Non-Traditional Witchcraft Is Not A Crime

Non-Traditional Witchcraft Is Not A Crime July 15, 2018

I recently attended a pagan workshop where the presenter said that non-traditional path witches are as dangerous as unschooled surgeons and doctors.  It made me feel like I was taking crazy pills…  What on earth did this guy think I did for my non-traditional path?  Run around in the woods with a knife, cutting people up and prescribing poisonous herbs? 

traditional-witchcraft-non-traditional-path-pagan-wiccan-intuitive-crime-knife
Are you calling me insane?  Source, CC0

While I don’t have any problems with traditional paths or the people who tread upon them, I have great qualms when someone tells me my entire spirituality is wrong because it’s non-traditional.  Personally, I think that guy is wrong by saying there’s only one way to be a witch.  I don’t want to make the same mistake, so let me be clear: I believe there are several ways to be a witch.  The traditional paths are merely the main roads.

For the multitude of witches who work outside of the charmed traditional circles, we heed another call: the lone voice of our own intuitions.  Sure, traditional witches use intuition as well, but the non-traditional path, which is my path, is pretty significant, and it is not a crime.

Many people are surprised to find I never read books about traditional witchcraft or the occult. Anderson, Gardner, Valiente, and Crowley… none of their books were attractive to me. Why not? Why wouldn’t I want to learn from those founts of knowledge and wisdom?

What was that you said about my entire spirituality?  Source, CC0

I admit, I’m a little rebellious, and I come to a full stop whenever someone says I must be sky-clad in order to participate in a ritual.  This seemed more common in the older days.  Does anyone else find this super creepy?

Whenever I see books about or read about the generation of witches from the past century, their energy feels heavy.  It feels as if it’s teeming with rules, procedures, and theologies that may or may not match mine.  I feel like they expect me to know about them, and that expectation makes me walk away.  Merely opening a wikipedia page about Crowley gave me an unsettling feeling, as if he were in the room, his bulky presence leering over me.  When I clapped my hands and banished it with a blast of energy, it disappeared, but it was still an experience I don’t want to repeat.  I don’t think I’ll be looking him up again anytime soon.

Mostly, I’ve avoided the old timers because have my own insight and processes that serve me perfectly well.  I have a bevy of extrasensory experiences, divine encounters, and an intuition that has been honed like a knife.  I trust my intuition and the feelings I get about things. In fact, I trust my own ways more than I trust someone else’s.

I’m doing just fine, thanks.  Source, CC0

In thinking more about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that things might be a lot different for me if I had friends or associates on the traditional path when I was coming of age.  Maybe they would have invited me into their coven or tested me out to see if I was a fit. 

But I don’t live in a place with loads of witches.  I think a lot of people are in the same boat, especially younger people.  We’re reaching out with our spirituality and learning from all kinds of sources.  Can it be messy sometimes?  Maybe.  But to assume all people on non-traditional paths practice “wayward, chaotic McWicca nonsense… piddling amongst the trees” is just mean (this is a quote from a comment on Patheos Pagan’s facebook page).  It’s that kind of elitism that’s scaring people away from the traditional paths.  I see it on Tumblr and Instagram every day.  The younger generations are being asked about traditional paths, but they can’t commit to being a part of them because all they see are no friendly access points, huge learning curves, and trolls.

Our traditional path forefathers and foremothers are important for those who follow in their footsteps, but those roads aren’t everyone’s paths.  I don’t believe it’s important to learn about the trad path heroes if you don’t feel drawn to them because they’re not the only witches in the woods.  Yes, they gave us important tools and procedures, which can be useful to wield energy and work magic, but those methods are not the only way to do so.  Not by a long shot. 

The comparison of non-traditional witches to unschooled surgeons and doctors is not a good one for several reasons.  We don’t cut people open, don’t have massive debt, and our practices aren’t always for the benefit of others. 

Perhaps a better analogy would be that witches are like artists.  Art students can learn from the masters, or do their own thing.  Some people are born with artistic talent, and some acquire talent through schooling and/or hard work.  The artist who learns techniques from youtube videos or Bob Ross is no less an artist than the one in art school getting a degree.

Maybe instead of picking fights with other pagans, we should fight the real enemies, like racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, the causes of poverty, et cetera.  Source, CC0

Non-traditional witchcraft paths may be different from traditional paths, but they’re no less spiritual, magical, or meaningful to those who practice them.  The pagan and witching world needs to stop in-fighting and come together to fight the really important things.  Can’t we all just get along? 

 ~ Starlight Witch ~

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About Astrea
Astrea is a polytheistic pagan witch, fire dancer, new ager, and writer of fiction. Check out her social media accounts to see all her blog posts and extra special witchy / artsy / personal content. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • “I have great qualms when someone tells me my entire spirituality is wrong because it’s non-traditional.”

