wild and dreaming stories from the edge of the world

The Witch Word

I read an indepth essay this morning by Sarah Anne Lawless on the history of Wicca and paganism. (Before you click the link, be aware its contents may be triggering.) I'm well versed in that history already, and I've long been bemused that people still talk about the ancestry of witches, and the deep roots of the religion, when those things don't really exist. Even the Wheel of the Year, which some say is the foundation of modern Celtic pagan spirituality, never existed in the way we know it now.

So why, knowing all this ... and feeling repulsed by Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccanism ... and not being herbwise ... nor even remembering the moon cycles most of the time ... why do I nevertheless call myself a pagan and a witch?

This is quite a personal subject but I thought I'd share it incase anyone else can relate.

1. I use the terms pagan and witch as shorthand because they immediately tell people I don't subscribe to the Abrahamic religions but am actively religious. (Except, you know, Jesus was awesome, and I'll always love Mary, and I believe in angels and an afterlife, and I'm all for Love, so Christianity and I aren't exactly enemies.) I know the terms aren't historically accurate, but they are taking on new meanings these days and I'm happy to compromise with that.

2. I was raised to be a witch, to see the world through a spiritual lens; it is my oldest and most certain identity. As such, it's a highly personal thing, and while I don't relate much to other people's experiences of witchiness, I can't just discard mine because it doesn't fit with them. I am my type of witch; I am me.

(Ironically, the person who best described what witchness means to me is, as I've often said, that old atheist Terry Pratchett.)

3. Witch is evolving as a word to mean, at least in part, something like Shaman. That is how I apply it to myself. I don't like saying I am a shaman because that's not my cultural language. Witch is.

4. Witch has a tone of feminine power to it that I want to hold close around me. Not only does it strengthen me and keep me centred, but it also is an offering to my god.

5. Pagan means so many different things it's basically meaningless, and none of those things are even what I myself believe - the goddess as matter, the god as motion. The goddess as what-is, the god as what-could-be. The lovers who created the universe. However, pagan aligns me more closely with the bear-poets and smoke-dreamers than with the Wiccans, and so while I don't really belong with them either, I'm more in that circle than the other. Words and meanings become so diffuse here on the borderland.

6. Witch in particular, but also pagan, hold connotations that trouble many people, that leave me vulnerable to judgment if I claim them, and that don't always mean what I personally believe. I take all this on like grit beneath my feet and in my throat, to prove and strengthen my devotion to my goddess and god. And in a tiny way to express my goddess (who I am myself) in the same way Christians embrace suffering to be Christ-like.

5. I'm currently writing a book about witchery - it's a comedy, so I'm not exactly delving seriously into the matter - but it does remind me about what witch ultimately means to me: standing in the middle of life's ambiguities and watching how they weave and unweave so beautifully and strangely to create the endless patterns of Love.

art by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

The Madness of Dancing Alone

One of the most disheartening things I've read lately is the proof that a murder was crazy because he danced alone in his garage. Obviously the man was indeed severely mentally disturbed, but dancing alone is not an indicator of this. Why are we so quick to shame people for moving into the endlessly flowing passion of life?

toby burrows

My wish for you is that you have the courage and wild blessing of your heart to turn the lights down, turn the music up, and dance alone.

My wish is that you dance in the room, dance in the garage, dance within yourself as you walk the supermarket aisle. Life is not a march towards goals. It is not a polite queue. Life is a paso doble*, a waltz, a spiralling conga line to the beat of an eternal drum.

* best movie ever
ps, is this template too cluttered? does it make reading the post difficult?

Without Knights or Swan-Hearted Women

I am like a woman who is not Beauty: I wander the street looking for houses with roses, dreaming of Beasts I will never meet. Stories I will never tell. Places I will never be. People tell me that I should pay more attention to my surroundings, but there are no dragons here.

Why would I choose cars, pavements, boys on scooters, supermarkets, when I could wander through sacred fields, watching bright flags flying from the turrets of a wise king's castle? What's a heart for, if not dreaming? True, people become interesting if you give them time. For heroes: doctors, policemen (in some places, that is), adventure guides. For mysteries: boys laughing too loudly, girls staring out to sea, old women in the middle of nowhere hobbling along with the aid of a wheeled frame. But mostly people just get noisily in the way. No offence, I'm sure you're all great, but tell me a poem in ancient Welsh, or discuss the meaning of the moon, or please step aside, I'm following the scent of a selkie man back down to the ocean.

And sometimes it's too hard, the real world too close, so I shut my cottage door and go wandering deep and wild through words instead. This, then, is why I make stories: to keep myself from going mad.

But other times I'm out wandering and I meet someone who is wandering too. Another dreamer, but from the far side, the place of minstrels, melancholy queens who are swans beneath full moons, star-eyed serving girls. They have gone wandering in search of houses with swimming pools, and are imagining the Beasts within. Why would they want dragons when they can see in their heart's wild eye motorcars, electric lights, double denim on some kid scooting past?

And I stop, and they stop, and we look at each other with wonder before going on our strange and dreaming paths.