I started teaching a Wiccan-Witchcraft 101 course this year at a local Witch-store, and I’m currently finishing up my second go-around of classes. With just two classes left I got a question last night that I heard a few times in my previous session: “Will there be a second level course?” It’s heartening to hear that people like the class and want to spend even more time with me, however, I’m not sure I would even know how to teach a “202” class, because Witchcraft isn’t meant to be taught, it’s meant to be experienced.
Witches are often voracious readers, but reading is not as important as the doing. One of the most talented High Priestesses I’ve ever met read a few Witchcraft books as a teenager and then simply started doing. She’s never bothered to read another Witchcraft book (even the ones written by her husband), she just does, and she does it a lot better than her far more well read husband. I know a High Priestess who teaches the Craft and assigns all of her students a reading list consisting of thirty some-odd books, and I always look at it and think why? Reading forty year old interviews from Drawing Down the Moon* can be interesting, and it’s a nice historical thing, but it doesn’t teach anyone how to do the Craft.
Witchcraft (especially of the Wiccan variety) is often labeled a nature religion, and I sometimes think of it as a magickal religion, but at its heart it’s a mystery religion, in the truest sense of the word. Our modern word mystery comes directly to us from Ancient Greece where the word mysterion meant “secret rite” and mystes meant “one who has been initiated.” The first Modern Witchcrafts were all initiatory traditions with secret rites, to be of the Wica (or of the Anderson Feri Tradition) was to be an initiate. It was the initiation, not having read 100 books or being the world’s smartest Witch, that made someone a part of a tradition, and that’s because an initiation is about the experience.
Beyond traditions, the most accomplished Witches I know are the ones that have the experiences. They are the ones outside in nature communing with higher powers, and leaving devotions to their deities. These are the Witches who create rites and ceremonies and do Witchcraft stuff. Instead of sharing hypotheticals, they are out facilitating experiences.
The Mystery Lies in the Doing
I was speaking with some of my fellow Gardnerian Witches a few months ago and someone brought up what to do when someone knowingly violates an oath of secrecy and shares a bit of our Book of Shadows. While I think oath-breaking is terribly wrong, one could read a text from an oathbound tradition 100 times, commit it to memory, and still not know what the hell it’s really about. The Witchcraft of the ritual isn’t about reading words off of a page, it’s about putting those words into practice and making them come alive. Reading a ritual is no substitute for experiencing a ritual.
Books cannot articulate how the energies feel and flow when one is in a well cast circle. Printed rituals are unable to duplicate the feeling one gets when the Lord and Lady are near in magickal space. The words I write down on paper are incapable of capturing the humor and humanity of my coven-mates during ritual. The only way to feel these things is to do and experience them, and even better, they will probably be different every time you cast a circle.
When I was a young Witchling I often would read instructions in Witchcraft books that simply stated “build the Cone of Power.” There were never any instructions on how to build the Cone of Power, or even what the Cone of Power was. You were just sort of expected to know, and I didn’t. This made me feel rather stupid for several years, and I was too embarrassed to ever ask anyone about the particulars of the Cone of Power.
The Cone of Power by then was something that could be felt, and it could be used, and we could see the results in the days following its building. The Cone of Power could only really be revealed to me by experiencing it. Witchcraft lives when it’s practiced, not just when it’s talked or written about.
Experiencing a Goddess
Several years ago I began to feel the call of the folk-saint (and goddess) Santa Muerte. I’d go to the grocery store and see candles there with her picture on it, and see her in movies like The Book of Life, and I’d get this feeling like I was being poked in the ribs while someone whispered “pay attention” in my ear. I eventually bought the candle, and tried talking to her, but I felt like she wasn’t listening, or I was doing something wrong, and I was.
Deities are like people in some respects, they want to be treated and approached in certain ways, and to experience her required doing things on her terms and not mine. She
needs requires offerings, and as a jealous goddess, her own space. So she got her own altar, and my office smells like copal incense most days because it’s what she likes. When I finally received my commemorative bottle of Mexican Moonshine tequila celebrating twenty years of the Refreshments Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy it was Santa Muerte who got the first drink, not my wife or I.
And then as I began my daily devotionals, something extraordinary happened, I could feel her in my office, just behind me where her statues reside. I found that I could experience her because I’d finally put in the work and began a real devotional practice. She didn’t want to be read about or paid lip service to, she wanted me to do the Witchcraft so I could experience her. I had read a lot about Santa Muerte before building my devotional altar, and felt like I knew a lot about her, but I didn’t really know her until recently because I hadn’t really experienced her.
Witchcraft is Full of Hypotheticals
All sorts of things are possible in Witchcraft. It’s a collection of traditions that allows people to experience deities in the flesh (drawing down the moon), travel between worlds, reunite with the spirits of those we’ve lost, wield magickal energies, and become closer to the natural world. The ideas behind some of those practices can be taught, and I can share what those things felt like to me, but doing them is the real Witchcraft. The magick only really starts when we step out and have the experiences.
One can only learn to draw down the moon by doing it, and what can only understand its power and reality if they experience it. Even better, because everyone’s realities are a little bit different, all of our experiences will be unique and our own. And it’s those experiences that make us Witches.
*I love Drawing Down the Moon, but I know that I’m a history nerd.