I had been planning to post next or soon a blog about Ozark Witchcraft, but I’ve decided against doing so, for several reasons, one being that I’ve had no direct contact with any Ozark Witches—except, I guess, for Cora Anderson, but we never talked about that—unlike the other flavors of the Craft that I’ve experienced or had friends who had and so on. What I know about the Ozarks is from reading; so I cannot discuss that in terms of my own life experience. Another reason is that several bloggers on this Patheos Pagan Channel, such as Kris Bradley, are providing much better-informed posts about the subject than I could.
I’ve had friends whose judgment I respect tell me that my writing is “engaging.” I’m not sure what they meant by that. It’s nothing I’m doing on purpose in order to “engage” anyone. I think they meant that my writing, when it’s about my own life, holds their attention. I’m guessing that such engagement results from my including details that would not be necessary in a strictly dry bones objective discussion. I include those details, first, because I think they are interesting and at least relevant and, second, because I thoroughly get the anthropological concept of “thick description.”
If you are trying to understand a new phenomenon, especially if it includes human beings, you cannot write an adequate description of it by leaving out unimportant little facts and details, because what is important and what is unimportant is precisely what you do not already know. Instead, you must include anything that could conceivably be relevant for understanding what’s going on. Do I already know everything that is important or unimportant about religion? Of course not. Do I already know everything I need to know about my own life? No, I don’t.
To believe that one can stop learning is to become unteachable, a condition that, according to Scott Peck (I’m rereading The Road Less Traveled for about the fourth time), is a mental illness, severe as schizophrenia and even less treatable, that has caused a huge percentage of the evil and cruelty in the world for as far back as we have historical records. To hold onto an obsolete map of reality, to refuse to consider any new facts that would require one to revise the map, is to be unteachable, is to be, in simple reality, mentally and spiritually ill. The evil arises when, confronted by new facts, one refuses to revise the map and instead shoots the messenger, hoping the message will go away. It won’t, but that is why the Taliban tried to assassinate a 14-year-old girl who told the truth about what the Qu’ran actually says. Right now, the two most pernicious maps in the USA are belief in the absolute literal truth of the Bible and belief that unregulated free-market capitalism can work. Each one of us needs to have the courage to tell people who hold such beliefs that they are effing insane and to refuse to vote for them.
So, now that all that is out on the table, I can state the real point: that the major importance of the Craft is that it is a weapon against the insanity of the unteachable, against people who have corrupted the teachings of their own faith community. The Craft is not a nature religion. It is not an indigenous religion. It is not a New Age or metaphysical or Pagan or feminist religion. Sure, some Witches also adopt one of those options, but there are others who don’t. Rather, the Craft is inherently an antinomian religion.
The heart of the Craft is in its foundational myth: that we are the heirs of those who were murdered during the Burning Times. (For me, its heart is also in the concept that the Ultimate Divinity is the Goddess—but that’s a different essay.) We have no organizational link of any sort to them; believing that we do is yet another variety of pernicious nonsense. But we do have an intellectual link. We do believe that those people who died had an absolute human right to believe whatever it was they believed. We need to consciously recognize that a major reason for the American Revolution was to forever destroy the illegitimate power of any church to compel belief. It was Patrick Henry who argued that the true purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure that nothing like the Salem Witch trials could ever happen in America again. So when at Samhain we read out the names of those who died in Salem Village, that is equivalent to the story that Mary saw Jesus alive by his tomb, or that Isaac’s life was spared, or that God spoke the Qu’ran through his prophet Muhammad, Blessed Be his name. True, those victims in Salem were probably Congregationalists, not Witches—but they died in our name. That is why the term “Witch” was chosen for this movement. We are morally obligated to remember their names, and any other names we can recover, like those of the Northberwickshire Witches—who apparently really were Witches in our sense. (Oh, your coven doesn’t do that? Shame on you. Do it.)
Tomorrow is my 72nd birthday, and this feels like a worthwhile accomplishment for a Sunday morning. I’m glad I’m still around, to tell the truth as far as I’ve been able to discover it during the last 58 years and to harass the greedy, the uncompassionate, the unteachable. Blessed be, y’all, and Mazel tov.