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June 22nd. 2014 ...
Witchcraft vs. Religion
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
A Non-Religious Craft: or Why My Witchcraft is Not Religion
Article ID: 11436
Age Group: Adult
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Etymologically, the word ‘religion’ is believed to derive from the Latin 'religare', which suggests either or both of two meanings. The first presents the idea that religion aids us in re-connecting with the divine reality or presence [from Latin re (again) and ligare (to connect)]. The second relates to the theory that those who adhere to religion are in fact returning to bondage, implying a sense of obligation and servitude to the Godhead (Ultimate Deity). There are other possible origins for the word; however modern scholars tout 'religare' most often as the most probable source for the word. It was also popular with St. Augustine who encouraged the former interpretation suggesting that humanity is born into this world with the taint of original sin which therefore distances us from the Numinous, the Divine; the Spirit. To a Pagan and a Witch this is all but ludicrous!
The Craft is a Pagan religion that draws its inspiration from ancient traditions tied to the Earth and to the natural tides and rhythms which animate Life.
One of the most common statements to be found in beginner Wiccan/Craft books is the above. It basically presents Witchcraft to be a universal or monolithic stream of pure, archaic, Pagan consciousness. A religion, they say, that is Earth-based and inspired by ancient traditions and rituals. Not only is this statement deceptively generalized, it is also a ridiculously flawed one.
The Craft is not, in my experience, a Pagan religion. It is a tradition, a methodology, a spiritual practice, a priesthood and a cult* that is indeed Pagan. However in no way does it constitute a religion in the definitive sense. We do not re-connect for we never lost the connection; we only reveal, embrace and celebrate it. We are not bound by servitude to the Old Ones and the Gods, instead we dance with them hand in hand within the great Circle. We are not obliged or made to bow down to a deity who breathes flames of jealousy and rage, nor does our vowed service to them (a priest/ess’ oath) entreat worship. It is reverence and honor we hold for our deities, and for the catalytic, creative forces of Sky, Land and Sea, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
The very concept of religion implies a separation between the mundane (profane) and the sacred (spiritual; of the higher planes) and this duality and tension between two, which are in fact one, is what the Craft fights against.
Witches, as a rule, refuse the Western paradigm of a conformist, colorless and creed-driven society organized by and devoted to the Patriarch (he who is the alpha-male, the political head, the doctor, the scientist, the father; he who is cold, detached and transcendent, but whose ego is immanent). When I speak of the Patriarch who embodies the qualities listed above I do not speak of the masculine quality, which is complementary and necessary to the equation that leads to the Mystery, but the force of power-over that seeks to drive out Life wherever it thrives. Religion is a by-product of the Patriarch and has no place in the fair realms of freedom, beauty, truth and love that Witches journey through.
Witches are magickal beings. We are mortal in that we are incarnate as humans upon this Earth to learn and evolve. A non-religious Craft is essential to ensure that we survive and thrive in the future!
The explosion of interest in Wicca and other forms of Witchcraft in recent times is testimony to the fact that many in the Western world tire of the organized Abrahamic faiths. Many have awoken to the immense horror that was the ecclesiastically-approved behavior of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. The extremism of various Muslim sects that corrupts and taints the Quran to encourage youths to commit murder in the name of Allah speaks for itself. Religion provides the unthinking masses with the promise of salvation from a panic-stricken world. No one wishes to deal with their karma, or to take responsibility for the errors of their ways.
It is ironic that many of the early church fathers used the term ‘pagan error’ to blacken any tendency to choose freely or to philosophize. Paganism and indeed Witchcraft itself was charged as one of the greatest of heresies and in fact there is no mistake in assuming such a thing for to be a heretic is to simply exercise one’s divine-right to choose freely a path of one’s own making (or fate-fulfilled).
I am a Witch of the non-Wiccan variety. I do not believe myself to be a part of a religious community that serves a generic Great God and Great Goddess of European garb. I celebrate the Sabbats and the Esbats with my coven and serve my Gods of Blood and of Breath. I am a polytheist, an animist and a pantheist simultaneously and not one negates the other. I descend from two lines rich in magick. I know, understand and embrace my nature as it is and as it will be -- an unfurling grace of spiritual quintessence.
I reject false notions of democracy and outright attempts at totalitarian power. I lend no power to the concept of absolute evil, nor do I indulge in an ultimate good. I walk a path that is bathed in light and dappled by shadow. I feel the fire of the Spirit and the charge of the Great Mystery. I dance and celebrate with my Gods and stand as I kneel. I have made my oaths and have promised my entirety to the Craft and to the spirit of the Witch. It is my centre and wherever I am I dwell within its being.
