Trigger Awareness for White Women: Please be aware this essay will likely trigger emotional responses in your body. This content also runs the risk of awakening some deeply hidden trauma in your body as it talks about the genocide of European women that took place from the 12th to 17th centuries—a truth that has been buried in history per the control of the Christian Church, its wake of patriarchal institutions, and their propaganda to disempower women, which helped give rise to the start of capitalism.
This is not an article to read while you are multi-tasking and scrolling social media. Please find a safe place to sit and before you read, ground into your space with some deep breathes and awareness of your surroundings. Please take pauses as you read to breathe and notice where constrictions and emotions are felt in your body. Breathe into those spaces before you continue. When you are done reading, please do something to help you process—journal, take a walk, stand barefoot on the Earth, shake and release tension, scream…and most of all, notice the emotions that arise in your body and allow yourself to feel.
This is a mother lode of truth and what I feel needs to be included in our work as white women with any European descent if we are going to truly heal from the emotional wounds and trauma that inhibit our abilities to feel, causing us to self-sabotage our own situations while also projecting and inflicting our pain onto others—especially those who have identities that differ from our own.
My perspective in this essay is derived from the deep inner root cause analysis I have been working through per my own healing journey, which a cancer diagnosis served as the catalyst for in January 2018. This work is informed by numerous perspectives whose work I carry forward in the conclusions I draw*. I have lived and breathed the energies of unraveling to bring this perspectives forth as the deep-seeded power behind my path to reclaim my wise women tradition ancestry. A path that has revealed why white women with and of European descent hold many of the qualities that perpetuate oppression and how healing from these wounds are one key to creating a more just, equitable, inclusive, and compassionate culture of belonging.
To white men: LISTEN. And DON’T SAY A WORD. This is NOT your story.
To People of Color: I hope this provides perspective you might be interested in to help answer a question I have been asked by many Women of Color and one I want to provide an answer to: “why are white women the way they are?” and what white women can do to be in integrity to antiracism work.
Deep breath all…here we go…
THE HISTORY OF THE INQUISITION / BURNING TIMES OF WITCHES **
Long, long ago, in a land far away, women from my English, French, and Irish lineage were once wise to the teachings of the plants, the lessons of nature, the medicines of the Earth, the knowledge of the stars. These ancestors were once indigenous to the land and lived in accordance with the cycles of nature, the rhythms of the water, the rise and fall of the Sun, the power of the Moon. Women were respected in the traditions of Earth-based wisdom and provided vision and leadership. Wise women were the physicians and healers, midwifes and doulas, counselors and spiritual advisors.
Women in these roles were a threat to the growing propaganda of the christian church, which was based in instilling fear in the unknown and controlling bodies per a fear-based narrative, giving rise to the power of the church and its growing catalog of patriarchal institutions.
Fueled by the demolition of Pagan religions, the church branded women as witches, condemned them as devil worshippers, and then, using some of the earliest tactics to control a mass narrative, turned the cultural traditions of women into heresy—punishable acts of witchcraft.
Charging women as witches and punishing acts of “witchcraft” aka Pagan and wise women cultural and spiritual traditions, began around the 12th century. The propaganda, pursuits, and punishments grew in fervor and horror following the bubonic plague of the 14th century when women became associated with darkness and death, contributing to the church-fueled fear of “darkness” and saviorism of “light,” which continues to present day in the construct of racism.
By the 15th century a full blown genocide of women was underway, known as the Catholic Church’s “Inquisition” of European women. This intentional holocaust of women lasted until the 17th century with the low estimation of deaths at 60,000-200,000 to the high estimation of 9 million over the entire period (men were murdered as well, however estimations are that 80-85% of deaths from the inquisition were of women)***. European colonizers carried the genocide with them to the land of Turtle Island where they not only continued to kill women whose existence challenged the church, but transferred the ideology to conduct the genocide of indigenous people on Turtle Island. The witchcraft holocaust in Europe has also been used to discredit women’s traditions in cultures across the world, stripping away the healing powers of women and further deploying the atrocities of colonization in indigenous cultures all over the Earth.
