( Photo by Filth and Beauty)
Defining a Witch is to me like trying to explain the personalities of my children. As their mother who grew them, birthed them, I see them as everything all at once. They are good and bad, they are big and small, old and new, and all the things in between. One may be shy at times and bold at other times, one is fearless yet scared at the same time. And then they change. They are slippery. How to define them? Little witches, I guess.
I have kicked around definitions of many things, but squirmed and wiggled when called to define myself. ‘Mother’ is one of my definitions and I’m okay with that because I chose it and there is no escaping it so here I am, I accept my motherness. ‘Artist’ I will claim because I can’t seem to contain the creative flow. ‘Woman’, hmmmm okay. But I like to think of gender as being much more fluid than Woman/Man so I will hold off on defining myself by my gender for the sake of further shifting gender consciousness.
‘Feminist?’ I’ve been put to the test of defining myself as a feminist and felt like it was a word that separated and limited me in a way that felt uncomfortable. I require something much more inclusive and expansive. Something with lot’s of space and room to create and heal and bend. Something that allows me to throw down for womankind and the entire web of life, known and unknown, past and present.
I need a better word. We need a better word. A word without hard and fast rules, something that leads us both inward and outward, connecting instead of separating. Something that allows time and space for us to flatten out the well-worn grooves of collective consciousness, smoothing them back to divine, limitless, undefinable possibility.
Witch is the word.
I have spent many years mulling over what it means to be a witch, and how to talk about it. It has felt to me in the past like the possession of a divine secret, a quiet power, alive in a knowing glance to another witch where you both understand something undefinable in a moments time. And that thing you understood together is always there with you. But for years I have felt like it is something I am not supposed to talk about.
This past Summer, a dear friend of mine Sophia Rose sang me a song about being a witch and it opened up the flood gates. I realized I had to talk about it. Sing about it, even.
PLEASE, before you read on, click over and listen to this song as you read this post.
Witches I Love
This is the first of a series I have been afraid to share until now, affectionately called Witches I Love which aims to distill the essence of the modern witch by asking my favorite modern witches to chime in their wisdom and experience.
The purpose of producing this series is to help us open the aperture or our minds a bit wider to understand the power of living within infinite spectrums of brilliant color and depth, in a world which largely sees things in black and white.
A big thank you to all for being here and bearing witness, I hope these women’s words are both helpful and empowering to you, and we would love to hear your feedback and thoughts on the subject. Are you a witch? Please tell us about it in the comment section!
This first interview is with Erin Rivera Merriman, San Diego based Witch, healer of many modalities and conscious community creatress at Active Culture Family.
(Opening Ceremony and Space Blessing for Bell Jar, Los Angeles, CA)
Season of the Witch: An Interview with Erin Merriman
What does the word Witch mean to you?
I’m so glad you asked. As a student of communication i’m increasingly floored by how often we think we are communicating, because we have this common vocabulary, when in fact each person is using the same words to mean different things. Words are very holographic, slippery, and alive. I think it’s really awesome that as this word “Witch” is being reclaimed, you are taking the time to attempt to establish some shared meaning around it!
I think of a witch as a female identified or female bodied person who believes that we dwell within sentient universe, and consciously engages the art of ritual and spell craft to symbolically communicate their intentions and desires for what they would like to experience in life, so that the plants, animals, and other cosmic energies around them who are a yes to her desires, who share a similar agenda or intention, can participate in bringing them about in an expedited way.
(Photo by Filth and Beauty)
A witch understands that her menstrual cycle connects her to the cycle of life and that by aligning her outer activities with her inner rhythm and adding in awareness of other influences, such as seasons and astrological circumstance, they can further amplify the effectiveness of their movements in the world. The term Witch is neutral. The question I always ask when relating with other magical beings is what energies are you aligning yourself with to empower your intentions, who do you serve, and to what end?
That said, there are all these different flavors of mystical feminine being, and it can be fun to find the label that most resonates…Witch, Yogini, Priestess, Dakini, Nun, Abess,…the list goes on, and furthermore we are always free to make up our own! As in the dialogue around any identity, like gender identity, its important to allow people the freedom to self identify, because they are the one having the complete inner experience, the only one who can say what concepts resonate with their way of life. A label we choose for ourselves can be expansive and help us explore the world through a different lens. A label someone else puts on us is always limiting.
