The recent rise and fall of the American Council of Witches 2015, an absolutely pathetic attempt to gain instant and easy fame by overwhelmingly underqualified individuals, got me thinking about the past two decades I’ve been practicing witchcraft and continually seeking a deeper understanding of this thing called Wicca. When I was first exposed to Wicca, via books, which were the only things available to me at the time, I wanted to badly to believe all those words printed on the pages. However, after years of reading, seeking, initiations, and training I’ve come to accept certain things about Wicca and witchcraft. It’s been through trial and error, dealing with embarrassing moments of ego bruising, and times when I’ve had to walk away to contemplate only to be drawn right back to where I left off. I’d had to let go of pretty fantasies only to find hidden gems under the layers of mundane history. But what follows in an admittedly incomplete and imperfect set of tenets I now hold in regards to my personal practice of witchcraft and my opinions on Wicca. I put these out there in hopes they help others who may not be willing always tow the Wicca Party Line about certain areas of our craft. After all, we’re talking about witches, and we tend to be a stubborn lot not prone to being told what to do.
1. Wicca is a form of witchcraft. The word ‘Wicca’ doesn’t come from words meaning “wise one” or “to bend.” That’s been discredited. Wicca comes from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘wicca’ (pronounced WEE-cha), which means male sorcerer, and ‘wicce” (WEE-chay), a female sorcerer. This is where we get the word ‘witch’ from. Gerald Gardner spelled ‘wica’ with one c, most likely because he wasn’t educated in a school but by a nanny, but the second c found its way back soon enough. It really should be pronounced WEE-cha, but everyone started pronouncing it WI-ka. Regardless of all this, of the Wicca, at least those in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions of Wicca are initiated into traditions of witchcraft. We may be the red-headed, Mormon, step-children of witchcraft, but a part of the greater witchcraft “thing” we are. Under all the layers of Golden Dawn concepts, O.T.O. quotes, Valiente poetry, Aradia rip-offs, and “more-Wiccan-than-thou” attitudes, there is still a strong current of witchcraft flowing through the Gardnerian and Alexandrian spiritual families, going back to the British motherland. Also, I don’t capitalize witch because there are many types of witches, and they don’t all belong to the same religion, while some don’t belong to any. It’s called grammar.
2. Wicca is not ancient. Witchcraft is ancient, but Wicca, as a religious system, only dates back to the 1940s/50s-ish with Gerald Gardner, the New Forest Coven and Dafo, and the Bricket Wood Coven and Doreen Valiente. Please read Ronald Hutton and Philip Heselton, and let’s put this to rest. Yes, I realize there are some questions left unanswered, but stepping back and looking at the forest, come on, let’s get real and stop pretending to be Mists of Avalon. However, just because something isn’t ancient doesn’t mean it’s not real or it doesn’t work. Just look at all these other systems that have been created in the last century and a half that seem to work just fine for those who have done them and continue them today. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., the Druid stuff, and on and on. Wicca has been around for 65-ish years now, and I can tell you that a great deal of experimentation has gone on. What’s worked has been preserved and passed on, and what hasn’t worked has been thrown out.
3. A witch is born; a Wiccan is made. Witches are people born with spiritual and magical aptitudes that others aren’t, much like how someone born with musical talents will advance faster and go further than someone born without any musical talents. Anyone can learn to play an instrument, but those with talents will play them better and with more ease. However, even the ones born with talent have to work hard and practice to achieve professional status. To be a traditional Wiccan, a person must be initiated into the tradition/family and (hopefully) instructed on how to function within the coven. Not all initiated Wiccans are born witches, but they can develop abilities to a degree over time and be of much use in the coven setting.
4. The “harm none” you read about everywhere is bullshit. “Harm none” comes from the Wiccan Rede “an ye harm none, do as ye will” which is many times passed off as a binding rule or law among Wiccans. It’s not. “Rede” means council or advice. It’s not a fucking law. It’s good advice, but I don’t always go by it. My ethical system is basically, if I can live with the consequences, I’ll do whatever the hell I want. I’m grown.
5. Also, this “threefold law” business sounds like role-playing teenagers came up with it (thank you, Llewellyn Publications and The Craft, for helping to spread that nonsense). How in the world can you send something out and expect it to come back to you “times three”? And please don’t try to tell me “it’s magic, you can’t explain it,” because I know good and well from my own experiences and the testaments of others that magic works through laws similar to those of physics. There’s nothing that’s going to GAIN momentum all by itself after it’s sent out. So, no. However, there is a threefold aspect to magical workings, but that’s part of my initiate training, so I can’t share that here.
6. To be a witch or even a Wiccan coven leader does not necessarily mean I need to be a pillar of the community in service to any and all. I am in service to my gods and spirits and to the people they bring to me for help, not every single person who emails me or stops me in the street. A coven, or at least a traditional coven, meets in secret, all its members are oathbound initiates, and works for the protection and spiritual advancement of its members, who are a family. What part of that looks like it’s designed to establish churches, sit on interfaith councils, and stand as gleaming examples of spiritually advanced beings for all to see? I mean, sure, you CAN do that if you want to, and many have. If that’s what they feel led to do, then great. However, COMMA, don’t expect me to do that, and don’t look down your fucking nose at me when I don’t. Witches have classically been those on the fringe of society, shunned but respected and feared. Alliances with those powers the witch is traditionally associated with don’t come easily and aren’t found inside the local U.U. They are found in wild and dangerous places under the veil of darkness and require sacrifices not all have the stomach to give. After all that I’m usually too tired to put on a suit and tie to sit around a table for interfaith dialogue.
