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  • Lara Vesta

What I mean when I call myself a witch…


I mean nature honoring

I mean ancestor venerating

I mean spirit in place like air wind water light heat

I mean the shape of sovereignty in my mouth and on my tongue

I mean reverence, reverence, reverence.


What I mean when I call myself a witch: I mean a long old story for the little girl that was standing on the edge of the forest, rain drifting down on needle and fir, horse lead in one hand, sheep lead in the other, running into the creek canyon escape for a day and then finding a way into the rhythm through song, through fairytale and folklore.


What I mean when I called my self a witch is the ask, please, and the answer, yes, no, thank you. Witch is the memory of what the ask means when we put it before anything we touch, anything we pick, anything we eat, the sacred water we drink. Witch is a blessing on the round of the day, it is rising with thank you and retiring with thank you, and the between that is listening, responsive, attentive, attuned.


What I mean when I call myself a witch is that I am not broken, not invisible, not reference material in an academic grist, not stolen, not absent from history just because I am not written down. Fractured, yes, fragmented, yes, disabled, yes, obscured, yes, but existing in the meridian, in the margins which makes me fully possible and begins a pattern true in this life of falsehood, this life of misleading, this story that says it is the only one that ever mattered in the world. Witch means it isn’t, witch means it wasn’t, witch is a beautiful question, sweet maple flowers, redolent of spring, the deep cool waters where the salmon return. A question so big it encompasses everything, one that has not yet been proven wrong in asking.


What I mean when I call myself a witch is that I had no words for this for much of my life, was told evil, was told satan, was told other things about my people about my kin, was told that what I should and should not believe carried consequences that are eternal. I was told that my treasure was in heaven, that the stewardship of the earth was unnecessary as it was created for us, was told there was only one way and every other one was wrong. Behind the telling wild woods wove a different story, one where I felt welcome, where I was free. Poplar leaves covered in honey sap spoke of a thrilling true resurrection. And it was in this magic I found my secret name.


I can tell you it took me 30 years to come to this place where I could call myself a witch, and I know it is a place of controversy. A delegitimizing word, one with cost in the ordinary world. I call myself a witch because there is no written record that holds my history, a pre-history before the binary divisions of religion.


Listen. Simply said, we don’t know what the word witch means. What it meant to generations before the waves of conversion dominated all consciousness. The infinitude of variance indicates magic imbued a consciousness. That power was available and could be used for good or ill. From post-religious literature the ambiguity is clear, and there was eventually no distinction to the witch hunters between good or bad, the healer or the complicator, between the wise one and the wild one. If we trace the threads back far enough into our collective history perhaps we would find this word holds a web of truth. Some claim it never could, that instead we should unearth a word that better suits, a word less fraught with fear, a word that better fits.


Without seeing the whole, we can’t see the specific. This is why witch is a word I must reclaim and own. Ancestral animism is evident in myth, where all have the capacity for great harm, or great good, and there is no separation between the two. The stories hold that Magic has more to do with those that wield it than any arbitrary word can touch. Witch became the persecuted. Witch became the persecutor. Witch became the obscured. Witch became the fear and feared.

I called myself a witch to vanquish fear. I call myself a witch to meet again the enemy, the one so persistent in my every cell, the one that tells me it is dangerous to be me — magic, wild, different in this life — that threatens me on penalty of death to remain unseen.


I called myself a witch to answer again that equation that claims it has a name, a name like pagan or like heathen, that was given by the conquerors, the converters to those who would call themselves other. These words are no less painful, but they hold less catch. Witch carries the catch, witch throws open the door, exposing hypocrisy and more.


When I call myself a witch it is a cleaning and a reweaving of the web of wyrd, in terms of power, in terms of what can be revered. By denying witch I’ve been told to listen to what contemporary culture says, and what this patriarchy holds as divine, and from there extrapolate some sort of safe, less provocative terminology to call my name, to call as mine.


Instead I choose a dangerous path.


Instead I choose one fraught with wyrd and knots and rents beyond repair.


I claim it for my ancestor who was away with the fairies when they hung her body and then burned her. I claim it for all those deaths possessed by land ownership by then feudalism by then capitalism by then the accumulation of goods. I claim the word for all of the communities dissolved and dissociated, all those wounded and wrought in the pain of this still. I claim it for all those still accused, hurt and harmed. I claim it for its appropriation and exploitation in the capitalist marketplace. I claim it for all those who stuffed down their edges and their magic to conform to something safer. I claim it for my ancestors committed, my ancestors displaced, my ancestors stolen from, my ancestors exiled, my ancestors who lost culture, language, places, spaces, communities, art, story, song, pressed at the edge of a slaughtering sword. I claim it for all those who found the means in this word to collude and control, who exported its felt sense to the so-called new world and proceeded to use the same millennia old technique to dismantle ways of knowing in being, committing atrocities in the wake of the witch wound.


At the edges of my consciousness there is something pressing something simple something more. At the edges of this word I find myself, in this life. I find all I have been, all I will be. The cycle of the seasons, the spill of blood at birth, the flow of milk to nourish, the union of bodies in ecstacy, the spirit song of all creation, the tremble of ripe grain, the healing that is listening to the rhythm, the round, the growth, the gain.


At the edge of this word, I am no longer central, I am a part of a pattern extending far before my birth and that does not end with my last breath on earth. Witches endure, beyond the kindled hearth, beyond the collective death, beyond the story of our peril, beyond the dismissals of the rational, the wheezing sighs of consumerism, the urgency of transcendence. We have been here, all the while, planting seeds, living a dance that is connective, that is co-creative, of service and of mending.


Witch is not a quick and easy trend. Witch is not something I delight. This is in fact a way of honoring. Something deep and old and good and right.


What I mean when I call myself a witch is simply this: I am one person in this beloved life. In these days I seek to see all as alive, to honor my ancestors by my action, to work for healing and for love, and when I return to earth it is the earth and its descendants, I will feed. To them, and to my other non-human kin, I give this creed:


By this and every effort may the balance be regained.

In the sacredness of you

ALU

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