Who Can Call Themselves a Witch?

The following was written in response to an anonymous blogger on Tumblr who asked if someone who doesn’t practice magic can call themselves a witch. 

There are some people who feel very strongly that “witch” refers to someone who practices magic, and that you need to be a magical practitioner to self-identify with the term. This argument is mostly based on history and folklore. There are no historical cases of people being called witches who didn’t use magic. In folklore, a witch is someone who has magic powers, usually given to them by spirits, and witches typically use their powers for evil. (I am not saying that this is the case now — only that this is how the word is used in folklore!) Magic users who used their powers for good were usually called something else, like druids, cunning folk, and power doctors. Because of this history, there are a lot of witches who feel like people who don’t practice magic shouldn’t use the term.

On the other hand, you have people who feel like “witch” is more of a social label for someone (usually a woman) who exists outside of normal societal order. These people point out that the people accused of witchcraft in the European and American witch trials were overwhelmingly women — they were also overwhelmingly poor, single, or members of a minority ethnicity and/or religion. “Witch” is an inherently political label, and historically it was used to “other” women who didn’t fit the typical housewife model — it’s not a coincidence that a lot of the people executed for witchcraft were women who could comfortably live independently without a husband. Today some people, especially within the feminist movement, feel like the label can be reclaimed by any woman or femme-presenting person who operates outside of a societal norm. (Although I will say, this ignores the fact that we do have historical accounts of witches who were men.)

I think the second interpretation is where a lot of the modern witchy aesthetic comes from. Women and girls are connecting with their inner wild woman through the appearance of the witch in fiction. And that can be very empowering on its own.

Personally, I’m kind of in the middle. I’ve heard good arguments from both sides, and I’m not about to police who describes themselves as a witch. I do think that, in respect for the word’s historic roots, anyone who calls themselves a witch should at least make an effort to educate themselves on the history and practice of magic. I also recognize that “witch” is a very politically charged term, and I think people who choose to identify with such a term should be socially and politically aware — you don’t have to be a full-blown political activist, but you should be aware of what’s going on around you and make an effort to defend marginalized peoples. But that’s just my opinion, and like I said, I don’t own the word.

4 responses to “Who Can Call Themselves a Witch?”

  1. Thank you for your very interesting article. I think I cannot call myself a Witch, just because I am too busy to come here, where I can learn from the wiser and who have been practicing it for more than ten (10) years, and even longer. I consider myself a student of Witchcraft, I am interested in so many different things, (Gemstones, Astrology, Gods, Goddesses, History of Witchcraft, Tarot, Dreams, etc.) I have had some supernatural experiences, and would learn to be a healer. But I think that day is stil far away.


    1. There’s definitely no time limit on it. Everyone moves at their own pace.


      1. Yeah. That is the biggest problem 😔 I would like to learn so much things at the same time. 😉


      2. I feel that.

        Liked by 1 person

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