Why we hide our magic

‘Burn the witch! Burn the witch! Burn the witch!’ Chanted by nearly 100 young voices, raised in unison; building to a demanding, confident crescendo as the adults in the room urge them on. I smile at the children around my table who have paused from painting Tudor miniature portraits to join in the chorus. A chorus that has rung out 4 times across my son’s primary school hall so far this morning.
I’m good at masking the anxiety of unbelonging – as most magical people are – my main concern is my 9-year old son. What does he think of all this? Will he connect this history day re-enactment of Anne Boleyn’s descent from powerful Queen to decapitated ‘witch’ with me? I feel myself disconnecting from my body, heart pumping – is he chanting as loudly and innocently as the rest of them or holding back? Wondering? Worrying? Isn’t witch a word for Mummy?
On the way home from school I ask for his thoughts. He’s surprisingly reassuring. ‘That’s just a story of a pretend witch mummy,’ he says. ‘Not a real one like you.’ Over the next few days I carefully unpick the knots in my tummy as they arise; gripping tight at the continued surprise of one moment being a parent volunteering at an educational event and the next spinning through a void of confusion where my own identity is suddenly a dangerous place for both me and my child.
Of course I know this is part of Tudor history. A seductive and powerful Queen rendered powerless and dangerous through association with heresy. Just a political ploy. But it was so real – so easy to get caught up in a wave of something that should be a distant, cautionary memory but is, in fact, still a reality for many, many people in the world who follow an alternative spiritual path. Different is dangerous.
When people I don’t know ask me what I am I tend to say ‘Pagan’. Safe, non-descript, generic. 11 years previously I answered a call from my university Chaplaincy team for a staff member who self-identified as Pagan to come and talk to them – a student had come in asking questions and they didn’t know enough to respond. I volunteered and dutifully sat down with 3 Priests, an Imam and a Rabbi to talk about the faith and practices of a group of people so diverse I barely knew where to begin. I opened by explaining that many Pagans and people of alternative, nature-based, spiritualities do not disclose their beliefs for fear of being misrepresented or maligned.
The group were nodding sympathetically, if not empathetically, when the secular lead for Chaplaincy came bustling in, all apologies for being late. She was informed that we were gathered together for a talk on Paganism. She glanced around the room and, seeing it full of familiar faces, raised an eyebrow as she drew up her seat ‘They’re not going to sacrifice a goat are they!’ She looked around expectantly – presumably waiting for a laugh. There was a long and uncomfortable silence. Eventually I waved at my colleague (who knew me quite well but didn’t know I was Pagan). I thanked her for elegantly illustrating the point I had just made and explained goat-sacrifice was not on the agenda.
That moment of embarrassed silence was nothing in comparison with a school hall filled with children being enthusiastically encouraged to demand the incineration of a fellow human being for the crime of being like me. In fact, many good things followed my Chaplaincy talk. Most touching were the Druid, hedge-witch and ceremonial magician who stopped to say hello when they read about my talk in the department newsletter. 3 Pagans working in the same room as me: 4 of us in one room of a 7-story building on a multi-building campus in a multi-site university. The Chaplaincy team had been truly lovely in their thanks for my time but had assured me there were very few Pagans in the university community. It turns out they were very, very wrong. 3 years later Chaplaincy became part of the department I was responsible for; a witch leading a Chaplaincy team? Who would have thought it?
Yet none of this had prepared me for the fear that my own child might identify me with something bad, wicked or shameful. A few days later we talked about the way in which words can be used to harm and label people. I told him that I didn’t really feel the need to have a word to describe my beliefs and practices but he might have heard me use ‘witch’ before. I shared my worries with him. As he pressed the button at the crossing I could see him thinking about it, sifting through thoughts that had probably never seemed that important or weighty before. ‘I just think you’re magical mummy’ he said. Simple as that, my hero for life.
In our world being a magical person is tricky. Words that feel empowering in one context can feel disempowering in another. Science used the label ‘ignorant’ and religion ‘evil’. There is no space for us. Yet we are here, many, many of us: truth-seekers, wisdom-hunters, change-makers, visionaries, wounded-healers, planet-lovers, sensitive souls, edge-walkers, spirit-weavers.
So let me make something really, really clear, in case you’re wondering. No label, no judgement, no external believe can ever, ever make you anything other than what you really are: a brilliant, vibrant miracle of a human being reaching out to embrace the fullness of your own being. Magic is not a title, or a label, it is the hallmark of a wild and wonderful life.    

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2 Replies to “Magic in Mind – Runes as Personal Oracles”

  1. Thank you – thought provoking article. I think all of us involved in the spiritual world, the world of magic, healing etc…will relate to the comments in your blog. I have once or twice thought I may be burnt at the stake. One lady bombarded me with the worst hate emails about me rotting in hell. Eventually, I told her there was no hell. It had been developed by christians as a way of disciplining their non believers. She nearly had a heart attack and I was left alone.
    When my youngest was at a college in the New Forest, they had to perform in the witches of the New Forest. Children were trying so hard not to get parts. She eventually played the drums, which someone may not have noticed were Voodoo drums and not “witches drums”.
    Where she did draw the line was acting the part of a “white” policeman beating Steve Beko. (South Africa activist) and part of the UK curriculum. Comment – she was a white South African, so could play the part. That started some robust conversations with college and chats with her. She refused and was marked down.
    I have had someone ask for healing done on their knee and done the sign of the cross as they do not believe BUT “fix my knee”…
    This is a harsh world. Very little understanding, kindness for being different. Pity they don’t realise how much we try to heal this world for us all.

    1. Thank you Suki, I am glad this resonated. It sounds like your daughter has inherited your strength and principles. May we all embrace difference as the finest quality in our species, something to be cherished, nurtured and celebrated

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