Many wise women (and men) on the internet these days are witches. You may look at them and admire their skill with potions, herbs, and community building. Well, you won't get anything like that here. I am not a kitchen witch, hedge witch, herbal witch, or coven witch. I no longer write about being a witch, nor do I participate in witch communities - probably because I feel no space of belonging for me there, since I couldn't make a healing tea if you paid me, I don't do rituals, and I don't smudge anything. But I am a witch, and have been one my entire life. So this is what I believe you have to do in order to be one too:
You don't have to do any particular thing. Witchiness is about how you are with the world.
You can be a Catholic witch if you want. Or an atheist. You can believe and do whatever is best for you. There are no witch creeds. No dress codes. And yet a witch is a very specific kind of person.
That old cynical atheist Terry Pratchett had the best insight into witchiness, and I fall back on it often when trying to explain what it has always meant to me. Witches dwell in the edge places. What they choose to do from those places is up to them. Witchiness is not about the doing. It is simply about how you are with the world. Witches have a relationship with both now and forever ... home and wild ... faery and human ... hurt and hope ... spoken and unspoken ... need and cure ... life and afterlife ... skin and soul ... tree and sky ... seed and fruit.
Generally, they will feel compelled to do something from this position in the between. And so witches tend to be healers, helpers, writers, justice seekers. It's hard to look into two worlds and not want to bring them together with love. But the wisest and most able witches I know would rather use a kitchen utensil, or a trowel, or the great power of listening quietly, to do an "ordinary" kind of magic. They may like tarot cards, but they know all they really need is to pay attention.
Not everyone might be a witch, partly because not everyone believes in the other worlds, other ways, but also because not everyone is willing to bear the discomfort of it. The longing, the energy, the feeling of conflict that is really a wish for togetherness, the sense of being outside others' experiences, the tension between is and could be. Then again, many witches will probably tell you they have no choice. Once you know you can choose love, it's hard to go with anything different.
I know the word witch is an unhelpful one, as most words are. Not only does it create difficult images in many people's minds, but it also is used widely for things that aren't true witchness. I can not think of another word that would do, however. Shaman is perhaps too esoteric, too masculine.
And besides, a witch knows what to do with an unhelpful word. She gets in between the word and its meaning, and finds ways to bring out the beautiful magic which can be found in any wild, deep space between things, the secret heart of the world.
illustration by ida rentoul outhwaite