Identity (Crisis) Stage Two

I have been struggling with what to call myself for over the last couple of years. I posted a question on Live Journal several years ago that spawned a rich discussion, but still left me scratching my head. Am I a witch, a magician, a shaman, a mystic, an oracle, a priestess or something else altogether?

Recently, I had settled on “wiccan mystic” after using “shaman and mystic” for a few years. But now I am once again grasping at straws.

This all came up recently at the urging of my mentor, Dr. Michael Conforti. He wants me to drop all the qualifiers that reference my religion, my role in the tradition or any of my in-born traits (like psychic or healer). He thinks they unduly restrict my audience and leaves me in a small niche within the marketplace of ideas.

He said something that made me think as well as laugh really hard. He said, would you ever hear Elie Wiesel introduce himself saying, “Hello, I am a mystic and a Jew?”

I laughed and said, “Well, maybe he should!” But I of course understood what Conforti meant. Wiesel’s message transcends his spiritual orientation and ethnic background. And although we all know he is Jewish, he doesn’t have to declare it in order to be heard. *1

So why am I declaring my religion and spiritual orientation? Do I think that I would not be heard otherwise? Do I think that no one would notice unless I spelled it out for him or her? Am I using it as a smokescreen to hide behind?

I have no idea. Sigh …

But I am old school, I shout back in defense. I call myself black or African-American because I am proud of my African heritage. I call myself Cherokee and Irish for the same reasons. I declare myself a witch and a bisexual because I believe that doing so may help make it safe for others. I own my disability and my tough urban background because I am not ashamed of who I am or where I am from. In fact, a lot of my self-descriptions are matters of pride, a stand taken in the face of oppression.

I say to the world, “This is who I am. Deal with it!”

But is this something that is still needed? Does the world not know who and what I am? If you read my words, attend my classes & rituals, or see me walking down the street, what else really needs to be said?

Michael Conforti is also from a tough urban upbringing. And when he opens his mouth, you can sometimes hear it. But you also hear his scholarship, his brilliance and his passion.

Does he have to express his roots as in “I am a Catholic and a Brooklyn born Sicilian”, in order to exhibit his pride?

Conforti and I have been discussing one of my father’s precepts -- respect or fear. “If you do not show me respect, you will have cause to fear me.” I have lived out this precept most of my life. In fact, I now realize that I fall back on generating fear as defense mechanism. I am uncomfortable being seen as tame or harmless. But as I age and my physical limits grow, it is getting harder for me to effectively live with this as an operating principle.

So now, I use the moniker of witch to generate fear, suspicion and surprise. (And other various tools of the inquisition!) Which is kind of silly at so many levels. I mean, I am a large black woman with a booming voice, what else do I truly need to shock people anyway.

What if I shocked them instead with my scholarship, my intellect, my passion and my humor? What if I stopped trying to frighten people and instead just focused on expressing my thoughts, ideas and musings?

In many ways, that is exactly what I have been doing for the last two decades. So why is it so hard to craft a self-description that is in-line with how I actually present myself?

I don’t know. But I am a lot closer now that I have begun to think about it critically.

So who am I?

  • I am a teacher, a blogger, an author, a web designer and a singer/songwriter.
  • At some point, if I am successful, I will become a certified archetypal pattern analyst.
  • I am a mystic and a pagan.
  • I started a school, a ritual group and a spiritual tradition.
  • My ancestry is African, Cherokee and Irish.
  • I am bisexual and I self identify as queer.
  • I have academic degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
  • I worked in the telecommunications/internet technology field for 25 years.
  • I spent over forty years as an activist in the black nationalist, communist, labor, feminist and other political/social justice movements.
  • The mountain and river of my birth are both called Anacostia in the city of Washington DC.
  • I returned to DC in 1990 and bought a home.
  • And my name is Katrina Messenger.
  • And I am so much more than all of this …

All of these statements are true.

Which of these, if any, do I use as my calling card to the world?

1.What is funny is that the Elie Wiesel page in Wikipedia does exactly what Conforti says not to do. The opening line is, Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel is a Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. Considering that it was probably written by someone other than Wiesel, it's still kind of amusing.

Posted in

Henry (not verified) | Mon, 05/16/2011 - 9:02pm

it's all tied up with credentials, authority and the 'marketplace' of ideas.
what is said is only important in regards to who is saying it.


Isis S. (not verified) | Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:31pm

I also am a pagan witch and bisexual. I also sometimes need to say it out loud but I wonder... why is that? Where does the need to affirm it comes from? Hum... very interesting post.


Macha NightMare (not verified) | Thu, 06/09/2011 - 2:41pm

Thought-provoking piece, Katrina. Thanks.

I don't know what to call myself either. In Pagandom, I've taken to referring to myself as a Witch at Large. In the interfaith world where I'm active, I call myself a Pagan. Sometimes I call myself an uppity woman or a Second Wave Feminist. I've never really thought to publicly identify myself by my sexuality, het woman, which is very "white bread" and old-fashioned. Not only het, but serially monogamous for the most part. It seems almost a liability these days to say you're het, but I am proudly and happily so. I tend towards intellectualism but only have a BA, which doesn't carry much weight, at least in public and professional worlds, no matter how much you've studied, trained, and can articulate, even teach.

My biological heritage is Irish, Dutch, French Huguenot, Euro-mongrel. My social heritage is Roman Catholic on one side and conservative Methodist, temperance-crusading, women's rights and education on the other, with distinct East Coast sensibilities, now mellowed by more than half a century living on the Left Coast. My maternal political heritage is conservative Republican (altho what my relatives might think of current trends in the GOP I cannot imagine, since they did have brains and they did think and they did have a social conscience), yet I am much farther left in my outlook than any elected official I know. My paternal political heritage is blue collar Democratic, except that my dad broke with his family on politics and allied with my mother's family's conservatism.

I'm a former hippie, a home-birth advocate, a home death and green burial advocate, an opponent of capital punishment and resorting to warfare to resolve humankind's differences. I support the right to conscious self-deliverance. I rejoice in any and all consensual expressions of love and eros. I'm a lover and a mom.

I have never missed voting in an election and I disrespect those who don't avail themselves of this hard-won right. (I have ancestors who fought the Brits in the American Revolution.) I support workers' rights. I recognize our interdependence on this planet, so could be called a greenie. I'm a committed environmentalist in my day-to-day life (in terms of eating locally grown food, expanding public transit, recycling, preserving open space and wildlife, opposing exploitation of natural resources [strip mining, oil-drilling, nuclear facilities, agribusiness, monocultures, clear-cutting timber, overuse of pesticides, genetic modification, etc.]) I want to make the city streets "safe for dancing," as my old friend Tony Serra said when he ran for mayor of SF on the Platypus Party ticket.

Well, you got me going there, my friend. Thought-provoking read, as I said. ;-)



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