I get some weird messages online. Sometimes it’s the worst kind of gossip attributing disgusting and malicious acts to people who would surely be in prison if such things were true. Sometimes it’s people offering to be my secret occult advisor or who claim special knowledge because they own Gerald Gardner’s old chamber pot. Those are messages I can generally safely ignore. Sometimes, though, people have a weird idea in their heads, and it’s an idea I hear repeated until I feel compelled to write about it. So I’m going to write about traditional Witchcraft on the internet.
There is this strange idea that traditional Witchcraft doesn’t belong on the internet. I get a chuckle when I hear this because it’s generally a trad Witch complaining about it on the internet. A bit like the Amish complaining about Weird Al’s Amish Paradise video appearing on MTV. What are the Amish doing watching cable television? (No such complaints surfaced to my knowledge but Weird Al got a kick out of reporters asking him about it). So if you truly believe traditional Witchcraft doesn’t belong on the internet, arguing about it online perpetuates the problem instead of solving it.
However, I absolutely believe traditional Witchcraft belongs on the internet, and here’s why:
Traditional Witchcraft is known for being oathbound, which at times is taken so far that the Craft itself becomes a sacred cow to be sacrificed on the altar of secrecy. As a new initiate, I’m guesstimating that at the very least, 60% or more of traditional Witchcraft isn’t oathbound. Of course, everyone loves a secret. A big juicy secret can seem far more desirable than something big and juicy that isn’t secret. So like an illusionist’s trick, while the glitter of oathbound materials twinkles seductively just out of view, the meat and potatoes of traditional Witchcraft sits in plain sight, completely ignored.
Of course, it’s not just non-initiates that get caught up in the razzle-dazzle, but some initiated Witches seem to have an idea that oathbound secrets are the kit and caboodle of traditional Witchcraft. There’s a temptation to get caught up in the secrecy and let it go to your head. While oathbound details shouldn’t be revealed, they aren’t a badge of superiority. They give you no free pass to ignore the meat and potatoes of Witchcraft, to ignore the core values and embrace arrogance and elitism. Traditional Witchcraft is many things, but it’s certainly not too refined to discuss the open bits in open forums.
I’ve undergone the ordeal of initiation and taken dread oaths of secrecy, but instead of finding myself limited by what I can say, I find myself strangely freed. I will never reveal oathbound secrets on this blog, for a lot of very good reasons but mostly because I have no desire to reveal them. That said, I find myself wanting to talk about trad Craft more than ever, because this side of initiation I see how much there is to talk about.
You see, when I started writing here at Patheos, I was a student sitting through classes, which at the time I sometimes found rather boring(At this point in my life I’m tempted to whack people who explain what the Sabbats are with an umbrella). I’d spoken to my priestess about writing here and we came to an agreement about boundaries. I check in with her occasionally, but so far there’s been no objection to my subject matter. In fact, for awhile she complained I didn’t write about Wicca enough! After initiation my priest chuckled with me about a few things I’d written in the past and how different he knew my views would be now that I’d made it through initiation. Even though I’d written about the experience of initiation, I still hadn’t said anything forbidden and several people found what I wrote was worthwhile.
I’ve come to realize there is a way to write about traditional Witchcraft which gives it a human face, which shows it to be the warm, loving and difficult path I’ve come to know. There is a way to communicate the heart of traditional Witchcraft without breaking oaths or trying to replace the traditional teaching methods. Even I wanted to try, nothing I can write can replace studying with good teachers. I know, I’ve got amazing teachers. However, communicating the core values is possible and necessary for inter- and intra-faith dialogue.
I don’t believe all that is old is bad and all that is good is new, but just because something is old doesn’t make it good, right or desirable. There’s plenty of old school stuff in the Craft and it’s great old stuff. I’m getting a kick out of learning it and my head is still spinning from initiation. However, this secrecy business can go too far. There’s no benefit in holing up in an ivory tower looking down your nose at people. No real benefit in using the secrecy to control and abuse people. The glitter of secrecy enables such things as Motel 8 initiations and other nasty business to take place. In many cases, secrecy has become the reason and ceased to be a tool.
Yet when you look at another great Mystery Tradition, you find that there was artwork, literature and a whole tradition around discussing the Eleusinian Mysteries while still not revealing them. Maybe that’s why they lasted so long and were so meaningful, because they prompted a new way of discussing and looking at the world. Today we have no real idea what the Mysteries actually were but we know the penalty for revealing them was death. This didn’t mean that people didn’t talk about them, didn’t exhibit the changes it wrought in them or were caught up in wrapping everything that touched the Mysteries in shrouds of secrecy.
I know that the initiatory experience I went through was, for me, on the same level of wonder as Eleusis and deeply meaningful. Initiation created a change within me that I’m still dealing with, but it didn’t give me arrogance, false entitlement or an idea that all associated with the Craft is to be shrouded in secret. It is dawning on me that a trad Witch is more than her oaths, that not all that glitters is gold, and that now that I’ve survived initiation it’s time for me to go back to the garden I was at times bored in and get to work again. Some of that weeding, planting and harvesting will be featured on this blog from time to time.
If you think that traditional Witchcraft is about secrecy, if you’re on a power trip, if you treat the Craft like an elitist old boy’s club, if you think it entitles people to wait on you or if you think it gives you the right to look down on others while clutching your secrets to your chest like Gollum clutches his ring, then you may not think traditional Witchcraft belongs on the internet. Which is probably a good thing, because the internet isn’t patient with people who behave like that.
Most of traditional Witchcraft belongs in the light of day. It can bear scrutiny because it’s about how you carry yourself, how you treat others, the values which inform your decisions and the wisdom you exhibit. It wouldn’t do anyone the least bit of good for the secrets to be on the internet. They live between people who respect each other, who have a physical and energetic connection and who celebrate sacred things in starlight. So I will keep secret things secret, I will continue to study the Old Religion, and what is worth sharing I’ll write about on the internet. I expect I’ll have a lot to write about, although none of it will be glitzy oathbound secrets and just be meat and potatoes stuff like values. If traditional Craft can survive Gardner, Sanders and Cochrane (and in fact it may only have survived thanks to them), it can most certainly survive me, and I’ve said far less then any of those fellows.
I’m a human Witch practicing a human religion, and if there is anything about traditional Witchcraft that’s worth communicating, it is its humanity. That’s why I love it so darn much. Traditional Craft has gotten a bad rap for being snotty, arrogant, deceitful and, in some cases, abusive. I think that’s unfair. I don’t think every trad Witch is someone I’d care to know, but I also think a few bad apples have spoiled it for the rest. I recently asked my priestess for advice regarding my work here and she told me to keep reminding people this isn’t the only path. That’s a simple but very true statement. There is no one right way, no one true religion. There is no “correct” tradition of Witchcraft. The is no single true Pagan path. We’re not better than each other. We’re not righter than each other. Holding lore is no sign of superiority. If your path makes you a better person, then it’s the right path for you.
Drew Jacob made a very interesting observation once. He said you judge a path by it’s elders, because they are living proof of the kind of person that path creates. Our purpose is to be human, and to be the best human we can be. I’ve found elders to teach me that I respect and admire, who have and will continue to teach me difficult lessons. I’m a better person today because of traditional Witchcraft. That is worth sharing. That is why traditional Witchcraft should be discussed on the internet.