This is a rebuttal article to Mike Nichols: A WITCH BY ANY OTHER NAME, and it is intended to spark discussion.
Well, there have been many who have said at various times that Wicca equals Witchcraft. While I’m not going to argue semantics, and while I can and do acknowledge that Wicca in the original Anglo-Saxon roots means “witch”, I don’t agree that Witchcraft is the semantic equivalent of Wicca anymore.
Here we have a religion that has built itself up around the word Wicca, sold books, developed a complex spiritual substance, Deity figures (some that don’t even appear in ancient mythologies), has developed dogma and cant in which certain things are of the Wicca and others are not and even developed a moralistic code which adherents must ascribe to (or at least give lip service to if they don’t buy the whole thing).
Those characteristics are qualities of a religion, one that has the possibility of developing and continuing for some time. Just about every major religion out there started like this and worked their way into some of the monoliths we know today.
There are many who are trying to claim that Witchcraft is a religion. That Witchcraft itself has a dogma and a cant, that it has deity figures and so on. I’m sorry I simply don’t see it.
Certainly the religion of Wicca has those things, but the craft of the witches, the skill-set in magick, herbalism, healing, midwifery, hexes and curses and so on, is not dependant on the religious structure one places it in.
For instance, while it was a good bonus in the original days of Wicca to have knowledge of the folk magick of the area, there were many who didn’t have much knowledge of herbs or “The Cunning Craft” (my term for cunningmen and cunningwomen) and Gardner was actively recruiting those kinds of people to be in his new covens (1). This means that it is possible to have knowledge and practice a magickal system without the baggage of a religion attached to it.
Just a few people who were religious but who had knowledge of magick that was independent of that religion:
Any Rosicrucian or Mason
And this is just a short sample. While each of these people may have been people of faith who attended church (of whatever expression they chose), they didn’t necessarily have to have the religion to practice their magick. Crowley in particular had very few references to god or extra planar beings in his writings, and while Solomon’s Keys have a number of references to those beings, no where in the texts of the Greater Key of Solomon or the Lesser Key of Solomon or other books that go in the set does it state that you have to believe in those creatures or deity forms. In fact, if you believe Phil Hine (a Chaos Magician), he did the rites directly out of the Key of Solomon without ever coming close to believing the whole thing (2).
That proves that it’s possible to have a religion and a magickal craft that are separate instead of linking to each other all the time, as other magickal paths like Judaism and the Kaballah do.
Would it be possible for a Wiccan to practice the craft of witchcraft without the religion of Wicca? Would it be possible to do so the other way, to practice Wicca without the skill-set of Witchcraft?
I believe they are both possible.
I have known amazing magickians who had no religion and would be offended if you asked them to summon a deity to their magickal rite, just as I have know amazing spiritual people that would never think of practicing magick.
It comes down to the dichotomy of spirituality vs. magick. They are not the same and have never been the same. They do not equate to each other although there are those who combine them into a very interesting practice (like Vodoun and Santeria), which I really respect. But they are not necessarily dependant on each other.
What does this have to do with Wicca? There have been some who have suggested that ALL Wiccans are witches and vice versa. Well, this witch is a Wiccan as well, but that’s not true of all out there. The recent trend toward just spirituality is one indicator of Wicca not equaling witchcraft. More and more there are those who practice Wicca, with all the forms and rituals attendant of that practice, without the magickal element.
I blame this on the books coming out. Most of the Wicca 101 books out there on the market now teach the spirituality and moral structure of Wicca without going too far into the magickal aspects or the psychic aspects. Thus those who read those books believe that Wicca is a religion without magick and they feel that magick is out of place.
This creates several problems, unfortunately.
First, Wicca is about magick. One cannot experience the Mysteries without experiencing magick first. The root principles in magick unlock the doors that the Mysteries are behind. Without the experience of what it is like to have an ecstatic trance, you can’t tell when you are having an epiphany, and if you do experience it, more than likely it will scare the socks off you. In fact, I have heard a story about a “priestess” who stopped doing rituals with one other priestess conducting the ritual. When cornered as to why she suddenly stopped, she said that during the last ritual that she attended she had “felt something” and it scared her. It was my understanding that “feeling something” was the point of the ritual.
