Have you seen the show The Good Witch? I have to admit, I’ve been binge watching.
It was getting late and I still had work to do; I was craving the kind of t.v. show that creates the illusion of transitioning into the evening’s relaxation… but actually takes no brain power so I could keep going with website edits (new website coming soon—wooohooo!).
Some women in The Medicine Keepers Collective had been talking about a guilty pleasure called The Good Witch. “What the heck,” I thought, “a little witchy might do the trick!”
The word witch has been on the rise: Vogue (yup, the fashion magazine Vogue) did a Witchy Week in June and my publisher actually contacted me because the sales team wanted a witchy book and did I have any ideas?
There’s a theory floating around that witch gets popular when we feel culturally oppressed by patriarchy; that witch is a way of reclaiming the power of the feminine.
I think it’s a bit more than that: witch is a way of saying I’m not gonna buy into the rules of the dominant culture.
Why? Because in our stories and fairy tales, the witch lives deep in the woods. She is separate. She is other.
She’s a way of saying I don’t want to be a part of this crazy shit you call society.
And so the rise of the word witch is an indication that women are looking for an alternate path to the obvious ones on offer.
The first person who called me a witch was my brother-in-law. The word chaffed: it’s one thing to feel like an outsider in your heart, it’s quite another to have “outsider” tagged on you by someone else. Calling me a witch also felt like it made light of my years of study, the incredible energy I’d put into learning the language of the green world and the pathways of the human body.
And yet… I’ve often felt like there’s no word that’s quite right for who I am and the work I do in the world. There’s a void in our language for this particular way of being.
And this is where the W-word comes in.
We’re taught that doctors know our bodies and priests know our souls.
But what if we’re seeking to understand both for ourselves?
What if we crave a relationship with the physical—not only our body but also the material stuff of the world around us—the earth, plants, rocks, and stars? What if we find our spirit sparked by these relationships and our concept of the sacred altered by the scent of jasmine in bloom or the deep indigo of a sky awaiting nightfall?
What is the word for this feeling and the person we become when we honor it? Over the years as I’ve struggled for language one word keeps murmuring to me—a word I never particularly liked because of its slippery and amorphous nature:
Somehow this word is both silly and primal. It evokes cartoons and conflagrations.
I’ve walked around the word, looking it up and down. And I’ve realized that witch did something that no other word did: it bridged body, spirit, and the mysteries of the feminine divine.
Still, I fought Witch good and hard. It wasn’t my archetype of choice. But my heart lives in this place where body meets spirit; owning this word has given me a path home to myself.
And I came by it honestly: it seems I was born questioning cultural concepts of the divine (when I was eleven our rabbi, tickled by my constant questioning, suggested rabbinical school).
An illness in my twenties, unresolved by Western medicine, got me questioning theories on wellness and searching out answers for myself. The more I connected with my body, the more I understood my soul until the spiritual and material could no longer be separated.
My life became serendipitous and magical.
The year I spent in Ireland studying herbal medicine as an apprentice to a traditional healer rooted this path deep in my bones. Once I started conversing with the trees and the stones, there really was no turning back. Listening to my body and trusting my heart transformed me… and it can transform you, too.
You’ll find what resonates for you, and what leads you to your joy, and stop cribbing your truths from culture. Your body will become a homestead, instead of something separate and alien and other.
You’ll become something new, something I call witchy: a woman who knows herself deeply and is attuned to the shiftings and shufflings of the world around her.
It’s time to open the door and invite your inner witch out of the closet. She’s got dust bunnies in her hair and she’s desperate for a cup of tea.
And really… aren’t you ready for a taste of starlight?
If this is sounding yummy, you too might be a wee bit witchy.
Come find out. Join me for Witch Camp. Because The Good Witch barely touches on who we can be, if we only let ourselves step slightly left of social norms and societal dictates. But it does show, in all its saccharine sweetness, that our culture is craving a little witchy and wise, and it’s willing to invite it right into its living room.
P. S. Like this? Share it with one witchy friend now!
Image by Travis Betel.
I’ve sat down to write this post seventeen times.
I’ve drunk four cups of tea, texted three friends (including one I haven’t spoken with in a few months), and had a luxurious conversation with my Dad.
And then sat down again.
Eighteen attempts. Go me.