    This. I also was never interested in books on traditional witchcraft for the very same reasons.

    Your post resonates with me very much.

  • “Many people are surprised to find I never read books about traditional witchcraft or the occult. Anderson, Gardner, Valiente, and Crowley… none of their books were attractive to me. Why not? Why wouldn’t I want to learn from those founts of knowledge and wisdom?”

    If you are talking about Victor and Cora Anderson, they never really wrote any books that were meant to appeal to a large audience. And I’m guessing most people have never read Crowley, Gardner, and Valiente. Crowley is not an easy read, and Gardner, well, it’s just not that great, and a lot of it is not really all that relevant today. Valiente on the other hand was a pretty gifted writer, and as a result most of us have read her work in some capacity, whether they know it or not. Most Witches have at least heard “The Charge of the Goddess” and that’s Doreen.

    Unless somebody is going to go down the history rabbit-hole, there’s no real reason to read any of the classics. They aren’t “101 books” (with some exceptions on Valinete’s end) and were all written decades ago. Things have changed a lot since then.

    And as I’ve written before, “How someone else practices Witchcraft has no impact on how I practice Witchcraft.” I don’t know why people care so much about what others do.

  • Fire Lyte
  • Your post resonates with me a great deal. However where you chose to disregard the traditionalist, I chose to give them a try. I am wiser now for the try, but not because of the supposedly greater arcane/witch knowledge.

  • kenofken

    There is nothing creepy at all about working skyclad nor for a group defining that as a core and non negotiable aspect of their ritual. Traditional groups have never held themselves to be suitable for everyone. If there is to be respect for everyone’s mode of working, it has to flow in all directions.

  • Brianne Raven Wolf

    I’m glad that I didn’t attend that workshop, as Hekate had other plans for me! I have read about traditional paths, and read some of and have some of the authors/books you write about, but being an older hippie witch, and also a rebel in a lot of ways, I chose to not follow the leader. Except that for some time, I have a leader I follow, Her name is Hekate! Traditional is fine for some folks, but I’ve never joined a coven, or even thought about it for more than say a minute or two. I can appreciate the fact that some witches do want that path, and that’s their path. Like you write about, we’re all a bit different, thankfully. Yes, lets ALL come together for a common cause, to fight against all the wrongs in this world, NOT fight among ourselves. BTW…I just LOVE the images you chose! Made my day! And shared your article!!!❤️

  • kenofken

    While I agree with the main thrust of the post, I would urge people on any part of the witchcraft spectrum not to close yourselves off from the writings by or about classic/traditional figures in witchcraft or related occult systems simply because their path is not yours or because it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to you.

    No, you don’t need to read any of them to be a “real witch”. You can become a very competent witch, even a great one without ever reading a line of their works. But your practice will never be as rich as it might have been with them. If you look at the best of the best in any discipline – scientific, the arts, athletics, religion, you name it, you will notice some traits common to every last one of these people:”A burning, insatiable and boundless curiosity. However specialized their own work eventually became, you find that essentially all of them maintained a curiosity about widely disparate subjects and a deep appreciation for the work of others who came before them.

    Consider the greatest musicians of the last century – not the schmucks who are famous for being famous on social media, but those whose work will stand for many lifetimes – a Johnny Cash or Janis Joplin or any of the blues and jazz greats. All of them were known to listened to every record they could scrape up as kids, usually spanning every conceivable genre.

    They were the kids who listened intently to all of their parents music – classical or big band or whatever – that most of their peers wrote off as irrelevant, outdated and useless. Their own music became far more powerful and creative as a result because they had absorbed thousands of tricks and approaches to crafting songs and beats and could re-synthesize and create from a place of far more depth than if they had to depend solely on what they happened to come up with in jam sessions or from the top hits of their competitors at any given time. I cannot ever imagine any great musician saying that they wish they had fewer influences coming up.

    The same is true with witchcraft or any sort of magickal or devotional craft. Its perfectly reasonable that many of us today might read Gardner or Ray Buckland or Aleister Crowley and conclude that we don’t want to follow their path or that much of it doesn’t resonate with where we’re at today. But I think we cheat ourselves badly if we dismiss them offhand. It’s easy to write off the men in particular of the early occult because they were racist, sexist, colonialist, etc. Well, they were all those things by and large. You’d be very hard pressed to find any Englishman of the Victorian/Edwardian period of empire who would pass even the widest mesh of our social justice filters today.

    Your experience of Crowley was entirely valid. Frater Perdurabo was a very unsettling dude in life. He had some darkness about him and let’s face it: He made Matt Lauer and most of today’s MeToo villains look positively woke feminist by comparison. He was often (mostly) a raging five star ass, and in his rare candid moments, he owned that. But he was also one of the very brightest occultist and certainly far and away the most prolific of modern centuries. Crowley was the Richard Feynman or Nikola Tesla of the modern occult movement. He produced enormous volumes of well researched works which still stand as foundational metaphysical texts. He was the real deal, warts and all. His stuff is not an easy read, but it’s well worth the attempt. Valiente’s work is well worth consideration for the major influence she had.

