- by Catherine Joy
In the fairy stories I loved as a child, the Witches were always wicked and destined to die. Glinda in The Wizard of Oz was a notable exception to the rule - although she was more Fairy Godmother than Witch. The witch in C.S.Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew was seriously terrifying but I knew she, along with other witches in my books, was “make believe.”
Imagine my surprise when I learned from my Youth Group leaders that real Witches did exist! We were duly warned off Witchcraft, Astrology, tarot cards, crystals and divination. We could fast-track our way to hell by even glancing at “our stars” in the newspaper. Then later, I heard whispers about covens placing severed goat legs in cross formation on the steps of churches they wished to curse… Not to mention, warnings from the pulpit about the Witches who were “infiltrating" our congregation by looking "just like the rest of us”.
The very idea of anything occult made my stomach churn. What on earth did the Witches hidden amongst our community have in mind for us? I was told they hated Christians so it made sense for me to be afraid based upon what little I knew.
What we don't understand is often feared
At school I learned about Witch Hunts throughout history and how women had been violently murdered for practicing “Dark Arts”. Midwifery; a knowledge of plant medicine; a visceral connection to nature; girls who sought education; teaching about the mysteries associated with menstruation and menopause - all of these behaviours fell outside the conventional wisdom of the day and could condemn a woman to death.
Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, and later, Geraldine Brooks' novel Year of Wonders were instrumental in highlighting the idea that, when it comes to Witchcraft, people are often afraid of what they don’t understand. Unfortunately, the suspicion regarding unfamiliar forms and expressions of spirituality continue to haunt us.
Herne from wicca.com provides an interesting explanation of why it has been beneficial for the church to perpetuate this ignorance:
“For the past several hundred years, the image of the Witch has been mistakenly associated with evil, heathenism and unrighteousness… By making the Witch into a diabolical character and turning the old religious deities into devils and demons, the missionaries were able to attach fear to these beliefs which aided in the conversion process.”
I confess there were times I was encouraged to “call upon Jesus” to “rescue” me from these (and other supernatural) “threats” to my faith and well-being.
So; what about the real Witches in our midst? What do they actually believe? And, how do they feel about the way their choices have been demonised? It’s time to engage in open dialogue and receive the facts directly from someone who has previously been cast as the enemy.
Bella identifies herself as a Witch and has done so for over twenty years. She lives in a normal house in the normal Australian suburb of Buderim where she offers massage therapy and beauty treatments alongside her healing services. The reality of her beliefs and practices are substantially different to the caricature of Witchcraft I was offered in my teens and our conversation was enlightening.
Bella says that, “Witchcraft is about living in sacredness every day. It’s about living in tune with nature and being connected to energies and people. It’s about honouring and respecting people, animals and the earth. It’s about seeing the beauty and magic in everything… the sacred in everything.”
It turns out there are many different kinds of Witches. Like churches with their denominations, Witchcraft includes a variety of practices and traditions; some are highly formulaic and hierarchical, while others are more free-flowing (Herne, wicca.com). For example, Bella views herself as both a Solitary and an Eclectic Witch because she worships alone, has never been part of a coven and only adopts the practices which resonate with her.
It was the freedom associated with Witchcraft that initially attracted Bella. She says, “That’s the thing with magic and witchcraft - your journey is your own.” At the same time, she expresses intense appreciation for her numerous mentors: “Mentors come along when I realise there’s something I need to learn. I put it out to the universe and find the right person comes along to teach me.”
"The pentagram symbolises earth, air, fire, water and spirit and they're all in alignment and in tune with each other. When I’m in tune that means I’m connected with all of these things. If you understand the elements… it’s nature. When all things are in balance… spirit is the essence and energy of nature itself and within ourselves. For me, the pentagram is a protective symbol, when it encompasses all of those things it’s like we have a protective ring around us. I look at this as the divine is with me, watching me and protecting me always. " Bella
Bella loves the rituals associated with her faith. “But,” she says, “how elaborate you make them is entirely up to you. Rituals are about intention, and magic is about using natural energy to create change. You can simply sit outside and say some words, and if your intention is strong and pure, you can affect change right then and there… Or, you can sit in front of an altar and bring in things from nature and use certain types of candles or crystals to really aid the magic.”
Bella performs her own ritual of choice every morning, choosing to sit before her altar and give thanks to the universe for all the blessings in her life. She takes a moment to meditate - sometimes choosing to raise her vibrations or balance her chakras in order to bring her energies back into alignment before she begins the rest of her day.
Ceremonies are also important but these can be kept quite simple as well. The women who attend Bella’s Circles may hold hands and put out a positive intention together or they may write their desires onto pieces of paper then set them alight, releasing them to the universe with each new moon.
Bella explains that the central tenet of witchcraft is to “harm none” so the idea of witches cursing Christians for fun is clearly a case of harmful stereotyping. Witches who choose to curse others do so at their own risk because The Threefold Law states, “Anything put out into the universe will return threefold.” Bella has never yet placed a curse but wouldn’t rule it out if a person she loved were seriously harmed. She says, “It would have to be the foulest of crimes for me to even consider it and would only be done with the full knowledge of what might come back to me.” Bella prefers to use her magic to assist in healing those who come to her or to create protective talismans for the people she loves.
So, how does God fit into Bella’s ideas about the universe and the divine? In an interesting twist Bella realised she “was doing what everyone else was. I was judging without facts” so she did some healing work upon herself and found a few of her long-held opinions transformed. She says, “I followed the goddess path for a long time and even though I could honour the gods in some way, I actually found it very hard to connect with them, or anything masculine. It’s only been in the last eighteen months that I’ve been able to open up to the idea that all goddesses are one goddess. And all gods are one god… that we’re all speaking to source, god, goddess or creator.”
Inviting Jesus for dinner
She took a closer look at Jesus too and came to the conclusion that “he was a healer, a spiritual man with the best interests of humanity in his heart.” Bella says, “If Jesus knew what the church has done with his gift he’d be very disappointed because a lot of what the church stands for has had nothing to do with what he was trying to spread and share and give.”
She concludes her thoughts on Jesus by cheekily saying, “If I could invite Jesus to dinner, I totally would. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that we’d agree on a lot of things!”
We laughed together at this idea and agreed that Jesus would “totally” accept her invitation.
The final words of this insight regarding Bella’s faith should belong to her. This is her response to Christians in today’s churches who would incorrectly label her “evil” decision to identify herself as a Witch:
“At the end of the day, I can’t reconcile that someone like me who is all about love and compassion and giving and sharing and loves nature, loves humans, loves the environment… Somebody who runs empowerment circles for children and women. Someone who runs a business like mine where I pamper and nurture people all day everyday. Someone who tries to give my best and give as much love as possible every single moment of every single day…
It’s an impossibility that anyone could align evil with what I do.”
Catherine is a teacher, life coach (linedwithsilver.com.au) and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Catherine Joy