In desperation, I googled each of my favorite bloggers plus the word “resistance.”
I found this on Danielle LaPorte’s blog:
You’ll likely resist. You’ll fear losing it. You’ll numb out in disbelief.
Yeah, that about sums up what’s happened since I sold Sage School… the program where, for the past decade (first live, then online) I’ve taught botanical medicine to home herbalists, nurses, midwives, and even a few M.D.s.
I thought I’d celebrate the sale with dinner out, a bit of prosecco, and an honorary recap of more than a decade of teaching and mentoring students who taught me so very much about myself, the plants, effective communication, and community.
I even had a ceremony planned to help me process and release my own past. Fire and sage—my favorite tools for letting go.
None of that happened.
Instead I made it through the sale and collapsed.
You’ll numb out in disbelief.
I slept in, worked in my pajamas, and extended my “long winter’s rest” from December into January.
This week I announced the sale to Sage School students… and then spent hours not writing this post, resisting the big announcement.
Because telling you makes it real.
I sold Sage School, the work of a decade. Two decades, really.
Sage School integrates everything I learned as a student, practitioner, teacher, and college professor in Botanical Medicine.
And like most big life chapters, there came a point where it felt complete and I was ready to begin new work.
But that doesn’t make it easy.
It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes have guilt for feeling relief.
Sometimes I think of Sage School as a child grown, ready to fly the nest, go to college,
get married, become something other than what I could envision for it.
Other times Sage School is the jilted lover having to step aside for Witch Camp.
I never expected to feel guilt for moving on.
I’m suddenly accosting anyone with a cough, blathering about every herb that might help them, as if trying to prove to the herbs, to myself, that I’m still dancing, still living in communion with them.
‘Cause Witch Camp is still about the plants.
It’s about healing and the cycles of the seasons and the turnings of the moon. In many ways it’s a return to my own beginnings in herbalism, back when I was a Medicine Woman’s apprentice in Ireland.
Here’s the final secret:
Witch Camp is all the things I most resisted back when I was that medicine woman’s apprentice.
There’s that word again.
I needed to focus on the science so I could make herbal medicine “respectable.” I needed it to make sense to my East Coast intellectual family. I needed to feed my brain.
But it was the sense of sacred, of magic, which fed, and still feeds, my soul.
One of the glorious things about modern technology is that Sage School—my love song to medical herbalism—can continue on. A past student, Christine Connors, has stepped up and will be the new owner and director.
Christine’s love of the green world and her training in information technology (kind of like library science but online) puts her in a unique position to run a web-based program. I can’t wait to see what she’ll build on the Sage School foundation. Passing it to Christine feels like the beginning of a lineage: students stepping up to take over the teaching.
So you’ll still be able to study herbalism *with* me through the videos now in Christine’s care. If you want updates on classes, sign up to keep up with all things. Just add your name to the Sage School mailing list and Christine will be in touch.
Two new chapters—hers and mine—start here.
Thoughts? Share below. Questions? Email email@example.com.
We parked in a rut on the side of the road and hiked up a barely-seen track and then across a stile before clambering up a fence line edged with Hawthorn and Elderberry.
This route had become familiar, ‘though I doubt I could find it now, thirteen years later.
The stone circle at the hill’s top was off most maps and worn down like ancient teeth. Walk clockwise to build energy; the stones like that my teacher murmured.
So I set off in a sun-wise direction, moving slowly, trailing fingers over moss and bird droppings to feel the ancient rock beneath. Once, twice… the walking became a meditation. I stopped seeing my teacher, the sun, the the gnarled roots beneath my feet.
For just a few moments I knew the vibrant stillness of stone.
When I finally sat, snugged against rock, messages came. Stories about time and its passing from a perspective so different from human, so much more ancient than tree.
It’s hard to speak of these mysteries in a way that doesn’t create distance and disbelief. So let’s simply say I’d walked myself into a trance state, a place in which the world is more vocal and alive then the place we inhabit daily.
It’s this place which called to me this morning as I contemplated the season’s new-found chill.
I love this time of year: the curling into your core, shaking out sweaters, and rescuing nutmeg from the back of the spice cabinet. I relish the fading light and even the ghosts, the hungry parts of myself and my ancestory, which have not yet found rest.
Healing ancestral wounds is part of our work toward wholeness.
