Irish-American Witchcraft: My Witchcraft Heresy

Irish-American Witchcraft: My Witchcraft Heresy November 7, 2017

This started out as a bit of a joke in a conversation on social media, but like many such things there’s some truth to it as well so I decided it was worth writing about here. I was discussing something in witchcraft and paganism that is a widespread belief but that I myself do not believe in and joked that I must be some sort of pagan heretic. Obviously this was a bit tongue in cheek as there isn’t any literal witchcraft-wide orthodoxy but on the other hand (or maybe the same one) there are several things that tend to be so common across wider neopagan witchcraft communities as to often be assumed of everyone.

What I mean by that is when out and about socializing with other people who consider themselves witches of the neopagan variety there are certain general beliefs that tend to simply be assumed as universal, even though they aren’t. Obviously it’s fine either way, to believe what many people do or to believe differently, but I have found there can be some serious push back when you are expressing beliefs at odds with most other people in a religious community. Hence the joke about heresy.

So, that all said, here’s a short list of a handful of my own heresies. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list.

Photo by the author.
Photo by the author.

-Veil Between the Worlds: This was actually the topic that began everything. I do not believe in a veil between the worlds. I understand that it is a very popular idea and one that has become nearly ubiquitous among neopagans, but it is not a concept that works for me. Mat Auryn wrote a good article about the history of the term and in discussion I did get that there’s two different views out there: one which sees the veil as an actual separation between worlds and one that sees the veil as something within a person that occludes perception of the numinous.

Ultimately while I can intellectually grasp both concepts it just isn’t something that works for me on a personal level so I don’t use it. I see the worlds as separate and closely connected like two sides to a piece of paper, but with a lot of crossover, the way ink bleeds through from one side to another. Its just a more permeable barrier than a veil, for me, so the analogy of veil doesn’t work.

-Rule of Three: I hear this one a lot from people, especially when I’m talking about cursing. The knee-jerk response from people seems to be to warn me about the rule of three – this includes people I consider extremely good friends so I’m not judging those who do believe this in any way. The things is though, I don’t believe in any iteration of the rule of three.

I believe that actions have consequences and that we need to be prepared to deal with the consequences of what we do, certainly, but not that what we do has some instant moral judgement attached that brings back magnified good or bad. That idea, for me, would hinge on the universe itself having sentience and an immediate vested interest in judging and punishing every living person within it for each action. And my paradigm just doesn’t support that understanding of how things work. I’ll grant you that the universe is sentient, but not that level of vested personal interest.

"A Knight, Death, and the Devil" allegedly by Cornelis van Dalem.  From WikiMedia.
“A Knight, Death, and the Devil” allegedly by Cornelis van Dalem. From WikiMedia.

-The Devil: One of the single most common things I hear from neopagan witches is the claim that they don’t believe in the Christian Devil.  Okay. As it happens I do believe in the Devil, or Satan, or Lucifer, or whatever we’re calling him. I also believe in Yahweh, and Jesus, and Mohamed, and pretty much all the Gods and demi-Gods of every pantheon or culture out there. I believe they exist. But that belief in no way compels me to acknowledge or honour them, and therein I suspect lies the crux of the issue. I have my deities and spirits and I stick to them; but in no way do I deny the deities and spirits of other people, monotheism included. Yes I do understand that monotheism hinges on a belief that their deities and spirits are the only real ones, but I don’t believe in the tenets of those religions so it doesn’t bother me.

I believe the Japanese Kami exist without thinking that obligates me to follow any religion attached to them. I believe the Hindu Gods exist without believing that I must be Hindu or strive for Moksha. So yes, I believe that the Judeo-Christian God’s great adversary exists, but in no way do I feel obligated to buy the attached p.r. or follow the rules those beings lay down.

And before anyone decides to chime in and ask how I can believe in them and not be afraid of them on some level, I’ll say two things. Firstly my own Gods are who I deal with first and foremost and I have never had an issue with an ‘outside’ deity unless I inserted myself into something I didn’t belong in. Secondly having not been raised Christian I have no ingrained fear around this deity or spirit and I can think of a variety of pagan Gods and spirits that are just as scary or more so, but that doesn’t dissuade me from being pagan either.

-Fairies: In my experience many pagan witches view fairies as either nature spirits/elementals or a kind of Tinkerbell like spirit guide. I do not. For me fairies are, in all their dizzying diversity, what folklore has always described them to be. Sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful, entirely inhuman and sometimes inhumane, with their own agendas and purposes. This comes from my own experiences since childhood, my reading of preserved folklore, and my discussions with other people in cultures who still actively believe in these beings. This particular heresy has gotten me more criticism than you might expect (or maybe not) and I have heard a very, very wide range of criticisms for not holding to the modern pagan view. Still I persist because I  can’t see the logic of ignoring my own experiences as well as lived cultures beliefs on the subject.

Neopagan witchcraft is a hugely diverse group with a wide range of beliefs, yet there will always be those who form a kind of mainstream and those who are outliers. I am decidedly an outlier on these issues, and that’s okay. I’m comfortable with my heresies. I think we need heretics to keep us on our toes, to keep challenging the mainstream as it forms, even here in our niche minority religion. We need that challenge to orthodoxy of belief to keep people thinking and to challenge the wider community to keep striving to develop well articulated theology. And most of all we need heretics among our ranks to remind us that we are all heretics to the over-culture we belong to, so that we don’t become complacent and start to assume that there is homogeny and conformity. We are witches and we should be diverse in our beliefs and practices, not identical.

I hope we resist taming and choose to stay wild.

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