Women’s powers in healing challenged the doctrine of the church. Church institutions became medical educational institutions as discoveries in science were beginning to be made, and women were banned from educational opportunities, which secured patriarchal control of medicine and henceforth control of women’s bodies. Domesticating women as wives, instead of independent humans, was soon to follow.
The Catholic Church’s fear-based propaganda to suppress the power of women and secure the control of the patriarchy is one of the most detrimental original conspiracies—only it is not a theory. It is an original truth that has been hidden—twisted into false stories, fake narratives, and blame-based delusions which displaced thousands of years of oral traditions with lies to propel the power of the male-dominated control of the church and its patriarchal institutions of oppression.
For hundreds of years, women were tortured and generations of children watched their mothers burn. Women betrayed one another to save their own bodies and their loved ones, turning in the names of other women to be burned as sport for the whole community to witness which led to traumatic layers of mistrust. Women were accused of witchcraft if they gathered, if they lived alone or with other women, if they practiced wise women cultural traditions, and therefore began to distance themselves from each other out of the fear of being burned alive.
The trauma response behaviors of European women following the genocide of witches, over time, turned into a culture of women of European descent fraught with the energies of betrayal, mistrust, secrecy, backstabbing, envy, exclusion, and competition that continues to this very day.
Competition was further roused by the formation of capitalism as a direct byproduct of the inquisition. Capitalism has its origins as a financial vehicle of the Catholic Church, before transcending through the theft of Native Americans with tobacco trade and then building American wealth on the backs of African slaves. One of the first examples of capitalism was the financial exploitation of the witch hunts, trials, and executions. The inquisition instituted one of the first capitalistic supply chain models to search for, interrogate, capture, transport, imprison, charge, and murder women—all of which made a great deal of money for the church and galvanized the greed of making money in response to the frenzy of a trend—originally in killing witches.
The aftermath of energetic and spiritual trauma continues to cause harm today by white people’s shattered relationships with each other being projected into the systems and culture of white supremacy, including the toxic binaries of good and bad, light and dark. Our shattered relationships with the land are depicted in how we conquer, control, and deplete the very soil, water, and air that give us life. And our shattered relationship to our own bodies is how we cause harm to ourselves and the bodies we try to control with the imprinted trauma that lives in our DNA. That is, until we are able to heal from and release the toxicity of European ancestry and cultivate the courage to tap into the love, resiliency, and intuitive medicines that also reside within us.
I call in white women of European descent to reckon with our heritage. Now is time to reclaim our lost culture so we can bring healing to this world and end the harm we inflict upon ourselves, each other, people who are different from us, and the Earth.
THE RELATIONSHIPS AND BEHAVIOR OF WHITE WOMEN
The fear of women’s healing, sexual, leadership, and visionary powers by the church and patriarchy stripped us—literally and figuratively—of our culture, medicine, spirit, ability to feel emotions, and autonomy over our own bodies. Women have been fighting to reclaim these powers ever since.
When I facilitate dialogues and hold intuitive arts sessions with white women to dig into the harms of white supremacy culture and how to identify what behaviors we can change as white women, I often drop us into our breath and bodies, where we journey back to Europe in the Middle Ages and feel into the energy of the burning times. This helps us get out of our intellectual framework around oppression and feel into what was happening in our own ancestry that is imprinted in our behaviors now that cause suffering in ourselves and others.
If we are to be committed to our own personal healing work, we need to peel back the layers of the trauma onion to where we lost our relationships with each other and our own culture. If we are to be committed to antiracism and the broader work of decolonizing our hearts and minds, we also need to be committed to our personal healing work and how so many of our behaviors are the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture, which cause everyone harm (ourselves included and most especially people with non-white skin). In taking a revealing look at ourselves and our heritage, we can begin to unravel why our energies are so wrapped up in envy, betrayal, exclusion, mistrust, competition, and the scarcity mindset of capitalism and how those energies perpetuate the toxicity of white supremacy culture.
