Following a previous blog entry, among the comments I received was one accusing me of politicising witchcraft. Herewith is my response: Witchcraft is, has been and will always be political! It is a natural and societal response to oppressive systems that sustain the gulf between those with money and power and those without. It arises in the gap generated when the few languish in the grotesque affluence of position, while many suffer intolerable and crushing effects of austerity, poverty, discrimination and socio-political cruelty. Such culture inevitably generates suspicion, paranoia and, necessarily, recourse to means outside of the harsh reality of the oppressed. This frequently manifests in society as a belief in witchcraft.
…I propose a witchcraft to openly and purposefully work to arrest the rapid decline of the climate, overturn the human systems which harvest resources for personal gain, and to promote positive action toward healthy restoration of a life sustaining environment…
In a rather off-hand and trite manner, I flippantly answered the accusation with the comment, ‘tell that to the Pendle Witches‘. Realising that this sounds rather hackneyed, an explanation is in order. For those who are unfamiliar, the Pendle Witches were twelve people, almost all women, charged with witchcraft in the Lancashire Witch Trials of the early 17th Century. They were accused of murdering 10 people through malificium, harmful witchcraft, and the sequence of events was triggered by a chance encounter that I shall briefly recount. In the retelling of this happening, please consider carefully whether it was politically charged.
Alison Devizes belonged to the social class of the poorest individuals in the early 17th Century who mostly occupied their time begging as their precise circumstances, like many around them, provided neither means nor opportunity. The country had experienced some tumultuous times with the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and eventual crowning of King James I. This was a particularly dangerous time and the atmosphere must have been charged as Protestantism began its ascendency and the Catholic Church sought to retain its wealth and power, with both sides clashing in sinister and murderous clandestine plots back and forth. The political and religious struggles of the upper echelons had wrought murder and mayhem on the population at large through competing religious and political factions. King James, who was the monarch at the time of the Pendle Witches, was a particularly cruel and troubled patriarch, writing on both witchcraft (in his Demonologie, a compendium of witchcraft lore) and famously issuing an edition of the Bible. He would go down in history as the subject of a plot against his person and parliament when Guido Fawkes, as part of a conspiracy orchestrated by Robert Catesby, attempted to blow Parliament up in 1605, less than ten years before the Pendle Witch Trials. King James’ Demonologie is a curious work in which the King asserts his belief in witchcraft and magic and also his prescription for the trial and punishment of the same. This is the environment in which poor Alison Devizes finds herself when she happens across a pedlar from Halifax, John Law, in 1612.
Devizes, we know from accounts, begged some pins from John Law. She attested that she intended to purchase them, which is unlikely as she was definitely poor. Law, for whatever reason, refused and the two parted ways. This would seem natural enough, except that Mr Law stumbled as he walked away and, according to some scholars, suffered a stroke. It was several days before Law’s son brought Devizes to his father at a nearby inn where she confessed having cursed the man and begged forgiveness. There is little doubt that both Devizes and Law were convinced that she had bewitched John Law at his refusal and who, unfortunately, immediately stumbled, fell and became subsequently unwell. The circumstances of the incident, whilst seemingly coincidental, was sufficient at the time to convince all parties, including the accused, that the ill fortune of Law was a direct result of Devizes having used witchcraft against him.
Now, all of the circumstances surrounding this event, which triggered the witch trials of family members, neighbours, and others, took place in an atmosphere so politically charged that the protestant King of England himself feared that he was the subject of malefic magic by witches. Even without her confession, the politics of the time meant that Devize’s word counted for nothing compared to that of a professional man, his son, and magistrates. In quite every way, she never stood a chance. This one incidence is so politically explosive, as a microcosm of the times, that it cost many lives, all of whom belonged squarely in the poorest reaches of a society.
Indeed, one reason that Devizes may have regarded herself a witch must be the utter futility her position and the lack of recourse to any of the means society dictated acceptable. Her family owned no land, produced no goods, earned no money, indeed owned very little except their meagre cottage, Malkin Tower, where the coven allegedly met. Witchcraft was the only means which Devizes and her grandmother, Demdike, likely had in a world which gave them absolutely nothing of consequence except misfortune and treated them with utter contempt. If it weren’t for the trials, their lives would have been as inconsequential as the thousands of others who have passed into history unknown, unnamed and uncared for. History does not remember the starving, the malnourished, the abused and abandoned members of society. And it is here, in highly political times, that witchcraft usually arises. So yes, witchcraft is political and always has been. Ask the Pendle Witches!
More recently, witchcraft has seen a revival as our modern times burst with political confusion and diametrically opposed ideals stand off with each other. If our witchcraft is not answering the needs of the poorest and most at risk, then what is it good for? Indeed, there are few (if any) members of the higher levels of society who have ever been accused or had cause to use witchcraft. We live in a time when the 600 aristocratic families of Britain have doubled their wealth in the last ten years, the same decade of Conservative policy of austerity measures which, according to the Royal Society of Medicine, have resulted in the deaths of 30,000 in England and Wales in 2015. Meanwhile, in America, where the other famous witch trials occurred in Salem, Mass., wealth disparity means that the top 1% increased its total net worth by $21 trillion between 1989 and 2018.
All of this leads me to arguably one of the most pressing political crises of our time, that of the climate. Across Europe, the Summer of 2019 is another record breaker. This year, the continent experienced its hottest to date, with many countries exceeding historic high temperatures whilst the cities of Europe struggle to cope with conditions created as a direct result of climate change. The Guardian reported that the heatwave gripping Europe is undoubtedly in line with predictions of scientists who indicated “rising temperatures, more heatwaves and prolonged droughts interspersed with periods of heavy flooding.”
In my previous article, I argued that witchcraft is of a rebellious nature, reacting against the currents which seek to keep people down. In particular, I made reference to the climate crisis and the fact that the environment which sustains the human species on this planet is dangerously harmed in such a manner that our very existence is threatened. To that end, I propose a witchcraft to openly and purposefully work to arrest the rapid decline of the climate, overturn the human systems which harvest resources for personal gain, and to promote positive action toward healthy restoration of a life sustaining environment. This, then, is a call to arms! A plea for all to add their witchcraft and magic to the plight of the climate and the life which relies upon it.
In response to this political disaster, which is being ignored by those factions who benefit most from the harvesting of resources and exploitation of people and land, I asked friend and experienced practitioner Lesley Jackson for assistance. Lesley has worked on a sigil to work this magic and I implore you to take this, work with it, empower it, imbue it with the necessary direction and share it broadly and with potency. This sigil is provided here, purposefully created by an expert sigil magic worker, for the exact aim of working political witchcraft in the service of the planet, its complex life systems and environments, and to reverse the impulse that is hell-bent on destroying the climate which sustains us. Please, use this sigil in your work and empower it to these ends. It’s what witchcraft is for!