It’s easy to give in to maudlin or angry or even self-righteous as these ghosts rise from their shallow graves.
Instead I sort them gently:
You are new, I say, grown from regret of things not done this year past. And you? (Why this year? I wonder) You are my younger self’s heartbreak over a lost love. And then there’s you, who aches from the misunderstanding of your fragile psyche, who moans as electricity arcs through your brain (“Hello, Grandmother,” I murmur). But you, my friend, you are ancient dust and bone… You’re tangled in my DNA, in pogroms, and genocides, and the feeling of homelessness.
Each year I watch them gather round me. Each year I whisper what do you need?
The answer is always the same: love, honor, respect, to simply be seen, a wake, a funeral, a moment of mourning or week of shiva.
It’s tempting sometimes to give myself over to the ancestral grief locked in my blood. To become ancient rage and hatred, to succumb to nostalgia and regret.
But raging against the grandchildren of Nazis, the great-great-grandchildren of Russian Tzars, or the ten-times great-grandchildren of Spanish Inquisitors won’t heal these wounds.
We are called to honor the past, not to recreate its resonance in the present.
So I gently disentangle the threads, me from not-me. I honor the ghosts but don’t let them inhabit my body or become my being.
On the nights when they’re near I make an offering of tears or whiskey (a remnant of my time studying in Ireland) or squares of chocolate. It’s my way of saying I see you, you are not forgotten. Like laying flowers on a grave.
How do we repair damage in a pre-generational past? How do we weave the threads of ancestry which have been cut or torn? I think of the matrix, the soil, in which our ancestral roots grow. Comfrey which strengthens bones also amends soil. I tuck a bit in my Medicine pouch.
I sat this morning with the stones I keep close (two crystals, one odder looking than the next). I think about time and the quantum loops of past and future. And I think of those ancient standing stones which I still feel supporting me more than a dozen years later.
Perhaps it’s as simple as this: when we lean into the stones and the trees, we remember we’re part of a greater whole which has a different timeline than humanity’s. In the broad sweep of history, we are all ghosts…
What ghosts will you lay to rest? Tell me in the comments below.
This is autumn’s work, this year and every year. This is the work we do together each year in Witch Camp. If you want to join me at Witch Camp online to do the work of honoring and releasing, click here (it’s beautiful work made more beautiful by community).
I forget what it’s like to worry about fitting in. What it’s like to “put my face on” before heading out into the world.
Don’t get me wrong–I know those trying-to-fit-in-and-scared-that-I’m fucking-it-all-up-feelings sooooo well.
As a pudgy, unathletic kid, those feelings stalked me every time Mrs. Kriebel yelled “Run 3 laps!” during fifth grade gym class. Those feelings crept up the stairs with me as I slunk to the library during high school lunch rather than try to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria. And those same feelings surfaced in college, a plastic smile glued to my face and my green suede boots sticking to the gummy floor as I pretended to like beer and care which Sigma Nu pledge was the hottest.
But at some point in my mid-twenties I got tired of being stalked by my fear of social disapproval… especially since coloring within the lines wasn’t actually making me a happy person.
I realized I didn’t want to waste my life hiding my true self or, worse, wishing I was someone else.
… and not actually enjoying the acceptance I was getting for all my fakery.
It was time to come out of the closet.
Over the next decade, I practiced being me. I dated men and, oh-my-gawd, women; I stopped pretending to like piss-water beer; and I walked out in the middle of the dinner rush in solidarity with a server who was being racially targeted by the restaurant management. I lived through the six months when my mom wouldn’t talk to me and the six more months when all we did was cry and fight.
I’m now forever grateful for the strength my mom grew into. She knows I wasn’t going through a phase–I was transitioning from a phase.
I asked her once if she’d visit me if I was jailed for murder.
She was appalled. I don’t know, she stammered.
Mom, I’m your daughter, I said.
But you murdered someone, she protested.
The point is you should know me well enough to know I wouldn’t murder someone without damn good reason. So if I’m in jail I was either falsely convicted or I murdered the person who was about to slaughter a bunch of kids or something.
I put my integrity above my upbringing and decided my internal moral compass trumped social mores… and I insisted that those who loved me saw me fully and didn’t brush the parts they didn’t like under the rug.