As we fought for our own survival during the burning times, we learned trauma coping mechanisms that served us at the time that have since become expectations, abuse, and weapons of dominant culture. Much of white culture in the “United States” is based on how people responded to, inflicted, or repressed trauma rather than cultural practices from our authentic ancestry. We snuck remaining parts of our Pagan religion into the Catholic Church with the worship of Mary, witches became saints, and Pagan celebrations became holidays, now consumed by capitalism. It was safer for women to withdraw into marriage with men (regardless of our sexual orientation), rather than live alone or in community with other women or continue to try to practice the healing arts of wise women traditions. Our relationships with each other as women were severed from the burning times and the institution of marriage further perpetuated the separation of women and encouraged control by husbands, cultivating submissiveness and the prominence of domestic violence which continues to threaten and kill women and children to this day.
The coping mechanism of silence, to escape the gaze of the inquisition, is one of the most harm-inducing behaviors enacted by white women throughout history since the burning times.
The cultural behavior to “mind your own business” is a direct descendant of a coping behavior following the inquisition and continues to be used today, especially around domestic violence situations involving women and children. Silence over the course of American history is especially threatening to the survival and culture of People of Color. As Europeans moved to Turtle Island to escape the horrors taking place in the name of Christianity, women watched in silence as those same horrors were repackaged into a new genocide of indigenous people in the act of colonization and imperialism. The silence continued as African people (and Caribbean, Asian, and more People of Color) were enslaved to build white wealth. Black and brown bodies were brutalized and many lynched in the town square, with white women watching in silence or in support—eerily reminiscent of the sport and trade of burning witches.
Over time, silence became complicity, circumvention turned into deceit and corruption, helping to construct the systems that dominate our lives and culture, which are rooted in oppression and very much devoid of empathy. The empathetic void is so engrained in our culture as we have been unable to feel, express, or recognize emotions; creating a dis-ease and mental health crisis rooted in the toxic cultural norms of suppression. Women are especially conditioned to swallow our emotions and judge others for theirs, which contributes to a deep lack of empathy that inhibits our ability to hear the lived experiences of people whose stories differ from our own, further contributing to the culture of white supremacy and racism.
Women’s resistance to emotional gaslighting is rising and culture is changing faster now as the magnitude of human and Earth crisis finally create the demand for solutions. We are beginning to connect our ability to recognize, feel, and process emotions as critical to our individual and collective health—and I suggest as core to addressing the intersectionality of social justice issues.
In order for more of us to draw the connections between our own emotional responsibility and social justice, I call in white women of European descent to examine how the energetic horror of the burning times has stayed with us and has been passed along into all of white culture, hidden deep in the unconscious mind and tucked away as trauma in the body. Our energies shifted, over hundreds of years, from turning one another in to save our own lives to mistrusting, judging, and competing with each other; giving rise to the deep rooted envy and exclusion that is the source of so much conflict amongst white women. These behaviors have become an accepted part of our mainstream culture, beginning when we are young and continuing throughout adulthood. Conveyed in how we communicate and treat each other as women, the cruelty that extends from our behaviors—sometimes unintentional and subconscious—is transmuted into many of the ways we try to control, judge, and manipulate people who are different from us or who we may deem inferior—especially people with brown and black skin.
I believe that in order for white women to be able to practice allyship, accompliceship, and co-conspiratorship in hopes to unite around the love of our humanity through the intersectionality of social justice issues (race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, ability spiritual, and all other ways people are persecuted from belonging because of their identity and body), we must shine a light on our own wounds so we can stop causing harm to each other and all of the people whose identities lead us to treat people in ways that cause pain and suffering. I believe that in order to do this, white women must reclaim our ancestry and culture by gathering together as women to heal and make right the wrongs of our ancestors. This is our work. We need to come together as white women in community and learn to be in relationship with each other, learn to trust each other, learn to lift each other up, and break out of this capitalistic chokehold that’s been taking us down from the very beginning. When we move out of our silos and weave together in our collective power dynamic as anyone who has been socialized, to any extent as a woman, we can shift away from the toxic culture of white supremacy and co-create a new culture that meets our emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.