Second, Healing is magick. Most of the basic books talk about healing as an ability like singing or sculpting. It is such an ability where you have to have an inborn aptitude to use it, but that is only half the story. Without the knowledge that magick brings to the table, healing will be out of reach of most of the new generation of Wiccans because the discipline and energy control as well as the ability to visualize all contribute to hone the skill of healing.
Third, most of the texts about magick are dull and dry. They are speaking to the experienced magickians more often than not, without caring that there is a generation of Wiccans who will miss out on half their practice. So supplementing their reading of the 101 books with magickal texts will only serve to confuse.
Now that I have argued for why Wicca IS about witchcraft, I want to argue the other side for a bit.
Ordinarily, a priestess teaches Magick to a student outside of common classes. In most traditions that I have been told about, there is an “Outer Court” which discusses the religion of Wicca, the history, the way to practice and so on. Once a student graduates from that, they are brought to the coven as a group and they go through a “dedicant’s ceremony” allowing them more access to the group and group members as well as enlarging upon their basic knowledge. As far as I know, from there, they are assigned a mentor who talks about the deeper aspects of Wicca, like the spells and how to do them. The mentor supervises any rituals the dedicant undertakes and gives suggestions and help.
The books are like the “Outer court” information. With this scenario there is no mentor to guide, teach and supervise. Which means that when the person who has read the books passes along their knowledge of only what they have read, meaning that they are passing along the “outer court” material as all that Wicca is.
But the point here is that the teachings about magick ARE taught separately and the Outer Court material and you can have a whole tradition based around only the outer court material. Granted, it’s a stunted tradition, one without the richness that the magick brings into it, but it is still possible. And it is possible to grow into the magickal aspects with time and patience.
Then there is the nature of the magick itself. There is herbalism, hexmastery, divination and tarot, ESP and other psychic powers, elemental energy channeling, weather witching, talking to plants and animals, and all the other parts of magick that are out there. Each of these is a skill that is learned and practiced and honed through use, which are independent of a religion. You have Wiccan herbwitches, Christian herbwitches, Voodoo herbwitches, agnostic herbwitches, atheist herbwitches, all of who have the same knowledge and skills, each of them calling upon different deities (or not calling on deities at all) to do what they do. And each is equally effective in their practice as any other. So this is a skill that is independent of the religion professed.
And any of the above named skills are like that. You don’t have to believe in the Golden Rule to read a tarot card, or pray to Buddha or Shiva to have a dream of what will come tomorrow, nor do you have to call upon Diana to pick an herb that will cure a cough. You may certainly do so if it is what you want to do, but you do not HAVE to. Which makes these skills independent of the religion of Wicca.
Therefore, this trend to reclaim the word “witch” for the Wiccans, and some Wiccans claiming that unless you are Wiccan you cannot call yourself a witch is patently false. It is likely that Wiccans can be witches, and many witches are Wiccan. If a group chooses to call themselves witches and they happen to be Wiccan it does not follow that only Wiccans can call themselves witches. It does not even mean that all Wiccans must call themselves witches or that all Wiccans are witches.
To follow this reasoning, one must also believe that all Christians are carpenters, since some Christians are carpenters, and the head of their religion (Jesus) was himself a carpenter. The ridiculousness of this statement should be obvious as there are many carpenters who are not Christian, and many, many Christians are not carpenters but other professions.
Witchcraft is a skill set, learned and refined and honed as a profession; the religion should never enter into it.
(1) According to Isaac Bonewits in his book “Wicca; A Concise History” <back>
(2) Taken from the context of “Some Observations from The Goetia Project” where he never states he believed in Judaism, but in which he recited the rituals verbatim to the Lesser Key of Solomon. The text of this essay is available at http://www.beyondweird.com/occult/aoev1.html on page 25. <back>