A recent "discussion" some friends of mine were in, which I won't go into here brought to light that I don't always use certain words publicly to describe myself. This has led some people who do not know me to outright say that I reject at least one of them. That would be "witch." People who claim that are, to put it as politely as I'm able to (as I pointed one to said FB page and STILL haven't received an apology), full of shit. I do. Note, I use the lower case...it's not a religious title, it does not have the same meaning as Wiccans attribute to it. In no way would it refer to anything anyone would want to make acceptable to the mainstream society, but we'll get to that in a moment. The word ties in totally with other words that I am and/or do, some of which also begin with "w."
The claim of those who wanted me to not use this term because they've decided, in their own little minds, that Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans* never, ever, ever use it, is that it's disrespectful to those in the living culture who do not want it applied to them. Well, I'm NOT applying it to anyone else. I'm applying it to me. I'm doing so for many reasons, some which are more personal than I usually go into. But I want a record, for those who next come across these people making this claim...I am a fucking witch.
Those Big Nose** CRs note that "witch" is used in Gaelic culture (in translation, of course) to refer to a malevolent magic user. This, of course, would fly in the face of those Wiccans and others who are trying to get it "reclaimed" as a nice word, something it never has been. And they are, actually, right, I totally agree. The difference is that while they also want to be acceptable to the mainstream, apparently, I do not. I think that anyone reading this knows I identify my path as that of the Outlaw Warrior Poets, the Fianna and here is our first f-word, being seen as "nice" or "safe" is not part of my agenda.
Now, I am not comfortable using the term "Fianna" for what I am involved in, outright. I would not, that is, I'd not say I belong to the Fianna because that means something particular in modern day Ireland which I'm not a part of (this is not to say whether or not I am supportive, I'll not bring up such things here, simple to say they have a claim to it that I'm not going to bother challenging). I do describe myself as a ban-fhiannaidh on occasion but I think when I do it's usually clear that I've got my tongue planted in my cheek a bit and, like I do with that w-word you're all familiar with here, I feel I'm still and probably always will be in this life time just aspiring to it. Perhaps even more so, as I've never quite mastered the tests noted in the lore and am of an age where it's not likely to happen. I might refer to my path as being of the fiannaiocht, the way of the Fianna, inspired by these tales. I tend to skirt around the term, due to the politics, as I noted.
There are other terms in Gaelic for warrior that relate to the outsiders. Díberg is one, which is a term considered far more odious, meaning a "brigand" for which it might be said that fian was sort of a clean-up although that term was not considered particular seemly and properly Christian by the clerics either. (McCone, West) There is, of course, gaisgeach and it's various forms, which also are found when describing female warriors such as Símha inghen Chorrluirgnig, who is referred to as “…badhb & ban-ghaisgedach do muinntir Ghuill í…” “…witch and warrior-woman in Goll’s retinue….” (Cath Maigh Léna, also Heijda "4.2 Witches") Oh, there we go that other w-word again.
So, back to that, badb in lower case is found throughout the literature to describe somewhat different classes of beings, as opposed to also being the name of a Goddess who is in the sisterhood with An Morrígan and Macha, and sometimes conflated with the former in a complexity which I'll get into in a very long article and a longer book someday, maybe. Heijda discusses all of the variant uses and findings of the word badb, including "witch" throughout the essay listed below and especially in the section "4.2 Witches." That there is this combination of badb probably meaning what we refer to as "witch" and "warrior woman" is, of course, of great interest to me.
We see this sort of combination in various ways, the magic or mystical combined with the warrior woman. Indeed, it's a strong point of the War Goddesses, including Badb (and again, yeah, it's coming someday if it doesn't burst something in my brain first). Scáthach is shown to be a Seer as well as a trainer of warriors. And we have another f-word I use in my practice fàisneachd, prophecy or Sight.
There are other terms which come up for "war witch" that I find interesting but a bit taxing for my limited Old Irish. You see accounts of Goddesses in both the First and Second Battles of Magh Turedh using magic, with a similar but not quite identical term. The term used in the First Battle for Badb, Macha and an Morrígan was bantuathacha which is translated by Fraser as “sorceresses,”(Fraser, pg. 44, para 48) but which is translated by MacAlister LGÉ as “female farmer or landowner." (MacAlister, pg. 122-123, 160-161 regarding Ernmas, see pg. 150-151, 180-181 and 230-231 regarding Be Chuille and Danann --the last is translated as the odd “farmeresses”) In the Second Battle, Be Chuille and Danann offer spells to Lugh's question of what all can provide and are referred to as bantúathaid, which would be properly "sorceresses" or "witches" and specifically malevolent ones. (CMT, Gray's translation para 116-117 , pg. 53-54 in Irish given)
For the actual translations of the words see eDIL for the masculine forms tuathach and túathaid and use the "fuzzy" option as it seems impossible to direct to a translation. While Kondratiev suggests this replacement was a “…misunderstanding of the original word…" (Kondratiev) I wonder if there might have been more to such a change. However, my language skills are not up to such an exploration at this point and right now I sort of just like the idea of witch and farmer being somewhat blurry distinctions. Being that farmer is another f-word I'm aspiring to.
I don't talk about the witchy or mystical stuff much, in fact I actually started a blog post about my mystical practices several months ago. It ended up becoming a rant on why I don't write about "woo" and started to feel pointless and so it was greatly truncated and only mentioned as a part of another post. The experiment of writing about magic, trance work, Seership and all that woo-woo witchy stuff remains worked on offline. I'm not really going into it here. I'm just talking about identity here.
And again, I'm a witch. And a would-be warrior. And a Seer.
Along with this those of you who have been paying attention would realize there is another w-word I use, but am often reluctant at using too much or loudly although I have here a few times now.... werewolf. Again, connected to the Fianna/Outlaw Warriors, usually with the Old Irish f-word fáelad or "wolfing."(McCone, West) When it comes to female werewolves the legal tracks mention confail conrecta "a woman who likes to stray in wolf-shape" (Bitel, pg. 219-220, Carey, pg. 64-68) although whether she might stray with the warbands is not mentioned. But you never know, I mean, they were wandering about too. Wandering outside of society....hmmmmm.....
Just as my definition of "witch" has nothing to do with the way Wiccans or many others in the NeoPagan community use it, my sort of wolfiness has nothing to do with Otherkin or therianthropy communities either. There are many differences, one again being the angst over being "understood" or accepted or what ever which is often a central theme. Or angst in general. I'm not some lost soul born in the wrong body, I'm someone who seeks deeply into myself and the Otherworld to embrace a beast that I can be and I'm the only one who has to embrace it...or can. It's again about seeking that wilderness, about becoming primal in my body and taking a particular form to travel "astrally" and not about seeking an online community. (I have noted before that A Wolf-Man, Not A Wolf In Man's Clothing is the one blogger out there who I can relate to at all on this, although we do vary in many ways as well)
All these things I am were not considered favorable by the ancient Irish societal laws that we know, which were Christian. We have no way of knowing, truly, what the pre-Christians thought of them, but these things were, in fact, considered "other" and, yes, "pagan." These were indeed seen as negative things, but I embrace them and rather than embrace the thinking that shunned them. I have no interest in bringing them out of the wild. In the Brehon laws, none of these things that I am were given honor price nor even sick maintenance. (Kellly, also Bitel, pg. 219-220, Carey, pg. 64-68 specific to female werewolves)
Being outside, being counter-culture, being subversive to a sick society was once embraced by many of us, but sometimes I feel alone. In the '70s, and yes I'm old enough to remember, the word "witch" was adopted by many feminists to equate with a woman who was dangerous to the patriarchy and to the gender status quo. At the time there was even some contention between feminists who never heard of Wicca and the Wiccans who felt they alone owned the term (as some still do), but, of course, some of those women became Wiccan and even developed their own traditions. Many already felt that was giving into a mainstream. I like "witch" for some of the same reasons they did, as well.
There is a power to being outside that I think some forget. The "noble savage" might be a naive trope, but the reality of what that can mean in a real sense about morality is something we might want to consider. It is much like the issue of if we can be "good" if we do not believe in eternal punishment, can we be good if we reject a society's notion of "good" and "evil?" Is what is outside malevolent and dangerous not because it's truly evil, but because it doesn't obey the cultural constricts of what "good" and "evil" mean? Is there not more honor in being good and just when there is no societal reward for it, when, in fact, society may not truly be good or just? Am I stuck in the past because I still believe in this? Fortunately, there are those Occupying the streets of many cities for several weeks now who also are questioning this. So, no maybe not.
I do not fully understand why some who I know embraced these ideas have become so fully invested in placating those who wish to restrain us. But I put this out there so that if anyone has any question as to whether I have changed my status with culture, it is here. I am a witch, I am a would-be Outlaw Warrior Poet, I am wolfish at times, I am a Seer and a mystic. Don't fucking tell anyone any different.
(For more about warrior women in Irish Literature see Once Upon A Time.... and The Warrior who Knew No Art of Wounding for more on my trying to put this shit together see A place where things come together, Weighing things out and Ramblings about Serving the War Goddesses or...)
Lisa Bitel, Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996
John Carey, "Werewolves in Medieval Ireland," Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 44 (Winter 2002)
Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired in Irish Elizabeth Gray, trans. Dublin: Irish Text Society, Cath Maigh Léna for the Irish, Kenneth H. Jackson, ed. Cath Maighe Léna Dublin: 1930 or E. Curry, ed & tr, Cath Mhuighe Léana or The Battle of Mag Léana together with Tochmarc Moméra or the Courtship of Moméra Dublin: 1855
J. Fraser "The First Battle of Moytura." Ériu 8, 1915, English translation
Kim Heijda, “War-goddesses, furies and scald crows: The use of the word badb in early Irish literature” thesis, University of Utrecht, Feb. 27, 2007
Fergus Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies), 2001Alexie Kondratiev, “Danu and Bile: The Primordial Parents?”
RAS MacAlister, ed. and trans., Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland Vol IV. Dublin:Irish Text Society, 1941Kim McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986
Máire West, "Aspects of Díberg in the Tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga," Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (ZcP), Volume 49-50
*They also do not like "Pagan" and all I'll say to that is that yes, I DID initially use "Pagan" and that was the original term "Celtic Reconstructionist PAGAN" because otherwise what the fuck are we reconstructing? "Celtic?" No, we're reconstructing Pagan paths based on the Celtic culture we're called to/come from/whatever. Anything else is as big an insult to the living culture as I can think of. If they do not like the "Pagan" part why the fuck are they using my term at all? And, YES, I was the first...for several years before others who claim to have "founded" it ever used it and even longer before they actually stopped doing Wiccan ritual by their own fucking admission at the time.
"Big Nose Pagan" has long been a term used in place of "Big Name Pagans" especially for those who aren't really that big of name but do like to stick their noses in other people's business.
Copyright © 2011 Kym Lambert
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