Third Wave Witch: Feminist Spirituality, Spiritual Feminism
Third Wave Witchcraft explores the intersection of feminism, Witchcraft, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist activism. A place to explore how to make our spirituality more feminist, our feminism more spiritual, and our world more just.
Welcome to Third Wave Witch!
Admittedly, most of the time, when someone refers to me as a feminist, the word they follow it up with is not “Witch” (though the word they choose does rhyme with Witch). In fact, I find that people are somewhat confused when I refer to myself as a “Feminist Witch.” This confusion is probably best summed up in the question I got from a young woman in a college class I had been speaking to about Witchcraft and Paganism. Her voice full of sincerity and clear perplexity, she asked, “So you're a feminist? What's the difference between you and a man-hater?”
Well then. I guess that's better than the “What's the difference between you and a Satanist?” bit I usually get at these public lectures, I thought to myself. Then I took a deep breath and gave her my standard answer: “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people. Feminism is the idea that there is no such thing as a lesser person, and that all people deserve dignity and equality, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or anything else.”
She didn't look convinced.
I've had versions of that conversation off and on over the twenty-mumble years I've been doing public education about Witchcraft and Paganism. It's an interesting experience to stand up in public and claim not one but two misunderstood identities – that of a Witch and that of a feminist. Add in the fact that I'm doing much of this work in the Bible Belt South, and things get interesting real quick. But perhaps the strangest thing I've found over the years is that my Witch identity has become less and less controversial, while my feminist identity remains a point of contention and confusion for my audience. As people become more familiar with Paganism, thanks in large part to the Internet and the fact that it's far from unusual (even in Texas) to have a friend or family member who practices, I find a lot less fear and hostility expressed towards Pagans.
Towards feminists, not so much.
What do I mean by feminism? As I said to the young woman in that classroom, feminism is the radical idea that women are people. Feminism is the idea that there is no such thing as a lesser person, that all people deserve equality and dignity regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or any other status. That being said, trying to define feminism is sometimes something like nailing Jello to a wall: There are many different strands of feminism, and the meaning of the word has changed over its history. My life, my politics, and my Craft have all been heavily influenced by Third Wave Feminism – a thread of feminism which emerged in the early 1990s, which sought to move beyond a definition of the term as solely applying to women's struggles for equality and instead sought to forge a larger social movement for equality. Third Wave Feminism – from where the name of this blog, Third Wave Witch, comes – is heavily influenced by 1960s and 1970s-era Second Wave Feminism which birthed the first generation of modern Goddess Spirituality and Feminist Witchcraft, marked by such luminaries as Z. Budapest and Diane Stein, and out of which our beloved Sagewoman emerged. Third Wave Feminism built upon the important work of Second Wave Feminism and its struggles for legal access to contraception and abortion, to end sexual and domestic violence, to help ensure equal pay for women (a struggle that continues), to create women's spaces and women's culture (of which Goddess Spirituality was and is a huge part), and to generally challenge gender discrimination in all areas.
Third Wave Feminism builds on these struggles and achievements by recognizing that while gender is important, our experiences are influenced by everything we are: our race, our ethnicity, our dis/ability, our sexuality, our class, and more. Oppression doesn't just happen across one dimension, and it doesn't impact every person the same way. Just calling for women's equality does not address the fundamental inequities that exist in society, though gender oppression is certainly an important social evil to fight. For Third Wave Feminists, all struggles for equality are linked, and people of any gender can be allies in the fight against oppression.
So what is Feminist Witchcraft, anyway? What does it mean to be a Feminist Witch? I can only answer that as it applies to the way I understand, live, and practice both those terms – feminism and Witchcraft. Fundamentally, for me being a Feminist Witch means that my spiritual practices are intimately tied up with my politics, are an extension of my activism around issues of discrimination, violence, and inequality. Being a Feminist Witch means boldly declaring that women have the Sacred in us – that all people have the Sacred in them – and claiming the right to be seen as Sacred, as Divine, as no longer less than. It means recognizing that spiritual practice and political struggle are tied up together, that spiritual tools can be used to fight political battles and that every act of spirituality is also a political act.
For me, this takes a couple of specific forms. First, I work exclusively with Goddesses in my personal practice. This is not because I think that male forms of Divinity are somehow inferior or less worthy of veneration. When I participate in circles where Gods are invoked, I don't run screaming about the patriarchy. Rather, I believe that women claiming their sacredness is a profound spiritual act – that all people have the right to commune with and confront a Divine who looks like them. For women, who in Western culture have been told they are not reflections of Divinity and have had their oppression justified with that same assertion, claiming a Feminine Divine is a profoundly powerful and healing act. When I began to work with Goddess energy and to explore manifestations of Goddess across culture and time, I began to truly heal some of the damage patriarchal, homophobic, and sexist culture had inflicted on me. It is incredibly important to me to continue to reclaim my own sacredness, and one way that I do this is by surrounding myself with Goddess imagery.
I also work at least some of the time in women-only circles. This sometimes means women-born-women only, and sometimes includes anyone who identifies and lives as a woman. I usually leave that distinction up to the person hosting the ritual, though in my own work I tend to be trans* inclusive since to do otherwise would contradict my Third Wave politics. That said, I recognize that growing up and being socialized as girls and women in this society has profound impacts on the way we experience the world, and there is something powerful about being in ritual or sacred space with people who share that experience. I do practice in mixed-gender circles and find these experiences equally rewarding.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I don't view my politics and my spirituality as separate. In my professional life, I am an educator, advocate, and activist for a number of social justice causes. I teach Women's Studies, sociology, and anthropology, which gives me an excellent platform from which to talk about the importance of working for equality, to bring attention to inequality and oppression, and to raise people's awareness of the world around them. My activism work focuses on ending gender based violence, lobbying for equality for women and queer people, and ending poverty. I see both my teaching and my activism/advocacy as powerful works of magick. When I am speaking to a group of people, whether in a classroom or at a protest, I feel my own Divinity, my own Goddess-self, step forward. I feel power flow through me. As I work to make changes, in the minds of my listeners or in the world around me, I am working magick just as profoundly as if I were standing in circle with my athame raised and the altar laid out before me. The work that I do as a feminist educator and activist is an extension of my spirituality, and my spirituality is an extension of my feminist scholarship and activism. I cannot separate the two, nor would I want to. They are intricately woven together, strengthening each other and adding to the tapestry that is my life.
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