As white women, until we have healed enough of our own pain, so that we can stop projecting our trauma onto other bodies, we are not safe for People of Color. How can we emphasize belonging with safety if the culture we embody is toxic, due in part to our behaviors as white women? How can we be safe for Women of Color when we are not even safe for each other?
Let’s break this outdated, social norm that we may not have caused, but we certainly perpetuate. Let’s heal in community as white women, reclaim our roots together, shift away from toxic white supremacy culture, dismantle the patriarchal systems of oppression, and co-create the dawning of a new era with a new way of being that draws from deep within our hearts.
Note to white women of non-European ancestry, mixed race women with both non-white identities and some European ancestry, Latinx, Asian, and indigenous women with white identities—I am not able to speak to your perspective because that is not my lived experience or identity. I also recognize that your voices need to be heard as a part of this broader conversation. I see you and I am listening. If anyone reading would like to share your perspective on the EmpowR Voice Blog, please be in touch.
Note to Women of Color—I recognize that you are deeply in need of your own healing spaces with Women of Color and the many layers of trauma within Black and Brown communities. May more white women taking responsibility for their behavior begin to alleviate your burdens and shift the dynamics of emotional labor so your energies can be more deeply centered in healing and meeting your needs as are determined by you.
WHY DO WHITE WOMEN APPROPRIATE OTHER CULTURES?
By now in reading this essay, it is my hope that you might be able to answer this question. To not make any assumptions, I want to make it crystal clear. Cultural appropriation is people from a more dominant culture enacting, taking, and using practices and traditions from a non-dominant culture in different ways from their original intention, exploiting the practice or tradition by claiming it as your own, honoring the traditions or practices without recognizing and making reparations to the marginalized culture, and capitalizing on a practice or tradition for the financial benefit of the dominant culture identity or entity. In short, white people claiming cultural practices and traditions of non-white people as their own and/or financially benefitting from those traditions and practices lies in the dicey and unresolved space of cultural appropriation.
Cultural appreciation is celebrating and supporting different cultural traditions, practices, food, arts, music, etc. where the power dynamic is in the benefit of the source of the culture. In other words the people of that culture hold the power in how the culture is shared and are recipients of the financial exchange and/or awareness of/mitigation of oppression. Cultural appreciation recognizes the oppressed and marginalized narratives by those who wish to celebrate, support, or enjoy the culture.
Cultural appropriation is vast and varied with differing layers of perspective being shared by people in many different cultures. It is important to understand there is not one answer, which is why it is important for white people to listen to people from different cultures and honor the requests of how to support and not cause harm. My intention here is to not try to delineate the different types of cultural appropriation, but rather to give a general understanding and to dig into the deeper question of WHY? Systemic change and healing both require understanding of root causes which is how we can make the authentic change we seek if we are to be in integrity to healing the harms of white women trauma and the role it plays in racism.
Why do white women appropriate other cultures? Why are we fascinated with indigenous cultures? Why do we seek healing modalities outside of the dominant white culture as practitioners and for our health and wellness? Why do we feel drawn to spiritual practices outside of the Christian church? My hope is you are beginning to form answers to these questions based on all I have written in the above essay. My hope is you are able to sit in the discomfort of the truth of white culture.
The indigenous cultures on the lands of Europe were depleted with the tyranny of Christianity. We, as white women, appropriate other cultures because ours was violently taken from our bodies and spirits. We lack our own culture when it was stripped from us and we were burned at the stake. Our role as wise women, our culture of medicine women, our spiritual practices of giving and caring for the Earth were abolished when the patriarchy came for us, ripped away our Pagan roots and ceremonies, and turned us against each other to save our own lives.
