More than ever, the world needs healers. If you feel drawn to the healing arts or community building, you might have been—or may be now—a witch.
Do you feel extra connected to nature, trees, and the seasons? Do you sometimes feel other people’s emotions as if they were your own? Do you find yourself attuned to the moon, the stars, and other unseen energies? Do you do healing work like counseling, nursing, medicine, massage therapy, herbalism, or nutrition, or any version of artwork or community building? You could be a witch. And you could have also been a witch in a past life.
What Makes a Witch?
There are plenty of definitions for a witch. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean someone who follows Wicca or Paganism (though of course it can be). For me, a witch is someone who insists on finding their own power in a culture that does not want that. It is someone who connects with the darker, less visible, more feminine energies that one knows are powerful but couldn’t fully explain. It’s someone who can listen to the quiet wisdom of their own body and the natural world. I think of Jessica Dore’s book Tarot for Change, where she writes that the practice of reading tarot “provides a path toward reclaiming the imagination from the grips of doubt and rationalism. Toward reawakening the part in us with the audacity to know without material evidence.”
Witches are also radicals. Over four centuries and beyond, witches were persecuted, tortured, and even killed for having access to medical, emotional, and intuitive wisdom that threatened the powers that be at the time. This included the alliance of patriarchy, capitalism, and Christianity, which aimed to centralize authority away from the people and their folk religions. There is evidence that shows that many “witches” who were persecuted at the time were folk healers who knew how to provide reproductive care, including preventing and ending pregnancies. Most, but not all, were women. Most were likely practicing Christians with no intention of hurting anyone (or being in any way radical). There’s lots to say about this history; see Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch and Witches, Midwives, and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English for more.
Why Witchcraft Is So Interesting
So, why are so many people interested in witches and witchcraft now? Why are so many candles, spell books, and tarot decks flying off the shelves? One theory is that it’s because all those witches that were burned so long ago are being reincarnated now that it’s safer than it’s ever been to do the healing work of a witch. Not only that, but the world needs us now. Our forests are burning, our ice is melting, and the powers that be are refusing to make needed changes. As we work to cultivate healing in our bodies, our minds, and our relationships with the land, perhaps we’re here to heal on a larger scale as well.
But many of us fear sharing our gifts with the world. While we are no longer as likely to be physically harmed or killed for practicing alternative forms of healing, we’re still pretty likely to be ridiculed, discounted, or minimized. Resmaa Menakem, the author of My Grandmother’s Hands, has said: “We genuflect to cognition. And in that genuflecting to cognition, we crowd out any other domains of communication. Those things are crowded out by our incessant need to always have to think things through. Our incessant need to only have things that are objective be meaningful.”
Menakem focuses on how histories of racialized trauma compound on each other to live in our bodies—not our conscious minds—in the present day. From his perspective, healing is always a collective act.
Healing Intergenerational Witch Trauma
As Menakem and others explain, trauma is passed down from generation to generation. It moves through our DNA and appears in the ways we treat each other. Whether you think of it as past lives or intergenerational trauma, it lives in the same way: as an instinct, in the shiver of fear we feel when we think about sharing our truth with the world, and in our desires to keep ourselves small to stay safe, even when we can’t understand why. It lives in our bodies.
The witch hunts were a major cultural trauma that lasted over several generations all over the world, especially in Europe and North America. This violent history sits alongside many other histories that may show up in your body if you are a woman, a queer person, a racialized person, or in any other way do not always feel pure power and privilege in your body. Coming to know the powers that we have inside ourselves and insisting on using them (even and especially when they don’t fit the standard model of authority) is an act of empowerment and healing change.
If you resonate with any of this, you may have been a witch in a past life (and/or have ancestors that were). That was then, however, and this is now: If it’s safe enough for you to explore and express your own abilities in all those powerful non-rational ways, do it. The world needs us now more than ever.