I sat down on my sofa with my laptop fully expecting to open my email and be greeted by messages from a course I’m taking. I figured it would probably be something along the lines of a writing prompt – and I love writing prompts. It gives me a chance to think about something different for a while and focus on the act of getting words out of my head and onto the screen. It helps my creativity blossom.
But such was not to be the case.
Instead, I was greeted by a message that said, “There’s no such thing as a Shaman-Witch. If you care to elaborate, please do.”
So rather than get my panties in a bunch and become all haphazardly defensive (which is sometimes the case for me), I thought: blog post!
A Shaman and a Witch are very similar in what they do to accomplish certain results. Your mileage may vary, and you may or may not agree, but this is how I define the term Shaman-Witch. First, we have to break it down into it’s components. (By the way, I’m the official Shaman-Witch that started calling myself this term way back in 2000. So accept no imitations!)
The word shaman is a word we know primarily from Tungus, which is a language of Eastern Siberia and Manchuria spoken by Tungusic peoples.1 It may be a word that came to the English language via the Russian sha’man or the German schamane. The word shaman apparently appeared in the English language in the 1690’s, and means, “
This is why I call myself a Shaman – I am able to “walk between the worlds.” Some people consider this to be the same as “astral travel” or “astral projecting.” Generally, I do not consider this the case. The astral body is an energetic body that is part of the human spiritual anatomy, but it is not the same as one’s spirit-being. This isn’t something that can happen through the use of mental imagery. If you study anthropological sources who have worked with actual Shamans from various cultures, the most common theme is the movement between inner/higher and current realities via rhythm, dancing, and singing, not “guided meditations.” While it is certainly possible to use guided meditation – or independent, non-guided meditation – to separate one’s spirit from the body, more often than not, the modern, average human being is just visualizing – even if those visualizations are seemingly spontaneous. “Walking between the worlds,” is literal separation of the spirit from the body that results in a full sensory experience of the Otherworld.
Incidentally, I also use magic to improve the probability of healing ailments, foretelling the future and controlling spiritual forces. All of these are activities performed by a shaman.
The word witch is a term of controversy, but the controversy is cyclical – it comes and goes as new peeps come on the scene and then their love of argument wanes as they mature. We’ve already reclaimed the word “witch” to be a positive, life-affirming label for many of us – the modern meaning is just too obvious to worry about the origins or the “original meaning.” The meaning is one who practices witchcraft. According to Etymonline.com, there is an Anglo-Saxon poem called “Men’s Crafts,” which uses the word wiccræft. If we take this to be the same word, or a root thereof, then by its context the word means “skill with horses.” And that makes sense, considering that some Traditional Craft practices are given the name, “Horsemanry,” in the British Isles.3
Regardless of the origins of the word “witch,” when we look at something witches have been portrayed to do regularly throughout history – hex – we see a new theory emerging. The term hex comes from the German hexe, which means, “Hedgerider, soul on the fence.”4 But what does that mean?
The answer is in what the hedge is to our ancestors. The hedge was (and still is) a boundary. It separates the house of the witch (and often an entire village community) from the outside wilderness. It’s (as in the German origins of the word hex) a “fence.” To move from this side of the fence to the other side of the fence and back again, safely, with useful tidbits of information – this is riding the hedge, crossing the hedge, walking between the worlds. To successfully rend the veil and cross the boundary between this world and the Otherworld. This is what a witch does.
And, as noted above, it is also what a Shaman does.
So why do I use both terms and hyphenate them? Isn’t this redundant?
Why I Am A Shaman-Witch
Mostly cultural influence. Contrary to popular belief, the indigenous Tribal people of North America, did not call their spiritual leaders, “Shamans.”5 They were simply called Medicine Man or Spiritual Leader, and more often than not, they were actually men. In some cases, they were even Two Spirits (gay people). These days, there are New Agers who call themselves “Shaman,” and do it because the term has become associated with indigenous Tribal culture spiritual leaders. It’s sometimes considered a crappy thing to do, but because of the similarities between the Tungusic Shamans and the North American indigenous tribal spiritual leaders and their activities, I have no better word to define my personal practices.
So why not just use witch, since both types of individuals cross the hedge or visit the Otherworld? Because of the aforementioned confusion over the word witch. Far too many people just argue about the origins, rather than just realizing that what the word means now isn’t what it meant centuries ago. The fact that language evolves with the people that use it to communicate is a given. It’s just a scientific fact of life and nature.
Often, when asked what “Shaman-Witch,” means, I simply say: I’m a Shaman because I live in two worlds: this physical one, and the Dreamtime; I’m a Witch because I use Craft tools and techniques to do it, and it’s from the very Spirits with whom I cavort that I’ve learned these tools, and techniques.”
I suppose that email was a writing prompt, after all. Speaking of writing, keep up with my latest stuff by joining the Biweekly Witchery email newsletter.
Aim for the stars & remember your roots!
- Tungusic Languages. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tungusic_languages (accessed March 3, 2016).
- shaman. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/shaman (accessed: March 10, 2016).
- witch. Etymonline.com http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=witch (accessed March 10, 2016).
- DeVries, Eric. Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld. Sunland: Pendraig Publishing, 2008.
- Unknown. “Indian Medicine Men, Spiritual Leaders, Priests and Shamans.” Medicine Men. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.aaanativearts.com/medicine_men.htm.