7. Gods and spirits are real, not archetypes or extensions of our minds or any other bullshit NewAge sewage out there. And by real, I mean they are independently-existing, non-corporeal, conscious beings. I hold a degree in philosophy and religious studies, so I know good and well that I can’t prove this to be true or really convince non-believers, but I’ve experienced enough to know this to be true. Human beings have held this belief and interacted with spiritual beings for thousands and thousands of years. It’s only been since people thought they had (most) everything figured out that that folks stopped believing in them, or at least saying that they don’t believe in them. From where I’m sitting, people still get scared watching haunted house movies, and when push comes to shove and something weird happens that simply can’t be explained away…that’s when those deep-seated ancestral fears of the unknown creep out, and with them the horrifying truth that we haven’t even begun to figure everything out. And it’s really that fear that causes most people to negate the existence of spiritual beings. That, and they don’t want to get laughed at by other people who probably would get just as scared given the same things happened to them. SO…when you go before the gods and spirits, treat them with a bit of respect, because they are watching.
8. And speaking of spirits...Ancestors must be honored. The widely-held (eclectic) Wiccan belief of a simple-minded style of reincarnation (taken out of context from religious concepts from India) tends to dissuade many people from honoring their ancestors. Many non-Abrahamic religions have the concept of the multi-component soul, and some digging into European pre-Christian religious practices strongly suggest the same was held by pre-Christian Europeans. The most common number seems to be a spiritual trinity, with each part breaking away and going to different places after a person dies. One part a “divine spark” so to speak returns to that the Divine Creative Source, while another part usually reincarnates. But one part always goes to join the ancestors, which is why all religious practices, either currently or earlier in their histories, include ancestor veneration. The ancestors are how we’re here and are our foundation. Honor your dead, develop a relationship, and they can help you out in ways you couldn’t even think of now.
9. And speaking of gods…since Wicca isn’t ancient, what about the Goddess and God of the Wicca everyone keeps talking about? I’ll admit to this one: I don’t know. I received secret names at my initiations, which I obviously can’t discuss here, but there’s debate even within the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions about who these beings are. Some covens say there are the over-arching God and Goddess of the Wicca we all (initiates) work with, some say each coven works with local deities and spirits, some combine these approaches, and still there are more. Well, here’s my take on it. I think each coven is a unique combination of each member’s ancestors, spiritual guides, and dormant pagan deities, all brought together through the same initiatory process. So, who’s to say exactly who the tutelary spirits are for each coven and if there are or aren’t an over-arching pair of witch deities? Not me.
10. If the gods and spirits are real, then guess what…so is magic. (Oh, by the way, can we drop the “k” at the end? Unless you’re someone related to the O.T.O. or another Crowley-based system, in which case wear that “k” on a badge!...but if you’re not, then spelling magic with a “k” just looks silly.) Yes, folks, that’s right, witches (including Wiccans) do witchcraft. Witch-CRAFT. CRAFT of witches. Magic. Spells. Curses, the whole shebang! If you don’t practice magic, don’t bother calling yourself a witch or a Wiccan, call yourself something else. You can still wear all the flowy crushed velvet robes and dance around with flowers in your hair even without calling yourself something you clearly don’t embody. But witches and Wiccans? Study your herbs, stones, charts, moon phases, oils, seek out those places of power near you, never stop learning, and work your craft.
11. Yes! Above I said curses, because why? Because witches deal with both light and dark, healing and cursing. Witches deal with spirits of the dead, nasty spells, and things that go bump in the night. Read anything that’s not published by Llewellyn and most likely, it’s there. I even prefer my Wicca with teeth and an edge. Summon those spirits that are going to get the job done, not just make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (that’s what rum is for.) Witches straddle the worlds (remember the whole “between the worlds” thing?), and just like how not everything in the physical world is nice and your friend, so it is with the spiritual realms—as above, so below—and witches and Wiccans should be able to deal with what they find. When witches come into their own and Wiccans are initiated, which sometimes goes hand in hand, a light is kindled that shines in those other realms, and just as moths and other creatures are attracted to a flame, so too will denizens of those other realms be drawn to that new light. Best be prepared.
12. Inside a circle or at the kitchen table aren’t the only places to commune with our gods and spirits and work our magic. Witches and Wiccans both should learn more about harnessing the powers found in certain places outside the home. To borrow a term from an Afro-Brazilian tradition, the kingdoms of power are where you can find not only the herbs and objects, but also the spirits that are attracted to and become part of those powers. The cemetery, the crossroads, the woods, mountains, lakes, rivers, swamps, open fields, deserted places, and more, they all add valuable assets to a witch’s supplies and arsenal. Go slowly, be respectful, use common sense, don’t believe everything you receive from a spirit (many will be more than happy to trick you into giving them service), but don’t be afraid to get out there and go beyond what the books have to say.
13. Thirteen, thirteen, hmm, I don’t really have a thirteenth…oh, wait, yes I do! If you ever get the urge to establish a “council of witches”…don’t.