A Rose by Any Other Name...

Rose Angel

A Rose by Any Other Name Doesn't Always Smell as Sweet

"How can you be Catholic and a witch?" "Catholic Witch is an oxymoron." "There's no such thing as a Catholic Witch, you can't be both." "Catholic Witches are wannabe witches." "You can't be a real Catholic and a Witch." "You can't be a real Witch and Catholic." These are just a few of the reactions I get when people ask me about my spiritual path, and I respond that I'm a "Catholic Witch".

Actually, they're right. The name "Catholic Witch" just doesn't fit, at least not in my case. "Catholic Witch" makes it sound like I, and others who follow a similar path, are trying to be both Catholic and a Witch at the same time. If that were the case, I'd have to agree with those who consider it impossible. However, as far as my own spiritual path is concerned, it's far from being accurate. I'm more of a "witch with a Catholic Tradition", than anything else. In other words, my basic beliefs and practices are "Pagan with a Catholic twist".

The realization that I was more Pagan than Catholic did not come overnight, nor was it by any means an easy one. In fact, it was only within the last month or so that I reached the conclusion that, yes, I really am a Pagan, and not really much of a Catholic anymore. From my initial discovery of the Pagan areas and chat rooms online, it has taken me almost a year and a half of reading, researching, and learning. I've also gone through endless questioning of myself and my spiritual beliefs to get to this point. Fortunately, I have some very patient Pagan friends who were always there for me during the rough times, and helped see me through them. As I began to learn about Pagan beliefs, and as I began meeting other Pagans "in real life", as we online addicts refer to the non-cyber world, I began questioning Catholic teachings more and more.

Even at the height of my "good little Catholic girl" stage, there have been Church teachings that I have felt were very contrary to what I personally believed in my heart and soul. For example, I find it inconceivable that women in abusive relationships are not only encouraged to remain in the marriage by the reluctance of the Church to grant them annulments, but that if they divorce and later re-marry, they are considered to be "living in sin" and unable to fully participate in Church sacraments or to be given a Church burial. I also do not believe that only Catholics will go to Heaven and/or be rewarded in the afterlife. I just can't believe in a God who, if a person has lived a life of love and goodness, would deny them their reward in the afterlife and sentence them to eternal torment simply because they didn't belong to the "right" religion. This is not to say that I no longer believe in God the Trinity, because I still do. It's just that I don't believe that God really cares which religious denomination a person belongs to.

When people make statements like "Catholic Witches are wannabe witches", it really stings. It's not like I woke up one morning and decided to start calling myself a witch because it was cool. In fact, if anyone had asked me if I was a witch up until recently, I would've said "no", because I didn't feel I had earned the right to claim the name. I thought that doing so without being worthy of it would put me right up there with the rest of the wannabes. I even felt at one point like maybe I was a wannabe, and that I didn't deserve the name "witch". I've since realized that if I had been a wannabe witch, I'd have taken down my altar months ago. It may be trendy to be a witch in certain crowds, but it definitely isn't so in my neighborhood, nor is it in the corporate 9 to 5 world that I live in every day.

So, you may ask, if I'm "true" Pagan, why don't I just abandon my Catholic beliefs altogether? Why am I straddling the fence on the issue? The answer is, that while there are definitely Catholic beliefs that I no longer personally believe, there also many beliefs and rituals that I find help me to find my sense of the Divine. There seems to be a belief among some that one needs to completely renounce all things remotely considered Christian in order to be a "real" Pagan. Why throw the baby out with the bath water? If there are things that still work for me, why shouldn't I keep them as part of my spirituality? Not to mention that it is extremely difficult to rid myself completely of all Catholic beliefs after having them for over thirty years. I enjoy attending High Masses where the choir sings classical pieces in Latin. I love the beauty of Church architecture and artwork. I like the "smells and bells" of being inside a Church building. If these things help to bring me closer to my chosen God/Goddess, why renounce them at all? Why not simply make use of them instead?

