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I sat up for about a half an hour to an hour looking for an image of a witch to put up on this damn post. And that was almost as daunting as the subject matter I am going to write about. When I typed in “witch”, there were pages upon pages of women dressed in ugly, long nosed, masks or with green paint on their skins. It seems that in the 21st century we still have an image to shake. And it sucks because I like the Wizard of Oz books.
It seems for any positive thing to appear on a practitioner of magic, I had to use other words. At first I was going to go with an image of a Medicine Man or Woman. But many fellow natives will be offended by the term witch as much as white people are. Yay! Colonialism! Yay Christian Brainwashing! I’m sorry. I guess the pisces moon started out with nice emotions last night.
And today I went back to being a Cuban asshole. I typed in the word Osainista instead. It basically means Osainist or follower of Osain, the Orisha of herbs and nature. He teaches his followers how to do magic with plants. Which includes healing medicines.
That’s where I found this image. I try not to be overbearing. This is a character flaw that I struggle with. I can come off as extremely egotistical. Maybe I am.
I try not to get into long winded debates any more because in the end people will believe what they want to believe. And I’ll be the annoying prick in the corner no one wants to drink with (okay, I don’t drink, but still). Every once in a while I come across something. Something that demands a moral position. Something that would make me feel like a coward if I don’t voice the issue.
So at the risk of alienating other people, I try to say what’s on my mind. As politely as possible. It doesn’t always work though. Such a thing happened earlier this morning. It was on Good Reads.
For those who don’t know, this is like a facebook for book readers, writers, and authors. You get to follow your favorite authors (sometimes even if they’re 100’s of years old). People also buy and sell books on there. This includes everything from text books to novels. A friend in New York introduced me to the site.
I was looking up a book I have wanted to read for two years now : Bless Me Ultima. It’s an amazing book about an elderly Mexican shaman woman named Ultima. She teaches a young boy as her apprentice and shows him some of her magic. I saw the movie, but I still want to read the book. As I have heard the book is even better.
Now the main conflict in the book, is that the Curandera (Spanish : Curer or Healer) is battling three evil sisters who are “witches”. In many cultures, the word witch is used for a satanist or at least a practitioner of black magic. That’s why English wizards and witches began calling themselves “Cunning Folk”. Instead of witch or wizard. It’s why Native Americans often view that word in a negative light. Associated instead with evil spirits and black magic.
And a person in a book review sort of echoed those same negative sentiments toward the term witch. So I went into a long winded post that I swore I would never make again. Explaining that No, we’re not all evil assholes that lure children into gingerbread houses.
I’m going to say something that will probably piss off a lot of people anyway. Curanderismo is in fact Witchcraft. Any magical practice is witchcraft. I wasn’t going to say anything, but too many people accept the Christian dogma that witchcraft is “evil”.
The fact is, many witches stopped calling themselves witches, because Christians label everything under the sun as “satanism”. Witchcraft is the science, philosophy, and art of working with energy. And most energy has positive and negative components. This doesn’t make one type of witchery good or the other evil. Witch translates as “wise” a person wise to the spiritual world.
Can you imagine someone stealing the word “curandero” and using it to define something that is evil or selfish? That would be crazy right? And yet witch, which is a term for a wise man or wise woman is used as a label for anyone that practices black magic. And this kind of demonization of our practices comes from the Burning Times. Who many witches believe never really went away.
Moreover, Curanderos can and do use negative magic if they believe it will benefit the people they are trying to protect. Because it depends on the context. To the other person being hexed for whatever evil thing they did, there is very little difference between a Curandero and any other type of enemy witch.
In Puerto Rico, a lot of Sanse Brujos won’t do return to sender rituals (like what Ultima is doing in the book) because they believe it will propagate an endless cycle of violence between witches. That’s why they have the saying
“Un brujo no puede comer otro brujo”.
(A witch can’t eat another witch).
Regardless of whether a return to sender is justified or not. I keep seeing people put down the old ways unintentionally or define things through a Christianized, European lens. I have seen some Curanderos speak of the term witch with such disgust as if that’s a Satanist or some other black magician. But it’s a dogma forced on our people’s across Latin America by Christian conquerors. By people who thought they were doing Indigenous and African peoples a “favor” by conquering them.
Remember that is where the root of this anti witch sentiment comes from : Colonialism. If someone speaks like that about witchcraft in my presence, I would definitely be offended. And no matter the context they were using. That’s why I use terms like “black witch” “enemy witch” or things in other cultures. To the English and Wiccans, a warlock is a black magic user.
In Haiti bokor is the term for an evil practitioner and so fourth. I write this with the hope that other people will read this and understand the history, and the context. Too many times, we see in movies, books, and shows these old tropes being used. About the good witch and the bad witch. And granted yes there are witches who only practice positive magic and others who specialize in negative magic.
But good and evil are points of view. For instance, I’m sure many of you reading this, associate using magic dolls and putting needles through them with evil right? What if I told you about Witch Doctors or Witch Masters. These are Christian Magicians from the Appalachian Mountains. They are basically magical witch hunters. They battle evil witches.
In Appalachian culture, witches and pagans are all “satanists”. So magic users in that culture who practice positive magic are called doctors. Christian witch doctors will make wooden dolls that they stab with needles to curse a witch. They do this to hurt them in order to prevent them from casting their evil spells on their victims. And how about all those white witches who are trendy and have lots of wealthy clients? Their clients ask for good luck and good energy.
Here’s the problem though, their clients are scum. Their clients are wealthy Jeff Bezos who use magic to get wealthier while their workers starve. Or worse, they could even be rapists and they need the extra mojo to stay out of jail. You see what I’m getting at here? The magic itself is not good or evil. How it’s used determines that.
A fellow blogger on here (Neptune’s Dolphin) once said we needed to break free from the Christian paradigm. That bad habit of defining everything in black and white. Just good or just evil. Now I do believe there is real good and real evil. I do believe in malevolent Gods and spirits.
I do believe in black witches. And yes, I do believe in certain magical practices that are entirely or mostly malevolent. But even these things can be salvaged. For instance, in Ancient Sumer, some demons were beneficial and useful. Like Pazuzu, who frightens away other demons.
He protected the ancient Sumerians from every type of evil spirit there was. The Obeah practice of stealing someone’s Sasa or shadow (for death magic), was used by one Obeah man in his book, to actually heal a person. The magic us used to suspend a person, for the practitioner to heal them and remove damage. Even things as view as negative, can have beneficial uses for people. And similarly, positive energies could be used in a negative way.
Such things have to be carefully defined. Using proper context and with the awareness that we need to be careful of the colonial mindset that these biases came from. Unfortunately, many witches like Curanderos, have fallen into that trap. They view witchcraft as evil and what they practice as “different”. As other.
To me this is being a self hating witch. This is trying to get acceptance from people who hate us. So what’s the point of being open about your magic or your mysticism then? You might as well just stay in the Broom Closet. It would be less hypocritical, and it wouldn’t turn our image back by a thousand years in the public eye. Who knows? Maybe some day, we can type in witch on a search engine and find a less ridiculous depiction than a green skinned lady.