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What It Means to Be a Witch: From the Voices of Wild Women Describing Their Magickal Path. {Part One}

 

“I am my mother’s savage daughter,
the one who runs barefoot cursing sharp stones.
My mother’s child dances in darkness,
And sings heathen songs by the light of the moon,
And watches the stars and renames the planets,
And dreams she can reach them with a song and a broom.”
~ Pagan folk song

What do you think when you hear the word Witch?

Witchcraft, being viewed with suspicion and even hostility for hundreds of years, has gained a surge in interest recently, and has become magically woven into a mainstream phenomenon.

Interestingly, the original meaning of Witch means Wise, and comes from the old Anglo-Germanic word Wicca, pronounced Wiche (feminine) or Wicha (masculine), which developed out of Ingvaeonic (also known as North Sea Germanic).

Further linguistic origins suggest it could be from a Proto-Indo-European language, possibly Romany, since the Rom people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic nomadic group that originated in Northern India and have been residing predominantly in Europe since the 11th century.

Their migration from India to Europe is steeped in mystery, but they blended their traditions and language with European lifestyles and introduced divination, magic, herblore and even some superstitions we still say today. The Romany speak a  language called Rromanës.

Rromanës has roots in Sanskritic languages, and is related to Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Bengali. Some Romani words have been borrowed by English speakers, including “pal” (brother), “lollipop” (from lolo-phabai-cosh, red apple on a stick) and “chav” (immature/child).

In Chinese, the word Wu (pronounced Woo) means Shaman or Sorcerer, and the English adjective Weird comes from the Anglo-Saxon feminine noun Wyrd, which means Fate or Destiny. So take it as a compliment the next time someone calls you Woo Woo or Weird

The word Witch was once known as a professional title as opposed to sinister connotations. Village folk would go see the wise woman like you would a present-day doctor or counselor.

Many wise women and priestesses would also offer blessings at festivals to please the gods and bring good harvest and mild winters. They would be present at births to help with general midwifery, offer healing remedies for mother and child and create blessing bundles (much like the christening gift bags we see today) and even bless funerals to help the souls cross over. 

Witches were once the vessel of society, the flowing waters of social knowledge in relation to the unseen forces of nature and of life. These archetypes within village life were a guiding force, not a commanding force like that of a king or military leader.

Most people in those days had practical knowledge of only one skill like blacksmithing and farming, so when things happened that was beyond their knowing, they’d turn to a witch for some wisdom via storytelling, omens, prophecy and remedies.

“Being immersed within nature makes me feel very present, and it also gives me a sense of connection to our ancestors who, long before us, lived and tended the same land we now walk on. I marvel at how our ancestors were naturally in tune with nature, they knew what to plant and when, they understood which flower could heal and how to work with the seasons.

Over the years, I have learnt more about essential oils, herbalism, foraging and permaculture. I feel that learning about the qualities and characteristics of plants, nature and the seasons has widened my horizon and understanding of the world. I am deeply fascinated and humbled by learning how everything is connected in the simplest and most magical way.

No matter where I might be, nature makes me calm and grounded, and the more I connect and learn about it, the more at home I feel.” ~ Jodie Hansen, Forest Witch, Plymouth, UK

The local witch was the human embodiment of oral tradition, historical record keeper, social knowledge, animal behavior, and patterns in nature. These women simply observed the lives around them, they were the holistic guides of their time. Witches helped their people make sense of the world, they were pillars of their society.

At some point in history, the label took on a negative nuance and the rise of witch trials across Europe and America saw the horrific abuse, mistreatment and deaths of approximately 61,651 people between the 14th and 17th century. Since many witches were women, and these women had more freedom and therefore more power than the average woman in her village, this was considered taboo.

She would have been subject to much gossip and rumors, turning her from wise to wicked, turning her choice to be independent and alone into something untoward and frightening to stay away from.

“History tells us witches were simply women with an affinity for herbs and healing. They were the women who were once known as wise, who would deliver babies, craft remedies for the sick, and create spells for the wanting.

But they were villainized and demonized and made into ‘witches’ because the blossoming patriarchal Christian society could make no use of the powerful woman.” ~ Fern Freud, Green Witch, Sussex, UK

Witchcraft has now been reclaimed as an enriching, earth-centric practice of aligning with our wildest, savage femininity.

Women from all walks of life are embracing their Feral Divine, ritualizing their lives with moon ceremonies, healing meditations, flower blessings, red tents, healing circles, and goddess archetypes. Joining hands in great fervor, swaying their hips, swishing their hair and stomping barefoot as they howl at the moon and cackle like coyotes, their heartbeats dancing in rhythm with Gaia’s undulating breath.

The three main known forms of witchcraft that we know today are Hedgewitchery, Green/Forest witchery and Kitchen/Cottage witchery. All three blend into each other with subtle differences, and it depends on the practitioner and how they define themselves. There are many more paths to explore!

How to Spot a Green Witch (also Known as Forest Witch)

“Foraging and using wild herbs connects us to the women who have come before us. It connects us to our history and sends a message to the patriarchy. You can burn away a generation of wild women, but you can’t burn away the wild within women.

