Witchcraft today often seems like it’s freely available, especially to those willing to spend loads of cash of fancy trinkets. The costs are high to those of us committed to walking the witches’ journey. Some of the tolls include giving up a safe life, ignorance, idleness, rigidity and often, personal comfort. Initiation into the ways of the wise requires great personal transformation that usually can only occur after immense despair and hardship. While these costs may seem high, the benefits of practicing true magic make them worth it.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was no cost to being a witch? If we could have that childish view of witchcraft that is pure and light? However, magick always comes with a price. I know I sound like characters on the show Once Upon A Time, but it’s true.
I can understand why so many modern witches want to bypass all the true costs of witchcraft in favor of shelling out big bucks for sparkly crystals and courses making huge promises. Like doing a deal with Rumple on Once Upon A Time, that deal would undoubtedly backfire. There are costs witches must pay. These tolls unleash not only our truth, but also our ability to effectively manipulate energies and spirits. In other words, being a witch unleashes the true magic(k) (both natural and in terms of spellcasting) within us. The costs are worth it.
The Difference Between Practicing “Witchcraft” And Being A Witch
Being a witch is a calling, an orientation, a practice and a lifestyle. It can even be a vocation for some (like me, for example). I’m all in favor of self-definition, but “witch” means something: it is the path of the other, often shunned by society. Until recently, this label was applied almost exclusively to women. It did not denote a specific set of religious practices, but was used by those in power to mark those suspected of cavorting with the devil, almost always in an attempt to consolidate their own power. Being a witch means a whole lot more than having a cool crystal collection.
Being A Witch Has Always Come With A Hefty Price
The witch was a woman of folklore, an evil spirit, a hag. When the witch hunts occurred, Christians used ridiculous assertions to brand mostly women as evil sorceresses in an attempt to control unruly marginalized people. Round about the middle of the eighteenth century, the image of the witch slowly started to change from hideous hag to beautiful seductress. The witch was feared because of her sexual power. Slowly, with the rise of romanticism in art and literature, the witch was transformed into a desired vixen. This influenced early writers of modern paganism and witchcraft, some of whom created a new religion based on remembrances of a glorious past that never existed.
The Crazy Consumerism of Modern Witchcraft
Here we are today with witchcraft being both legal and apparently accessible to all. Witchcraft has become a big part of the new consumer economy of wellness, that includes healing crystals and Reiki practitioners, and is estimated to be worth 3.7 trillion dollars. Crazy, right? Of course, many of these things are immensely helpful for us as witches. What I’m saying is that the over-reliance on them is a waste of money.
Trying My Best Not To Be Cynical
With witchcraft so on trend – and making so much money – it’s easy to be cynical about those who practice more, let’s say, casually. I’m not criticizing them at all. If you are someone who likes their crystals and candles, but has never created your own spell using human hair, know that I’m not picking on you. I’m speaking to those of us who feel the witch right down to our DNA. Not the modern definition of the word espoused by some as basically meaning anyone who spends way more than they should on crystals and essential oils. I’m talking to those who have always known they were different. That they were somehow connected to spirits – of the land, of their ancestors, of plants and even deities. Called by Hekate, for example.
The True Costs Of Being A Witch
I’m talking about being a witch in spite of the costs because the only way to be comfortable in our skin is to speak our truth, however we define it. I have a major grump about the consumer driven witchcraft craze. Not because I want to limit who calls themselves a witch, but because I want to preserve what witch has always meant: the other and the dangerous. How can witchcraft remain connected to it’s infamous history if the definition gets reduced to that of anyone who says a few words over a special candle? Don’t get me wrong, again I say that I’m exploring this idea rather than pronouncing an edict on any individual. I’ve been writing a series of articles on the meaning of modern witchcraft, some of which have been incredibly misinterpreted. I see my articles as fuel for starting a dialogue. I don’t mind the heat of the flames. One of the costs of being a witch has always been the very real risk of being burned.
The other costs of being a witch include giving up lies, ignorance and idleness. Other tolls are relinquishing certainty and comfort. All of these are fees exacted for anyone who dares to live their truth, but given the history of witchcraft, for us they come with additional charges. After all, we are the ones who’ve had to pay the ultimate price with our lives in the past.
Cost #1: Giving Up Lies
The only rule in witchcraft that truly matters is “know thyself.” If you feel your witchiness in your bones, then all your efforts to deny it will be very expensive. As long as we remain in denial, our shadow self reigns supreme. This has been the major struggle of my life. I didn’t necessary want to be seen as a mad/evil woman who summoned spirits. I carefully constructed a shadow-life of lies. One day, the cost for maintaining this facade simply became unbearable. If you’re new to truth-walking, know that this is a process that can take years to achieve. It is often the great work of the witches’ life.
Cost #2: Letting Go of the Past
Related to #1, letting go of the past can be a hefty price for some of us. We want to cling to our painful stories because they’ve defined us. However, there is that still small voice whispering, “you are so much more than your past.” Bury it, burn it, cut those cords. As long as we continue to cling to what others did to us, we will never fully be standing in our sovereign power.
