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“They would have burned me at the stake,” the quiet voice that accompanies me in times of stillness whispered.
The words seemed foreign yet rang as true in my heart—a resounding acceptance reverberated through my body.
Standing over my large, worn, wooden cutting board late on a Monday afternoon is not unusual for me.
I stared down at the shiny, pale flesh of a dozen cloves of garlic contrasted against the walnut cutting board. The silver blade of my paring knife catching the glittering reflection of the rebellious beam of light that had somehow found its way into the dark kitchen.
I took stock of the scene. “They would have burned me at the stake,” rang again in my mind.
There on my large, walnut cutting board, engraved with an “N” for my husband’s last name—which I never legally took, because no—was an array of fresh herbs. My hands, scribbled with green-blue bulging veins, knew their way around preparing herbs as if they’d done it for lifetimes.
I had already sliced most of the pungent garlic, its sharp but familiar aroma filling my greedy nostrils. “Garlic,” I thought. I can make do without onion, but I’d be lost if I had to cook without garlic. Running out of onion had caught me by surprise that afternoon as I’d started preparing a hearty vegetable stew for the first cool days of fall following the most brutally hot and intense summer of Austin, Texas history.
Garlic is comfort. It is the memory of every single one of my Portuguese ancestors. It is the waft I catch upon entering my grandparents’ warm kitchen, and the scent of scrumptious morsels of shrimp in piri piri sauce my dad would make on the weekends. I do not know food without garlic.
When I traveled to India for my yogic studies five years ago, I had to live without it for two months as part of a Sattvic diet—an experience I vowed never to repeat. Garlic is medicinal, after all.
“Ah. Aha. Yes, yes of course. They would have burned me at the stake.”
Herbs speak a special language to those who will listen. This is something I think I always knew, but was taught again in Ayurveda school, where learning ancient herbalism was a special treat.
There on my walnut cutting board lay an array of beautiful fresh herbs. There was the fresh garlic—about 12 bulbs—half of which I’d already slivered. There was also pale green sage—its soft, white peach fuzz covering its long, elegant leaves, pointed at the top and arranged like a bouquet.
Sage was the wisest herb on the board. Humble in her grounded, knowing wisdom, like the grandmother willow tree, she was ancient, had seen it all, and held the healing secrets for countless ailments. Just like hugging your grandmother wrapped in a faded, light blue hand-knit sweater, sage was comforting to talk to and touch. Her own innate gentleness instructing just how gentle to be in handling her.
In that moment in my softly lit kitchen, it all hit me like a hundred-foot wave crashing down at Nazaré. I would have been burned at the stake, yes, of course.
For I was a witch in their eyes. A medicine woman, a healer, a seer.
Over the years, friends had made comments to and about me. “I think Cristina is a witch,” they’d whisper as if I couldn’t hear them. Some of them snickered, but they were all serious. For birthdays, people always loved gifting me little trinkets, like a metal pin the size of a quarter, the profile of a witch riding a broomstick, or interesting combinations of herbs labeled things like “Mind Tea” from cramped apothecary shops.
“Interesting,” I’d think. “Oh, thank you! How thoughtful,” I’d exclaim upon opening such strange and specific little packages. Really, I’d never identified with the archetype of a witch, and was genuinely confused and slightly worried by the assumptions of my friends.
While I didn’t have anything against witches, I’d grown up in a pretty traditional Christian home where witches were reserved for Halloween. We even had a small statue of one we affectionately named Bruxa (Portuguese for witch, pronounced bru-shuh) who plugged into the wall and swayed as her green eyes lit up every three minutes.
Otherwise, the term witch seemed derogatory and spooky. Learning about the Salem Witch Trials in school had made me sad, but not nearly as depressed as when I read Anne Frank in eighth grade and couldn’t eat or sleep for three weeks.
Over the years, and especially as I surrounded myself with nomads, yogis, and modern hippies in my 20s, the terms “Divine Feminine” and “Goddess” became expressions I heard daily. I nodded in unison, pretending to be just as inspired as my friends who felt this convicting connection to the feminine form of God.
But inside, I felt nothing.
I translated what they would say about the Divine Feminine into my own understanding of God, who in my perception had always been male or nongendered. Father God was a phrase I’d always known and been relatively comfortable with, praying during difficult seasons to the Divine as a masculine force of protection and provision.
“I don’t feel connected to the Divine Mother,” I told my friend Rebecca over the phone about a week earlier. “I don’t have a relationship with the Goddess in that way.”
Rebecca suggested I start creating a connection to the Divine Feminine by writing out the qualities and attributes of the perfect mother. Initially encouraged, I sat down and got to work.
At the end of five minutes, I had a sizable list of maternal attributes, but I did not feel any more connected to this deity than I did to the metallic golden trashcan to the right of my desk.
Over the next couple of days, I experimented with praying to the Divine Mother. I journaled about my potential blocks to her, including my Christian upbringing. Eventually, when nothing seemed to stick, I got bored, and moved on with my life. Or so I thought.
Standing there in my kitchen that early autumn afternoon, it all hit me at once.
They would have burned me at the stake. I would have been a witch. Wait, I essentially am a witch. Oh, time to find a good hat and a broomstick.
Witches embodied the Divine Feminine energy that illuminated their hearts, awakened their knowing, gave them ears sensitive enough to communicate with the plants, and gave them hands that intuitively knew how to work with the herbs and alchemize them into medicine for the animals.
Oh, oh! Witches were a threat to the patriarchy because of Goddess energy. They tried to kill the witches to kill women’s connections with our selves, each other, the Divine, and the earth.
Everyone knew about me all along what I only now am coming to understand—I am a witch. They would have burned me at the stake.
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