As this is the season of the witch I have found myself in many forums discussing with fellow witches what exactly makes one a witch. The short answer is, it is up to every individual to define the term for themselves. Some believe that unless you practice any of the established routes set up by British Traditional Witchcraft that you are not a witch. Others believe only hereditary witches are true witches. Lastly, there are those that use the umbrella term “traditional witchcraft” to place a claim on the craft. No one has a claim to the term witch. At the same time, everyone has a claim to the term witch. So where does that leave us? For the most part, it leaves us fragmented and isolated.
I was raised Espiritista racionalista which means my family was comprised of mediums, healers, and diviners that never felt comfortable using words like bruja or witch. I knew we were different and learned to stay quiet about my spirituality when in elementry school after I explained my beliefs to a girls her response was “so you worship the devil?” News flash, we don’t even believe in the Christian devil.
Fast forward to when I was in college and being a witch was gaining traction. A friend in college spoke to me about Wicca one day after she had asked me about my spiritual beliefs. I said I had never heard the term. This was the beginning of my journey into “witchcraft.” I read all of the books one was “supposed” to read and it left me confused. After all, if it is a nature-based religion, why were there so many dang rules? Don’t get me wrong, a part of me loves Gerald Gardner. He had the guts to do what no one else did at the time, write about the occult from the inside and give it a serious, albeit religious, tone.
But I just didn’t vibe with Gardner. So I read Cunningham, Adler, Buckland, and many many more. One of those books was the Farrar’s Witches Bible Complete and I did what many folks who resonate with one of the Wiccan books they’ve read does, I said to myself that I must be Wiccan because their beliefs were the same I was raised with. Even though I wasn’t going to be part of a coven I decided to leave behind what I knew and dive head-on into being a solitary Wiccan practitioner. However, I felt something was missing so I became determined to join a coven only to be held back by the same thing that held me back when I first read Gardner - rules. By the time I was out of college I was determined to go back to being a solitary Wiccan.
The problem was I always felt something was missing. I would go on to feel this during every Sabbat I celebrated and every altar I erected. I would pour over Wiccan text and take classes with various teachers, and while the message and information were lovely, I still had that emptiness.
Then I was invited by a friend to attend an open Voodoo ceremony in New Orleans. I marveled at various aspect of their ceremony and remarked to my friend how parts of it reminded me of things my grandmother, a Santera, would do. I had the opportunity to speak to the priestess and it felt a bit like going home. I knew then that my practice had to change. However, since I wasn’t sure what I would change I just sat with my feelings for a time, not really practicing.
My cousin is a representative of the Taino nation and has spoken in the UN various times. I heard her being interviewed and something clicked. I wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of the Caribbean. I began by asking my family questions, and then I continued by reading books. I didn’t stop there. I went on a journey to dig into the European side of my family and my Arabic side. I found magick was everywhere and with every new morsel I acquired I began to build a new practice. For example, I added the Taino way of celebrating the full moon and the santera way of cleansing and banishing. The more I added of myself to my practice I noticed how much more complete my practice felt. Gone was the emptiness. I haven’t lost the Wiccan, I just found the witch.
I am aware that many Wiccans will scoff, first because I practice solitary without being initiated, and second because my practice now incorporates aspects from other cultures that are not considered “witchcraft.” It has been my experience that it is only witchcraft when white witches say so. And if they take from another culture and incorporate it into their practice then the new aspect becomes acceptable. If a POC, such as myself, combines things then it’s invalid. Yeah, racism and appropriation don’t go away when you enter through the witchcraft door. I’ve had witches get upset with me when I have said I don’t share everything I know because I don’t believe my culture is up for grabs. Do I share? Of course, but I have to know you and your intentions. I believe the more we learn from each other the stronger we will be and the more united we will be, but there needs to be respect, not entitlement when it comes to another witch’s practice/culture.
So once again, what is witchcraft? I think it’s as simple as being in tune with who you are spiritually and what your connection is to the planet and all things on it. Now before you go on thinking I’m saying you have to be vegan, I’m not. I’m just saying witches should be in tune with the world around them, and understand their connection to all living things. We all have gifts, witches develop them as part of their practice. It doesn’t need to be religious and you don’t need a pantheon of gods to work with, that is your choice. I do believe in reading old Wiccan text because, as I said before, we owe this old guard a world of gratitude for speaking up.
Some witches want to advertise more and get everyone to become a witch. My coven, as progressive as it is, is the opposite. Many of us still remember the 90s. Wicca was everywhere and all of a sudden everyone wanted to be a witch. The problem is, many people don’t want to put the work in. They don’t want to spend years becoming good at something, they want to buy a spellbook, wear black, and giggle that they are witches. Other folks are broken. They might be distant from their families, feel like outsiders in social settings, and believe that if they can become powerful witches their problems will end. I’ve seen people in this category delve into chaos magick with negative results.
Does it seem like I’m trying to dissuade folks from becoming witches? Perhaps. I feel people need to do a lot of soulsearching before they practice. Read, investigate groups in your area and have discussions. Keep a journal where you reflect on every conversation, book, spell, nature walk, etc. And once you have spent a good amount of time (I really like the Wiccan year and a day rule), decide then what you want your path to be. And once you’ve done that, let no one get in your way or try to dull your shine.
This post has been authored by Nori Negrón, WDA Head Witch and teacher. She's got two courses in our platform readily available for you! You can listen to her podcast WitchSpace on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean and more!
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