These are thoughts I was telling a friend a few weeks ago, and since the topic of “fakelore” has come up in the Pagan community lately, thought it would be good to share those thoughts I had here. These are my feelings and thoughts – and as always, your mileage may vary.
When it comes to the grandmother myths, origin stories, folklore, “fakelore,” etc. within witchcraft – some things need to be addressed that aren’t being done in the manner that I feel that they should. What I am discussing in regards to “fakelore” is completely in the context of Witchcraft as a mystery tradition – not “colonizing” indigenous traditions or other religions.
Witchcraft is not a fundamentalist religion of blind-belief. Nor are our stories and history literal. Witchcraft is an oral tradition and a mythopoetic tradition. Meaning stories do not need to be literal or historical to have a purpose.
Whenever I read the origin stories of folks like Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Robert Cochrane, Victor Anderson, Austin Spare, Aleister Crowley, Andrew Chumbley, the Theosophists, or people who claim to be from a long line of witches, taught by their grandmothers, and so on. I simultaneously don’t believe their stories as literal and believe in their accounts as serving an important purpose. What they have done is created a modern myth, and there’s great power in a tale.
All religious stories, all folktales, and folklore are myths. Sometimes there’s a bit of history to back up certain aspects of the stories, but most of the time there’s not. To believe that these folks were being literal is absurd and indicates a fundamentalist religious mentality where everything is literally and historically true by those who lost understanding of its original purpose. It also demonstrates an inability to recognize the blending of other levels of reality with a focus purely set on the physical world. To throw the baby out with the bathwater is naive and demonstrates a lack of wisdom and insight into the heart of witchcraft itself.
This is why witchcraft is often regarded as a Mystery Tradition and not a fundamentalist religion. It’s about experiencing paradox that can’t be explained literally, but can be pointed to through myths. It is also a tradition of taking the central spiritual power that huge religions hoard and wielding it themselves as the people and not followers – and that includes the power of myth. It’s a Promethean act of stealing the fire for the people.
Are we to believe the story of Cerridwen is literal? Or perhaps the Titanomachy? Is the story of Jesus Christ 100% historical or provable? Is the dismemberment of Osiris an actual event? Is there historical evidence of Krishna being on Earth? Did Usui have some spiritual visitation that brought everyone reiki? Did Odin literally slaughter all the ice giants? Of course not. Unless you’ve fallen into fundamentalism.
The humans who created those myths were no different than the humans living today or in recent times. Those myths created a stream of consciousness with power behind it for people to tap into. Most of those probably started out as “fakelore” before being widely embraced throughout time by enough people to be “canonized” as “historic.”
So a more important question than whether or not someone is teaching “fakelore” about their history or not – does it work? Does the magick they teach work? Do you get results from it? Do the spirits they proclaim exist come when you call upon them? Can you attend and experience the astral sabbath under their direction? Even more important than that – is it making you a better person? Is it making your world a better place?
My point is that I don’t feel like the historical authenticity of it matters and misses the mark of the purpose and power of myths. Occultism shouldn’t be taken at face value. I suppose another thing which may differentiate my view from others is that I don’t see Witchcraft as a religion. I think a lot of people come to witchcraft seeking religion in the manner that they’re used to, and that can be the first pitfall on the path. Religion and religious thinking is a hard thing for the subconscious to kick, even when we consciously denounce it. Whether or not we were raised with a religion or not, we were raised in a culture that functions with a religious view of things.
This is also the problem with trying to take closed witchcraft traditions and make them open source. Taking outer-court and second-hand information and believing that it’s equivalent with having the training and insight that comes with these tales which are passed on verbally within the mystery tradition by the mentors who guide the seeker to understanding their full breadth. Initiatory and oath-bound witchcraft isn’t for everyone, but to talk with authority and literalism about it when you are not privy to the inner insights is problematic. A great witchcraft mentor will help guide you to your own understanding of what’s being passed on and its purpose, with an understanding themselves of what the stories mean and their function. This is one of the reasons you don’t see me going into depth about Witchcraft Traditions that are initiatory that I’m not privy to. I’m staying in my own lane.
Myth, of course, is never an excuse for abuse nor should be used as a tool for such. Personal discernment is always key.