Witch. That’s a powerful word that conjures up images of people finding a source of strength in a difficult world: women under patriarchy, poor people in systems of class inequality, people of color in cultures of oppression. People using magic and perhaps a connection with the divine to forge their way forward in life. It’s a potent word, one that I avoided using to describe myself for a long time.
For a long time I called myself a Pagan, a priestess, a spiritworker, an herbalist... but not a witch. Then I got to thinking about what all those terms mean, all wrapped up together. To start with, my spiritual practice these days centers around my ancestors and Modern Minoan Paganism. If I’m really honest, both of those practices are about empowerment, and both involve “witchy” activities like communicating with spirits and working magic.
Ancestral reverence puts me at the end of a long line of people who worked hard to survive, many of whom turned to magic to solve their problems well into the Christian era, even as recently as my great-grandparents’ generation. Like most people, the majority of my ancestors were just like me: ordinary people doing their best to make their way in the world, using whatever tools they had available to make that a little easier. And of course, talking to dead people isn’t exactly considered normal in modern western society.
The other main component of my spiritual practice, Modern Minoan Paganism, is a revivalist Pagan tradition that points back to the Minoans of ancient Crete, a Bronze Age culture where women appear to have held equal status with men. You can see how that might be appealing to people nowadays, both women who have long chafed at inequality and men who are more than a little tired of having to compete for alpha male status (not to mention nonbinary people, who would have been far more accepted in a matrilineal society where a gender binary wasn’t necessary to maintain the paternity of children and the ownership of property). And like everyone else in the ancient world, the Minoans probably used magic to improve their chances in life, from protecting their trading ships and their livestock to improving their health and their business success.
In the modern western world, there’s a stereotypical image that goes with the word witch: a nasty old woman furtively casting spells in order to avenge imagined wrongs others have inflicted on her. But that’s the image our culture has forced on us. The ancient Romans threw curses around like crazy (google “defixiones” to find out about the lead tablets they wrote those curses on) and they’re still portrayed positively in the history books.
Why did witches end up with such a bad rep? Could it possibly be because what they do is subversive, designed to combat the inequity that’s built into the system? Because what they do refuses to be constrained by society’s idea of what’s normal, acceptable, or polite? Because sometimes, the mundane avenues of action that are available to us just aren’t sufficient to achieve justice?
Ultimately, I realized I really am a witch after all. I’m still all those other things – priestess, spiritworker, and so on – but underlying all those practices is the working of magic, the moving of energy to make life better, not just for myself but for my family and my community as well, both living and dead. I like to think my ancestors would be proud.
Laura Perry is an artist, writer, and the founder and lead facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. And yes, she’s a witch. In addition to her work with MMP, Laura is a third degree Wiccan priestess, a Reiki master, and a longtime herbalist and naturopath (N.D.). When she’s not busy writing, drawing, or leading rituals and workshops, you can probably find her digging in the garden or giving a living history demonstration at a local historic site. You can find her online at https://www.lauraperryauthor.com/.