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