The first thing I ever wanted to become was a witch.
Like so many of us my first exposure to witches and witchcraft was through TV and movies. Those witches weren’t exactly good role models. But witches were different, witches were cool, and witches could do stuff. I wanted to become a witch.
Unfortunately, the church my parents took me to taught that witchcraft was evil. I rebelled, but I expressed my rebellion through science. I assumed witchcraft was a pleasant fantasy and nothing more.
But I still wanted to be a witch.
Heron Michelle has a very good piece on her blog on prerequisites for training in witchcraft. In it, she says:
Is there is a parent or spouse with the power and inclination to physically harm you if you don’t conform to their life-choices? The witchcraft set before you FIRST is to remove yourself from their sway.
My childhood home was loving and supportive, but it was constricting. I wanted out. I needed out. I could not start becoming who and what I needed to be until I did. All I knew about witchcraft at the time was what the forest taught me, but that was enough to manifest not one but four scholarships. That got me away from home and helped me get the education that has supported me for my entire adult life. This remains the greatest magical working I’ve ever done, although I would not have called it that at the time.
When I discovered Wicca, I was thrilled. Here was my chance to finally become a witch. It didn’t work, in part because Wicca just didn’t inspire me, but largely because I was trying to practice secular magic without addressing the deep religious wounds from my childhood.
Jason Miller of Strategic Sorcery has a blog post titled “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” In it, he points out that too many people who want to practice magic get hung up with religious and esoteric groups that work very little actual magic. If you really want to learn magic, then work on magic, not religion. Keep your main thing the main thing.
My main thing was – and is – religion. My calling is not to be a magician, but to be a Druid and a priest. That’s my main thing, and when I made it the main thing my Pagan practice took off. It hasn’t slowed down in 17 years… and I’ve learned some magic along the way.
But while my priestly work remains my main thing, right now the call to witchcraft is stronger than it’s been in years.
Witchcraft is unauthorized magic
I have a three-fold understanding of magic – three different ways that magic works. There is the intercession of Gods and spirits, the manipulation of unseen forces, and psychological programming. Some magical workings use one way, some use two, and some use all three.
In all societies – including our own supposedly rational supposedly Christian society – some forms of magic are permissible, while others are forbidden. Prayer is OK, summoning demons is not (which category prayer to unfamiliar Gods falls into depends on who you ask). Some people are considered safe to work magic and others are considered dangerous. Medical doctors can prescribe the use of certain plants, while ordinary people cannot.
But there have been witches in all societies, including societies that aggressively hunted and killed them. In case anyone is unclear on the history of witchcraft, virtually none of the thousands of people judicially murdered during the European witch trials were actual witches. That doesn’t mean there weren’t witches and people doing witchcraft at the same time.
There are good reasons why people practice witchcraft even at great risk to their lives.
Witchcraft gives power to the powerless
Here in the United States we like think we live in a society with “liberty and justice for all.” The truth isn’t so pretty.Some people have the resources and connections to exercise near-total control over their lives. Others are under the control of bosses or bankers or the police (note to my libertarian friends: they all differ in degree, not in kind). The young are under the control of parents and teachers. The poorer and more violent your neighborhood or your country, the less freedom you have to live your life the way you want to live it.
Some of this is necessary and even desirable – I don’t want eight year olds running around unsupervised, and I want someone to track down and restrain murderers and thieves. Most of us are not completely powerless – we have at least some autonomy in our lives.
But unless you don’t mind spending your entire life keeping your head down and following other people’s rules – and maybe not even then – sooner or later you’re going to run into someone who’s more powerful and who uses their power in a way that harms you. Someone who humiliates you. Someone who puts you in a situation you find intolerable.
Maybe you just want to remove yourself from the situation. Maybe you want to build your skills so you improve your situation. Maybe you want to change the system so this can’t happen again.
Or maybe you want revenge.
So you go see your local witch… and you bring an offering, because witches don’t work for free, and you do not want to be in their debt.
Or perhaps you decide to cut out the middleman and become a witch yourself.
Witchcraft is transgressive
Most of my writing on this blog is about Pagan religion. Religion is that which binds us together around shared values and common worship. It connects us to the wisdom of our Gods and ancestors. It builds community. Humans are not solitary creatures – community is a good and necessary thing.
But community is not a perfect thing. It can become coercive and exploitative. It can become exclusive and extract severe penalties on those who fail to conform to its expectations. Even if the community as a whole is virtuous, oftentimes it has members who are not – members whose power protects them from being held accountable.
Sometimes Paganism is transgressive and sometimes it is not. Witchcraft is always transgressive or it isn’t witchcraft – it’s officially sanctioned magic (not that there’s anything wrong with officially sanctioned magic).
Witchcraft requires more than coloring outside the lines or eating your banana before lunch. It requires that you get your hands dirty. It requires blood… and other bodily fluids. It requires transgressing the Wiccan Rede as much as the Christian Bible. It requires taking risks and interacting with monsters.
Sometimes it requires becoming a monster, at least for a while.
There is one and only one valid reason for doing all these transgressive things: because it’s necessary. If the only options are submission or witchcraft… well, that’s a pretty clear choice, isn’t it?
What’s a Druid doing writing about witchcraft?
My religion is a magical religion and I write about magic on a fairly regular basis. I write about witchcraft much less often. I’m not a witch, so I prefer to leave the lessons in witchcraft to those who are.
But that life-long desire to become a witch has never completely gone away. Plus I hang out with a lot of witches, and I pay attention. You can learn stuff when you pay attention.
As I write this, exactly two people – two witches – know what’s going on here… and even they don’t know the whole story. It’s deeply, deeply personal. Don’t ask – I won’t tell you. Witches understand the power of silence. So do Druids.
Trust me when I say it’s necessary.
And if this is necessary for me, there may be something similar that’s necessary for you. If so, you can visit your local witch, and bring suitable payment.
Or you can answer the call to witchcraft and learn to do it yourself.