What is a witch? A roundtable

Everywhere I look right now, I see the word ‘witch’.

These references come in all kinds of contexts: Religious witches in the tarot community sharing their practice. Black girl magic, bruja magic, wicca, folklore, gods and goddesses, superstition, spells and herbalism from so many cultures. Witchy ‘lookbooks’ on high-end websites. Feminists, queers and activists reclaiming the identity of the persecuted outcast and the edgewalker. Newcomers finding something of themselves resonating with rituals and altars and the language of magick.

The list goes on. Witches are everywhere.

So…what is a witch? What does it mean to claim this identity?

Obviously, there’s no one answer to this question. There are as many ways to be a witch as there are ways to be a person – that is to say, an infinite number. It’s a topic worth exploring, so I spoke to three women who identify with the word ‘witch’, to find out more about what that word means to them, and how it looks in practice.

Not only was it fascinating to read about the diverse ways these witches practice, but also to notice the commonalities in their stories, too. Themes of ancestry and lineage, altar work, candle magic and most interestingly, the urge to forge personal paths which may diverge from tradition came through in all stories (and in others I’ve had recently which are not shared below).

I love how these small windows into three different women’s practices illustrate the diversity within the witch community, but also the threads that connect magical folks from different roots.

Are you a witch? What does your identity mean to you, in theory and in practice? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Bri Luna, The Hoodwitch

“What is a witch?”

You know whenever I’m asked this question I laugh a bit because I know that there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer to this question. However, being a witch means more to me than just spells and candles. To me, it means freedom. The power to embrace nature boldly and unapologetically, to heal yourself and your community. We respect the seen and unseen realms. It is truly the freedom to be your most authentic self.
To embrace ALL aspects of whoever that may be, and fiercely that is a Witch.

I was born into a family of powerful women. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were healers and what many would call “brujas”, one is Mexican and the other is a very Southern black woman. Magic, is in my blood. As a child, I dismissed some of their practices as being “old fashioned”, or superstitious. As I learned more about these practices over the years, I began to tap into their wisdom, and I realized that the practices of my grandmothers were truly gifts from our ancestors.

From as far as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to the things that most would consider magical or mysterious. My earliest childhood memories are of holding stones and crystal filled geodes, watching my grandmother use fresh herbs from her garden, or filling up glasses of water for her boveda, sprinkling brick dust for protection around her home. I mean, these were very common things seen around the home. They both worked with herbs for cleansing, and of course candles. Growing up in Los Angeles, CA I loved seeing all of the colorful candles and religious imagery in the botanica windows of south Central. The smell of agua de florida is nostalgic for me and comforting. I’ve always felt the most comfortable in environments around people who also embraced the unseen and the mysteries of life.

Being a very sensitive child, I had an inner knowing and FEELING that something else existed beyond our physical senses. As a teen, I began to really study books on witchcraft & traditions from around the world. I loved the tarot, and I was quite rebellious. I didn’t like the idea of organized religion or following on a more traditional path like some of my family and friends. However, as an adult, I see the appeal in more traditional practices, there is structure and a great sense of community and wisdom. I don’t criticize anyone who chooses to go down a more traditional path but I prefer the unconventional. I enjoy applying that which I deemed “old fashioned” as a child, for our world today. I’ve also learned from practitioners and healers from an array of paths. I feel that certain practices just resonate with us, and those are the ones we should keep.

I create and share rituals based on lunar phases i.e The new and full moon rituals for my business’s website (thehoodwitch.com). I also share rituals and articles around the changing cycles of the seasons, and for special occasions like birth and death. Mostly, I create from intuition, from the minerals or the herbs that I work with. I’ve learned to trust myself fully when it comes to magic, and that is what I hoped to help inspire within others, it is my driving force for my business, The Hoodwitch. In the last three years we have grown immensely. It started with just me, and now I have an amazing team of witches. We have astrologers, healers, and tarot readers that contribute to the site. They each bring something special, we all come from different paths and practices. While I am a solitary witch, I enjoy community building and really creating meaningful rituals. I am grateful every day for the ability to share my magic, passion, culture, and creativity with the rest of the world, and to those who are receptive. I’m always Grateful for my ancestors, and guides who continually encourage and empower me to be the best that I can, To keep going, and inspiring others to find their voice, vision, and path.

Find Bri Luna at her website: The Hoodwitch


Thorn Mooney, Wiccan

Hi!  I’m Thorn, and I’m Wiccan. 

I sometimes hesitate to announce that in magical spaces, because Wicca seems to be getting kind of a bad rap lately.  We had our heyday at the end of the 20th century, and now that so many other kinds of Craft are openly available, I hear a lot of talk about Wicca being like “training wheels” for new witches, or that we’re all about cultural appropriation, gender binaries, or a head-in-the-sand emphasis on “love and light” at the expense of real substance.  Wicca is “witchcraft with no teeth,” I hear.  I say that I’m Wiccan, and increasingly I seem to get written off.  People think they already know what I’m about.