Cost #3: Toxic Relationships
Looking to others for validation is not the way of the witch. A very real toll that many of us have to pay is in the false relationships we maintain as long as we deny our truth. Like Dr. Seuss wrote, “those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind.” I can’t even count the times I’ve heard of others complaining about how their family doesn’t accept who they are. Neither does my extended one. I’ve lost so-called friends because I chose to accept my calling. You know what? My life is 100% better without them in it. I know it’s scary to face being alone, but a witch is never solitary. She has the spirits and deities she knows to keep her company. The other amazing thing is that when we sacrifice toxic relationships with people who don’t accept us for who we are, we create the space for amazing new people to enter our lives. Almost like magick.
Cost #4: Ignorance Is Not Bliss, It’ll Get Us Burned
Let’s get something crystal clear: if you are a witch you must accept the mantle of the past. Witchcraft, until the last century, was illegal. The current freedom of religion and practice we have came with a huge price. Legislation freed us from persecution. If you think that witchcraft isn’t political, then you are entirely wrong. Being a witch comes with the price of embracing the fight for equality. Witches’ rights are human rights. Witchcraft is inherently feminist. Think those horrific anti-abortion laws have nothing to do with witchcraft? Think again. When politicians begin to attack women’s basic rights, they’ve opened the door to re-establishing anti-witchcraft laws. They won’t stop until women, and other marginalized groups, have all their newly-found power stripped.
I wrote earlier about how I struggle with not wanting to dictate to others how to practice witchcraft, that personal choice is important. However, ignorance is a non-negotiable. It’s those casual witches who claim witchcraft isn’t political who will be the first in line to lock us up. As soon as being a witch becomes uncomfortable, they’ll turn on us. The next burning times is only one spark away. Be aware.
Cost #5: Comfortable Numbness
Being a witch should be uncomfortable. Not all the time, but the witches’ journey is inherently one of personal growth. It is awakening to all that wonders of the world. Listening to spirits. Connecting with the forces of nature. All this awakening means that we can feel way too much. The only way we are transformed is through struggle. That’s just how it works. Giving up lies, the past, toxic relationships and ignorance is massively uncomfortable. Taking the risk of living a life that’s true to you is uncomfortable. You may be rejected by others. Some people might think you’re crazy. But here’s the thing, this sort of discomfort is actually comfortable when you are living your truth. Not easy, but worth it.
This is where self-identified empaths get into so much trouble. They, or more accurately their shadow selves, crave that comfortable numbness. To not know what it is to feel, whether within ourselves or when we pick up on the thoughts of others. Listen to me: being able to feel is a huge gift, not a curse. Of course, it can be incredibly overwhelming at times. The cure for this is to know and maintain your boundaries.
Cost #6: Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Tools
Well, I can’t say that I agree with the above statement, but I do believe that being a witch is an active pursuit of our truth. It’s about standing in our sovereign power. For many of us that entails the high price of healing. Idleness is a toll of being a witch. We have to lay it down on our altar, instead choosing to actively create a life that speaks truth to us. I can’t even believe that lazy witchcraft is a thing these days. It’s offensive. I’m not talking about occasionally take the easy way out when casting a spell or skipping a Dark Moon ritual honoring Hekate. No, I’m referring to those who don’t want to do the work required ever. Do what you can given your circumstances. Build in a daily practice. Refuse to let your shadow convince you that you would rather watch another episode of Sabrina instead of doing your meditation. On the other hand, know yourself well enough to realize when you need a break.
Cost #7: Certainly, Certainty Is A Cost
This is where the difference between being a witch and practicing it as a modern pagan religion becomes clear. Religion is about buying into a doctrine that promises a certain outcome. In Christianity, the goal is getting into heaven. Do these things and all will be well. Being a witch means giving up this certainty. It’s about learning to accept what cannot be controlled to free us up to work on what can. It is about adapting and changing given the demands of a situation.
Many of us practice what some call “eclectic witchcraft” as though we are the exception to the standard approach. I would argue that this mixing of practices reflects the true nature of the witch as someone who rejects rigidity and certainty.
The Cost of Initiation
All the items on the list above illustrate the costs of being a witch, but what they truly are are the tolls of initiation. Rising again…and again after suffering. Choosing to stand alone. Resisting the easy way. These are all the costs of initiation.
Initiation has a high price, usually paid in advance through persistence and suffering. This path isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not lighting a candle and saying a few words, nor can it be found in shiny things or sparkly stones. The roots and leaves of sacred herbs don’t hold the secret. Nor is it to be found at the end of a course, and it’s not in an elaborate ritual. Not to downplay the importance of these things, but initiation isn’t found in any of them, although we can complete the process standing before our altars. Initiation occurs on tear-soaked bathroom floors and on sweat-drenched sheets. In broken-down cars and empty apartments. It’s found when we dig deeper than we ever thought possible. That’s where we truly become initiated into being a witch. The choice is ours. Do we embrace the costs of being a witch? Or do we turn away, refusing to pay the price of blood, sweat and tears?
“Brimo. Brimo. Enter the holy meadow. For the initiate has paid the price.”*
*1st 4th century BC Orphic Leaf from Pherae, in Bremmer, Jan N. “Divinites in the Orphic Gold Leaves: Eukles, Eubouleus, Brimo, Kybele, Kore and Persephone” in Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 187 (2013) 35-48