Witchcraft is so many things. A way of life. An outlook. An aesthetic. A practice. Some people call it their religion, though I don’t. Ask a handful of witches what witchcraft is and you’ll probably get just as many answers. I did just that. Their thoughts and mine have found their way into this article.
Witchcraft is: transformation, adaptation, active, risky, messy, power and belief. I’ve organized these themes using seven principles of witchcraft: to will, to know, to feel, to go, to dare, to keep silent and to believe, based on the traditional witches’ pyramid. These general themes help describe witchcraft, but the essence of it remains elusive. Because whatever witchcraft is, it is first and foremost deeply personal.
I could write an exceptionally detailed treatise of my definition of witchcraft, but you know what they say about pictures:
#1: Witchcraft is Transformation
Yes, I realize that the above is not strictly a picture. I played with the old axiom a bit for my purposes which leads to my first point: witchcraft bends whats available to its purposes. I use what’s on hand in my spells, rituals and other workings. This often involves shaping things to suit my purposes. Witchcraft is about transforming things – botanicals, stones, objects and energies are examples – to help me obtain a desired outcome. Witches do not merely collect cool things, we transform them into something that suits our needs. Oils, tonics, potions, sigils, talismans, charms, and spells.
Witchcraft is about personal transformation. Yes, I seek to transform the ingredients in a spell for my purposes, but what I am really doing is changing myself. I use all the tools available from personal development strategies to found objects to help create my magickal life.
Transforming ourselves and the things we use requires a great deal of will: So speak I and it is so. Without that willpower, we can’t transform much of anything.
Principle: To Will (Velle)
#2: Witchcraft is Adaptation
Witchcraft is about adaptation. It used to be that witches were marginalized except when their skills became necessary. Not so much these days. Another thing that was true once upon a time was that only women were witches. Men were something else (sorcerers, magicians, warlocks, cunning folk) that was usually far more acceptable. Witchcraft changes with societal norms. Or do we change them? Beats me.
Because witchcraft is so adaptable, there is no need for expensive ingredients or elaborate rituals. While these things can be lovely, witches do what they can with what they have to create what they want. I’ve been compiling a list of my personal low-cost ideas and practices here.
My personal witchery is a mélange of historical and contemporary practices and traditions. I often turn to Old Time Witchcraft for inspiration. My training covers a variety of areas from herbalism to shamanism. I adapt – or apply – what I learn into crafting my version of witchcraft. So many of you do the same. Learning techniques and practices is all well and good, but what’s the point if they can’t be used to solve our problems? My motto is “better living through witchcraft.” That happens through adaptation.
Being able to adapt ingredients and ourselves requires the ability to apply our knowledge. Witchcraft requires both information and wisdom. It is a living practice of knowledge accumulation.
Principle: To Know (Noscere)
#3: Witchcraft is Active
Many who participated in my discussion said, “witchcraft is doing”. We practice witchcraft. For me, this includes (but is definitely not limited to): burning things, growing things, making things and finding things. Beyond this, witchcraft has other active characteristics: observation, contemplation, exploration, creation and destruction.
Witchcraft isn’t something that’s done once in a while. It’s a way of being in the world. Daily practice in a myriad of forms including meditation, devotion, study, witch crafting (making magickal things) and everything that strengthens our witch power is a necessity. I think we all do a lot more of what can be classified as witchcraft than we realize. Here’s one example:
Expressing gratitude, in my opinion, should be part of our daily practices that I call the Witches’ Hour of Power. I think we should all be very thankful for identifying as witches and other sorts of magical people. – from Be a Grateful Witch: The Importance of Giving Thanks and Suggestions for Practice.
Witchcraft is all about the doing. However it is you do it, whether in a few stolen moments during your busy day or in wide open spaces.
Principle: To Go (Ire)
#4: Witchcraft is Messy
Like I wrote in the passage above, my witchery gets under my nails. It’s the pocket full of rocks and plants I always seem to have. My witchery includes blood, bone and botanicals. None of which are particularly clean. There is so much magick that lies in getting dirty and sweaty. Try it.
Part of the messiness of witchcraft is that is it intensely emotional. We experience ecstasy and agony through our rituals and practices. Often, I turn to spells in order to alleviate emotional distress. Finally, witchcraft requires emotional courage that is often messy and sometimes risky.
