Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Witching Hours

Now, as I've mentioned before, I have long and storied history with witches. A childhood obsession with a certain mortar-flying Russian hag, and having played the part in most every grade school play, was not the end, but only the beginning of it.
Throughout my teenage yaers I kept reading both fiction and non-fiction about witches. Anything from Dianne Wynne Jones, to Susan Cooper, to Lloyd Alexander, to the Golden Bough, and my favorite of many moons; The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. (Over the years I have discovered that there is a great sisterhood among girls who were lucky enough to get to read this book in early adolescence.)
Witching Hour

Through my haphazard research (these were the dark days before the cornucopia of online information) I came across some literature about Neo-Pagan practices, most importantly Drawing Down The Moon by Margot Adler. I was immediately drawn to this religion born out of the tumultuous 60s, who's goal was to, in Adler's words, "to re-animate the world of nature; or, perhaps more accurately, to reenter the primeval world view, to participate in nature in a way that is not possible for most Westeners after childhood."
It wasn't until a few years later, that I experienced such beliefs in action, when I first came to this here Island. The beliefs behind many of the traditions and annual celebrations our community has, are not so much Wiccan, as just all out pagan in the simplest sense of the word: non-christian, as in not stemming from the Judeo-Christian monotheism that dominates our mainstream culture. Not that there is any exclusion. It is a mix of older Europian tradition that feels oddly, atavistically satisfying (such as the maypole, or the Winter Solstice Fire), Native American and Eastern influences and just plain ol' joy and gratitude. For years, since my first encounter with it, I searched for something else as spiritually satisfying.

It was during this quest that, while living in London, I went to a Wiccan Circle most every Sunday for two and a half years. This was not quite as witchy as it may sound, or as I though it would be. Mostly it was like any other setting in which women meet: we talked and drank tea. The topics ranged from herbal remedies, to menstruation and other meditations on the moon, poetry, our relationships with nature, our bodies, our boyfriends and husbands and girlfriends.
Sure, we did witchy things, little rituals and prayers, circles and tarot readings. We also talked of The Three-Fold Goddess and her many manifestations, but often our discussions on magic were more in the ilk of layman anthropologists, sociologists or folklorists, than those of practicing witches.

Even back then, I never identified myself as a neo-pagan, in spite the Sunday meetings, the Stonehenge Solstices and the Woodhenge field trips. Standing in the bright Mayday sun on an English field, which looked much like a neatly organized clear cut, I felt a little out of place and even a little embarrassed. A man raised a staff decorated with ribbons and then lowered it for a young couple to skip over, before pronouncing them a man and wife. He wore a white robe and lots of silver jewellery. I rubbed at the small waxing moon painted on my cheek and glanced longingly around for a place to sneak a cigarette. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't embarrassed for them, I was embarrassed for me.

I've always tried to be honest in my intentions, yet here I was, feeling more than a little hokey.


Shortly thereafter I moved somewhere that conveniently had no Wiccan women's group. There was a co-ed group, but I felt oddly antagonistic towards the idea of mingling with men, in spite the fact that the coven our group had been part of, was both sexes.

By then I had realized, was that I was not as much drawn to the ritual magic of Wiccan beliefs, as the protective circle of women the group had provided me with.
More than anything else, my interest in witchcraft, in both its ancient and modern incarnations, stems from how it manifests feminine power. Much of my formative years were a period of latency between the second -and third-wave feminism, and thus void of much female influence, or empowerment (Riot Grrrl never truly landed to the cold shores I lived on). This made the female-centric Neo-Pagan world-view very attractive to me.

A better understanding of womanhood was definitely something I took away from my Wiccan experience, and that I am forever grateful for. Or, as the grandmother in The Changeover puts it: "All women are witches." We are tied to the moon, we create life, we change form from Maiden, to Mother, to Crone, and we are, in my humble opinion, infinitely powerful.

And, in spite of my discomfort with many of the ceremonial aspects of Neo-Paganism it wasn't as though I didn't believe in magic, I did and do and will. I believe in the magic of plants that heal us, the magic of the land that we live on, the magic of science that daily proves yet another impossible thing true, the magic of human interaction in which our intentions are manifested trough non-verbal, as well as verbal communication (or as the hippies like to say: vibes). Most of all I believe in magic of language, like only an acolyte of Robert Graves can.

