people in America and around the globe still don’t understand the religion of Wicca, or the somewhat related and ancient Druid faith, or other earth-based spiritual practices. Yet there are witches and druids all over the world. Witch is “Bruja” in Spanish. And other languages also have their name for those humans who worship the seasons, the elements of the natural world (earth, air, fire, water), animal spirits, and the cycles of light. Wiccans believe that universal divine energy also has strong female elements. “God” is not just a “He,” but a “She.” Or a he/she/they/it. The “She” aspect of “God” has been lost for far too long. Lost? No, intentionally, historically stamped out. Murdered.
Many folks have been suckered in by the ongoing narrative of the green-faced hag with the long nose, the warty chin, and the pointy hat, the evil “crone” who does terrible things to children in the woods. The story goes that witches can spoil the milk or turn men into toads. [If only. Just kidding. Sort of.]
In reality, many men are Wiccan as well.
No we don’t cast evil spells on others. No, we don’t worship the devil. We don’t even believe in the devil, for goodness sake!
The basic creed of Wiccans is “Harm none.” This is an extremely difficult creed in practice that takes incredible compassion, creative problem solving, and much thought. We celebrate the turnings of the year: light to dark, dark to light. Death to rebirth. Planting to harvest. Fertility. Wisdom. Beauty. Kindness. Love.
Normally in daily life I never call myself “Witch” or talk about my Wiccan beliefs, which, truthfully, are supplemented by a blend of ideas from Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American spirituality, and even some aspects of Christianity. I don’t name myself because I am all too aware that in the not-so-distant past, witches were burned at the stake.
Except on Halloween, I don’t name myself “Witch” because it appears frighteningly obvious that it is not safe to do so in the current climate in the United States and many countries throughout the world where, due to ideologies of what is “right” or “profitable,” anyone who is “other” may be attacked, ridiculed, subjected to death threats, locked up, driven out, murdered, or bombed.
I don’t name myself “Witch” because I witness, daily, how various religions are persecuted right here on our supposedly “safe” American soil—eleven people of the Jewish faith were just shot in a temple last week. Horrifying. People of the Muslim faith are “named,” unfairly and inaccurately, things like “terrorist.” They are subjected to scrutiny while traveling or just eating in a restaurant, and many have to endure the infamous and unconstitutional travel “ban.” Christians also endure unkind pigeonholing despite the fact that there are a myriad of orientations within the Christian faith, and wide ranging morals and ethics that follow.
In our country of “religious freedom,” Native Americans, many of whom follow earth-based practices, must constantly fight for even basic spiritual rights connected with their land … still, two centuries after America was “founded,” or let’s call it colonialism, a conquest … um, let’s name it: genocide. Most Native American spiritualities share my Wiccan faith’s utter respect for nature, living in understanding that we are an integral part of it. We should not be dominators of earth, beasts, plants, trees, rocks, water, and air, or each other, but rather live, as best we can, in symbiosis.
Native Americans, alongside Wiccans and other earth-based worshippers, seem to be increasingly on the front lines fighting for the environment, yet no one seems to be listening to their extremely wise and most likely life-saving words. Instead, decision after business decision is made which tramples upon their sacred places, their soil. These are places of great beauty. These places are their church. Would it stand if an oil & gas company came and said we’re going to tunnel under a beautiful old church building with a pipeline? I doubt it.
I hold my earth-based faith up in the light of this centuries-old treatment of America’s indigenous people and it gives little hope that my beliefs will be understood either. So much for respect for a people’s faith.
Persecuting and hurting people, shunning them, taking away their rights, or kicking them out simply for their faith has gone on since humans began walking the earth. But many would agree that stereotyping, badmouthing, or attacking worshippers of different religions is simply imbecilic. Yet it goes on. And on. When are we going to stop?
When are we going to take enough time to listen to, read about, and learn about each others’ religions to the degree that we no longer fear them? When will we see that ultimately all the texts and stories and idols emerge from a shared human desire to understand why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing on this planet in these short lives we live in these impermanent bodies? When will we get it that through faith we are just trying to figure out how best to love one another and the creatures and plants and hallowed ground of this earth?
It seems increasingly obvious to me that the Goddess aspect of Wicca simply must come back into our psyches to assist in healing zealous right/wrong, us/them, my faith is better than your faith dualistic thinking. The feminine in spirituality is a necessary element to help calm our increasingly crazy ball of earth spinning out of control.
Blessed be. Happy Samhain. Happy Halloween.