Upon my initiation as a Witch, I swore a vow that I assume many others have also sworn, which is to always protect and defend “my sisters and brothers of the Art.” Now I’m wondering over the longer term exactly what that means. Or what it might mean to me.
Who are my sisters and brothers? Who are my kin? This is a topic worthy of further exploration. However, while awaiting that further exploration, I want to speak of my main takeaway from the 2015 Parliament of World Religions.
That is the notion of kinship.
I wasn’t as acutely aware of kinship, and its depth of meaning, when I was younger. Now that I’ve experienced more turnings of the wheel, more dyings and birthings, more deaths and births, more souls leaving this plane of existence and more entering, I see kinship from a broader and longer perspective.
Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples
When I go to powwows (from Narragansett powáw ‘magician’ (literally ‘he dreams’)), which are held regularly in San Quentin State Prison where I volunteer with the Wiccan circle under the sponsorship of the Native American chaplain, I hear all people addressed with terms denoting kinship. Older people such as myself are called “aunties” and “uncles,” elders are called “grandmother” or “grandfather.” Younger folks are addressed as “sister,” “brother,” or “cousin.”
I experienced this again at the PWR, where there was a fire kindled by members of various indigenous peoples from around the world (the USA, Canada, Nigeria, New Zealand, Greenland, Lithuania, et al.). At their various presentations and at the Indigenous Peoples Plenary, I heard similar references.
The same is true of much of the African-American community, as well as, I would assume, in the societies in Africa where they originated. In Black society, particularly in churches (which are generally Protestant Christian), such forms of address are common. We are all sisters and brothers.
Philosopher, scholar, and activist Cornel West both refers to and addresses everyone as “Sister” or “Brother.” Barack Obama is “Brother Barack” and I am “Sister Aline” (or “Sister Macha”) to him. (I introduced myself to him in an elevator lobby once, meaning to tell him what a fan I was, and he hugged me, said how wonderful it was to see me, though we hadn’t met before, and called me Sister.)
Quakers (Society of Friends) in general have in the past addressed one another as sister, brother, or friend. In the 1945 Jessamyn West book The Friendly Persuasion, later made into the film Friendly Persuasion, Friends referred to each other by the kinship terms of sister and brother. A biography of Betsy Ross, purported maker of the first American flag in 1776, also uses these terms for members of the Philadelphia congregation to which she belonged.
The Friends have a complicated history as a religion, as in fact most religious movements do. Paganism(s) is certainly no exception. Currently this practice of addressing other members in kinship terms has fallen away.
Notions of Kinship within Contemporary Paganism
Often I’ve referred to different individuals as my “witchkin.”
Other terms heard amongst Pagani are “tribal” and “clan.” The former is often used in a utopian way to reflect the sense that we have found our own, or have “come home.” Yet it’s also seen in a negative light when used in the context of nativism and xenophobia. I’d like to see those notions discussed further, but for now my take-away from the Parliament is remembering our interdependence by considering ourselves kin.