What draws us to Witchcraft?
This morning I came across a photo of me from when I was in college, taken by a fellow young Witch. As I gaze upon younger me, I think about everything she had been through up until that point, and everything yet to come. A lot of mistakes made, many challenges faced, so much learning to do. So much has changed, but the pattern stays the same.
We often say that Witchcraft is a tool of the disenfranchised. A means to obtain power when all other paths are denied, blocked, or seem out of reach. The whole story of Aradia is based on this premise, and history swims in it, no matter what culture you land on.
But I think if you asked Witchlet-me back then what drew me to Witchcraft, I would have said the spirituality – those so-called Pagan, nature-centered beliefs and practices that felt so much more in tune with how I felt the world worked vs. the Abrahamic faiths I was presented with. Absolutely true. Yet what much of what led me to not be in synch with “normal” society had a lot to do with my attraction to Witchcraft as well. I think this is also true for many Witches and other magical practitioners. We were searching for something else.
I didn’t fit in well at school for a multitude of reasons and was relentlessly bullied for it from 6th grade to freshman year of high school. I felt the impact of it emotionally, mentally, and physically – having an upset stomach nearly every morning from anxiety. Everything changed when we moved to a different state before the start of my sophomore year. It was not only a fresh start, I had also managed to find more people somewhat like myself. But I still felt the scars and they led me to other poor relationship choices down the line.
My story isn’t unique or special. Many of the magical practitioners I have connected with over the years have similar stories. They didn’t fit in, they were abused, they lacked support or stability, they were marginalized because of their sexuality, skin color, abilities, or background. Again, these experiences from their youth often repeated as they aged, causing more problems. Yet they also recognized the need for change and sought out means to renew or rediscover themselves – through Witchcraft.
When I look back at the 15 years of my previous marriage, while some would argue with me, I can’t say I was a nice person. When you are constantly working to survive under the hold of a narcissistic abuser, you develop acidic-like means of defense. You close parts of yourself off to try and protect them. You start to weaponize your words and actions. You lose your identity and get confused by all of the mirrored reflections presented to you. In your rare moments of vulnerability, you let others who in who don’t have your best interests at heart, and they wreck your already wounded inner sanctum. I don’t think my ex was a bad person to the core. He too had a history – one of abandonment and lack of support. His childhood-born insecurity bred his behavior, but at the same time, as he aged, he wasn’t interested in change.
I have been thinking about this again as the other day I was catching up on Invisibilia – one of my favorite podcasts. In the episode, “Trust Fall” – they discuss vulnerability, trust, and human nature. It’s a rather unnerving episode (there’s your warning), but the part that caught my attention for the better was the discussion of cultural norms in this one Moroccan village (and I think you’ll find similar beliefs around the world if you look) – that basically can be summed up as, “Humans are going to human. We all make mistakes and we can never truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head.”
Another point that was made in the podcast reminded me of a friendship my ex had pushed me into. Likely because he perceived them to be “safer” (not as big a threat) than my current best friend at the time. It seemed to go well, until it didn’t, and the fallout was tremendous. I was angry and upset for years. YEARS. Because I felt so used and betrayed. But down the line (as my marriage ended), I came to see that my anger was more rooted in believing this former friend was someone they were not. In truth, I was more angry at myself than I was at them. Eventually we reconciled to a place of peace – which I managed to do with many of the relationships that were wrecked along the way. Those friendships were killed not only because my marriage was toxic, but I too had become toxic as a means of defense. I was blinded by misconceptions, unable to communicate, or connect.
So what does this (ghastly bearing of soul) have to do with Witchcraft? In the years that have passed, I have learned to become more open, communicative, compassionate, and vulnerable – of/to myself and with others. Vulnerability should not be confused with weakness, but rather a willingness to explore, to change, and to be changed. To progress past those places of pain, to heal those old wounds, while remembering to be wise whenever possible. Back in those early days, I used to worry about what people thought of me. It’s where I looked to for definition because I couldn’t see myself in all of the mess. But then I cleared away the debris and found how to trust myself. Now I’d say my biggest fear is inadvertently hurting the people I care about. I recognize I can’t control others, but I can try to be mindful of myself. It’s a work in progress, as we all are.
Folks have a tendency to throw around the words “perfect love and perfect trust” – either with a sense of perceived pureness or being snide about it. Neither begins to grasp what it means. As I wrote previously in The Perfect Trust of a Witch: “perfect trust is more about saying, ‘I recognize who you are and who I am, exactly in this moment.’ That we recognize the good, the bad, the subjective, objective, and the nuance in-between – and the flux of change. That we understand and accept responsibility for our own expectations and efforts right here, right now.”
Nuance is the stuff of Witchcraft. If there was anything that was less centered around clear definitions, starkly black or white, only positive or negative, it’s Witchcraft. One thread leads to another thread that leads to another, weaving and influencing the pattern in myriad ways far beyond our perception. Few things are cut and dry, especially when it comes to working with spirits – or figuring out ourselves. We turn to Witchcraft to invoke change in our lives, our selves, and the world around us. Witchcraft is often referred to as “the Crooked Path” but I feel a more apt description is “the Serpentine Path.” Like the serpent, we wind ourselves through the world, going underground and rising up again, striking and recoiling, honing our skills, shedding our skins as we grow. If we don’t move, if we don’t change, if we don’t shed those older versions of ourselves, we stagnate and become blind to the world.
As Witches, we all have walked a winding path to get here and survived many wounds along the way. Witchcraft is not a matter of comparing wounds, competing for who walked the hardest path, but instead recognizing our common threads, even if we’re not all at the same place on our journeys. The Witch is not a victim. The power is not in the wounds, but the ability to change in spite of them, and to keep moving forward on the path – rooted in our strength to trust ourselves. We’re not always going to be successful in every change we seek, but if we infuse our practice with compassion and vulnerability, we definitely become more in tune with our paths.
If I could back in time, would I tell Witchlet me all of this? Would it change anything? I think we’re only going to hear or see something when we’re truly ready to open ourselves up to it. The pattern is revealed only as we walk the path ourselves.