In the past they burned us,
because they thought we were witches.
Just because we knew what to do with herbs outside of the kitchen.
Because we knew how to dance, seduce, pray.
Because we moved with the cycles of the moon.
That’s the beginning of poet Fleassy Malay’s Witches, which has been shared and appreciated widely within Pagan circles. The poem received more than one million views within a week of its release, and the Melbourne-based poet gave a number of reasons as to why it was so popular.
“I’ve watched a lot of people put themselves and their own stories into the poem: Witches, Pagans, Christians, women who live in cultures that actively and strongly opress[sic] women, middle-class housewives, professional women, elders, and teens, men and not binary people. That’s the beauty of poetry. When it’s delivered right we can put ourselves into it. It becomes our poem.”
Malay also credits the poem as being an important sign of the times and the collective consciousness. “I wrote it three days before the #metoo campaign came out. It was clearly something which was hovering under the skins of a lot of people. We are ready and wanting change. The poem is a call to that part of ourselves. A call to and a reminder of the strength of women and the power of words.
“We are living in a time when people are more aware of xenophobia and inequality than ever before, however, it’s still very alive,” she said. “There are people being murdered, jailed, bullied, blamed and shamed for their gender identity, the colour of their skin, their ancestors, their sexuality and more daily. For this to stop, for equality to actually have any hope of existing, we all need to speak up for and against things in this world.”
Malay published her first book of poetry, titled Sex and God, last year. She writes on her web site about her poetry generally exploring her spirituality and aspects of her identity including queerness, motherhood, and womanhood.
“[We live in] a highly connected and yet deeply disconnected world. Depression, addiction and many mental health disorders have been linked to unstable sense of community. . . . Showing up with authenticity in a world that promotes inauthenticity for the sake of financial and economic gain is a courageous act,” she explains. “It is an act, which I believe, inspires. It give more people the permission to also show up with authenticity. With honesty.”
U.K.-born Malay moved to Melbourne after travelling around the world almost a decade ago. “I ended up staying for a long time in Thailand and when I finally left (I was gifted a flight by someone I had met as I had run out of money), I decided a gift like that needed to be used with full awareness, so I decided to fly to Australia and focus and commit myself to my spoken word. I typed ‘Australia’ and ‘spoken word’ into Google, and Google told me to go to Melbourne. The scene here is pumping and very dynamic, diverse and inspiring.”
The Melbourne arts and spoken-word scene seems to be a good fit for Malay, who now runs monthly spoken word events for women called Mother Tongue. In a 2013 article, she said the event was founded to create a space with two intentions: to offer “a platform for women to inspire and be inspired.” regardless of performance experience; and to pay them to do it.
Her early roots include studying at the British Record Industry Trust School for Performing Arts and Technology. Malay holds a degree in performing arts, and has more than 20 years’ worth of experience on the stage.
“After years of performing internationally and feeling guilty even asking for expenses, the intention for Mother Tongue was to not only pay our feature acts for their passion and gifts but to also remind them that this is a symbol of their worth, and that they are doing important and powerful work.”
As well as organising Mother Tongue, Malay also runs public speaking and spoken word seminars and workshops. On her website, she explains what makes her coaching different. “I don’t want to give you techniques to appear confident. I don’t want to list off ways you can trick your audience into listening to you, or instruct you on how to be just like some other successful speaker. None of this interests me, [a]nd it doesn’t interest your audience either. What interests me, what gets my juices flowing, is connection.”
In addition to one-on-one coaching sessions, Malay accepts speaking engagements, during which she weaves her own experiences into the topics of storytelling and living authentically.
Malay was chosen last August to be a member of Australia’s slam poetry team, which would compete in the U.S. “It was incredible, overwhelming, eye opening and a complete honour,” Malay remembers. “The level of talent was beyond what I expected. I did find listening to over 100 pices[sic] of poetry a day (all very emotive and confronting huge issues) to be quite overwhelming at times. . . . If I go again I’ll make a note to self-care a lot more. Be gentle with myself. But it was 100% worth it and a real honour to be asked to be on the first Australian team. . . . Especially as I’m not an Australian.” In fact, she was one of the first women to represent Australia at such a competition.
When discussing Witches and its reception from Pagan audiences, Malay made it clear that she herself did not identify as Pagan.
“Many would probably label me as a Pagan [because I observe some] traditional holidays . . . . However, it’s not a word I actively use for myself,” she says. “I grew up surrounded by all types of people: a lot of Pagans, hippies and bikers to mention just a few. I spent my teens and my twenties fascinated with my own culture, the Celts, and would spend a lot of time at sacred sites around the U.K. where I grew up.
“Actually, initially, it was a complete surprise to me when I realised how deeply the Pagan community felt this poem. Of course it made sense once I thought about it but it wasn’t in my mind when I wrote it.”
When asked whether more of her poems would consciously appeal to a Pagan audience, Malay replied, “I would like to think that as the ‘Pagan audience’ is an audience of humans with beating, weeping, laughing, aching hearts. . . . That possibly all my poetry would be appealing to them.”