“UNVEIL MY JOHNSON” (AKA REVEALING THE SOUTHERN WITCH)
Someone asked me the other day, “what is it that makes you Southern AND a witch?” I instantly had a flashback to my dissertation days when a beloved/hated professor embedded into my academic psyche “one must be able to answer to the nature of one’s dissertation in one thick sentence.” This was not an easy venture, as my dissertation was about the amalgamation of the Goddess traversing over one hundred years, feminism, rhetoric, American, African-American and British literature, pop culture and . . . you get the idea. Took a minute. In the end, I would point them to Meredith Brooks and her one-hit-wonder song “Bitch” and walk away. Remember that song? When it would play and every damn female and/or queen in the room would convene suddenly belting out:
I’m a bitch; I’m a lover. I’m a child; I’m a mother. I’m a sinner; I’m a saint. I do not feel ashamed. I’m your hell; I’m your dream. I’m nothing in between and no you wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m a bitch; I’m a tease. I’m a goddess on her knees. When you hurt, when you suffer, I’m your angel undercover. I’ve been numb; I’m revived. Can’t say I’m not alive and no you wouldn’t want it any other way. 
Yupper. All sloshing their wine and swaying and baying at the moon. Like that.
And so? What’s a Southern Witch? Hmmm. Well . . .
I am a storyteller, word-giver, respectful, disdainful, oathe-keeping, chicken-frying, baby-birthing, crunchy, spicy, legend-making, tomato-growing, community-building, tattooed righteous bitch. I can shoot a gun, season an iron skillet, can beans and make love like someone with something to prove. My disapproval is hard earned and hard lost, as is my approval. My respect of dogs, front porches and peach cobbler is only rivaled for my adoration of old folks, 1960 somethin’ trucks and church suppers. I understand our speckled history, find myself in the thick of it often and wouldn’t move north of the Mason Dixon line if you paid me in gold. My temper is a flash fire, my forgiveness is forever, but my memory is as long as the Tennessee River.
Yup. Doesn’t even half get it, does it?
Sooo . . . what makes me a Southern Witch? Well, lessee:
We Southern Witches tend to: rear our own food (or at least respect the process), save the seed and remember the name of every sweet soul who gifted us with a living plant. We keep record of everything from our “spells” (recipes, rituals, etc.), but only pass these on/down to like-minded souls. We believe in legend and myth and hold these concepts as that which brings living blood to our lives. We understand our “word” (not the same concept as “wyrd, but I could see the argument here) as a binding, fortifying energy transference that holds tighter than iron and last longer than rock. We understand “rivalry,” have had our share of it and note it in our histories as necessary to keep some things pure and true. And we are tribal in our sharing—especially in times of grief or hardship—and never, ever assume repayment as part of that gift. We may not all be cooks, but we damn skippy appreciate a good spoonhand and a fine meal. “Family” is a verb, as in “family up and help him, damn it.” But, perhaps more than anything, we get the following: some things must be kept secret if they are to sustain this world.
Now, I have met other souls from England, Ireland, California and even New Jersey who exhibit these sensibilities. Are they Southern born and bred? Well, naw. Do they have the soul of a moonshine baby? Hell, yeah. Usually, you will find these folks reading our literature, whipping up our recipes and occasionally even moving hearth and home to America’s version of Down Under. And I can dig it, man. Far as I’m concerned, we have a Southerner buddin’ under our trees—witch or not—and that’s righteous.
Until . . .
As my mentor used to say, “ary thang is cool, lessen they get disparaging.” In other words, “shit or get off the damn pot.”
Let’s try this another way. I have a friend, RB, who rocks my socks. Now, she hails from Georgia (old school South) and her brother up and married a fabulous Woman of Color. Now, RB is so white that her veins glow all lavender and she couldn’t play hide and seek under a full moon. On that account, most folks assume a certain level of safety when they boast and groan all racist over a Margarita. While those same folks would normally (if not assured of that safety) shuffle across a road with a politically-correct hat, the same folks have let slip the occasionally “n” word or otherwise derogatory asshattery whilst sitting at her table. And that’s their first mistake. This is where my Georgia-raised-sorority-educated-Presbyterian slaps a photo or two out of her classic wallet and shows our resident bigot an image of her nephews.
