Witches and the media
Interviews and reinforcing inherent bias
During a recent interview on the ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ with Kate Turkington – my second interview with her – on 702 (Believe it or not) on Sunday evening (2 April 2012), Kate asked with respect to my religious affiliation as a Witch, “What do you do”?
I said religious affiliation, not occupation. I was being asked about my beliefs, not my chosen designation as a human rights activist.
It’s an odd question to ask a person when discussing their religion unless referring specifically to religious and ritual actions of faith. If you don’t know what the person believes, how would knowledge of what he does (in a general sense) give you any understanding of what he believes, unless there is already some assumption of what those beliefs are or are not?
Making such assumption is permissible if you’re interviewing someone affiliating with a well-known religion, but still, unless the question is targeted at a particular action being undertaken by that person as a result of such an affiliation, the question only has one answer… “What do I do when, where, about what?”
But when the assumption is made about witches generally, especially in South Africa, the question arrives loaded with prejudicial bias and innuendo… most people listening to the interview will expect to hear something that confirms what they think they already know about witchcraft and witches. In this country, such “common knowledge” often motivates accusations and violence.
The onus then is unwittingly, or knowingly, placed on the Witch being interviewed to provide evidence of ‘doing something good’ with their time, because everyone knows (sniff sniff) that ‘witches do bad things’.
On the contrary, Witches are not morally or spiritually bankrupt. Witches will tell you that they believe in a great many mundane and spiritual (supernatural) things. Witchcraft is a belief-system, not the absence of belief; a religion to many who choose to identify using the word, not a set of criminal actions with evil intentions.
Every interview with a Witch, perhaps with the exception of one conducted by a Witch, will navigate uncomfortably between diametrically opposed concepts; accusation versus identity. Prejudicial listeners will seek to doubt the integrity of identity, and Witches will find it difficult to reaffirm their identity without first having to challenge stereotypical accusations that have formed and evolved over centuries. At least a third of every such interview will leave the listening audience little to nothing new to chew on.
Of course, a good interviewer might choose to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes by not repeating certain listeners’ inquisitorial probes in favour of more rational questions that give opportunity to affirming identity over accusation. After all, I am neither on trial nor a criminal and I have nothing to answer for or justify to 702 patrons.
“Why do you call yourself ‘a Witch’? Why not choose another word with which to identify”?
Surely the answer is already implied in the question itself? The right to identity, to voluntarily choose a term or terms with which to identify who and what one is, is a fundamental human right. The right to identity is not dependent on the pre-approval of others.
This question is however filtered with scepticism and incredulity when asked by those with bias against us because witches remain a largely stereotypical fantasy in the minds of many. Why, given overwhelming and hostile discrimination against the stereotype, would anyone choose to identify as a two-dimensional scapegoat? The underlying accusation here is that a person claiming to be a witch is fraudulently claiming to possess supernatural powers to bring harm to others – the classical stereotype of ‘the witch’.
Actual Witches make no such claim! Witches, like Baptists, Sufis and Shivaites, are equally constrained by clearly identified, immutable natural laws that simply make the supernatural accusations often levelled against us laughable.
Our own pragmatic assessment of our skills and learned abilities inform the essential focus of the highly personal spiritual path Witches take in our search for deeper religious meaning and spiritual fulfilment.
“Do you perform magical spells”?
Magic as spell-casting is nothing more or less than a means to shift consciousness. My broom does not fly, but I might view it as a medievally-inspired material symbol for a wholly spiritual occupation – the trance-flight of the spirit in its quest for expanding spiritual understanding and awareness.
Magic, as an identified set of ritual actions, may indeed be employed to strengthen, focus and empower the individual and group spirit-mind. The metaphysical mechanics of such practices act directly on the consciousness of the person employing them. They are however no different to any other form of religiously inspired activity – prayer, meditation, fasting… none acting outside the boundary of natural law, and all impacting locally on the psyche of the practitioner, irrespective of religious affiliation.
To assume, with regard to the spiritual activities of Witches, some nefarious and criminally inspired subversion of the natural order, remains preposterously prejudicial.
“Do you believe in a higher power or God”?
A sincere question when the person asking it seeks to understand how Witches view their relationship to the world in which they live? The answer depends entirely on the individual. Some Witches do believe in the existence of and worship or venerate pre-Judaeo-Christian Gods and Goddesses. Those who are not professed agnostics might instead believe that Nature is divine – God or/and Goddess. Others do not believe in the existence of Gods or Goddesses, preferring to believe that everything in the world around them is permeated by consciousness, intelligence and force. As a Witch, my beliefs fall into the two latter categories – I would properly describe myself as an animist and a pantheist. This makes me neither irreligious nor an atheist.
If, after reading this, you remain convinced that Witches are incapable of goodness simply because they ARE Witches, nothing I or anyone says will convince you otherwise. But if you’re a non-Pagan interviewer planning to interview any Witches in the near future, please try to exceed any inherent bias you might personally hold against the subject of Witchcraft, with a rational pursuit for actual knowledge in the interest of ethical journalism. The truth will liberate you.