Recovering What Was Lost in Modern Witchcraft
“…any child worth their weight in Fairy Dust will tell you that the power of pretending is a formidable one.”–Storm Faerywolf
“To disbelieve in witchcraft is the greatest of all heresies.”–Malleus Malificarum
When first confronted with the reality that witches still exist, one may be expected to entertain images of women gathered around a cauldron in the cloak of night, preparing certain potions and elixirs of great power in the hopes of affecting the world of men. One might recall the medieval accusation, now a popular icon associated with the Craft, of a witch dressed in black, silhouetted against the backdrop of the full moon as she flies across atop her broomstick to attend, presumably, her secret rites. Folk beliefs hold that witches possess great power and are able to draw on that power to both hex and to heal as they see fit. To bless and to curse is the territory of the witch and, at least in popular literature, she is more than willing to explore its recesses and to cultivate the power that she finds there.
After the Inquisition, when witchcraft and other “alternative” spiritualities and practices went underground or were lost, the belief in magic continued. In the late 1800’s, the emergence of several magical lodges dedicated to various forms of ceremonial magic began to propel the idea of magic into the public light. Magic, defined by Dion Fortune as being “the art of changing consciousness at will” was now no longer to be considered “supernatural” (outside of the laws of nature) but as a logical and deep spiritual relationship to nature itself. When the popular branch of witchcraft known as Wicca began to gain foothold in the public’s awareness, the idea of magic as a fantastic force of mythological proportions began to wane. Magic, it was now explained, occurred in the most mundane and seemingly normal ways. There were no miracles, only the planting of psychological seeds that would hopefully grow and bear the fruit of spiritual fulfillment and emotional balance. Gone were the days of flying ointments and enchanted doorways leading into other worlds. Gods and Goddesses, once the great and mighty beings of honor and dedication, were now seen as being mere archetypes within our collective psyche; tools to be utilized for emotional growth or personal gain. Now “real” magic was as harmless as church on Sunday, and as close as your therapist’s couch.
When reading many of the introductory books on the Craft that are available on the market today, it becomes apparent that very few practitioners believe magic to be anything more than an offshoot of Jungian psychological principals. Deities, animal spirits, fae beings. All are seen as being nothing more than fanciful (if helpful) splinters of our own individual consciousness that are attempting to communicate to us directly through the modality of the symbolic. The difference to the ancient model is a profound one: beings of power–once seen as living and conscious entities in their own right-were now reduced to little more than whimsical imaginings in a role subservient to the ego. Magic, it seemed, had been stripped of its power. But beneath all of the “accepted” forms and scholarly works, something different-something older-began to stir.
While many traditions of modern witchcraft have degenerated into little more than self-help groups with an occult veneer, there are still those who’s practices and beliefs cannot be defined within the confines of the psychological model. Thousands of years of tales describing amazing events (not to mention the first-hand experiences of modern practitioners) have been the fodder necessary for continued belief in magical power. Modern practitioners of the magical arts maintain that the ordinary reality that we are generally accustomed to in our everyday lives does not exist in solitude. Just as the ancient shaman and tribal healers believed in other worlds that intersect our own, the modern witch builds and maintains a relationship with such worlds, as well as the inhabitants that reside there. In our practice the Gods have been restored to their places of power, and are honored once more.
The gathering of information through unconventional means is a prime example of how magic flies in the face of psychological attempts to define it. Take, for example, the religio-magical rituals of the ancients. Feats of miraculous healing were not uncommon to the ancient practitioner. Tribal shaman would often consult a spirit or another otherworldly being in order to obtain healing for that which could not normally be healed. By traveling into the realm of the power being, spirit, or ally, the shaman would be able to bring back information that would be relevant to the tribe, and only then would be able to perform the healing rites. Whether this information constituted instruction on the use of certain herbs, particular magical songs and incantations, or the location of sources of food or water, the shaman would have gathered information that s/he was previously unaware of, thus adding to the body of lore necessary to the survival of the tribe. Had these beings been merely offshoots of the shaman’s own individual personality then the information obtained would have had to first been within the memory of the practitioner and would therefore be limited. Only by entering into a relationship with a conscious being with its own thoughts and ability to communicate could the shaman learn what was necessary for survival. These beings were understood as being real, and were treated accordingly.
It should be stated that a belief in the autonomous existence of Deities and various otherworldly beings does not automatically invalidate their psychological importance to the human practitioner. Gods are perfectly capable of being at once both archetype and living entity-taking delight in the seeming paradox that only exists within the limitations of human consciousness. In the magical model of the universe we are all part of one boundless being, and as such are able to “tune-in” to certain “frequencies” (i.e. Gods, spirits, allies, etc.) allowing their particular energies to become more aligned with our own, thus facilitating open communication between the two. With this belief system in place we do not see the powers in question as being outside ourselves as we see that nothing is outside ourselves. This is at once both a subtle and profound shift from the standard psychological model, which sees all things as being separate and therefore isolated from each other.
The philosophies of what has come to be called Transpersonal Psychology are perhaps the most successful attempt at explaining these fundamental spiritual ideas within the limitations of mainstream acceptance. But even here the ideas expressed fall short of embracing that which has been known to witches and shaman for centuries: that the universe, far from being the lifeless droning machine as described by Descartian physics, is in fact alive, conscious, and aware of our existence.
If magic is indeed “the art of changing consciousness at will” then why limit ourselves? A universe that is comprised of living, aware, conscious energy would seem to be the very best place to perform miracles, if only one knew the right “language”. Energy can be moved, channeled, coaxed to flow in certain ways by as simply as focusing your awareness on it. Perhaps the consciousness that comprises a wall can be coaxed to become immaterial, allowing one to pass easily through. Such things have often been said of a number of Yogi masters from the Far East for quite some time. Perhaps if one only knew how to energetically relate to the wall it would allow passage unhampered. Is it possible that the guru or holy-person, having prepared themselves with whatever their particular custom demands, enters into a state of hyper-communication with an available energetic consciousness and is therefore able to wield it to his/her will? Defying gravity, moving objects, teleportation-all could perhaps be achieved by altering not only our own consciousness at will, but that of the environment as well. The person we are healing, the God we’re invoking, the candle we are charging, the stone we are blessing, the villain we are cursing-there is a link between us and them, a conscious link that can me moved, tugged at, related to. Our awareness reaches out to theirs and in the meeting magic is made.
When I am open to the possibility of the fantastic, the mystical, the fabulous, I am in a better position to experience it. When I accept the idea that spirit can communicate to me directly, I see signs. In learning to read and understand those signs, I am living my life in a magical way.
I believe in magic. I am a witch.
This article originally appeared in Witch Eye: A ‘Zine of Feri Uprising #4.