    From a technical standpoint, we need grounding in the past masters of any art because the brutal truth is that humans simply do not live long enough to work everything out from first principles on our own. 70ish years – maybe half of which is peak productive years, is not nearly enough time to come up with real innovations entirely on our own. I don’t care how brilliant you are, you’re not going to invent a Mars or interstellar spacecraft if you didn’t think it worth your time to learn the principles of rocket design laid down by Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun (Nazi though he was).

    Beyond that, the early works are worth at least cursory reads to appreciate where we came from. As today’s Pagans, we have something the founders did not have and which we had lost for 15 centuries: a living legacy of theory and practice. Some of us transform that legacy into a pretentious and judgmental expectation to “live up” to the traditions, but I don’t ever get that sense from the founders themselves. They left it as a gift for us. It should not be weaponized to pit one witch against another nor used uncritically out of obligation.

    But I hope we don’t cast it away entirely. It holds value for us not just as witches but also as people. Connection to and respect for history is a civilizing force. Real innovation comes from intuition, but also from a rejection of dogmatic truths guided by deep understanding of the dogmas themselves. Blind rejection of history and a belief that one can forge reality from pure force of will and emotivism is not innovation. It is the basis of the barbarism we see devouring our country at the highest levels.

  • Carla Jean

    See my comment below. (This format won’t let me delete!) Sorry.

  • I think everyone has their own path, even if they end up in a Trad. Witchcraft coven. For me, it’s been hugely important to read everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. But that’s just me. I’ve always been bookish and I know not everyone is into reading old books on witchcraft, magic and paganism. Some are extremely dry and even dull. Others are filled with a magic all their own, but again, that’s just my opinion. Even though I believe we should all read all the books because, to me, it’s much like traveling and food. How can we know what we like and why if we’ve only ever eaten burgers or never left California? That said, I understand why people are happy in their practice with what they have. Far be it from me to tell you what should work for you. I’m not you and you’re not me. It’s a beautiful thing. We don’t need to be the same or control what the other one believes or practices. We can be friends all the same. 🙂 Thanks for the interesting article!

  • Willow Phelan

    My problem is this. I’ve seen far too many young witches getting in over their heads without the slightest clue what they’re doing. Grabbing this or grabbing that and then wondering why their life is a mess. Yes, the learning curve is great, but you have to learn the rules to know where you can break them. It really scares me when someone is trying some advanced magic when it’s obvious they don’t know even the basics of what they’re trying to do.

    • kenofken

      That’ where natural selection works its magic! 🙂

    • I have seen more witches who’s lives are beyond a mess, who qualify for royally f@#$ed… those witches are in a Tradition. The witches I see who’s lives are a mess, but not of a Tradition also have the distinct advantage of only their doings, their ego, their crap to clear away. My experience with big or huge under takings is that they require equally large amounts of depth and focus. Those are things that new witches lack, thus while things may go sides ways they lack the needed items to really screw things up. However you take someone who lacks focus and depth add a group to power the workings and you really have a sun about to go nova situation. While Traditions are not for everyone, I don’t see them as better, but rather a riskier option.

      • kenofken

        The biggest source of dysfunction I have seen among witches and Pagans generally, new or experienced, in or out of formal traditions, is that they are people who come to magick and these paths as escapes or quick fixes to the problems they’re not dealing with on the mundane level. There forever broke and caught in cycles of evictions and couch-surfing so they focus on prosperity charms and spells, but they don’t work the obvious angles of turning up for a job or even looking for one. Others obsess with love spells to replay the crazy drama and abuse which has characterized every relationship they ever had rather than getting to the root of the problem. We have folks suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who “treat” it with weed and booze and nature religion and no proper medicine. I can’t even recall how many of them I sent away when I helped lead a coven years ago.

        Lots of others are drawn to Pagan groups or identity not out of any real discernment, but just as a way of rebelling against their fundamentalist upbringing. They’re running away from something, not toward something, and the unresolved conflicts soon catch up with them. Lack of seasoning or skills can certainly compound their woes in larger workings, but for the most part, their problems in the realm of witchcraft are just extensions of their mundane problems and fundamental lack of grasp of the basic cause-effect relationship that underlies all of metaphysics.

        Tradition vs non has its own set of trade-offs. Having started in a traditional sort of coven (or traditional-ish, depending on how seriously you take the minutiae of lineage), I learned the fundamentals of energy work and ritual much better than I likely would have on my own. But that speaks more to my style of learning than anything else, and not all traditional covens have competent leaders or good material. The flip side is that I found myself in an unhealthy cult like environment, which I have seen in essentially all traditional groups to greater or lesser degrees. I won’t go near them anymore, but I don’t regret doing so once as it was meant to be part of my path.

