One of the reasons many of us modern-day Wiccans still proudly call ourselves Witches is to consciously identify with the victims of those persecutions. The Witch persecutions are a suppressed history of abuse. Just as suppressed memories of childhood abuse can hamper us in adult life, suppressed cultural histories still constrain our emotions and our imagination in subtle ways. The Witch persecutions left a residue of fear inside women--that if we speak too loudly or too forcefully, become too strong or visible, we will be attacked. They made imagination, intuition, and magic suspect. They set a pattern that judicial torture is sanctified once your enemy has been labeled 'evil'. And they made nature herself something a dangerous and suspect.
We use the word "Witch" consciously, as a way of reclaiming our power as women and as men. . . .
Gus is bothered by those words, and says:
I think it is a bad reason, and not one worthy of legitimizing. I call myself a Witch and likely always will. It was a word Gerald Gardner's New Forest coven used, and accurately describes many of the activities we do, activities that were savagely persecuted until not that long ago. But I never used the word to "consciously identify" with victims of persecutions.
I know that the first moment that I understood how Pagans and Wiccans used the word "witch," something deep inside me responded; I knew that I'd been a witch all my life and using the word was a kind of coming home for me. But I do also use it deliberately to identify (grammar error! I know, but it's late and Roddenberry got rich on it) with the victims of the witch hunts, including the many (likely majority) of those women who probably considered themselves good xians. I want to identify with the part of the word "witch" that makes people uncomfortable. I want to continue to be "out there" and "in your face" about being a witch. For me, being a witch is all about being the somewhat unacceptable old wild woman who lives outside the boundary of the lawful village, gives the powerless charms against the powerful, provides herbs when the male doctors were reduced to using leeches, understands the things that "nice" women didn't understand, went out into the dark when "good" women were home abed. You know, the women that the catholic church rounded up and burned.
Would I, like Gus, call myself a witch even if the xians had never persecuted women by labeling them witches? I think that I would. But, like Starhawk, part of the deep identification that I have felt with that word is a desire to identify with those who were persecuted, with the women who were made to seem ugly, mad, dangerous. That desire has much more to do with my emotional commitment to the word than, say, Gerald Gardner's use of the term.
I suppose that, in the end, it doesn't matter why you call yourself a witch. If you walk out into the woods on a dark moon and say: "I am a witch, I am a witch, I am a witch," then, you're a witch. (Or if you do it in any of a number of other meaningful ways. You're a witch.) What matters then is how you live, day to day, as a witch. How does that impact what you do on the subway, at work, at the grocery store, just before you fall asleep? How does that impact what you do when powerful women are portrayed as ugly, evil, aligned with the forces that must be destroyed, bad? How does that impact what you do when magic is portrayed as evil, unlawful, malificent? How does that affect what you do when the powerless need help against the powerful, when women need help against men, when the power of the church is brought to bear against some poor woman whose land the church wants?
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."