The meditation on one's relationship with nature that is at the core of Wiccan beliefs, too came to me more naturally outside the artificial seeming rituals. In the end, I discovered that I did not in fact, need to re-animate the world of nature for myself, because it was already alive with spirits and primordial beauty in my mind; and that I would rather believe in the molecular and astronomical magic of science, the invisible mycelium of cause and effect, and that of my own emotions and hopes manifest.
While I have moved on from my early attempts at ritual magic, I definitely still identify with the image of the witch in all her guises. In a culture where female archetypes (especially good or powerful ones) are often scarce, she is one easily identified and identified with. Like all female archetypes, witches too have gone trough the cycle from acceptance, to being reviled, to being re-appropriated by a new generation of women.
I certainly like to dress the part, and look forward to being a wise old crone some day.
And sometimes I even draw that waxing moon onto my cheek.

And you?

Edit: This post is in no way written in condemnation of Christian tradition, or any other religious tradition for that matter and I hope no one reads it in such a way.

(All the uncredited images are from an unfortunate inspiration-folder on my machine, that sadly lack sources. In spite my efforts I was unable to identify them. All apologies. I do know for sure that the last one is from one amazing tumbl-blogger and an all-time favorite Cosmic Dust who now also has a blog called Earth-Age. I bet some of the others are theirs as well. And some are probably Violet Folklore's)


  1. I'm Christian, but you know how it says in the bible, that after God created the Earth and Man, he saw that it was incomplete. He created then Woman, who was the completion, the crown of all.
    I believe in the power and magic of women and nature, the sanctity and holiness of this life, and I'm a Christian.

  2. great post and beautiful images!

  3. I was always enchanted by witches - it helps I was born on the evening of October 31st - although I was raised by catholic parents and it was very frowned upon to talk about magic or spirituality in any other sense. In my teens I was drawn to Wicca because it was so in tune with nature, and that's really the part I wanted most, to be closer to nature and the spirits I know and feel there. I eventually moved on when all my attempts at finding groups led me to being told I was too young or I needed to spend money or finding out that they never actually went out into nature. I've slid into my own brand of witchy spirituality now though, I like to lay around in fields or touch trees and just commune with nature.

  4. Wow! Thank you so much for this! I grew up in a very fundamental christian home and always knew it was extremely ill-fitted on me. I have long been attracted to paganism and thought, "Well, I must be Wiccan". When it really came down to it though, I realized that so much of the practice and ritual seemed strange and ill-fitted to me as well. I have come to conclusions about my beliefs that I often find difficult to articulate, but this post really resonated with me. Thank you very much for sharing it!

  5. Absolutely beautiful piece!!! Women are such amorous creatures, it only seems fitting that they be revered as magical. Being raised by a Roman Catholic father, and a Baptist mother has, over the years, created a bit of confusion in the religion aspect of my life... however, I believe that spirituality is an entirely seperate entity. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts... they serve as inspiration for many I am sure.

  6. A handful of those are from Sisters of the Black moon. I was just trying to give you a shout out. My phone is broken (you mean you have to replace the batteries sometimes!?) and I deleted the facepoke (I'm doing school and I just don't want to be a college student wasting time on facebook) so I don't really have a way to get a hold of you. I did send you an e-mail, though.
    Blessings and hugs ad good things.

  7. By the way your blog is my very, very favorite of them all. You are amazing :)

  8. i think for me the thing that's been difficult about finding an appropriate manner to express my feelings and thoughts about nature/paganism/etc is something you touched upon in this wonderful post -- the hokeyness that is sometimes inevitable, and also the difficulty of finding people who truly see/feel the way i do. i find that for me it is best to conduct my own spiritual inner workings in just that way -- on my own or with a few treasured people, and out in nature. the idea of having a women's circle like you once did is still appealing to me though. having support like that can be incredible, you just gotta find the right peeps. i really loved reading your thoughts!