Witchcraft is not a religion. It is a craft. It is a source of wisdom, insight and experience. It is a wellspring inspired by shamanic ecstasy born before the first dawn. Where does this leave those who identify their Craft as religious? Does this mean that those who conceive of themselves to be religious Witches are in fact misled? I do not think so, and nor do I suggest it. I merely ask that those who practice the Craft and who live these ways make known to themselves that there is an amazing depth of power that lies behind the pretext of religion and belief. Strip away the trappings, the rules and the dogma and there is purity, consciousness and unbelievable power.
What is a Witch if she is not the sweet image of Wicca portrayed by the media of today who have seemingly caught on to the suggestion that ‘Witches’ are simply indulging in a nostalgic flower-power movement that empowers the self above all? Yes, both Wicca and Witchcraft are empowering and both honor Nature, however their paths divert in that as Witches we do not necessarily conceptualize Nature through the polarity of a sacred masculine and a sacred feminine spirit. We understand the symbolism of Pagan myths that speak of the Earth Mother and Sky Father (Greek, Roman, Germanic, Mesopotamian, etc.), and even the Cosmic Sky Mother and the Earth Father (as in Egyptian and Celtic myth), however this does not necessarily mean that Nature (in its diverse totality – if such a term could ever be imposed upon it) is of such a duality.
Witches tend to be pluralistic, shamanistic (people of animistic and spiritist tendencies) and polytheistic. In the case of the latter our Gods are definitely more than the awe-inspiring and emotion-wrought beings which myth makes of them; they are also expressions of the inner divine that exists within the myriad of forces present in the world. Brighid, Hestia, Pele and Vesta – all Goddesses of Fire arising from various cultures globally, attached to various symbols and stories, sometimes even historical personages (Brighid to St. Brigid of Ireland for example), each with their own particular characteristic traits and personas, and also patrons to other aspects of life (i.e. Brighid is also a Muse-Goddess to poets and a Goddess of the forge from which weapons are wrought). However they are all of the primal spark and flame that is Fire. Bless and dedicate a candle to one of these Goddesses and light it, calling upon her with sincerity and you will see what it means to be a Pagan honoring the life-affirming, life-preserving and life-inspiring qualities that make Fire what it is.
There are various modern historians (Pagan and non-Pagan) who make a life’s work out of gathering together pieces of evidence that speak of Witches as belonging to an ancient European fringe-religion (or lunar cult) that celebrates freedom, love and beauty above all else. They wield Magick as a power, honor Pagan deities, celebrate the tides and rhythms of Nature at various holy days and gather together in groves or covens to mark auspicious occasions within the greater ‘Witch community’. While I sometimes agree with the conclusions that are drawn from the available material (that Witches did exist and were often spiritually-oriented) I cannot always attest to any intrinsic belief in a religion that welded it all together.
I am aware that in Italy, for example, there is overwhelming evidence surviving through present families (involved), folklore and archaeological remnants that Witchcraft may have represented to some a counter-culture or movement which inherently despised the politico-religious aspect of the nation and sought to work against it employing subtle crafts that were instilled within the Pagan countryside itself. A vocation to Diana (Tana) and Dianus (Tanus) was believed to comprise of the general theology. But among these two deities there were several others of both Etruscan and Roman influence. Also there were many writers of antiquity (Horace and Lucan) that depicted Witches (such as Circe and Medea) to be priestesses of the Goddess Hekate, who was known to be a patron of the magickal arts and indeed Witchcraft. Therefore it can be seen that even several thousands of years ago prominent figures believed that Witches had a spiritual orientation, perhaps even a basis.
I do not deny that Wicca (as it is presented today, and has come down to us) is a coherent magickal system with a consistent enough theology, cycle of holy days and an ethical precept to enable it to be classed as a religion within the Western world, as has happened. However it is also a fact that Witchcraft existed long before the 20th century conceived of (or revived) Wicca.
There are many within the Pagan community now who do not consider themselves to be particularly religious or to be serving any specific deities. They are Witches because that is what society calls them and that is how others know their Power. They understand and acknowledge various universal laws that coincide with ancient cultural teachings (such as Wyrd) and generally make strong commitments to their ancestral spirits.
I happen to embrace the term Witch (and that is why I capitalize it) however I also place a strong emphasis on my ancestral spirits and the Gods of my Blood, and I also received my gifts from my family. Interestingly enough my younger sister (and my only sibling), who is neither religious nor spiritual, can also see spirits, project her spirit form and feel and perceive energy. Therefore I stand by my point that my Witchcraft is not religion.
I am spiritual by nature and therefore I serve my Gods (the vital and intrinsic energies of Life itself) as a Priest and Witch, and my maxim of power is this: “As I stand, so do I kneel”. I stand as a Witch, and I kneel as a Priest. Neither one is greater than the other, I am both; and each reflects the other. I came neither bound nor free to the Charge, but was made free.
The Craft is liberation, empowerment, beauty, love and attainment of desire, but most importantly, it is freedom.
So Mote It Be.
~Go in the way of the Gods, Dobhair
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