Jes Wittig is a dancer, a tarotmancer and a reiki master, it sounds like a magical combination. Jes, tell us more about yourself and your life as a witch and person of faith.
Jes: I am indeed all of those things! I dance, I make dances, direct, read the tarot, and channel the reiki, sometimes all at once. I have been described as the Doug Jones of modern dance for my physical character work and proclivity for the imaginal.
What faith were you raised in, and what was your relationship to it while growing up?
Jes: My mother is something of a witch herself but rarely speaks of it, and witchcraft wasn’t much a part of my life growing up. I was raised in something resembling Roman Catholicism mixed with mother earth and science. My mother felt that it was good for a kid to feel that there is something significant and divine that loves them unconditionally and is always looking out for them while also leaving room for experimentation. My father is an atheist. So, my view of Catholicism was shaped in an academically spiritual setting, as I attended Catholic school for some years. When I had more profound questions regarding what we were learning about God and faith there, my mother had less literal and more overarchingly moral explanations. I remember asking her what or who the Devil exactly was one day after coming home from Catholic school, and her reason was that hell was not a literal place. Rather, it was in the mind. She only speaks of the Devil as the tormenting mind-voice many of us have encountered. Hence, she has a more universalist approach to belief and God. My interpretation of the Devil now is somewhere in between mind-form and body-form.
How did you come to explore and expand outside of the spiritual background you grew up with?
Jes: I remember in the sixth grade, at my second Catholic school, my history teacher rebutted one of my hot takes (they were as frequent as they were unwelcome). When he began by saying: “Well, you, as a Catholic”, I interjected and informed him that I wasn’t a Catholic. I was an atheist. The rest of the class sat with bemusement at my petulance. I knew that I was somehow other at this point in my life, and my queerness was creeping into the edges of my vision. Ultimately, aside from my dancing, I was very lonely. I did a lot of reading of National Geographic and watching documentaries about space and the ocean when I wasn’t dancing. I felt that Catholicism and Christianity at large lacked the feelings of wonderment inspired in me while learning about the natural world. So I followed the feeling that I knew to be true. At the time, the church people and my teachers had some wildly cruel things to say about my grief over the death of several family members as well. So I was very put off by the cruelty of the people who preached things like “love” and “selflessness.” This blatant hypocrisy further attracted me to the passion and, again, the wonderment of scientists.
My thinking with Christianity has shifted through long talks with my theologian friend Hannah Cohen. The work of the pastor and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne and the connection of Christianity to quantum physics had me thinking… huh, this is a beautiful interpretation of what’s going on here. Talk about Jung’s tension of the opposites – Polkinghorne’s move from science to religion could stir up suspicion “that might follow the claim to be a vegetarian butcher.” Still, very few things have ever made as much sense to me. And, it helps that someone can hold such seemingly conflicting views so skillfully in an outward way – this inspires trust in me.
The “now-but-not-yet-ness” quality of the new kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and all the phenomena related to this… anything that I put through that equation comes out as love. So that also inspires my trust and faith.
How do you blend your faith and your spiritual practice now?
Jes: My teacher, Jason Miller, when I was attempting contact with the Archangel Raphael (a simple oil, candle and psalm petition), he basically said by their fruits ye shall know them. He’s been firm that you don’t necessarily have to believe in something for the magic to work. Because the mental focus necessary for many spells has little to do with actual belief. And, as we know, witchcraft is not what one necessarily believes. It is about what one does. So, we could ostensibly do these practices without needing actual belief, merely using tools from a toolbox to leverage the desired outcome, to inflict magical influence on a situation. Still, I find that believing is part of respect. Faith is central to Christianity, so I’m feeling my way through the dark on that one right now.
One of my favourite systems to engage with is folk Catholicism – using what one has on hand to make contact with the divine. It has such a rich history, and I love learning about the contradictions people live in regarding doctrine versus action, the seeming passivity of prayer versus the direct action of spellwork.
Did you experience any personal challenges in your own journey to accepting yourself as a witch?
Jes: As soon as I learned that witchcraft has little to do with what one actually believes and is instead about what one does, there was nothing complicated to reconcile.
What has the reaction been like from your family and faith community – have you encountered any discrimination?
Jes: At this time, my faith community consists of one person, my dear friend, a choreographer and theologian, who is currently studying at Duke Divinity. As long as I have known her, she has been a person of tremendous faith. Over our six-plus years of friendship, I have allowed her to influence me, and she has allowed me to challenge her. What really cracked me open towards God again was her continual engagement with the Bible, theological research, and discourse. Especially when I ask difficult questions or drop one of my “hot takes” that my sixth-grade teacher loved so much. Author and former pastor Rob Bell writes: “Questions are not scary. What is scary is when people don’t have any. What is tragic is faith that has no room for them. Abraham does his best to bargain with God. Most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering. God is practically on trial in the book of Lamentations. Jesus responds to almost every question he’s asked with a question.” Suppose I were to engage with a larger community of Christians. In that case, a persistent critique of what it is we are really doing is a must. I haven’t found anyone with the particular inquisitiveness, nor the interest in not just critical but revolutionary thinking, that I require to be in a Christian community, aside from my dear friend. Whenever I’m around her Christian friends, they don’t particularly know what to do with me, an apparent towering heathen who dresses like the Babadook and speaks her mind. Perhaps Holy Spirit will guide me to a whole flock of faithful Babadooks when the time is right.
Do you ever feel you have to be in the broom closet, either hiding your faith in witchy communities or hiding your witchiness in faith communities?
Jes: Constantly. I am very much a closeted Christian at this time, in most circumstances! Especially since I am working with a natural tension of the opposites at this time. One of my favourite ways to engage in witchcraft is the study of and the practical petitioning of demons. When it comes to the famous Pagan/Wiccan tenet that could align with Christianity, “do no harm”,… I’ve come to reconcile that righteous justice causes harm, and that is ok. We live in a society where the oppressed, the othered (anyone outside of the cisgender, hetero, white, male, capitalist and so on), are consistently systemically denied justice by the state. Witchcraft has been a way to grab autonomy and orbiting justice by one’s own hands. I’m a big fan of Jung’s work. Where holding two conflicting beliefs can sometimes constitute neurosis (the belief that one should have, or has in their conscious mind, conflict with their unconscious belief or in some shadow part of themself), I attempt to keep the tension of the opposites. We have free will in Christianity. God honours our decisions in our free will; sometimes, survival and justice are not freely given to us outsiders, so we must take it for ourselves. Any witchcraft you can use to arbit your own righteousness is acceptable by my book. I’m not here to police how communities and individuals take direct action to deal with our violent reality.
What message would you give to other people on their journey to integrate their faith and witchcraft?
Jes: The integration process for me thus far has been nothing short of fascination and a renewed sense of wonderment. It has brought me to my knees with tears of joy and humility. Let there be questions and friction and unrest, and if you find that something comes out of the equation that isn’t pure love, it probably isn’t of God. Holding the tension of the opposites is vital. Take the questions to the edges of your perspective, and then go even further. Leap into the void, I say!
We’d love to hear more about what you are up to! How can people connect with you and find out more about what you do?
Jes: There is a live GoFundMe campaign for my new work, Goetia, which will be in residence for its creation this summer.
Stay in touch with The Northaze here: