I'm Channing. I'm a witch and a Mormon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Almost a year ago I had a really painful experience in my church.

I love to read. I am a lover of stories, especially myths and fairy tales. Over the summer of 2017, this love deepened into a curiosity about the archetype of the witch, a major character in old tales and ancient stories. I studied the history of pre-christian goddess cultures and nature worship, how women were systematically removed from positions of power and influence in their communities by "witch" propoganda, and what the patriarchy is. I wrote a bit more about that here if you're interested. This was my first real study on feminism and it was powerful. Life-changing. When potent women's issues were added to my interest in environmental sustainability, an ecofeminist was born. That, topped off with my intense love for religion and spirituality, forged me into a passionate, creative, and inspired activist.

For me, the archetype of the Witch became symbolic of a spiritual, earth-loving, feminist force for healing and good. I fell in love with the Witch - not anyone in particular, not any particular "practice" - but an image of a woman reclaiming her place in the world as an equal, as a spiritual guide and healer, as a protector and friend of the earth. When Halloween rolled around, I decided to really embrace the idea of stepping into the role of a powerful feminine figure by dressing up in a witch costume. I shared a picture and some heartfelt words on social media:

I got a usual amount loving words of support in response, but otherwise, this post disappeared into the immortal abyss of Instagram and Facebook with little fanfare.  One week later my husband and I were contacted by my local church leadership for a meeting. I don't want to re-hash the story of how, in that meeting, I was accused of witchcraft in this post, but you can read my detailed account of it here.

After that meeting, I also met with a higher church authority to get help handling what happened. I also ended up meeting with my local leadership again and was able to have some reconciliation and closure. I attended church the following Sunday. Everyone moved on.

Except me. I could not "move on".

Here I am, ten months later, still talking about "the witch thing". Part of me feels ashamed, as if me still talking about it is an indication of my own pride and inability to forgive. I am constantly beating myself up for thinking about it, constantly telling myself to "let it go". But this last month I've started to understand just how far-reaching the effects of that experience have been and the difficulties I've had healing.

For months after, I attended church feeling I had a scarlet 'A' sewn on my dress. Sometimes I walked in the building on Sunday afternoons and wanted to turn right back around. Church no longer became a place of solace and community for me.

To this day I don't know who to trust at church. Apart from a few people I don't know who is my friend and who thinks I'm a satanic witch. Am I welcome to attend Sunday meetings? Do the people in Sunday School roll their eyes at my comments? Are those whispers and laughs in Relief Society about me? Will someone tattle on me for talking about Heavenly Mother or loving the earth? I now lead the music in Relief Society and if I'm 100% honest I have some anxiety about standing in front of my fellow sisters, some of them the wives of the church leaders who accused me of satanic witchcraft.

I had a good, strong, friendly relationship with the children I taught before I was released from my calling as a primary teacher. Now, I see them in the hallways at church and hesitate talking to them, let alone give them the hugs they reach for. I wish I could tell them why the same primary teacher who made them necklaces, treats, and was making plans for a weeknight Moana movie and pizza party was suddenly so distant and cold. But I don't, because they are young, because I love them, and because my cheeks still turn red and my eyes grow hot with tears when I think of what happened to me. I am doubtful I will feel comfortable having a calling in or interacting with the children's and youth organizations in church ever again.

It is one thing to forgive. That happened last year, soon after the "witch thing" first happened. It is quite another to be re-traumatized every Sunday: every sacrament meeting when I'm looking at the stand, every meeting with leadership about callings, every time I go to Primary opening exercises to watch my daughter give a talk, every time I see the sweet girls and boys in my old class in the hallways.

Its been increasingly difficult for me to feel the spirit in church the last few months. I've only recently figured out why. Church is no longer a place where I can be vulnerable. I show up to church every week having studied the lessons and speaking the language, but I have hidden myself away into the closets of my shame. Doing so has made me angry, empty, and ready to pack up my broom and leave the church forever. I do not learn. I am not fed.

I am marah - bitter, like biblical Naomi.

I feel, since the "witch thing", I cannot be my whole self, especially at church. After ten months of splitting myself in two - a Mormon at church and something deeper every moment outside that - I realized I am dying inside. I'm living with my heart outside my body and dumbly wondering why I feel numb and empty. That is not wholeness. That is not peace. That is not reconciliation. That is not at-one-ment.

My battle cry for months has been "I am not a witch!" But something about that statement didn't feel right. I realize now that it was as close as I could get to the truth with the language I had to express myself.

What I meant to say is this: I am not evil. I didn't sell my soul to the devil; in fact, I'm quite fond of it, maybe even overly-protective sometimes. I don't believe in hurting people. I do not do the things people usually think of when they hear "witch" and "witchcraft".

I do consider myself a witch. The words "witch" and "witchcraft" carry meanings with them that incite feelings of fear, disgust, and shame. They invoke images of satanic worship, death, and warty hags cackling over a bubbling cauldron. This ability and imagery is a great example of what thousands of years of patriarchy and propaganda can do to the idea of a woman in her own power. But for me, being a witch is not about eyes of newts and riding brooms over a full moon (though that would probably be an amazing experience to be honest). Its about being a whole woman, at one with herself, her community, and the earth. Witchcraft is about healing, learning, and forming relationships with the same.

I believe in the equality of men and women. I believe that nature has much to teach humanity and gives us so much goodness. I believe it is my responsibility to have a relationship with and learn the language of the earth, so I do just that. I believe in conservation and sustainability. I believe that plants can heal. I believe that the earth, the water, and the celestial beings have meaningful things to say if I learn to listen.

I believe in the power of women, individually and collectively. I believe in their ability to teach, learn, grow, know, and speak. I believe in the healing and sustaining power of sisterhood. I believe a woman has rights to claim her own spiritual gifts, healing, and relationship with God. I believe in the eternal, tangible presence of a Divine Feminine, a Mother God, a Heavenly Mother.

I believe in the equality of women and men. I believe we are all affected by the influence of patriarchy and can work together to heal the wounds it has inflicted on us all - spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I believe in equality of all - not one is above another. God is no respecter of persons. Neither am I.

I believe in the healing power of stories. I also believe that ignoring the gifts of myths and stories from other cultures and religions as well as the stories of individuals is a conscious choice to cut oneself off from growth, understanding, and empathy.

I believe in God, Jesus, the Atonement, and continuing revelation.

I consider myself a strong, committed, righteous member of the LDS church. I will forever be reconciling my questions and answers, but that is what faith is about.

I am aware of the possibility of others reading this and 1. not understanding and/or 2. not agreeing that its possible to be both a witch and a righteous member of the LDS church. I accept that. I know that by describing myself as a witch that I open myself to the ridicule of others and the possibility of discipline from my church if someone decides my local leaders need to know about it. That's okay too.

I can say this: Never before have I been so committed to making the church I love so deeply and dearly better as I am now. Never have I been so Christlike as when I open myself to the experiences and stories of others, and vulnerably offer mine in return. Never before have I been so passionate about advocating for the "least of them". Church, if you decide to kick me out because I love the earth and Jesus, its a loss for both of us.

Why am I sharing this? Friends, I have to be vulnerable again if I want to genuinely connect with you. I have to give my whole self, not just the parts that are deemed "good" and "acceptable" by society. I've come to see that my inability to accept this part of myself has been a huge creative and spiritual block. I need to be brave and come as I am, be who I am, if I ever hope to have integrity and peace. I want to experience courage and genuine connection. Do you want to join me?

Hi, I'm Channing, and I'm a witch and a Mormon. Can we (still) be friends?

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