In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is asked if she is a good or bad witch by Glinda, a self-proclaimed “good witch.” In her ignorance about the integrity of witches, Dorothy gasps and says she is not a witch at all, and suggests that witches are ugly. Glinda responds with a grin, “Only bad witches are ugly.” Nice burn, Glinda. The idea that there are “good witches” and “bad witches” is pervasive. Whether in Hallowe’en imagery of women with green skin and nose warts, or in iconic Hollywood musicals, the idea that witches are divided into “good” and “bad” according to their looks, beliefs, practices, or choice of hat seems to be ubiquitous. It has become an accepted stereotype. In truth, witches are people, and people are more complicated than just “good” or “bad” — even witches. Furthermore, making those determinations based on what someone looks like or believes in is discrimination, and discrimination based on one’s religious or spiritual beliefs is against provincial human rights codes across Canada. As a result, I didn’t think this sort of discrimination would be a real issue for Pagan and witches in 2018. Especially, after some redundant and discriminatory laws about witchcraft were removed from our Criminal Code.1 Certainly, now we can practice witchcraft without fear of prosecution, and thus one would think persecution, as well. Or can we?
Do you even bind?
It seems there is some division within the Pagan community that perpetuates stereotypes about the practice of binding. The idea of “white” witchcraft, and “black” witchcraft to characterize someone’s practices seems archaic — and it is. Plus, the racialized overtones of this characterization is unacceptable. Many practitioners make this distinction about their use of ritual magick. They proudly declare that they “only practice white magick” The veiled meaning is that any practices that do not resemble theirs are suspect. The attempt to make these distinctions between witches is pandering to a system of othering and persecution. The notion that traditions which involve conjure, binding, ancestral magick, divination, or similar practices, are maleficia, or “primitive,” was used as a weapon against entire peoples from which these traditions derive. As Donyae Coles explains in “Not my Burning Times: Witch trials, oppression, and magical identity making,” it is not just a matter of losing one’s spiritual and magical practices, but of losing one’s heritage. In another article, Coles rightly points out that: “Much of this could be due to the lens of colonial Christianity where the religious practices of conquered people have been suppressed in order to control them. Which is why many of the “good” witch representations that we see in popular media are based around magical traditions that are closer to European in nature.”2 Coles also writes an informative article about Black witchcraft, that I recommend to further unpack stigmas and microagressions. Related: Black witch blues: The whiteness of magick spaces, by Donyae Coles Related: Black witch resources: Getting started, by Donyae Coles Perpetuating stereotypes of magical practices and traditions, or imposing one’s uninformed perceptions of those practices as “dark,” “black,” and thus synonymous with evil is not just outdated, but it can also be dangerous. There are people in the world that do persecute perceived “witches.”3 In Canada and much of the “western” world, we have the privilege of practicing our craft without being persecuted for the inclement weather, virulent illness, and runaway cattle — but it is still important to address prejudice to prevent it from festering. Let’s be honest — it’s not the practices in and of themselves that are maleficent, or makes someone “a bad witch.” Rather, it’s one’s intentions and actions which define one’s character. Even though prayer is considered an acceptable practice, if you pray to God to smite your enemies, or prevent someone from hurting your family, how is that different from binding spells? In some schools of Buddhism there are demons that were bound to dharma for the purpose of protecting it. These beings are called dharmapalas, or “dharma protectors.” In fact, the oath, or samaya, taken by Buddhist practitioners is also a binding spell or ritual. In the Christian Bible, Matthew 18:18 declares “I bind you Satan.” Even a common practice in nearly all traditions is also a binding ritual — and that is marriage. It’s not the practice — it’s the purpose. A hammer can be a tool or a weapon. Prayer can be a tool or a weapon. Binding can also be used as a tool or weapon. It really depends on what you are binding and why. Related: The Rede: Not all witches, by Donyae Coles
Around the time of the inauguration of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States (POTUS), Michael J. Hughes, and an activist group of witches, Pagans, shamans, and occultniks created the Facebook group, BindTrump – MagicResistance.4 This group does a monthly binding of the POTUS and all who aid and abet him.5 There was a lot of push back from within the Pagan community about binding — ranging from talk of personal choices, warnings about the Rule of Three, to condemnation and attacks on the character of witches who practice such spellwork. Those reactions were perplexing, because I didn’t think witches practicing witchcraft was either surprising or offensive — especially to other witches and Pagans. It shouldn’t be surprising that we all practice a little differently, too — sometimes a lot differently. The hostility from some of the Pagan community to particular practices seemed fueled by a sense of righteousness and of othering. Aaron Leitch offers a wonderful response to this backlash in “Some thoughts on the mass ritual binding of US president Donald Trump.” It is quite reasonable for people to chose not to practice certain rituals. We can even debate the effectiveness of practicing magick in the first place, or prayer, receiving communion, or empowerments, or handfasting… However, it is another matter when one is actively discriminated against for doing any of those things. After organizers planned a workshop for a Canadian Pagan activist group, Magic Resistance – Canada (MCR), based on the US model, some of that backlash regarding the binding rituals manifested.6 The workshop hosted by the Canadian group was concerned with spellwork to bind political leaders and others in positions of power from harming the environment and vulnerable people, and to unveil corruption. Related: Witch activism: It’s happening now, by Daleth West Related: Enchanted resistance: A history of political magick, by Donyae Coles Related: The Girdle of Ishtar: Magick for activists, by Nicole Rain Sellers
At the last minute, the workshop was cancelled. The rented space at the self-proclaimed metaphysical, new age, and shamanic shop was not open to the group’s binding rituals. The organizers were told that the shopkeepers “didn’t support interfering with the path of others.” Perhaps they didn’t see the irony, as they were fine with interfering with the MRC’s planned event. It’s so confusing, because binding is common in many Pagan practices, including shamanism. Binding spirits to the will of the shaman makes up a good portion of shamanic magick. If someone is going to cause harm, it doesn’t seem like a bad plan to bind them from doing so. In fact, with respect to political figures, it is my duty as a witch, and arguably as a Bodhisattva, to put a bind spell on those that would do widespread harm. In my personal estimation, yes, it is ok to interfere with a path or person of great harm. I have no wish to preserve my reputation or “dignity” of being a rosy “lightworker” if it means doing nothing while others suffer preventable evils. Politicians owe us a fiduciary duty, and they are not entitled to do harm to the public they serve — or lie to us. If they do end up as corrupt it is our responsibility to stop them from harming others — especially the most vulnerable. If that includes protesting in demonstrations, writing letters, legal class actions, or monthly binding rituals, then so be it. And to answer your question, Glinda: I’m just a witch.