I incorporate facets of both paths in my spiritual life. To give you a few specific examples, I cast circles and invoke the Archangels as my Quarters/Watchtowers and God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and Mary as my God and Goddess, I use candle rituals and call on various and sundry Saints, and I'm equally comfortable working a spell or saying a novena to Saint Therese. I believe God/Goddess is present in nature, and that all things from trees to my trusty laptop have spirits in some form or another. I will admit that finding the Goddess has been a tough one for me after over thirty years of worshipping male deities, but I am slowly but surely finding Her. I see aspects of Her in Mary, and in Saints like St. Therese, St. Brigid and St. Joan of Arc. I am finding Her in the ocean, in the elm tree that I grew up with in front of my parents' home, and in Her creatures. So, you see, "Catholic Witch" just doesn't adequately describe my beliefs or my practices.

Using the name "Catholic Witch" to describe myself has led to debating and defending myself and my beliefs a lot more often than it has resulted in finding support and community. I think this is largely due to the mistaken notions that I'm actually trying to be both, or that "real" Witches don't/can't have a Christian pantheon as part of their belief system. "Christo-Pagan" is a bit more accepted, and a very good broader description, yet using it to describe myself doesn't reflect the specific path of Christo-Paganism I follow. Among Pagans, there are Druids, Wiccans, Dianic Wiccans, Thelemites, etc., but currently, there aren't any real specific path names (at least not that I'm aware of, anyway) for Christo-Pagans. Those that I have seen mentioned, like "Catholic Witch", often fall short and, when using them to describe myself, I have found myself not accepted as being a "true" Pagan.

This leaves me basically "on a path with no name". "Christo-Pagan Witch with a Catholic Tradition" is a bit of a mouthful, "Pagolic" sounds like some kind of disease, and "Cathopagan" or "Cathagan" sound either like a Catholic dabbling in Paganism, or like something they use on people in a hospital. At this point in my life, I have come to the conclusion that my beliefs and practices are Pagan, with Catholic rituals and deities included as part of my tradition. Finding a name for it that conveys my beliefs clearly hasn't been easy. Some of my friends have suggested some very creative names like "Communion Chomping Spell-chucker", "Crone with a Crucifix" and "Rosary-wielding Rede Lover", and actually, in many ways they're a lot closer to describing my beliefs than "Catholic Witch" is. However, for some reason, I just can't see someone taking "a self-proclaimed Communion Chomping Spell-chucker" seriously for some reason.

Having a name that adequately describes my spiritual path is very important to me. Part of this is because without at least some kind of a name, it's kind of difficult to answer folks in a simple sentence whenever they ask what my spiritual path is. Usually, for the time being, I've been responding that I'm either a "Spiritual Mutt", or a "Hybrid Heathen", but personally, I'd like something a little more specific and a bit more serious that doesn't always involve a lengthy explanation. I'd like to find a name for my path that pretty accurately sums it up in a nutshell.

Finding a name is also important to me because I'm also interested in forming a support community for others with similar paths, both online and in the "real" world. "Catholic Witch" in the name of a chat room or bulletin board online usually leads to a lot of folks jumping in to debate the issue of whether or not it's possible to be both, calling us oxymorons, or at its worst, blatantly telling folks that there's no way they can be one. I want to create a community where we can talk about issues like that, share our frustrations and ideas, and support each other. I've found that it just can't be done as long as I refer to myself as a "Catholic Witch". I and others like me need our own new name, one that isn't a hybrid combination of existing path names, and definitely one that does not inspire debate or criticism the minute it's mentioned. We need a name that clearly conveys that the path we're on is primarily a Pagan path, regardless of who our specific deities are, or how we incorporate them into our Paganism. The name also should honor our Catholic roots as well, yet not place more emphasis on those roots than on our Paganism. In my case, at least, "A rose by any other name doesn't always smell as sweet", and I'd gladly welcome an alternative.

The above article is Copyright 1997 bySinginRose, and is used with permission. This article may not be reprinted without the consent of the author.

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