Maybe it was this cultural shift that had tinted my own view of the ‘witch’. But I am a powerful woman and I do have an affinity for herbs and healing. And the more I foraged, the more I connected deeply with the earth. The more I found my own cycles and rhythms reflected in the cycles and rhythms of nature, the more I found my inner witch. 

So, eventually, I found it was time to reclaim my witchiness. And more and more, it is a label I have come to be proud of. For me, it’s about establishing a connection with the wild plants around us that, like our power, have been forgotten. It’s about rediscovering their lost uses, their symbolism and their tastes.” ~ Fern Freud, Green Witch, Sussex, UK

Also known as a forest witch, she can be found wandering around fields, allotments and woodlands. Learning about plant life whilst out in the wild is a usual pastime or even career path for her. 

Green witches can be found in careers such as horticulture, foraging specialist, gardening, permaculture, or anything revolving around the great outdoors. Hair windswept with leaves and twigs, mud patches on knees and bottoms, soil in the creases of their palms, rosy cheeks, thorn bush scratches on arms from foraging, slightly sunburned shoulders and smells like wildflowers.

The wicker basket and mushroom identification book are her best friends, and insects are her familiars. She will be out in all weathers, and always has a trusty pair of gumboots at the ready! Green witchery is the practice of nature-based and earth-oriented witchcraft, drawing on the folklore and folk magic of ancient cultures as they connected to the forest, such as the tree worship of Druids.

They consult Earth, trees, herbs, plants and flowers for their medicinal and magical value. They will grow their own herbs or wildcraft them, have excellent knowledge on plant identification, and are very good at making herbal remedies.

“As a green witch, my practice is closely interlinked with my botany and horticulture studies. The natural world makes me feel a deep sense of awe that I connect to through observing, listening, and interactions like gardening, herbalism, foraging and illustration. I’m interested in plant lore and the many properties of plants and fungi.

To me, green witchcraft is rooted in the earth, and that includes all that lives and breathes. It means to know the local plants by name and establish relationships with them, to care for people alike and be supportive, share harvests from the garden and work together in the community. I live in the city but I’m lucky to have access to wide green spaces.

I like to work with and learn from local vegetation and stones. The land holds stories that are most visible just after sunset. That’s when the bats are out and birds sing their before-nightfall songs.” ~ Johanna from Germany, living in Edinburgh

How to Spot a Kitchen Witch (also Known as Cottage Witch)

Kitchen witches are very hands-on and practical. Sometimes much of their knowledge is passed down to them with secret family recipes that taste delicious! They are also usually healers, and have bundles of knowledge on tinctures, salves, tonics, remedies and teas. They can fix you up something that can heal a cold or mend the cut on your knee.

Oftentimes they make their own herbal and floral botanical skincare and toiletry products too, and can be seen dying clothes using natural colorants from the herbs and flowers they’ve grown in their home garden. The Kitchen witch leans towards careers in herbalism, nutrition, well-being, Ayurveda and even bee-keeping. 

Their magic revolves around making sensory yet healthy, organic delights and remedies, and they have goddess-given talents for food-crafting. Potions, herbal remedies, and natural instincts for protection of hearth and home sum up this witch. Kitchen witches have an array of recipe and herbal remedy books, have herbs and spices on their person at all times.

Their window sills are usually covered in potted herbs, and dried herbs are their wall hangings. They have fire tonic to cure the flu readymade in the fridge, kombucha fermenting on the table to help with digestion, homemade mint tea steeping, and a tray of poppyseed and honeysuckle muffins baking in the oven ready to eat. They give the warmest hugs and biggest smiles as they sing over everything they make.

“I love to roam my garden in search of something for my next creation. My morning ritual is to pick fresh ginger mint and combine it with organic honey and lemon juice for a reviving and immunity-boosting tea. I have jars and jars of herbs I have dried over the summer months, so when the fresh stuff dies back, this is when they come into play.

Herbs give me the most pleasure in my kitchen garden. They are the easiest to grow, are so very fragrant, and have so many uses. I have begun creating my own essential oils which I use in my soaps, cleaning products and insect repellents.

My current focus though is on developing my own herbal remedies for my dogs, just simple things like flea, tick and worming treatment or salves for their dry paws. I am also learning to keep bees! It is important to me to create a natural solution to our problems, and that is what I am aiming to do with all my lotions and potions.

This doesn’t mean I love spending hours slaving over a hot stove, creating meals of meat and two veg. Quite the opposite. What I do is very freeing and sacred to me.” ~ Jane Darke, Bulgaria

Sometimes there is a crossover between Green and Kitchen witchery.

Many Green witches enjoy bringing what they foraged back into the home to create remedies and dry herbs to use as teas.

“As a Green Kitchen witch focusing on collecting herbs and flora, knowing the medicinal aspect and flavor of wild plants to cook something edible is magic to me. I’ve been foraging since I can remember. It used to just be a part of daily life growing up in Poland, now it’s got a name and it’s actually a skill.

I don’t remember my dad saying: The weather is nice, let’s go foraging. It was more like: I fancy porcini sauce, let’s check our spots in the forest. I spend a lot of time practicing my craft, but I love it and never see it as a chore. I always consider foraging as a mindfulness technique.

