It used to be a crime. In some regions, it still is. To even be accused was enough to have you arrested, tortured, held for long periods of time while being made to endure horrendous conditions, and then executed in whatever popular method happened to dominate. Some were burned. Some were hanged. In Salem during the late 1600s, one man was even pressed to death with large stones. Cats and dogs were also not immune from suspicion and were put to death.
Associated with misfortune and evil and condemned by both the Catholic and Protestant churches during the middle ages through American colonialism, it was believed that those who engaged in the practice of the craft worked in partnership with the Devil or Lucifer. They signed his book, giving to him their souls in exchange for supernatural power. An accusation meant that life as you knew it had ended. Confessing to the crime of witchcraft meant you forfeited land, inheritance/wealth, and of course your good name and social standing. With all that on the line, it made sense not to confess, right? Unfortunately, this meant you’d most certainly die.
Thankfully, today, killing somebody for being a witch is generally frowned upon in most societies (not all). However, it still comes with its own challenges. When one of my own family members found out that I was a witch, he flat out told me, “You’d better not bring that Devil stuff into my house.” That was the end of the discussion. I didn’t bother trying to tell him that I’m not constantly performing rituals and spells. That I don’t consort with spirits for “funsies” or host parties of the undead in other people’s homes (or in mine, for the record). If I told him I didn’t even believe in the devil as he did, it would have gone in one ear and out the other. His mind was made up because, at some point in his life, somebody told him ‘witches are bad and they’re going to hell.’ And boy, he took that and ran a freaking five minute mile with it.
I don’t blame him for not understanding what a witch was, though I suppose hateful ignorance cannot be excused. “Witch” seems like a simple word, but it comes with a plethora of complexities. Why? Because, as I said before, ‘witch’ does not belong to any one faith or belief system. The way one witch practices may differ greatly from the way another does. If you had five witches in one room and asked them what it means to be a witch, you’ll get six different answers (or more).
I suppose one answer would be that being a witch means whatever a witch wants it to mean. It is believing in magic in some form and striving not only to understand it but to work with it, incorporating it into our lives. Intention is a big part of what we do, and just as everyone is unique, so too are intentions. So the idea of ‘bad’ witches or ‘good’ witches is as flawed as saying people are only bad or good. Good people do bad things; bad people do good things. And sometimes, people sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Therefore, as witches are people, you cannot generalize ALL witches with simple descriptors.
For me, it means freedom. My whole life, I’ve been taught to be a rule-follower. Never question authority, and do what you’re told. I tried my best to toe the line, and even if I disagreed with the direction or thought the rules were unfair, I told myself that I needed to look at the bigger picture rather than focus on tiny details. Rocking the boat would only make things worse. In short, I forced myself to be blind to things that were problematic and became subservient to those who told me ‘this is how you’re suppose to believe, live, and act.’ I let people walk all over me, was afraid to say ‘no’ for fear of disappointing somebody or making them mad, and allowed people to use guilt to manipulate my actions and decisions. All of that changed the moment I embraced the witch in me and the magic around me. For the first time, I felt empowered, strong, and determined to cut my own path out of the rocks they put in front of me. I suddenly had this realization that people would never value me if I didn’t value myself. That I was allowed to value myself. This didn’t make me selfish or rude. It was a literal spiritual awakening. It gave me my voice and gave me the courage to stand up for myself and others.
Being a witch allows me to be my true self.
It takes courage to walk a path unfamiliar to you, especially if you’re walking on your own. Some people recognize when they are being called toward a certain destination and unquestioningly embark on their journey. For me, it took some time, and I had to overcome a great deal of guilt and the fear of social judgment. It mattered to me what my family and friends thought, and so I delayed… And that’s okay. We all take different sized steps, walk different roads, and sometimes we end up in different places. But if you trust your intuition and allow yourself to embrace whatever is calling you, whether that is witchcraft or something else, know that you will end up exactly where you are meant to be. And you will be happier for it.