There’s plenty of precedence to justify that, of course.  For so long, when contemporary Pagans and magicians would talk about “witchcraft,” they meant “Wicca,” and other kinds of practitioners would essentially be erased.  And – let’s be real – early forms of Wicca had plenty of problems that needed to be tackled by thoughtful, socially conscious, theologically engaged practitioners (my first copy of Gardner’s The Meaning of Witchcraft has mashed corners from being thrown across the room more than once).  I think that’s happening, and I’m proud to be a part of it.  And thanks to the publication of lots of new books and the growth of the Internet, more of us have a better handle on the reality of things: witchcraft is a big, varied category that means different things to different people.  That’s fantastic!  But somewhere along the line we forgot that Wicca is, too!  People think they know what my Craft looks like, but they’re usually pretty off-base.

So hi!  I’m Thorn, and I’m Wiccan.  Specifically, I’m Thorn of the Wica. I’m a Gardnerian priestess, and I run a traditional coven in the American South.

The solitary, eclectic Wicca that so many of us first encountered when we began exploring witchcraft is actually a relatively recent development in Wiccan history.  In the 1950’s through 1970’s, most Wiccans practiced in secretive, initiatory covens that could trace their lineage to Gerald Gardner and one of his high priestesses.  The names of the gods were secret, the specific rites were secret, and part of what it meant to be “of the Wica” was belonging to a community of witches united by a shared history and praxis.  Other kinds of Wicca came to the forefront in the 1990’s, but traditional Wicca never went away.  I’ve made a sacred commitment to preserving those traditional ways for new generations of Wiccans.  That’s a cornerstone of my witchcraft.

For me, being a Gardnerian means being part of a family.  I have my own solitary practice, my own way of serving our gods and practicing magic, but I also have a close network of other witches who I know can relate directly to these very personal experiences.  Lineage isn’t just about being able to say you’re related to so-and-so; it’s a magical current that members can tap into to aid their own Work.  It means a constantly growing body of oral lore and a kind of ritual power that is unique to group practice.

My experience has been that a lot of people think being a traditional Wiccan entails getting bossed around, sacrificing your individuality, and then parading around like you’re better than Wiccans who aren’t initiated into traditional covens.  That’s not how we roll in my family.  Gardnerian Wicca provides us with a framework and a series of effective techniques – what I think of as a toolbox – but I still get to grow and explore as I feel called.  My own high priestess always expected and encouraged me to pursue a path that was uniquely mine.  She’d say, “I don’t make witches.  You come in as a witch.  What I do is make priests and priestesses of this tradition.”  I made a commitment to our gods and our traditions because they felt like home to me, not because anyone made me.  And I certainly don’t believe that makes me better than other kinds of witches.  Our way isn’t for everyone, and it never has been.  That’s okay.  As for the secrecy, well, that’s about magical power and the sacredness of oathmaking.  Not elitism.  Silence has long been an occult virtue because of the power it generates.  Snobbery is a choice that some people make, but it’s optional.

I was drawn to traditional Wicca from the beginning.  I loved the old black-and-white pictures of early high priestesses.  I loved the idea of being part of a magical order.  I loved that I could practice something that had crossed generations or witches.  I practice this way because it works, and because these are the gods that call me.

Hi.  I’m Thorn, and I’m Wiccan.

Find Thorn at her blog: Thorn the Witch. She also writes about tarot at The Tarot Skeptic.


Mey Rude, Writer and Bruja

My practice is heavily influenced by my Mexican ancestors. I have relatives who can talk to ghosts, others who can predict pregnancies and a family full of Mexican women who have been taking care of their children and communities for generations.

In my practices I connect to them and to the faith and beliefs that they had long before I was born. I pray to Santa Muerte and La Virgen and give them offerings, I light candles and put spells in them. I build shrines using memories and crystals and symbols of the divine Brown Femininity that I worship and that my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother and so on have passed on through each other. Becoming a witch has helped me connect with the women in my family in a way that I never would have been able to any other way.

I call myself a bruja, a Mexican witch, as a way to honor my heritage but also queer it. I take tools and prayers and traditions from Mexican folk Catholicism, and I queer them, I focus on the femininity, I worship Santa Muerte, the holy death who sees us all as equal because no matter if you’re an altar boy, if you’re gay, if you’re trans, if you’re a sex worker or a criminal or a priest, we all die. I ask her for protection for my loved ones and for justice on those who want to harm my loved ones. I give her offerings at her altar (she seems to love peanut m’n’ms). I say my spells three times in a nod to the trinity. I do spells using candles with La Virgen and the saints on them and others using spells with pop stars like Beyonce or Carly Rae Jepsen on them. I combine these practices that I learned from my family with new things I’ve learned, like using crystals and tinctures I get from friends.

One of the simplest spells I do is carry a small image of La Virgen with me everywhere I go, and when I’m especially nervous, I hold onto it, reminding me that she’s the Queen of the Americas and that she’s always watching over me and that she loves me.

Read Mey’s writing on Autostraddle (including her awesome and eclectic Witch Hunt column!)


Are you a witch? What does your identity mean to you, in theory and in practice? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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