You have to be present, you have to slow down, otherwise you’ll get back home with an empty basket. To me, Green witchery is a way to keep my mental health in a good state. I feel I can breathe when I’m out. It’s very close to my heart as my connection with the earth is very strong and I want to bring that magic into my everyday life.

I love sharing my knowledge about wild edible plants in my educational workshops, foraging sessions and online recipes.” ~ Joanna Ruminska, Plymouth, UK 

How to Spot a Hedgewitch

“As an alchemical Hedge-witch, someone who actively pursues the transformation of the metaphorical lead to gold, I like to utilize a wide variety of practices in order to do this, on the psychological, emotional, and physical levels, in order to fully actualize our power as magicians to influence the world we see around us.

The most important work in my practice is shadow integration. Without this, the unconscious within rules over our lives, and prevents us from accessing our full potential as witches. There are a lot of fun ways to do this via astrology, tarot, plant medicine, and energetic transmissions from the spiritual world.” ~ Veronica Pinero, Puerto Rico, USA

Hedge witches are the shamans or oracles in this solitary path — they engage in spirit-walking with animal guides and journeying to other realms. Known as the bridge between worlds, they walk an earth-based lifestyle while connecting to subtle energies within nature and the dream world.

They are the mediators between Spirit and people, and have a lot of knowledge on symbolism, abilities to read signs in nature, cloud formations, and interpret dreams. With excellent intuition, they read body language and human behavior very well too, and therefore make excellent investigators and psychologists. They are the witches who see beyond the veil in all aspects of life.

They see through the masks people wear, hidden motives as well as hidden messages in the mundane, and they find answers to what is hidden or lost.

They are witches of intellect and have a knowing about an array of subjects from herblore, tarot, scrying, spellwork, numerology, palm reading, love potions, protective talismans, animal spirits, deities and more. Careers for the Hedgewitch revolve around fusing the mundane with the magical. Hedge witches see the deeper and symbolic meaning behind everything, and can read people at soul level.

They make good yoga teachers, holistic counselors, philosophy tutors, lifestyle mentors, writers, poets, linguists, and are also drawn to ancient history and archaeology. They live a path that brings shadows to the light, whether that’s finding ancient old ruins or working within the dream/shadow realm.

Hedge witches can have an intimidating yet stoic allure about them, they own a library of books, tarot decks and oddities. Most hedge witches have long flowing hair and a haunting, penetrating gaze. Hedge witches will always carry books and a tarot deck everywhere they go (even if they don’t need to) and usually dress in flowing, regal or Renaissance-inspired clothing.

They will also be adorned with sacred tattoo symbols, their idea of good chit-chat is to ask people what their zodiac sign or animal spirit is.

“Hedgewitchery to me is washing the dishes and then looking up to see that a bumblebee is interested in trying to get into the house, rather than buzzing around flowers like bees usually do. So what does that mean? What message is this creature bringing from the universal consciousness?

It is also picking up a flower to ask it on a subconscious level what its resonance is, and finding out its generic herbal properties alongside its folkloric and spiritual meanings as well. Hedgewitchery is the practice of knowing the mundane facts and then diving deeper into its ancient history, the story, the archetypal interpretations.

Like a spider, it’s about weaving patterns between the tangible and the subtle, the mystical and the mundane, the magical and the realism.

As a Hedge witch, I love creating love charms, flower wreaths and handfasting cords that are always infused with protective incantations and blessed under specific moon phases or prayers to invoke a deity because I am also of Romany ancestry and I want to honor Romany magical practices.

As a Romani woman, I have an affinity with water as well as the earth. I never take water from any natural source without leaving a gift for the spirits that abide there.” ~ Katie Kalyani, London, UK

“Into the wild I go, into the wild I am. It’s been a while, freedom child, since I left my roots back home.” ~ Shylah Ray

These three paths are the most well-known, and even then each practice is constantly changing and no two witches are the same. There are Green witches living in cities, Hedge witches in deserts, and nomadic Kitchen witches with a backpack of spices. Some Green witches prefer the study of plants, whilst others are happiest in the dirt.

Some Hedge witches are artists exhibiting paintings and sculptures that allow the viewer to question the world we live in, others are spoken-word poets reciting magickal and lyrical incantations on stage. Some Kitchen witches prefer to write recipes rather than create a delicious mess.

Many women branch out and explore what it is to be a witch, and it is a deeply personal journey. One of individuality but also of diversity and inclusivity. Up next we will learn more about different paths of witchcraft through the voices of more women and how they define their witchiness!

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Katie Ness is an Ayurvedic Yoga teacher for all ages, Reiki teacher, Women’s Circle facilitator, belly dancer and artist from the UK. As a traveling yogini, she has visited over 20 countries and hopes to facilitate international Yoga and Sacred Feminine retreats in the near future. She spends her free time illustrating in her nature journal, reading an absurd amount of books, playing with her tarot cards, or crafting dream-catchers. At present, she is studying herbalism, floral design and botanical illustration. She can be found practicing yoga and writing poetry in woodlands and by the sea. You could contact Katie via Instagram.

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