While it is not our fault that our culture was taken from us in our own genocide, it is our responsibility to reclaim our power and medicine so we can do our part in healing the heart of humanity. While we, as white women, can work to understand why we appropriate from other cultures and why we tear each other down due to hundreds of years of emotional wounds in our DNA, we must hold ourselves accountable for the harm these behaviors cause in the present day.
White women of European descent I call you in to:
- Learn about your ancestry and the specific energies that run through your DNA and how the burning times energies show up in your life, relationships, how you uphold white supremacy culture, and where you cause harm.
- Give yourself permission to say no to patriarchal and capitalistic expectations in your life and make space to dialogue and heal in community with white women, so you can be safer for People of Color in relationships.
- Tap into your intuition and awaken the powers of healing that flow in your blood and spirit, and reclaim what has been lost.
- Commit yourself to cultivating feelings of liberation in your own life, so you can build empathy and capacity for supporting the liberation of people more marginalized than you, whose oppression and murders are taking place right now.
- Take responsibility for healing your body, emotions, trauma, and spiritual voids.
- Be intentional in expanding how the ripples of healing your wounds create a culture of responsibility for our behavior, which will dismantle the culture of white supremacy to one that is safe for all identities, especially those most threatened by the dominance of white, patriarchal power and toxic wealth.
- And most of all TRUST that you have a role to play, that you have the power to contribute to change, and that healing yourself is how we heal the world.
Healing and liberation are nuanced words, and we deeply lack the words needed to create new narratives that center the practices and work of transformative and restorative justice. Language is a part of our evolution just as learning how to build the emotional resiliency muscle for the discomfort that comes when we learn and begin to unpack the truth.
THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF A WITCH CART
In conclusion I want to share some of my own process and how I enact personal responsibility in the words I speak.
I am often judged (mostly by white women) for the perspectives I offer (mostly because those who judge are unknowingly triggered by something I wrote) or because it is my life purpose (unbeknownst to them) to shine a light that exposes truth (even if that truth makes them uncomfortable). I have struggled and studied this truth about myself for years and it has been the source of much pain and wisdom.
I believe that saving our humanity and the survival of our human bodies requires each of us to go within ourselves and do inner change and healing work—recognizing our commitment to care informs cultural and systemic change to address the racial, climate, health, capitalistic/economic/political catastrophes and inequities facing us all in devastating ways, with some much more negatively impacted than others because of how the very systems that cause oppression and inequity were designed. And while much of my writing suggests why and how we approach transformation, I also believe we are all on our own path, journey, and timelines. And I fully recognize we are all in widely varying degrees of privilege, accessibility, ability, and resources.
My intention is to offer guidance, wisdom, and ways to support those who consent into the path of healing and personal responsibility. To those who do not consent, I repeat the above paragraph. My intention is also to recognize my own privilege and use it to be a voice that advocates for systemic change in efforts to prioritize mental health in mainstream work, life, and home culture, thus creating accessibility and acceptance of personal and collective healing throughout society.
The reason I have had the privilege to dig into these concepts so deeply is because I spent three and a half years in isolation navigating my own cancer, women’s health, autoimmune, mental health, and career burnout crisis. My lived experience brought me deep into root cause analysis of the pain, suffering, and trauma in my life and its relationship to the toxic expectations and narratives of mainstream culture and the poisonous, Earth and Body-killing greed of capitalism.
I have been exploring the themes of this essay in many ways my entire life, and very intently between 2018-2021.
- What began as toxicology testing and geneticist analysis to determine mitochondrial DNA mutations that caused cancer in my body turned into a study of epigenetics which broadened into awareness and understanding of racialized trauma.
- What began as looking into my ancestry to find connection with resilience and love in my family turned into an awakening to the truth of how the “United States” came to be and the role my ancestors played in it.
- What began as discovering and healing the root causes of dis-ease in my body turned into uncovering deep rooted emotional trauma and then making the connection to that trauma through epigenetic and spiritual imprints on the soul.
- What began as understanding my astrological chart, retreating in nature for connection and healing, and working more intentionally with healing plants and herbs turned into remembering and studying wise women traditions of my ancestry.