Gets a little quiet at that point in the conversation, you know what I mean?
What we have here is some soul talking both sides out of its mouth, no?
So. What makes someone Southern? Respect, I reckon. To the land they have their pretty shoes planted upon, to the souls whom they have loved who were born in its clay, to the time we have shared our stories, food and adoration with them and to our “ways,” no matter how flawed. Anything else is . . . bad manners. (And I reckon, that should go on my list of Southernisms.)
To appropriate a phrase I’ve heard bantered about lately, “y’all call me Southern as if it were a bad thing.” Iffin’ that’s how you feel, please do get on, stop buying up our land, bear off of our communities and laws, and let me give you the number of our local U-Haul store.
Or do decide what side or yor’ mouth you want to use.
Now, my daddy (who started out as my step-daddy and worked his way into my heart) hailed from New Jersey. While he would have, most probably, told you where we have gone wrong in our pizza-making, pretzel-boiling and lamented the lack of snow and ice hockey, nary a time would he have lamented his Southern-licensed deed or life. Naw, he fell in love with my beautiful, Alabama-born momma and laid stakes down here as fast as he could, went to community fairs and festivals, developed a serious appreciation for fried foods and grew the prettiest local flowers. Suppertime was everything to him and respect for yor’ elders was demanded, not requested, at said table. His bones are scattered here in our beloved South—and he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Southern by birth? Naw. Southern in spirit?
You damn skippy.
You see, that’s really the gist of it. Weez all just mutts here, anyhow. What makes us Southern is loyalty, pure and deep, and a respect for the Southern way. Now, I love me some Westerners and some Mid-Westerners, some Yankees and some in-betweeners. I value their traditions, would sit at their table and variously honor all that make them the audacious whatever that they hold dear.
And would never, ever disparage their histories or ancestral bones by wearing their colors while “calling them out of their names.” Back in 2007, I moved to Albany, Georgia so as to teach at a local historically-black university. My ass was one of very few that glowed white in southwest Georgia, but my time there was priceless.
On the first day of class, I recollect a certain tension as I stood in front of a room of folks who would one day call me family. Now, I wasn’t ever going to pretend to be black, or affect myself that cool, so I leaned back and closed my book and smiled as they clicked their nails, raised their eyebrows and acted as if I had walked into the wrong bathroom.
And then, I said: “Hey. Y’all. I’ve got a secret.” Crickets. Hokay. “Guess what? I’m white.”
After the guffaws and general Saturnalia had died down, we began the process of relationship building. Nice and slow and real. I was white, they were black . . . and we loved the difference and called it good. (On the day that I left that university, one of my sweeties walked up and placed a “Sista” pin on my blouse. It is among my most prized possessions.) You see, it’s cool. We can hang. As long as you don’t wear my Southern shirt while spittin’ out my fried chicken, it’s cool. But, do both?
Wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now, why in the world would a wolf (cool in its own right) throw on a sheep’s jacket? Um Hum. Not a good motive even possible, is it?
So . . . back to what makes a Southern Witch. Lessee:
Loves, hails from or pulls respectfully from our beloved South. Knows that “word” is sacred, hits all things savory with just a pinch of sugar, never forgets the smell of bacon (even if they are vegetarian), understands “family” as a malleable verb. Hands down, not up, his/her wisdom and histories and nods to the ground on which they stand.
Recognizes our diverse histories (Christian/African/Celtic/Native American and, in the last fifty years, Wiccan to name a handful) as the tapestry of a haunted, but glorious, craft. But, perhaps more than anything: sees magic in our syrup, our failures, our sunsets and our creeks and lets it play their joints and hearts like a fiddle.
And, if that ain’t enough for you, I hear tell there’s land elsewhere.
And from my favorite Yankee-in-love-with-the-South:
1. Meredith Brooks, “Bitch.” Blurring the Edges, 1997.