( Full Moon Ceremony, San Diego, CA, photo by Dori Varga)
How would one know that one was a witch? 🙂
So often people think “She’s a witch!” when something that can’t be explained through any rational process happens, but in reality, the universe is full of unexplained phenomenon, women just happen to be socialized to be more embracing of the validity of these unexplainable occurrences. I personally reserve the term Witch for women who both consider themselves witches and actively practices witchcraft. Magic is another word for the wild nature in us. You can also call this hormones, sexual energy, or Shakti. Its the uncontrollable aspect of the feminine, so all women are a little bit witchy. Often a natural intuitive ability, like having premonitions or seeing spirits, or unexplained phenomenon would lead someone to pursue witchcraft as a means of feeling empowered as opposed to burdened by their gifts.
It’s important to me the acknowledge the craft aspect of witchcraft. It is an art form. Being an intuitive, a clairaudient or clairvoyant is something that you just are. But being a medium means that you use that ability in a particular way. Being a witch to me means that you work with ritual or spell craft to interact directly with the natural world in attempt to empower your intentions, whatever they may be. Intentions that seek to influence the actions of others in any way without their express permission for you to do so is black magic. Intentions like “ I want to heal my relationship to my father” that have to do with yourself is white magic. And then there is the path of the Tantrika, which has a completely different vocabulary around engaging magic. We honor and worship and serve Goddess by becoming her. We don’t so much as ask her for help doing our will but surrender to the will of the divine, recognizing that the even greater pleasure than getting our own way is to surrender to the divinity and perfection of what is already unfolding.
Talk about intention and manifestation…..How do they work together?
When we are in very high vibrational environments, we often experience this idea of instant manifestation- that reality is reconfiguring everything at lightning speed to match our thoughts, words, and desires. I think this is happening all the time but at a level too subtle to notice. The magic is “there” but we are not “there.” I have felt this energy. Some cultures would call it Lakshmi. We often call upon it as “abundance” but it reveals itself to me as a column of beings, a kind of roving energetic wishing well, where all these beings are just waiting for a chance to get in the game, but the rule is, they have to be asked. So there really are these beings who just love us and are dying to help us out, but they need our permission, so when you say “I want” or “I intend” or “I pray” it gives them that permission to act on our behalf.
(Photo Filth and Beauty)
For example, if you think you are having bad sex, and you think “this person is bad at sex”, and then you get a new lover and they are like “Tell me what you want?” and you realize you don’t know, you have no idea what you like, so your partners have a very small chance of pleasing you, because you are asking someone with very limited access to our ecosystem to show you something you don’t already know…it’s like that with manifestation. The people who are really good at it are seasoned at self inquiry, and then gifted at distilling and articulating their desire very very clearly. When the sentient universe/ Goddess knows what we want, it makes it much much easier for her to give it to us.
How do you think that a collection of witches is magnified in power to an individual witch?
Covens have always naturally formed. In Shakta Tantra we have these Goddess collectives called the Asta Matrikas and the Mahavidyas, that are made up of these really powerful feminine energies. In my experience, when they come together around a common intention, huge outcomes are possible. I feel this way about being part of the Spirit Weavers Gathering. It is so many deeply devoted women in one spot, pulling for all of womankind to heal and cooperate and serve one another so that all may have the opportunity to bloom into their fullness, and the result is exponentially more that the sum of the parts. It really is a transformational vortex.
(Photo/ Spiritweavers Gathering by Filth and Beauty)
I have been shown that these covens/ Goddess collectives are initiation grids. It is alchemy when we gather. The container becomes this fully stocked pharmacy of vibrational medicine, where you are free to choose who in the group to spend more time with than others, and if you mix this particular blend of people’s individual medicines together, you get a prescription that is perfectly calibrated for your individual awakening needs.
