Ancestry Lesson v.2

Bewitching or Besmirching

In volume one, I explored my mother’s patrilineal side. A short lived ancestry rife with racism, fiction, cultural appropriation, and roots that did not extend across the pond. In this lesson, I am exploring my father’s patrilineal side and the fictions, folklore, and hundreds of years of names that I have seen branched out on the web.

Patrilineal Investigation

In looking up my father’s dad’s side of the family, I was amazed that the tree goes back to 1380. This purported line going back to 1380 falls in with the major premise of being a witch. That is, those who come from witching lines are those that can trace their lineage back for hundreds of years and have records. The primary site I have been using to look at family history, records, and trees is Family Search. In signing up for a free account, one can get access to records from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and also links to Family Search users who have been doing genealogy work.

Where Are the Witches

Back to witch lineage. For the last decade, I have often wondered if I am a witch. This wonder and curiosity has gotten stronger in the last three to five years. Before I had started asking questions of my only living grandparent and my mom to procure her father’s genealogy book for me to use I had stumbled upon a website, Old World Witchcraft. This was a couple weeks before my state declared a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. I found an article on their site, “Six Signs of a Natural Born Witch.” The sixth sign is an “ancestral linkage” to witches. Previously, I had ruled the sixth sign a dead end. Back in March of 2020, I was unaware of any ancestral linkage, records, stories, or mentions of witches in my family trees. I looked to my granny for confirmation or contradiction of witches being in her father’s line. Much of his line came from England and Ireland. To me, if I had witch ancestors and witch lineage it seemed that my matrilineal great grandfather having English and Irish roots would be a lineage to check because of Sybil Leek’s writings from the 1960s — 80s. Leek’s book, Autobiography of a Witch resonated with me when I read it and Leek was born in England. It also seems that Hollywood has an affinity for making movies about witches that involve English and Irish heritages. While I know witches are essentially all over the world this narrative fit with what I wanted to know and believe about my existence and family’s origins.

For the next couple months, I focused on learning more about granny’s father’s side of the family. I had not found any leads regarding witches being in this family line and so, I got curious about my father and his family trees. I decided to look up my father’s father as he passed away from Polio when my dad was only 10 months old. My grandmother said very little about him when she was alive and so, I thought finding out more about him would be the place to start.

Ancestral Inconsistencies

In looking up my great grandfather and expanding the family tree up through the males that carry my birth surname it ends in 1380 as a birth/decease date. The ancestor is from “Osterreich” and when I looked that up I learned that it’s another name for what we know today as “Austria.” As I found in the first Ancestry Lesson, ancestry data is subject to change without warning. Since, drafting this story the information that I had found about my patrilineal side has changed. The ancestor listed with the year 1380 has had their name modified on Family Search and the year, 1380 has been modified to 1473.

In the intermediary time between finding the lineage dating back to 1380 and drafting this story, I did some searches online with my birth surname, ancestor’s names, and family crest and coat of arms. In that time I had heard of a somewhat private browser called “Duck Duck Go” and decided to conduct these searches there. I was rewarded with new information not previously seen in Google searches I’d conducted. One of them was for the site, Geni. On Geni, there are several excerpts of folklore surrounding the family name and one notable ancestor.

Surname Folklore

The notable ancestor was one who was referred to as a doctor in the 1700s in the Pennsylvania and Canada territories. He was not a doctor by practice, license, or education, but got the title over time because of the “work” he did. The short tales weaved into this fantastical excerpt go from my ancestor being an individual who worked for the church and specialized in rooting out witches to one who practiced “white magic” and possessing many tools of witchcraft. Momentarily, this was enough to sate my witch lineage quest. The tales of my ancestor and their escapades were enough entertainment to hold me over for awhile. Yet, I wanted to know more.

What About Witches

Since then, I have been looking into different types of magic and different types of witches. During planting season in May, I stumbled upon the book The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More by Arin Murphy-Hiscock (pictured to the left below).