- What began as retraining my brain to trust my intuitive, relearning how to listen to my heart, and reminding myself to feel what is in my gut turned into reclaiming my cultural heritage as a witch.
My last name is Carter and years ago while visiting England and studying my ancestry, I learned the surname Carter is attributed to the early forms of transport in England—those who carted around goods. One of the supply chain jobs in the dawn of capitalism was the construction of witch carts and the transportation of witches for trials and executions. Female lineage cannot be traced because of the patriarchal emphasis on paternal surnames in marriage and tracking of historical records. So my exploration is in the dreamtime, meditation, deep listening in the woods, journaling, and other forms of tapping into intuition and ancestral knowledge that resides within our bodies. Through intuitive connection I reclaim my wise women traditions and in defiance to the energies of the burning times I claim the identity of witch. I also claim the surname Carter because I will speak the truth and “cart” it around, even if I am judged for being who I am. Part of having the courage to stand strong in my authenticity is to constantly be engaged with my own lifelong healing and taking responsibility for my energy, how I show up, and where I cause harm—including in relation to the characteristics of white women I call out here that I also navigate and work to heal from every single day.
Sharing the lessons I have learned, the perspectives I receive through the depth of this inner work, and the wisdom that resides deep within my intuition, is a part of my taking responsibility for healing and honoring my purpose in this body, at this time on the planet. May my words give you the courage to take a bold step forward and not be afraid to make mistakes, and when you do, to stand back up and go forward again. If you need support, I am here when works for you, and I send you love no matter who you are and no matter where you are on your journey.
Thank you for reading, listening, hearing, witnessing, and caring. I wrote these words under a canopy of trees at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary with an abundance of mountain air flowing over my fingers as I typed. I offer some of that air to you, for deep nourishing breaths and an invitation to take a step forward in healing yourself to heal the world.
*, **, *** My perspective and conclusions are informed by an intuitive process derived from a root cause analysis approach I have been honing my entire life, in depth study and experiential learning, and perspectives of numerous thought leaders, the most relevant to this essay recognized here.
- Specifically, content in the History of the Inquisition / Burning Times of Witches section of this essay was informed by two documentaries that I highly encourage you to watch:
- Articles also informing the History of the Inquisition / Burning Times of Witches section of this essay:
- Books that inform the broader scope of this entire essay:
- Witch by Lisa Lister
- Healing Wise by Susan S. Weed
- If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie
- Jailbreaking the Goddess by Lassara Firefox Allen
- My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Sacred Instructions by Sherri Mitchell
- Educational and experiential learning informing my perspective and conclusions in this essay:
- Racialized Trauma Course with the Cultural Somatics Institute
- The Art of Navigating Change Course with Rockwood Leadership Institute in Oakland, CA
- Divorcing White Supremacy Culture conceived and designed by Tema Okum
- Wisdom of Holistic Witch and Visionary Linda River Valente
- European Roots Study with Katrina Coravos
- Insights and Lessons from Fearn Lickfield, Chief of the Green Mountain Druid Order
- Radical Self Love and Ancestral Healing with Dr. Trish DeRocher
- Embodied Equity with Rene Goddess Johnson
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Science and Art of Herbalism Course
- New England Women’s Herbal Conference
- Medicine Womyn’s Retreat
- My personal experiences as a white women having lived in rural areas of Massachusetts and Vermont and urban areas of New York and Tennessee; navigating friendships, family, career, classism, and personal growth; a health crisis of mind, body, and spirit with both conventional and holistic health approaches and the inequity that exists with both; and investigating every essence of a communications degree in public relations and its interconnectivity with human behavior—individual and collectively.
Blessings of Compassion and Gratitude to all who read these words.
Rae Carter is the founder of EmpowR and offers individual support sessions to humans grappling with these concepts who are seeking support. EmpowR also offers facilitation, communication, and culture building services as well as programs and events to support transformative justice.
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