        I’m a little surprised there are still trad folks fighting the old battle over “real” witchcraft. They lost that 30 years ago and lost any chance of a comeback with the Internet. At their best, traditional covens were never going to answer most peoples needs. Most areas had none, and traditional covens, by design, could never absorb more than a tiny fraction of seekers.

        • Interesting that you find more coming to the craft from a “vacuum” ( rebellion, lack, etc). Those who ask me about suggested reading, where to start, etc. have either already gone through that phase or are genuinely drawn.
          No matter where I find them, those who are stuck in the cycle of poverty are stuck there by a set of behaviors and lack of knowledge. You would be, or maybe not, how many I have had to teach a basic concept of budgeting and the benefits of putting off what you want so you can provide what you need and how it builds actual wealth.
          Having grown up with friends who have mental differences, non standard issue brains, having gone through the heart ache of finding the right meds, and finding that in reality they did better with coping mechanisms that are socially acceptable I can understand an individual’s want and desire and hope that they truly don’t need the meds that while they solve one issue, cause many others. Having recently gone through a period of needing opioid pain killers, motor cycle accident, I can appreciate how much prescription anything fucks with your whole being. Having trained my mind and soul as a witch since I was 15, accepting the change and shear F@#$ed upness of the opioid in my system wasn’t as horrendous as it could have been. Now, if it wasn’t for my working for an international company subject to federal laws I would have my medical marijuana card for I still suffer pain. Pain that I would rather suffer than the F@#$%ed upness of even Tylenol 3.
          Back to the Tradition side of things. I cannot say about history, so I will take your word on their looking the fight 30 years ago. What I can say is that they lost me because of shear arrogance. You see I have worked Safety and Security my entire adult life. I watch people retire and die for a living. When I tell you it’s not safe, I am not kidding. When I tell you that something will result in someone getting hurt, I have a reasonably decent back ground to know what I am talking about. When I get shouted down and told my life experience means nothing? Well that tells me that whatever is going on is all about whoever is shouting me down. I am all for forgiving people their faults, but when you are warned and do it anyway? Don’t expect forgiveness or sympathy from me. Definately don’t expect me to think you have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation either. That is really where the Tradition lost me. Law of attraction, you get what you give, pick your saying.

  • I’m an intuituve witch. I reach for tradition when it calls for me. I believe the SHE is guiding me therefore not everything is meant for me. Weeding out information and taking other information in is how I get stuff done.

  • Satan’s Fabulous Twin Brother

    “What on earth did this guy think I did for my non-traditional path? Run around in the woods with a knife, cutting people up and prescribing poisonous herbs? ”
    So… we *shouldn’t* be doing that? Uh oh…

  • Lorn West

    I find it very interesting that the “Pagan beliefs” section on Patheos is nothing but people talking about witchcraft. Magick this and magick that. Most of them are complaining and demanding change in there ‘witchy” communities. Witchcraft is not pagan, a person can be of ANY religion and be a witch. SO why is it thrown into this category? As usual the images in this blog are over reactions and take away from an already terrible article. Being that I am a moderate I am also disgusted with the post-modernism that is infesting Paganism and this once interesting forum. SO Patheos is wanting to push a left leaning agenda promoting gender fluidity and decolonization in Paganism. Tell me witches… if you have numerous genders how are you going represent them all and how many gods and goddesses are going to get a sex change? This article was steering people away from the people that built paganism to the level it is today. SO Paganism is going to become everything that I feared it would become. A watered down mess of half thought out notions and sugar. Patheos has let us down and needs to be shutdown. I bet the moderator will delete this comment because I hold a different opinion. And this platform is a polarized position allowing only people that agree to post comments.

    • So you are worried about your freedom of speech (“I bet the moderator will delete this comment”) and yet are asking that “Patheos be shut down” because you don’t agree with several of the writers here? Oh boy! That’s a lot to unpack.

      If you don’t like what people write here, don’t read it. It’s really pretty simple.

  • Karen Shaw

    Funny it was compared to surgery, etc. Such arrogance! Personally I think titles of cleric Priests/Priestess is irresponsible to the public they portend to serve after receiving a comparatively small amount unvetted training by teachers who received much of same- from sources that are questionable. I was surprised to learn that you can become part of the Alexandrian tradition without even being local to the coven you join. They give long distance training, via technology, as long as you are able to travel to them periodically for in person initiation when you reach that point. So much for online training being useless, ridiculous, etc. right? They kind of demonstrate that there are many avenues of training one can benefit from, though I’m sure they are convinced they are the only source that’s authentic.