  9. Oh, to have been in your Wiccan Circle back in the day… the sneaky cigarette moments we would have shared! I would imagine myself having the same sort of reaction, appreciating the concepts and philosophies, yet being squeamish about the theatrics of it all.

    Along the lines of what Sally said, immersing myself in a natural setting, whether it be the forest, along the coast, the desert, or any other bit of nature not overrun by people, and just BEING. quietly. preferably alone or with someone I can have comfortable silence with is what it’s all about for me. The beauty and magic becomes apparent and you become a part of it and it’s all very natural and SIMPLE. It seems like the simplicity part is important and maybe that gets pushed aside with all the ceremonial stuff.

    I can see how ceremony and ritual would be a powerful way of communing with other people though in a way that embraces nature and magic and such, which is cool I guess, but can we do it without white-robed ribbon-staff dude, please?

    I also love that you mentioned science in the context of magic. While it’s commonly looked upon as being pretty much the opposite, it was exactly that, the magic of it, that made me want to become a scientist.

    Wonderful post my friend!

  10. not sure if you've read "wise child", but it is absolutely beautiful.

  11. Yeah, definitely a favorite post. That line from your childhood book (which I must now add to the reading list) about all women being witches is absolutely beautiful.

    I was a very strange child myself--interested in the "mysterious" and all things supernatural. And I think this post is fascinating, it's something I think about often (although not quite as eloquently as you put it). Interestingly I was raised in an extremely Orthodox Catholic family and I think it was the stories, rituals and doctrine that now looking back influenced my penchant for the mystical.

  12. An amazing, thought provoking post. I hope you don't mind that I borrowed one of these images and linked to this post on my blog (I also added in a couple of my favourite witches from film. I agree about reclaiming the word/idea/label/woman witch as a positive!

  13. I like your paragraph that also includes the quote from The Changeover. I don't know how I would get by without the conversation, compassion and companionship that my circle of women friends give me. We talk, laugh, cry and support each other so much - I can only imagine some emptiness were I without them.

  14. Ah, I love this post more than words can express.

    My mother grew up Catholic, my father Muslim. They chose not to raise me and my sister with any kind of religion. As a result, I've had the freedom and flexibility to choose my own way, and I find that I identify with nature, just how it is. I like to look around me, chill in quiet areas, go on trail rides with Lakota (my equine partner in crime). The best moments are when I'm on Lakota and the forest is completely silent, save for the wind. Those are the times when I feel almost completely in synch with the pulse of the world.

    That picture of the girl on the horse? Awesome.

  15. Thank you for such a wonderful and beautiful post. I think sometimes it is easy to forget the power in being a woman. I think I had almost forgotten it myself until reading your post this morning. Thank you thank you thank you. <3

  16. even though i read this when you first posted it, i've taken a while to comment because I LOVE IT SO MUCH I CAN HARDLY TALK ABOUT IT. that's all. i feel soooo much like you about so many of these things. i think most or all of my girlfriends are very similar, and i lovingly think of myself and maybe even all of us as witches. the word and idea are beautiful, playful and fun to me, but yes a lot of the hoopla associated with the wicca movement (especially mid-nineties which was when i first got into it) is pretty ridiculous. and yet i love it all stillin a strange unique way. i pick and choose what vibrates brightly in my heart. every one of your words and pictures does this! i imagine a world where every coming together of girlfriends, and hopefully with some sweet menfolk too, brings about some kind of spiritual bliss. the not cheesy kind...but rather the fun jubilant kind. or even the powerful emotional kind from time to time. anyway that to me is the pagan magic that we seek. and where better to encounter it than in nature, within the elements, with the goddess of the earth at our feet and heads and hearts.

    thank you beautiful woman for putting it all so perfectly. your description of your own journey is captivating and funny and endearing and wonderful and i appreciate it so much.

  17. Really good post and has given me lots of new books to research.



  18. what a wonderful post! every time i visit your blog i leave feeling a) massively inspired and b) hopelessly inadequate in my own blogging. this has given me so much to think about, building on things that were already brewing in my mind, and i think i need to track down some of the literature mentioned! i've grown up in the city, but there's a little voice in the back of my mind (growing slowly but steadily louder) telling me i need to move out into the country one day.