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What is a Witch?

A View From The Broom Closet
By Elaanie Stormbender

November 15, 2010

I am a witch. No, not the fairy-tale type with green skin and a huge crooked nose or the sexy, raven-haired teenager with dark make-up from the latest thriller. I am the real deal! Undoubtedly, my definition of “witch” is something quite different from yours. Especially if you are Christian, and if you believe that witches are real at all, then “witch” likely evokes a deeply visceral response of disdain, fear, and skepticism. This is not the fault of anyone in particular. These prejudices result from media sensationalism and centuries of misinformation. For many Pagan, or non-Christian, religions the same is true regarding Christianity. With a constant and almost daily barrage of Hollywood in our homes, it is easy to accept that all Christians are under-educated, unsophisticated, naive members of society who often treat those unlike themselves in a “not-so-Christ-like” manner; their point of view regarding everything from fashion to politics is narrow-minded and born of fear rather than reason. In the final analysis, the Christian sees the non-Christian as a heretic, the Muslim sees the Christian as an infidel, and the Pagan, in spite of their belief in religious tolerance, often sees the “intolerant,” whatever their religious path, as deserving of the karma which most certainly and inevitably awaits them. Ultimately, it is religious dogma, intolerance of belief systems different from our own, and a profound lack of love and respect of others that truly stunts our path to peace and the spiritual evolution of the human race.

Historically, the word “witch” comes from the Old English word “wicce” which means “bender” or “wise one.” Traditionally, these wicce were the pagan healers and wise women or men of their day. They were revered and considered invaluable contributors to their communities. They understood the wheel, or cycles, of the year, the moon phases, and herbal medicine. Witches understood the signs in nature around them, and advised their communities in matters ranging from planting crops to finding a life partner. They believed God was in every created thing and every created thing was in God. Their laws were the laws of nature. They believed that every word, every thought, and every deed carried great impact on self and others and that whatever you say, think, or do will come back to you three times stronger than you sent it out. They adhered to what Pagans know today as “The Wiccan Rede.” “An it harm none, do as ye will“ placed the responsibility for one’s behaviors directly on the shoulders of the appropriate party … self. No excuses. No exceptions. Today, it is the same. For some these ways have been quietly passed down through the generations of their family; for others, it is a calling. In any case, all serious students of the Craft, or Paganism, in general, have a deep and abiding love and respect for all of creation. They would no sooner harm another than they would themselves. To be a true “wicce” is to accept a roleof great responsibility.

As you have likely already guessed, my legal name is not Elaanie Stormbender. Like many pagans, I use a pseudonym to protect myself and my family from gossip and possible social persecution. But, my name is inconsequential; we have many names. Today, many Pagans, like the rest of society, are college educated. Most of us are not “weirdos.” Most of us have never painted our eyes or nails black. In fact, we look a lot like you! We live in your neighborhood. We shop in your Kroger to buy groceries for our families. We shop at Wal-Mart, when we must endure it, for school supplies for our children. In many cases, our children attend your schools. We sit next to you in the movie theatres. But, unlike Christians, most of us do not wear our beloved symbols in ways that you will ever notice them. We do not eat children, slaughter black cats on Halloween, and we do not believe in Satan, never the less worship him. In the Bible Belt we are silent, but we are many.

It is not the Pagan’s way to proselytize or push our beliefs on others. You have nothing to fear from your Pagan neighbor. Educate yourself. The next time you see someone wearing a pentacle, don’t assume it means they are a Satanist. Ask them what it means to them! A quick Google search will inform you that the pentacle has been a very important symbol to many religions … including Christianity. We ask only that you open your mind and heart to us as members of the human race. We ask that you respect your Pagan neighbor as you would your Baptist neighbor. We ask you to look for the good in all people. Humanity has no greater enemy than irrational fear driven by ignorance.

I believe society can overcome these prejudiced attitudes. We have done it before. The Jewish, the African-American, the Gay, the Female, the Muslim, are just a few who have endured injustice and discrimination at the hands of the communities around them. Fortunately, because of the bravery of a few, many of these groups now have a voice. Unfortunately, the Pagan communities, especially in the South, do not. Thus, I offer my voice … to inform, to reach out in perfect love and, maybe one day, in perfect trust. I want you to know who I am and a little of what I believe, and what I do not. I want to open the door to my own freedom and that of others like me. I seek freedom to practice openly what I believe is correct and for my highest good. I offer my voice even if, for now, it must come to you “from the broom closet.”

“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.” - “A Course in Miracles”
Blessed Be

Elaanie Stormbender is a Priestess of the Temple Tradition, and the founder and High Priestess of Hecate’s Cauldron. An edited version of her article “A View from the Broom Closet” was published in the Jackson Free Press on November 24, 2010.