I also found a delightful bookshop, Veronica’s Books, in Washington state that sold many of Sybil Leek’s books and more occult books. Through these I learned there are varying thoughts, beliefs, and schools of what magic is and more specifically what constitutes being a witch, practicing wicca, and/or paganism. The Green Witch focuses on plants and the magic and energies one uses to heal, treat, and extend vitality. In the book, there is a differentiation between witchcraft and wiccan. Wiccan is described as a religious sect, whereas witchcraft can be something hereditarily passed down and/or taught. This varies in sources I have encountered since.

The folklore excerpt about my ancestor refers to “white magic.” This led me to search for sources. As up to this point, I was only familiar with the Green Witch book, the writings of Sybil Leek, and the fictional stories written by Alice Hoffman, Deborah Harkness, Laurie Forest, Sarah Addison Allen, and many more. What I understood or I thought I knew about white magic is that it is the opposite of “black magic.” Black magic being spells and rituals that are steeped in satanism and white magic being spells and rituals steeped in doing no harm and utilizing nature. These ideas and understandings I had come from a media-blurred exposure to witchcraft, magic, and the occult. Alike ancestry, my understanding of witchcraft has been more fiction than truth with the truth being tiny kernels collected along the way.

In my follow-up searches, I came across two different articles. One from Learn Religions and one from Thought Catalog. The Learn Religions article discusses “5 Types of Magic.” In it there are the following types: Ceremonial Magic-High Magic, Folk Magic-Low Magic, Witchcraft, Left and Right Hand Magic, and Black and White Magic. In the author’s description of Black and White Magic the distinctions they make have nothing to do with satanism or a good vs. evil perspective. Instead, these magicks are from the perspective of socially acceptable vs. not socially acceptable. Also, in comparing Ceremonial Magic-High Magic to Folk Magic-Low Magic the distinction is all about who and where the magic is being conducted showing that hierarchy and social acceptance are factors in the information shared about “witchcraft” and “magic.” “Witchcraft” is its own type that is a hybrid of Ceremonial and Folk magicks. Based off the descriptions, the author provides, my ancestor, the “Doctor” would fit into the “folk magician” type. It was socially acceptable for him to practice magic because of his association with the church, whereas it was not acceptable for those labeled as practicing “witchcraft” to do so because they were women who lived alone and kept to themselves, unaffiliated with an organization.

The Thought Catalog article discusses, “16 Types of Witches.” In this article, are types of witches I had thought were fiction. For example, the “Gardnerian Witch” is one from Laurie Forest’s Black Witch series and is listed as a type of witch in existence today. There are sea witches, kitchen witches, and hedge witches that involve what an individual’s focus is or what their strengths are and less about who they are descended. The 16th type of witch listed is the “Eclectic Witch,” who is someone that does not practice, perform ritual/spell, or adhere to any one set of rules, dogma, or policy. The author wrote the article from a New Age perspective which is anyone can be a witch by learning, if they choose to identify as such. The types were problematic for me as I felt like I fit into more than one and there was nothing stated preventing me from identifying as several types of witches.

Folklore, Fiction, Fantasy, and Fit

In conclusion, I feel I am no closer to any truth in looking at my father’s patrilineal line. Nor can I claim a witch heritage. What I can say is that one of my ancestors is part of some fantastical folklore involving folk magic/white magic and it’s purported they possessed many tools of witchcraft from their efforts to rid the world of loner, recluse women labeled practitioners of witchcraft. I believe in magic. I also believe that I can heal or harm people with my energies, actions, and words. I do identify as a witch in part because I recognize that my energies, actions, and words are magic that I can use to heal or harm. At this point, I am not confident in the types that I have found nor feeling a sense of belonging to any one type. I try and focus on using my energies to heal, help, and positively transform myself and others. As for being a descendant of witches, the closest I will get to that is by writing stories the way I want to see myself and be seen by others.

Queer Writer & Poet | Sex and Sensuality | Linguistics, Health, and Wellness Interests | Personal Experience | LINKTR.EE/TOLBERTMBB