Susanne Rae |The Witch



Susanne is the owner, and director of the Meditation Space in Campbelltown. A space that offers yoga, meditation, art classes and on the right weekend even witchy events. The Meditation Space celebrates the seasons, ways to find your inner voice, even developing your sense of magic. Susanne is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, an activist ever since the 70’s, now she uses her wisdom to teach others. Get to know her a little and she may reveal to you her spiritual practices. Practices that have stood the test of time, endured damnation through out the centuries from the Catholic Church and up until the last few years were still illegal in many parts of the world. I sat down with Susanne to speak about her spiritual journey and what witchcraft is really all about.


L: How did your Wiccan journey start? Is that what you would call yourself?


S: I'm a witch. Wicca is a form of witchcraft. I’m a Reclaiming witch, which is a version of contemporary Paganism. It draws on traditional witchcraft, and in particular the Anderson Faery tradition as well as eco-feminism. When you start looking into witchcraft, you discover there are as many branches of witchcraft as there are versions of Christianity. What I like about Reclaiming is that it's a political eco-feminist aspect of witchcraft that focuses a lot on your own personal autonomy.


L: What drew you to witchcraft?


S: I decided I was a witch when I was 14. I had been really interested in witchcraft, the occult, old and ancient spirituality so I started to explore and read about it. I didn't think there were any other witches in the world. I would read books and pretend to be a witch. I always went to fancy dress parties as a witch pretending it was all for dress ups but really it was because I was a witch.


In the late 70’s I was in a coven of women who were involved in the women's movement of the time. We were working out of a book called The Spiral Dance, which was Reclaiming tradition. It's about honoring and celebrating the seasons and being aware of our connection to nature. Reclaiming witch’s tend to be activists.


I work a lot with the spirit world. I work with Fae energy, which is fairies and nature spirits. Some witches work with other beings even angels. It's such a diverse path, which is one of the things that I like about. It's your journey. For a long time, after the 70s I worked as what was called a solitary witch, I would honor the seasons, and I always greeted the new moon. A lot of it was internal, but it was something that always drove me. I also studied a lot of Buddhism. That’s when I learnt meditation and Buddhist practices.


For years when I had to fill in the census, about your religion, I would say I am a Buddhist witch.


I was plodding along on my own for a long time thinking I'll never find my community. And then about five years ago, my brother introduced me to someone in the Reclaiming community and I felt I’d finally found the place I belong.



L: Are you a leader in that community?


S: In Reclaiming in Australia I am a teacher, which means that sometimes I teach in the community. I teach the core classes of Reclaiming. In another situation, I'm just a student.


I'm an older person, in the community; I bring with me the wisdom of my life. Reclaiming is very anarchistic, more a horizontal structure. People step up in one situation and then step back in others. Everybody brings their own style and their own wisdoms to it.


L: I imagined there is a lot of stigma around being known a witch.


S: Yeah, people are scared of witches. People who don’t know me will say things like do you do spells? We all do spells. Spells are intentional actions, we all do that in some way or another.


I think when you do something in a particular way that's been done in a particular way by a lot of people you also draw the energy of them doing it, which intensives the energy of the action.


L: I think people see the movie version of what a witch is and think it's some evil villain that's casting all these spells, but really, it's about connecting with nature and the earth and yourself. Right?


S: Yeah, that's the way I see it. There are those other aspects of it, and some people in other traditions of witchcraft incorporate some of those scenes that you see movies. It's always funny when I'm involved in a ritual or something, I can’t help but wonder what people would think if they walked in on us.


L: Is it bigger than people would suspect?


S: Yeah, it's International. I mean, we're not talking thousands but we're talking larger numbers then people would think. In Campbelltown, there's a Reclaiming community. We hold public rituals every Sabbat, the eight seasons of the year, and there are around 20 to 30 people from around Sydney who come to that.



L: Did you worry for a while, what people would think if you told them you were a witch? How did you overcome it?


S: Absolutely. But I over came it by saying it. I just keep saying I’m a witch; it’s almost like a political action. If I say to somebody I'm a witch, people panic. They really do.

When I started the Meditation Space, I said to myself, what do I want? What flavor is this going to be? And I started teaching mindfulness meditation, not perhaps my earth based spiritual practices. At that time, I hadn’t found Reclaiming. But I made a commitment when I opened the space that I would celebrate every Sabbat. I had no idea that I would end up finding the Reclaiming community, which has given me a bigger structure in which to celebrate those seasons.


Little by little I have become more comfortable saying it, I'm still not a 100% open all the time. I pick my audience and pick my moment. Calling yourself a witch has a spike to it. The last couple of years, I've been working at the Hospital and University of Western Sydney as a Pagan Chaplain. The University engaged me as a Reclaiming witch, it's on the website. I'm a Chaplain, I'm a Pagan, and I’m a witch. It's all there. But at the hospital they know I’m a witch but its not so easy.


I think being involved in the community makes me feel less vulnerable. Because I have people all over the world I can talk to at anytime really. But isn't that what community gives you? Strength of not being so isolated. I've been involved in different communities at different times in my life, but this is definitely the one I feel most connected to.


If you're a naturally free spirited person it takes a lot longer to find where you might fit because to be a part of a community requires some compromise.


L: What's the difference between Pagan and being a witch?


S: Pagan is an umbrella term that incorporates a whole bunch of earth-based religions, such as Druidry, Sharmanism, Wicca. It basically meant anybody who wasn't Christian.


There’s a movement across the world to reclaim that word, we are Pagan, and we are proud. We exist and these traditions have survived. A lot of this religion was lost but in late 1800’s up to the 1940s and 50s there was a resurgence in seeking and looking for Pagan and Witchcraft practices.


People see Witchcraft as a threat to Christianity. Christians hate witches. If you tell a really strong born-again-Christian: I'm a witch. They literally sweat and freak out– I’ve seen it. So people don't use the word. They don't talk about it.



L: What do they call themselves?


S: They might call themselves Pagans. They might call themselves Shamans, everybody's happy to call themselves a shaman. But they're not shamans. Sharman is a particular practice from Siberia. It's a total appropriation of the word.


It can be really scary. People in America in the last few years have been killed because they are witches. It’s only been in the last few years in India that it’s no longer illegal. In countries in Africa, you call yourself a witch and you are shunned.


L: Do you think that anyone in the witch community could actually do any real harm?


S: I think anybody in any community can do real harm.There is a thing _ “do as you whilt but harm none” …


L: Do you feel like you have a responsibility to educate people about what it really is to be a witch?


S: Sometimes, and then other times, I just couldn't care less. Go read a book! If people are genuinely interested I’ll speak to them.


A lot of the things that we call old wives tales, or folklore, like throwing salt over your shoulder, all of those things come from those folkloric practices, which were condemned as witchcraft. And some of them have a lot of power in them. Use of herbs, crystals, observing the moon, conducting things aligned with the moon, that's witchcraft to me. Those practices were outlawed and could have gotten you killed a few centuries ago, but people don’t make that connection. They say I'm not a witch, or they say something ridiculous, like I'm a white witch. Seriously????


I think one of the things about being a witch is you can develop your psychic skills, you can develop your clairvoyant skills, develop your healing skills, that witches were the people who community turned to, to see into the past or the future, to scry, to read Tarot, for potions for healing. What we use today in medicine was from those old witches.


Being a witch means understanding and connecting to all life on this planet.

-Susanne


Check out the meditation space here.

Photos by Lila Marvell.

© LILA MARVELL.