So What’s a Real Witch, anyway?

image from Library of Congress archive

Since I have a book coming out titled “Divorcing a Real Witch” I get asked by a slightly hostile minority: “So what is a real witch?” The only people asking have a clear idea of a “correct” answer in their mind. My initial reaction is amused sorrow. These individuals are so out of touch with overculture – their own culture – that they’ve forgotten that most people still think witches are imaginary monsters. My second is anger – they always have a clear idea that a “real” witch is their tradition or practice, to the exclusion of all others. It’s bigotry in the guise of self-righteousness. ((And by saying so, this particular brand of narcissist will insist that *I* am self righteous because that’s how projection works.))

My qualifications for “real witch” are the following:

  • Do you practice some sort of folk magick? If yes, then I must consider the next question.
  • Are you corporeal? If yes, I will ask permission to poke you in the shoulder for just a moment to verify.

Voila! You are a real witch!

It may be inspired by ancient concepts but the people who absolutely insist that it is? They are either loony, or are con artists. I have had it argued that “I just feel it; I just know it’s true.” I believe in trusting my gut. But not only do I not believe that my gut instincts are useful in academic verification – if you can feel what goes on in my gut then I am dead and you need to get your hand out of there – that’s not what “gut instinct” is for. Gut instinct is about the present and the future. The past is relevant to our survival, but not in a way that triggers our nervous system.

The idea that a “real witch” is only a Wiccan – and the only “real” Wiccan is a Gardnerian or Alexandrian version – it’s ethnocentric. It’s racist. It’s exactly the same thing as the Vatican declaring Catholics the only Christians for the same reason – an attempt at control and authority where none applies – and is just about as effective (not.)

It’s just plain fucking offensive. Yes, that’s deliberate phrasing.

Wiccans do not have a corner on witchcraft, historical or modern. It’s a new religion, less than 100 years old and no one has managed to dig up archeological evidence to suggest otherwise. More important to me, there’s nothing wrong with Wicca being a new religion. It’s the insistence on ancient blah blah that makes it smack of charlatanism and undermines the real spiritual benefits of the practice. Yes, there’s a whole bunch of “on high” stories among the monotheists or “just always was,” from older religions. Please. Someone just made up all those stories or really exaggerated something that did happen. ((Fine, I don’t have a citation – but neither do they!)) It might have been a well-intentioned metaphor. It might have been a bid for power. It had no relationship to the very real spiritual experiences people who subscribe to those religions practice. The same is true of Wicca. Union with the divine is powerful – religion is just the stuff we make up to get to that union.

If you want to verify that I have the initiations I say I do, that’s fine. I learned long ago that having a 3rd degree in Wicca does not always an expert in magical arts guarantee. I certainly can’t call myself an adept and the other 3rds I know may be fantastic community leaders but themselves admit that their superpowers are more organizational than metaphysical. Wicca, these days, is definitely more of a religious focus once you get past 1st degree basics – and it’s my opinion that beyond that level, it’s stagnating.

If my initiations are more important to you than what I’m actually saying or how I’m behaving– or if you won’t even consider what I have to say unless you consider my initiations “valid” – then your priorities are wildly out of order.

Hierarchies may be a way of managing an organization, including a coven, as it grows. But expecting that hierarchy to apply outside a coven – to confer so much authority that you can say something isn’t Wiccan because you didn’t give it permission to be? Uh uh. That approach is what we call “personality disorder in action.” I consider someone using the phrase “NeoWicca” a warning sign about that person because there’s definitely an exaggerated sense of self-importance and grandiosity behind declaring an entire other group of people you’ve never met or have barely interacted with illegitimate.

To be clear, I am not saying, “Anyone can say they’re Wiccan!” I’m saying that a person’s tradition of Wicca is NOT the way to determine whether a person is or is not legitimate. A person’s behavior and practices are.  What goes on this checklist is best left to academics, preferably anthropologists. Also, Wiccans are not the only witches and saying so repeatedly does not change that. The witches may call themselves other things, and witches are not the only magic practitioners. We don’t have the whole list and witch is a reasonable shorthand since every culture (as far as I know) has a word that is the direct equivalent of “witch.” Cultures that have more than one type of practitioner also often have words to distinguish types – for example, in Spanish there’s curandero/a, brujo/a and diablero/a.

As for who the real witches are…

  1. Do you practice a form of folk magick?
  2. May I poke you?


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