#5: Witchcraft is Risky
In Give me a Witchcraft That’s Wild and Free, I wrote:
There’s part of me that welcomes the current acceptance of witchcraft, but a deeper part cries out in protest. Witchcraft has always been on the margins of society, at the edge of the wild. Here in this liminal space, there was great freedom because the threat of confinement was always nearby. Our witch ancestors were of the wild in their connections to animals and plants, and the necessity of making the most of what they had on hand. I think that the wild and free witchcraft of days gone by is not nostalgic, but absolutely necessary.
Witchcraft requires risk. It always has and always should. If what you’re doing is completely safe, then it’s not witchcraft. By risk I mean you are pushing yourself beyond your previous abilities, you are learning and stepping out of your comfort zone. You are passionate about life and witchery. Not that you drink aconite or bang on drums in your apartment building. Risk is not stupidity.
What are you willing to do that’s risky? Learn a new tradition? Start a new meditation practice? Craft a spell entirely on your own? Be daring.
Principle: To Dare (Audere)
#6: Witchcraft is Power
Sovereignty is having a zeitgeist moment in witchcraft today. Everyone is talking about personal power. What’s really going on is our rebel cry to claim all that we are and are capable of. Lean into this. You are far more powerful than you’ve ever dreamed. That’s witchcraft speaking.
“The one thing I know for sure is that witchcraft makes us powerful. We have options available to us that others don’t.” – From Where There’s a Witch, There’s a Way
The power is inherently risky, especially for women (at least traditionally). Standing in our witch power is a mighty act of reclamation:
“Medea represents an energetic current: that of female witch power. My emphasis on the dangerous woman vibe is most definitely not a slur against those who don’t identify as female. Medea’s story can be both an inspiration and warning to everyone who uses the label “witch” (and even those who don’t). Medea is the mysterious and dangerous “other” that is both alluring and frightening. – from: Medea: Her Story, Themes, Correspondences, Rituals, Spells and More
All this power is completely pointless and very dangerous if it is not filtered through self discipline. One of the few things I know for sure is that effective witchcraft is only possible with constant self control. The risk must be balanced with the discipline. The passion finds equilibrium through integrity. Silence is part of this power. I keep silent about what I keep silent.
Principle: To Be Silent (Tacere)
#7: Witchcraft is Personal
I haven’t written things like “witchcraft is about working with energies and entities to achieve a desired outcome.” Nor have I written about the requirements of witchcraft. Some people will tell you witches’ must be deeply connected to the natural world. Others will say you need to have a degree (or several) to earn the title of “witch.” Then there are those who define the strength of their witchcraft based on the size of their essential oil collection. And for all of you who think there is a right way to do witchcraft or be a witch…well, they’ve undoubtedly stopped reading this by now. Scratch that. They most likely don’t read my blog unless it is to give them the opportunity to insult me. For all of you who are still with me, know this – witchcraft is whatever you believe it to be. That is what makes witchcraft…witchcraft.
That is what witchcraft is: BELIEF. It’s believing in yourself, in your ability to work with energies, entities, deities and correspondences of your own selection (sometimes they call to you…but…free will) AND that you can create a better world (personally and on the grand scale).
It is the driving force that renders us both hexers and healers. My witchcraft is so personal that I’ve long considered myself an outlaw (even within my own witch squad):
What exactly does it mean to be an outlaw witch? I think outlaw witchcraft is practicing witchery that is outside of the norm of acceptable practices….Some of the time my rules are different than those of mainstream witchcraft. I never could wrap my head around the idea of “harm none.” Everything I do has the potential to hurt someone whether it’s magick or driving down the road. Hexing is part of witchcraft. If you wrong me, watch your back. It’s that simple. – From Confessions of an Outlaw Witch
This is the last principle: To Believe (Credere)
Perhaps your brand of witchcraft is similar to mine. Maybe it’s not. Whatever it is you call witchcraft, it is to you. All those definitions about what constitutes witchcraft are certainly worth knowing….and then ignore them. (Except for the part about taking risks. I encourage you to take safe ones.)
I’m ending this blog by directing you to Mat Auryn’s seminal article: Witch, You Do You.
Other great blogs from my fabulous Patheos colleagues on the definition of witchcraft: