Definition of a Witch

The word witch has many meanings in the United States, some good and some bad. The historic usage as a slur for people who practice earth-based religions or anyone practicing herbal medicine or midwifery, has resulted in unfortunate misunderstandings and excuses for senseless violence. For more information about the Pagan community and it’s use of the term ‘Witch’ see: Witches’ Vox, Starhawk, and History of Witch Burnings.

The following quote describes a very specific cultural perspective based on a definition that falls under the ‘bad witch’ category. It is not a reference to modern Paganism or the US history of witch burnings. It’s also a quote from a novel – only members of the Navajo nation could say, definitely, how accurate this information really is.

I went back and forth on these quotes and ultimately decided to post them because they are a wonderful example of the style used by this author and an excellent segment of descriptive color in a work of fiction. Also, I do not see anything racially or culturally offensive in the quote.

If there are problems in the presentation of the Navajo culture or additional issues surrounding the use of the word witch, then they are valid concerns and worthy of further discussion. If I am blind to a problem, I invite you to open my eyes. Feel free to add comments accordingly.

Quotes:

“And finally Chee had accumulated a general impression of Windy Tsossie. It was a negative impression. His kinsmen and his clansmen, when they admitted remembering him at all, remembered him without fondness or respect. They talked of him reluctantly, vaguely, uneasily. No one put it in words. Since Chee was Navajo, no one needed to. Windy Tsossie did not “go in beauty.” Windy Tsossie was not a good man. He did not follow those rules which Changing Woman had given the People. In a word, Windy Tsossie was believed by his kinsmen to be a witch.”

“To become a witch, to cross over from Navajo to Navajo Wolf, you have to break at least one of the most serious taboos. You have to commit incest, or you have to kill a close relative. But there’s another story, very old, pretty much lost, which explains how First Man became a witch. Because he was first, he didn’t have relatives to destroy. So he figured out a magic way to violate the strongest taboo of all. He destroyed himself and recreated himself, and that’s the way he got the powers of evil.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

One thought on “Definition of a Witch

  1. This is an example of the power of specific words, and I am not aware of any other word that would work nearly as well in this context. All the same, I am an eclectic neopagan. I am more aware than most of the dangerous misunderstandings that different connotations of this and other words can carry.

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