Where would you direct a woman who is interested in exploring her inner witch for the first time? (books? Plants? etc)
(Kava Temple: Sacred Sexuality Ceremony at The BE Hive, Hollywood, CA)
In terms of books, Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss is kind of THE primer for the spiritual journy if you are a true beginner to these explorations. New Moon Magic is growing in popularity, and it is increasingly possible to find a women’s circle to sit with on the new or full moon to explore simple ideas around lunar magic. Robin Rose Benett’s Healing Magic is another great primer on the path of the Green Witch, through which I received my first formal initiations. If you are drawn to or already versed in Hinduism, Yoga, or Tantra, Laura Amazonne has a great online course called Mysteries of the Yoginis that gets really detailed about the Yogini Cults of ancient india, which were basically coven’s or groups of witches who banded together to practice magic in the name of Goddess and support one another in living life outside the matrix.
Planting some Mugwort and taking time to meditate with her and cultivate a relationship slowly over time is another intuitive, organic way to begin to wade into these waters. As a sacred medicinal plant in many cultures, she is beloved among witches and herbalists around the world and well known for opening the veils between the worlds and strengthening intuitive and visionary abilities. You can smoke mugwort, chew her leaves, or sew her into dream pillows to enhance natural dream abilities.
A really fun beginner practice is to choose a divination tool to work with such as dreamwork, tarot, or a pendulum, and begin checking in with it for guidance at the beginning or end of each day. Don’t be discouraged if at first it seems like nothing happened. Sometimes it takes years of cultivation before psychic gifts really begin to blossom. And the truly powerful gifts tend to be bestowed upon those who demonstrate dedication and intention to use those abilities in service of the greater good.
How do the facets of our souls (shadow side, sun-lit side, good, evil) effect the process of owning our power?
As we become more empowered, we need to also grow our capacity for accountability of our words and actions. The shadow is all the parts of ourselves that we refuse to own or acknowledge, that we refuse to give love to. A great way to know the content of your shadow is to make a list of all that you are judging in another person. We cannot accept traits in others that we are unable to love in ourselves.
When working with big energies, our own emotional processing time is absolutely essential. I find that practitioners in particular need to really look at what feelings came up and what they were trying to communicate to us on a daily basis. If not stalked relentlessly, when we speak or act from that unconscious place as all humans do, the effects are more destructive. We see that we need to become more intentional with everything we do, when we understand we are holding strong medicine, and that if not consciously directed towards higher outcomes, can unconsciously do harm.
I think its exceedingly rare for someone to be truly evil in the sense of intending to do harm as primary motivation. I think it is more often when we cannot tolerate the vulnerability of a situation, when we act from fear, act to protect a wound, or under the influence of addiction, that we do the most harm.
Why do you think it is so hard for some of us to own our power? Speak to the woman who knows she has it but is afraid to use it.
I learned at a young age that power corrupts. I think we have seen people come to power and use it to dominate and we don’t want to do that. We all have huge egos and I know I have avoided the spiritual maturation processes out of fear that any power that came my way might be hijacked by my ego, might allow me loose touch with the struggles of humanity, might make me slowly loose my compassion for those who weren’t able to “manifest their visions.”
I have feared the increase in criticism that comes with increased visibility for your work. I have feared loosing friends as a result of my journey to embody unpopular philosophies which I have found to be part of the deeper truth of me. And to me empowerment is just about the ability to embody your truth despite the social consequences. I was bullied in a very relentless and creative way for all of high school. I received long letters filled with criticism about me signed by every boy in school. I now see that this was a necessary part of my training.
Sometimes it happens in life that every single person in your immediate environment tells you that the way you are is wrong. But sometimes, eventually, that very process makes you aware that the thing inside you that you can’t change no matter how hard you wish you could, that that is the YOU in there! That very thing is in fact your medicine, and it can go underground or be hidden behind a mask, or some become so convinced that it can never be shared that they leave early (as in teen suicide) but even that choice to leave is choosing the self, knowing that we do have the right to be what we are, even if some feel that there is no place for them here, on this planet, in these times.
To those who know it’s there but are afraid to embody what they are carrying, I say you have no other choice. If you are seeking health, weight loss, family or marriage healing, career success- none of that is possible while hiding your light. It is the only way to be happy, even if it involves a short or long period where it feels the world is burning all around you in order to begin living more authentically.
To those who are afraid to use it I beg you to stop effing around and move on to mastering your ability to share your gift with confidence and ease because these are challenging times and WE NEED YOU!
Tell us a little bit about your personal witch journey.
(Kava Temple at The Gaia School of Earth Healing, Los Angeles, CA)
I’ve always been drawn to the unorthodox, to people making uncommon choices. In my very small, sheltered town, it took me a while to be exposed to anything that really interested me. My mom really paid attention to what made me light up, and always nurtured me as an artist, driving me to yoga, and art classes, and accepting my increasingly weird outfit choices. She let me wear a pentagram necklace and combat boots to church.
Her unconditional love was probably the first condition for me to begin to open more psychically. In the beginning, when I started to really shake up my reality, it was always a result of a desire to creatively explore my identity through hair, make up, and clothes. It was shocking to me how opinionated and triggered people became by my desire to experiment with my appearance. I was dying my hair and giving myself piercings regularly. There was nothing else to do in our tiny rural town, and I wasn’t hurting anybody, so I didn’t get what the big deal was.
The most life changing thing was my mothers weekly ritual of taking me to the bookstore and letting me pick any book I wanted, no questions asked. I quickly discovered the small shelf at the back of the store market “occult” and that was it. Every week, I devoured different books on runes, tarot, moon magic, mythology…this coincided with my first heartbreak and the beginning of bullying, emotional trauma that triggered a genetic pre-disposition toward fibromyalgia, so my hobby like interest in magic, combined with a strong cocktail of hormones and heartbreak marked the beginning of both daily migraines and the quest to heal them, a quest that would last for 17 years.
Thankfully, I met an woman 3 years older than me who was interested in the same things and we were able to just dive fully into exploring. It started with these play/ pretend rituals where we would just bring whatever seemed magical to the beach and build mandalas in the sand and make up mantras and chants. We thought we were just being a couple of bored, theatrical weirdos, but those early spells had long lasting impact, and at some point we had to have some distance from each other to go through our own trials and initiations, a lot of suffering and deep healing in order to really mature on the path and realize that its about awakening from the trance of mainstream and even alternative culture and realizing the true nature of the journey- that it’s a path towards doing healing work.
My own path has asked me to change just about everything from the way I was raised through divination, diet, yoga, acupuncture, shamanism, plant medicine (as herbalism and as teacher plants like Ayahuasca and Psilocybin.) The layering of all of these wellness modalities has allowed me to learn to live from that ceremonial place more of the time. I pray for strength to continue to dwell in the half step, in the margins, not grasp for here or there, because to me this is where magic lives, in the spaces in between. Everyone has their own magic, their own medicine, AND, there is such sincerity and passion and unmistakable depth among those who are really living for this path, who have persevered through times of deep doubt, to continue living for something that most people agree isn’t even real!
I have been required to subsist on faith alone for long periods of time, and had to say, “Well, if I’m wrong at the end of my life, I’m wrong, but I am all in, come what may”, and that really changes the game, when you are no longer loosing energy to the question of weather or not you are going to turn back, take some anti-depressants and try to fit in.
I am currently most focused on studying my points of access to educational vibrational fields of consciousness through the dreamtime, and studying Shakta Tantra ( a more shamanic, earth based, matriarchal means of liberation as compared to other lineages of Tantra) . The vocabulary and experiences spoken of in that tradition most closely match my inner reality so am choosing to be an apprentice in that house of magic right now.
My quadruple Aries fiery devotion can be a bit much for some people, and I find the best place for the full unmoderated expression of my Shakti to be to pour that into a daily Sadhana practice, practice moon magic and sex magic…As I get older, there seem to be more and more opportunities for weaving ceremony into my day and in my everyday life, and more people walking alongside me. It’s a good time to be a witch.
Erin Rivera Merriman is a priestess, artist, and teacher of the metaphysical arts. Raised on a 100 acre tree farm in rural Connecticut, she was taught from a young age the importance of community stewardship and living in harmony with the natural world. Erin’s study as an Herbalist in the Wise Woman Tradition, combined with her training as a Zen hospice and prison chaplain, and recent studies in classical Shakta Tantra have shaped her unique, multidimensional approach to women’s health and empowerment. Through ceremonies, workshops, coaching sessions and intuitive readings, she is honored to be with you as midwife at the edge of your comfort zone, as you conceive, incubate, and give birth to your own highest vision for your life. To learn more about working with Erin, visit www.activeculturefamily.com