This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project.
"Oh, Mandy's a witch."
Even though this is factual, it gets A Look.
"That's cool. I have friends who are Wiccan or whatever."
"I'm not actually Wiccan..."
"What's the difference?"
"They have like... morals."
This is, as near as I can recall (I had had a LOT of gin. Or was it whisky? Whatever, I could barely sit up.) an actual conversation I had some time ago. Perhaps not the most elegant explanation; when sober I'm more likely to go into "Wicca is a religion, and I don't practice it" spiel, but again: booze. Besides, nobody really cares about a witch's religion anyway.
Religion is a boring, personal, serious subject. The only people who want to talk about it in regular conversation are fundamentalists. Normal people hear 'witch' and want to know about magic, and I don't blame them. Magic is empowering, while most people's idea of religion is not. It's mysterious. To quote, "It's fun! It's scary! I mean... who gives a shit?!"
In popular culture, the witch is female* and generally either an evil hag or a beautiful seductress. Yes, there's an acknowledgement that a witch might be a crunchy granola type, but if you ask a kid what a witch looks likes she's going to show you the Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent, or the evil queen in Snow White. Kids grasp the basics: witches are powerful, and witches are scary.
I'm not a huge fan of the 'white magic' bullshit. Not because I want people to shit their pants at the sight of me (that would be awkward) but because I don't believe magic is ever truly 'white' and that the term is used solely to present a group of people as nonthreatening. "We're not dangerous!" it says. Motherfucker, if you're not ever doing anything dangerous then what are you doing that's worth your time, study, and practice?
(This is not to say I endorse blatant stupidity, but come on. No risk, no reward.)
Witches are transgressors. They live and work between worlds. They are ridiculed, reviled, and revered in equal measure. That's just what you sign up for if you use the word, sorry. Ridiculed because what you do is insanity - really, you think you can predict the future? Talk to spirits? Yeah, babe, hold onto your crystals. OOooOOOoooh! Reviled because even now, almost in the year 2014, people believe you're the devil's concubine. Bride of Satan. Tempting people into sin, because you clearly have no other hobbies. Even older witches were traditionally often considered inappropriately sexual, always after a piece of that sweet, sweet Devil Dong. And if they weren't nailing Satan, they were dried up vessels of pure evil.
This post has skewed toward people who identify as female, and that's not gonna change with this paragraph I'm afraid; for a woman, being a rebel is powerful. You'll still be labelled a whore for doing anything that crosses the increasingly weird line of mainstream-approved sexuality, but at least you might terrify some people with your evil spiderwoman vagina in the process. You don't have to play by the rules.
As for being revered, when shit happens, and when nobody else seems to offer help, you're there. People will come to you for help. Whether or not you can help them depends on their expectations and your skill level, but rest assured that if people know you are a witch eventually you'll get a call for assistance. The people who come to you may never admit in daylight that they did, of course, but you knew that already, didn't you?
So. The witch is a sexual, possibly evil rebel with dangerous powers.
I'll take it.
* - This is not to say that male occultists are not scary badass weirdos. They certainly are. But men tend to be thought of as magicians, which while eccentric have always been a touch more legitimized depending on who was in charge. John Dee had a pretty good run, but you never heard of "the court witch."