It was hard work. But a heck of a lot easier than pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
Common wisdom insists that you are loved just as you are. But let’s be honest (’cause that’s what we do around here):
People in your life often love the you they choose to see or the you they wish you’d be.
Being honest about who you are isn’t about easy. It’s never been about easy. But our society moves forward only if each of us is willing to be real and honest and true. Only if each of us in some small way pushes the needle forward.
We take a stand not only for the integrity of our own spirit, but to make it easier for those who come after. Every time a battered woman leaves an abusive husband, she makes it easier for her daughter to live a life free of abuse. Every time a woman says no to sexism in the work place, she makes that work safer for the women who come after.
Martha Beck, who wrote a very brave book about leaving the Mormon Church, says the magic in sharing her story was that it allowed others to share theirs, it encouraged them to speak up, if only to whisper me too.*
I think about this when I get the inevitable emails from women in Witch Camp wishing I’d change the name.
I know so many women who would join if it weren’t called Witch Camp, the email goes.
I want to tell my friends about this but I can’t because it’s called Witch Camp.
I get these emails from Witch Campers. From women who have already committed but are scared or ashamed of what they’ve done. They’re half in, half out. Wanting, longing, to say yes to the part of themselves which opened up when they saw the word witch. And still scared of being judged by friends and family.
So instead of sharing what the word witch means to them, they hope I’ll change the name.
The funny thing is, these women are in Witch Camp and yet they assume that whatever drew them to join won’t also draw their friends. They think they’re the only ones hiding a witchy side.
And here’s the thing I tell those women:
If I’m not brave enough to use the word witch, then those whispers will be muffled and all those women will feel alone; they’ll never realize what they feel is felt by so many of us.
Maybe you’re not ready to say it yet. That’s okay. We all choose where we want to make our stands, what’s worth fighting for. Just be willing to stand for something because figuring out what that is, what you’re willing to speak to and who you’re willing to speak for, lets you know who you really are.
Write your manifesto so you can begin to make your truths manifest in the world.
Me? I stand with the woman who needs to see beyond cultural norms so she can find herself. I stand with the woman who has been hurt or simply unhelped by our healthcare system and needs an alternative. I stand with the woman who can’t stomach off-the-shelf spirituality and needs to map her own path to the ineffable.
Me? I stand by the woman who is scared but willing to whisper me too.
love, love, love–
* P.S. This blog post was inspired by conversations with my Witch Campers and by an AWESOME podcast with Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton and Linda Siversten, which you can find here.
[sociallocker id=20414] If that was scary for you, congratulations on taking a step toward finding your voice. Listen carefully: someone will be whispering back me too. [/sociallocker]
I’ve been dreaming this for a long time:
Learning the cartography of the power that lives under our skin.
It started with an actual dream: I was the Earth, stretched on my side, my hips and shoulders, hills.
And then there was the story of the Irish healer Miach; when he was killed, 365 herbs sprang from his grave. I’ve always pictured these herbs growing in the shape of a body, each positioned over what it can heal.
When I was in herbal training, I saw it again: the body as a map, it’s powers and it’s healing laid bare of the skin.
If you cannot feel into your own body, and open the channels of your being, you will be forever disconnected from deep wisdom.
It’s time to learn to be embodied energy and open up the channels for intuition so that your spirit can flow.
August Witch Camp. We’ll be working a bit more intensely than usual.
Here’s the schedule:
Week 1: Moving from the Outside In
•In this first week, we will explore the interstitial spaces, those in-between spaces where the outside world comes up against our inside world.
Week 2: The Thinking Self
•In week 2 we will begin to move inward, meeting the brain and it’s thoughts on the body.
Week 3: Mapping the Body-Your Inner Cartography
•In week 3 we will create a body map to give you a way to communicate with you.
Week 4: What Douses the Flame?
•In this week’s work we will find what blocks you and keeps you from stepping into your own power and self trust.
Week 5: Journey to Your Sacred Fire: New Beginnings
•In our final week we will integrate our learning and find the flow within.
This Witch Camp is only open to those who have been through Witch Camp before; you’ll be traveling deeper in the company of your friends and fellow Witch Campers!
Still need to register? Click here.
New to Witch Camp and wanting to join us? We will be doing a camp in November that is open to everyone and I would love to meet you there.
See you at Witch Camp!