Pagan Blog Project – the dance of the Hedgewitch

Here is a new term for you: Hedgewitch.

What, pray tell, is a Hedgewitch and why would I pull this term out of my mixed bag to gift to you, darling readers? Because. Okay, I know that’s less than helpful but bear with me and I shall try to eventually bring this to a fruitful end.

Hedgewitch, and its corresponding hedgewitchery, is a word that is not often heard in modern conversation. Hedgecraft is a form of  witchcraft that combines aspects of witchcraft and shamanism, inspired by the traditional witchcraft and cunning folk of Europe and parts of Asia. To call oneself a Hedgewitch is to basically call oneself a shaman, a sense of reclaiming of a title and power long denied us. So you can see where the boundaries of my spiritual identity become blurred.

It used to be that the native healers lived on the outskirts of town, between the wild of nature and the chaos of civilization. They were held in esteem and feared with the same breath. When you had an ailment that your mother couldn’t cure, or needed a curse or a charm, you knew who to go to. These are the cunning folk, those men and women who dedicated their lives to the knowledge of nature. The “hedge” was literally the border of town and so has become a symbol of walking between worlds in our modern lexicon.

To ride the hedge is to journey to the Otherworlds in shamanic journey work. The hedge becomes the thin point of the veil, and those who are talented or stubborn may learn to step through to other realities.

Hedgewitches often refer to shamanic journeys as “Walking the Hedge”, “Riding the Hedge”, “Oot and Aboot” or “Crossing/Jumping the Hedge”. They also have a tendency to spend much of their lives with one foot on either side of the Hedge, which makes them eccentric to say the least.
A Hedgewitch walks freely into caol ait (Gaelic), the “thin places” between one world and another. More experienced Hedgewitches learn not only to find such places, but how to use them effectively and how to open them even when the Hedge, or Veil, is at its thickest between the high days. – Juniper

On the other hand, we have shamanism. Shaman is a word that was stolen from the Turkic word šamán, from the Tungusic cultures of Siberia. It was brought to the english language sometime in the 20th century by anthropologists and sociologists and has become a great big giant sticky ball of CULTURAL APPROPRIATION (said in a scary deep voice). Western versions of shamanism became popular in the 60s and 70s, and quickly evolved into Michael Harner’s version called “core shamanism”. That is: shamanism removed from any cultural, spiritual, social or environmental context. Lets whitewash something sacred and inherent to communities and cultures world-wide and sell it to the desensitized westerners willing to pay $300 for a weekend to learn how to become shamans. Excuse me while I wipe the excess sarcasm from the computer screen.

Let me just put a few ideas out so every one understands:

  • There are no shamans in Native American culture, each tribe has their own title of respect for their spiritual leaders. Calling them shamans is a form is racism and elitism.
  • A weekend does not make a shaman, the gods and spirits do.
  • No one in their right mind chooses to undergo a shamanic initiation. Raise your hand if you are just itching to die and be reborn multiple times?
  • Shamans are also not allowed to walk away from their practice, this results in madness and death. A shaman talks to the spirits because they have to.
  • Without a culture and a community, there is no shaman. The whole point of a shaman is to serve the community around them as a bridge between realities.

So why do I vacillate between the words shaman and hedgewitch? Because I’m a white girl raised in Southern California and living in America. Its as simple as that. Shaman is not a term from my lineage, it is a term stolen from a remote tribe. Yes, its still easily understood and helps people to identify me easier than hedgewitch or spirit-touched or god-owned does. But it still carries its own baggage.

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14 Comments

  1. ladyimbrium says:

    Well, hon, at least you know what path you’re walking. A very hard one. I like the definition you offer, it makes some sense of the overlap in terminology. Again, we seem to get so bogged down in names. Maybe we’ll learn to just…. be.

    1. lcward says:

      🙂 Yes, that I am. Its very hard for westerners to learn to just be. I get especially tied in knots because my pagan group always seems to look at me ascew when I slip between the 2 words. Lol.

  2. Flora says:

    Most of my days are spent in Indian Country and it is insulting for my friends to ask me if I am “doing Shamanism” now in my practice. I agree with everything you said about Shamanism and the practice of Hedgewitchery. I consider myself a Americana Witch with roots deeply planted in the South with a dash of Eastern Seaboard and Texan thrown in for size. It really makes me a bit crazy when I am pressed to label my magickal practice.

    1. lcward says:

      Oh thats a tough one. Yeah, there is no “shamanism” to do in Native American cultures. Good luck on your path, that sounds like a facinating mix. I ran into an article somewhere a few weeks ago about American Traditional Witchcraft vs British Traditional Witchcraft. Its an interesting discussion even on that level.

  3. Steve Tanner says:

    “…see where the boundaries of my spiritual identity become blurred.”

    Don’t think of it as “spiritual identity” or you just might experience an identity crisis. It really is a matter of labeling. I got really frustrated by this a few years ago, until I realized it was only a label. As ladyimbrium suggests, let’s just be. Nevertheless, it is an excellent post.

    1. lcward says:

      As Lady Hela says “who cares what you call yourself as long as you do the work asked of you.” 🙂

  4. Pixie says:

    Great post. I usually go by the term “Traditional Witch” or Hedgewitch depending on what company I’m in but I am always confused when I get in conversations and people are like “so you practice shamanism then.” I feel like I don’t because I don’t know what a “shaman” particularly does… I mean, I know intellectually but I don’t know experimentally so it seems wrong to use the term that means almost nothing to me. Thanks for clarifying, perhaps now I can be more clear about how and why I want to be identified as just a “witch”.

    1. lcward says:

      The biggest difference that I was tired and forgot to mention is that shamans don’t usually do magic. They are great at healing and mediating and such. But they never hex or curse or make mojo bags or anything. Another major difference is that shamans are usually taught that they only journey in order to do specific things, in order to help the community. They dont journey just to journey.

      I will journey just to journey. Cause I’m stressed, or cause its too cold here and I miss the heat, or cause I’m bored and wanna go play with the kids. Sometimes my Gods tell me to come visit, sometimes I have specific tasks, but usually it is “I should go clean up the cave” or something else mundane. 🙂

      Does that help even more?

  5. Thank you for this post!

    I did not know that about the term “Hedgewitch”. I suppose I could call myself that then. I have lived in the outskirts of society; even literally as I lived in an isolated cabin in the VT woods. No one but me and my wolf-dog, and my magick. I am glad that you have written about this.

    I do call myself Shaman, as i want to claim this aspect of my being. I have gone through the illness, the death on earth, the healing and rebirth. I serve the community, mostly through dance and art. “Shaman” is a loaded term, I know, and it is a “stolen” word, as you say. But I think of it as more of an archetype that I live out.

    I resonate with some of what you say about the retreats and classes, and the money-making aspects of “Core-shamanism”. I did not enjoy dying and rebirthing; I do not enjoy the way that the sensitivities and experiences I have set me apart from other people. And I think it would be absurd for me to pay for a class to teach me about what the Goddess has called me to do.

    It’s a complex issue, to be sure. And these are some of my thoughts. Thank you for your boldness. Blessings.

    1. lcward says:

      Awww, you are so welcome. Its so wonderful to meet other people on the path.

  6. Me says:

    I think I’ll make reference to this post. I like a lot of what you say here. 🙂

    1. lcward says:

      Awww you are so welcome to. I like making new friends.

  7. Angela says:

    I had no idea of the origins of the word shaman or its inappropriate connotations before reading your post. Thank you for teaching me something new!

    1. lcward says:

      Thanks Angela, always happy to pass on new knowledge. 🙂 The more we talk about it, the better we are as a group.

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