Star Made Witch: Some Meanings of Witchcraft

I have noticed confusion in various places online between hereditary, initiatory, spirit taught, textual transmitted and traditional witchcraft. All these forms of witchcraft can overlap, but it is important to understand they can can also stand alone. The more I thought about it, the more I realized some clear definitions needed to be laid out so that people could understand that traditional does not mean that you had to be born into a family of witches or that you had to be an initiate in a long line going back to pagan times. However, Traditional does have a specific meaning in relation to witchcraft and that it does not merely refer the rustic aesthetics of goats and woodcuts.

Detail of "Witches" by Hans Baldung.  From WikiMedia.
Detail of “Witches” by Hans Baldung. From WikiMedia.

Traditional Witchcraft: a path of witchcraft that is heavily historically based, usually centered on the medieval through the romantic periods. There is a continuity of magical tradition through textual transmission, initiatory, hereditary and/or spiritual work. The term witch is used for its postmodern meaning as a person who practices a counter cultural form of spirit work and magical practice.

Textual transmission: Generally these witches have investigated grimoires, trade guilds, historical records, trial records, folklore and folk songs. Much of the source material is not specifically accredited to witchcraft, and the term is understood as we apply the material today.

Hereditary Witchcraft: a folk magic tradition passed down through family traditions over multiple generations often tracing back through the romantic period. These traditions are passed orally and through handwritten family collections. Often the past family members may not have used the term witch, but the term was adopted in its post modern sense after the popularity of Wicca. Often these practices became blended with Wiccan material because of the similarities by more recent descendants of the family.

Initiatory witchcraft: Lineages of traditional or hereditary witches can be passed down. Hereditary lines sometimes open up to those outside the family to survive. Initiatory forms of witchcraft have oaths and private aspects of the powers and wisdom of the traditions that they reserve for after the initiation sacraments.

Spirit initiated witchcraft: a form of witchcraft where spirits are the primary transmitters of the tradition. Powers and lessons and sacraments of initiation are given by spirits to the witches generally in ecstatic trance states.

When it comes down to it, a witch is a witch is a witch. Terminology however, remains important because it helps us communicate our different approaches to one another. Often when witches understand where each other is coming from they can learn from each others’ differences. A single tradition of witchcraft can encompass textual, initiatory, spiritual and hereditary transmission. The more diversity in sources the more opportunities for contrast and comparison. However, a lot of different sources can also create contradictions and paradoxes for the witch to reconcile.

~And of course we can always have the wood cuts and goats in common.~

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