The Many Ways of Witch
Witches come from every walk of life – all races, ages, genders, religious backgrounds, countries of origin and economic class. We are not all the sparkly demographic of white cis-female Millennials that the media and advertising industry have conjured in order to sell spooky sounding cosmetics and “starter witch kits.” Nor are we all lurking in the dungeons of listservs and back alley BBSs like we did in the 90s. We aren’t merely feminists hexing the patriarchy while floating down Portland, Oregon’s Willamette river in pointy hats. We’re not even all women.
Yet we ARE all of those things. We are just so much more as well.
There is no substantial definition of what it means to be a witch. Regardless of the thousands of Witchcraft 101 texts on the market, the “starter witch” kits and a history of witchery by many names that extends deep into antiquity, witchcraft is an elusive concept and one that routinely reinvents itself. What it means to be a witch depends on the context of the time, place and lives of those who use the term to describe what it is that we do.
My own definition of witchcraft has changed throughout my life. I pick up new practices while dropping the ones that feel inauthentic, inefficient or just plain ineffective. Still, there are many things witches do that I have never done and may never do.
I say all of this because many of the arguments that drive debates over witchcraft don’t come from a “moral” stance and have nothing to do with an objective correlation to the results of our magick. Instead they take a semantic and definitional tack. Who “gets” to call him or herself a witch? Is it “real witchery” a “dark” or “light” art? Are the “Eternal Laws of Witchcraft” going to punish us for being too selfish, too negative, the wrong gender or ethnicity, too inexperienced or too improvisational? Do we get shortchanged on magickal potency for manifesting success during a waning moon? Can we answer any of this with a scientific degree of certainty? In most cases, no.
I started The Way of Witch, first as a blog and now as a magazine and podcast because I believe these are the wrong questions to ask when trying to define witchcraft. In the scope of The Way of Witch, magick is neither dark nor light. It is like an old film that tells its story by shining light through dark images in chiaroscuro. One extreme without the other is incomprehensible and undifferentiated.
The Way of Witch offers a living story of witchcraft in the context of the modern world. We are Green, Dark, Hedge, Chaos, Pantheistic, Atheistic, Hard and Soft Polytheistic, Pagan, Neo, Cyber, Feminist, Goddess witches as well as everything I left out.
My Way of Witch
I came to witchcraft first in my freshman year of college. Eighteen-year old Nikki met an enigmatic woman, an older and non-traditional student, in one of my classes. We instantly clicked. She introduced me to Qabalistic concepts and bought me my first Thoth deck. We spent hours poring through the occult stores in Atlanta to find the raw materials of witchcraft – books, scents, rocks, herbs and more books. Because of her, I learned about the history of modern witchcraft and the definition of a “fluffy bunny.”
It is just as accurate to say that my witchcraft started in childhood as I pressed spells into lumps of clay that I dug out of my backyard and baked in the sun. Through the years, my practice ebbed and flowed. It was stifled by the concrete, glass and booze that defined Philadelphia, the city I lived in for 15 years.
The magick returned in full force when I moved to Portland, Oregon and the beauty of the wilderness pulled it out of that place in myself in which I had it stuffed. It was like magickal “Snakes in a Can.” Soon it was all over the place!
As I developed debilitating chronic pain, my magickal practice became so much more important to me. Not only is it the way that I interact with the Universe to connect to the infinite or to make big asks, it has expanded into every part of my life. Every day, I pour my pain, my love, my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my passion and all of the “larger questions” into my practice. It has become a natural extension of my talk therapy as I use it to investigate my past traumas, current responses to triggering stimuluses and how I get to know my “Shadow Self.”
This practice has made me strong on the inside so that I can start to shape my external life in a sustainable way. I no longer just throw spells at things. I can see the larger picture with spells as pieces that snap in with meditation, devotion, planning, Astral travel, Reiki healing, lucid dreaming, art and active imagination (journeying).The image that emerges as these pieces come together is as complex and multifaceted as a surrealist painting. It fuses together the spiritual traditions of the past, particularly those centered around Hekate, Jungian archetypal psychology, layers of magickal correspondences, botanicals, art and the evolving scientific and philosophical understanding of psychology, neurobiology, consciousness and the universe.
The Ways of Witches
Conversations about the proper way to do witchcraft abound in magickal spaces online and in real life. Some schools claim witchcraft as the science of projecting one’s will. They have spreadsheets and graphs. Other witches take a more animist approach, believing that everything contains a spirit to bend to the need of the witch. For some, getting witchy means wearing loads of black eyeliner and sharpening nails to a point. Some get witchy by sitting in full lotus in a candlelit space to throw some bones.
There are more questions than there are answers. For instance, many witches believe anyone can learn to practice with the right teacher. But arguments rage in online groups that to be a witch, one has to have the right blood line and a family Book of Shadows. Perhaps a lineage transmits itself through the fire of the spirit.
Where does the magick come from? Are spells prayers? Are they fancy placebos dressed in candlelight and thick smoke? Are they evil, driven by demonic energy? What fuels a spell? The moon? The gods and goddesses? Is it all personal power? Astrological influences are important, unless intention is everything and a witch can manifest reality with focus and intention.
Anyone who tells you definitively that any one of things holds truth while others are absolutely false is either trying to sell you a book, sign you up for a course or they want to stop you from venturing down your own way of witch.
Our philosophy at The Way of Witch is “both/and” or maybe “none/all of the above.” Witchcraft is more than an aesthetic but it isn’t a religion either. It’s a stance in relationship to a living Universe and a way to connect to the things within it that seem draped in mystery, that dwell below the lenses of science. That includes who we are beneath the masks we wear to protect ourselves from the judgment of believers and skeptics alike. For me, my practice has been about getting to know myself underneath my mask, beneath my face, through the past and well into the future. The way individuals practice witchcraft reflects that deep place within even as its rules and aesthetics can also obscure it.
Our witcheries are our own collections of practices, teachings and knowledge ancient and new, learned from books and teachers or gleaned directly from source. These practices have their own rules, logic and histories but none is absolute.
Make Way for the Witches
Even though we can argue about practically anything, perhaps we can agree to disagree – not on our deeply held principles but on the correct way to practice magick. We can each work “correctly” within our own framework and come together to make magick, not to war with other witches about how we witch. Or maybe we don’t make war at all. How about that?
This dark chaotic time of illness, political turmoil and economic despair is ripe for witchcraft. Together and as individuals, we can work to transmute the silent scream that ripples through each of us. We can dip our toes into the void and conjure something powerful. A collective of the fiercely individual.
The Way of Witch offers a platform for transmutation of pain, individual and collective, into real magick, healing, art and community. Through community, writing and talking, we offer our stories, our laughter, our camaraderie our knowledge and our craft. We are a quilt that will never be finished.
How Do You Witch?
What is your take on this eclectic approach to witchcraft community? How do you practice? What stories do you have to share? Join us in The Way of Witch Online Community for real conversation about magick.