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

Submitted by katrina on Mon, 05/16/2011 - 8:10pm.

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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Recent comments

  • Nephthys (not verified)

    I've been with Firefly for a number of years, I recently left my position at The Firefly Community to pursue other dreams but to be clear how much I was involved before I address the statements made, I was a teacher, Priestess, member of the Inner Circle of the Council of Elders, Course Contributor, Clergy, Delegate and Divination reader so I was quite involved with Firefly on many levels.

    I am offended by your statement that Firefly is cultish. Given my involvement as listed above I can safely say that Firefly members are not cultish in behaviour nor is Firefly cultish in of itself. I am no longer involved with Firefly in any strong capacity other than that of a student so I can also safely say this is not coming from a blind faith position. I will be the first to admit that part of the reason I left Firefly was because I did not agree with some of the changes Lady Iris intended to make, that being said, I don't support the idea that abuse should be turned into a political statement.

    I don't know Sean and I am not close to Lady Iris (I live in a different country) and have not commented on the situation with her marriage but some of his behaviours are reprehensible. If a President did this he would be impeached and booted so I fail to see why it should be ignored and relegated to 'personal marital issues' when behaviour like this is indicative of larger psychological issues. If Sean Bennett is allowed to use and abuse women in this fashion, eventually he would work his way through the single ladies in the OHF and what would you be left with?

    2 years 2 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I for one have been pondering this question. Iris did highlight a valuable point - how are checks and balances established to prevent potential abuse and to air concerns. These are hard lessons that groups need to learn.

    Without denying people their agency, how do you set up a system that will prevent abuse by other members? How far does a group go to ensure the mental and emotional safety of the adult members?

    For example, I know with my disability (brain injury), I would deeply resent being told that the group is looking out for my best interests. It would seem to be paternalistic on the group's part to assume that I cannot fend for myself. But because of my disability, I can be easy prey for a con-artist. How do you solve a dilemma like that? Can this be encoded or is this sort of thing too nebulous to pin down?

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I have a traumatic brain injury.

    That being said, I got caught in the cross-fire in the Firefly Campaign, since I did not get with the program - i.e. Firemoon was abused by a sexual predator, who for the sake of the community had to be removed. I was shocked at how this mantra was repeated over and over everywhere it could be. I was shocked at how the Firefly folks did not identify themselves as they sought to achieve their goals. It left a poor taste about Firefly in my mouth since I started to regard them as "cultish", incapable of independent thought or discussion. Also it disturbed me how the Firefly folks who had nothing to do with DC, carried water in the campaign as well.

    Since I had lot of free time, I researched the consistent posters and everything I could find, and an disturbing picture arose. The one you described of a one-sided campaign to achieve a stated end, without proper identification or perspective.

    As for the brain injury - I got raked over the coals for making light of the issue from an avowed healer, who thought my injury was a ruse. That scared me into thinking that perhaps my impression of the "cultishness" of the Firefly group was true. (I know cult is a loaded word, but I cannot think of the word that would indicate a group of people, emotionally inflamed with one mission in mind, and not allowing any dissent.)

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Kali Firemoon (not verified)


    I am so sorry that we have not met yet since it so obvious from your comments that you are a close personal friend of Iris’s and know all there is to know about the situation from a front row seat. I mean, after all, one who has seen a woman four months pregnant, losing weight and physically appearing to not be pregnant would of course understand the emotional, and yes, physical stress she was under. But of course, since you were there I don’t need to remind you of that. So lets move on to the rest of the story, you know where her husband chose to have unprotected sex with someone else, who I am sure was a complete virgin and posed no risk to mother or child, and then husband went home to engage in carnal activities with his wife, confident that his unborn child was never at risk. Yes, I am sure that all of your female students understand why you are firmly in the husband’s court. After all, it’s always the woman’s fault when marriages go bad. Or at least that is what I seem to glean from your article. Yes, I am Firefly, and I was one of the one’s chosen to help this woman after she was victimized by this predator who seems to have persuaded the pagan community that it is acceptable to treat not one, not two but at last count four woman as though they were simply a means to his end. And BTW I know she attempted to alert the community to her situation and apparently no one felt it worth even a cursory investigation. Oh yes, one more example of us not wanting to rock any one’s boat. I will tell you that in response to her story, several other pagan women have come forward with similar stories of abuse reported to the male members of a community met with similar disdain and an obvious desire to hide this type of behavior. Do I believe it happened this time, yes; do I believe that this community is willing, no matter the cost, to hide this type of behavior, yes. No one wants to call attention to the pagan community because we already have an undeserved stigma. But that does not mean we should allow behavior none of us condone simply because we are afraid of controversy. If one of us needs be sanctioned, then we either stand and sanction or accept the stigma so many would place upon us. We need to “police” our own. When four and probably five women come forth and tell the same story of predatory behavior against women we either act or fold the tents and go home. So I suggest you talk to all of them before you post any more pontifications. I also realize you can never post this but we both know you will have read it.

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Cara Schulz (not verified)

    Hello Katrina,
    Although we know one another, mostly online but also when we met at Sacred Harvest Festival, for your readers let me note that I'm the Managing Editor of PNC-News and the Co-Editor of PNC-Minnesota. I was the primary author of the PNC-News statement that you are writing about.

    The persons who contacted me asking when PNC would cover this were not Firefly members. Most were not local to DC, but were Pagans and polytheists in other parts of the country who had donated to the Pagan community center in DC and naturally had an interest in it. Why would they contact me? Because I'm the Managing Editor and people often contact me to ask if PNC is covering a story or to request that we cover a story. That's how we get many of our articles - through our readers.

    As for why PNC-News put two different situations in one statement, it's because they are related in nature and both needed to be addressed promptly.

    If anyone has any questions, we encourage them to contact us and ask them.

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Kat, Emralde (not verified)

    Thank you for this perspective. I very much appreciate the voice of the elders as I struggle with my own (not-voiced) feelings about this situation and its outcome.

    2 years 5 weeks ago