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Being A 'Plain Clothes' Witch

Author: Kestryl Angell
Posted: October 29th. 2006
Times Viewed: 9,645

One of the most stringent tests of faith that a witch, or any pagan for that matter, can experience is austerity. Whether by personal circumstances, age, locale, income, life catastrophe or other cause, a witch or pagan without their tools -- and stripped to only themselves, the Gods and their faith -- never has an easy path to travel and thus it is one rarely chosen by practitioners on purpose.

Being a “plain clothes” witch is a hard path, indeed. Like most humans, we pagans like our pretties. However, sometimes it becomes necessary, especially in the beginning of learning, to step away from the shiny toys and pretty props and learn the underpinnings of our faith by practicing with our first and most basic tool, our selves. It can also be a valuable lesson to return to when experience shows us it's time for that set of lessons to be looked at again in order to help us 're-learn' a deeper appreciation for our faith’s richness.

Common among those with a strong Buddhist bent to their practice, this austere spiritual practice is one that both bestows upon the practitioner a sense of humility and also deepens one’s ability to see their faith is continually manifest in every rock, every blade of grass, every movement, every thread and in every breath of their lives…rather than something that occurs only at sabbats, esbats and community celebrations or when they sit down at their home altar of goodies.

Austerity often reminds us to place more value on the lives we touch and how others touch our own. It is a working that teaches both the beginning or the well-practiced and learned witch that he/she is never alone, never without tools, never without the vital aspects so necessary to his or her faith…and teaches it by stripping away the “trappings” that many so rely on to show the world or themselves that they are Pagan or Witches.

I hear much discussion, especially from struggling young pagans whose parents or other family and friends would not approve of their choice of faith focus, based upon the premise that without their books, their pentacle or pentagram, without their crystals and wands and lovely cloaks and magickal doo-dads they are so fond of…that they are thus stripped of their faith and/or religion.

Frankly, if they can be stripped of their faith by having their toys taken away, then they have much to learn from the very austerity I speak of. Such as these have not yet learned to use the one tool that every witch must have well in hand first before any of the other pretty magickal props can even function properly. The witch.

Too many people focus on the “kits” to being a witch (or other form of pagan) and get their start by crafting tools and finding neat rocks and gifting each other with bracelets of knotwork that they don’t even comprehend -- or even with what a binding is -- much less all the steps that must be considered in doing one properly and with good ethics attached. They care nothing for proper ethics at all, but tend to see a path of personal empowerment alone. They want the “easy way” into a religion that sets them apart from the things that they are moving to get away from in their immediate surroundings or in society at large.

I have news for you: Religion—any religion—is easy to get into. All that is required is that you have the “right stuff”…the right clothes, the right props, the right words, the right book, the right songs and the right viewpoints that fit in with those who also practice your religion. This batch of “all the right things” also does the magick of making you “instantly acceptable” (or so some think) … and just another one of the sheep that does what everyone else in that religion does and thinks is “right" regardless of whether other sources might teach something different.

Religion is about dogma, props and being common and predictable. Religion is the theatrics that most humans in the world mistake for a showing of Faith. It’s easy; everyone does it; join in and you can be one too! If Paganism is only your "religion", then gather your tools about you and rely on your props. Your magicks might even work…sometimes.

Religion is the dance people do to try to have a place for their spirit to fit into their lives when they don’t know where else to put it or how to, instead, let their spiritual path infuse their entire lives.

If, however, you truly wish to walk your talk, Faith must come first and be a repeated lesson throughout your life. Further, it must come from a deeper place than your friendly neighborhood “witch store” or online Wicca class.

Faith, unlike religion, is not so easy to live. Faith fills the one that knows it intimately to overflowing. Faith is a tool that comes from within, not from the objects so prettily kept upon the altar, one’s person or one’s shelves.

Faith is deepened by knowledge, but rarely shaken by it.

Faith is what imbues the objects most pagans fancy and is what makes those objects Sacred.

Faith is what consecrates the objects to serve the Gods and makes them extensions of our selves and our faith. We consecrate our Tools; they do NOT consecrate us.

To those struggling with being public with your faith, remember this: Faith is a deeply personal experience and you are not socially obligated to “share” it with everyone … most especially those who will show you disdain or judgment for your choice. True faith that is lived as completely as it can be will set you apart as an individual…not make you “one of the crowd.”

Faith is characterized by existing as an individual state of being.

Now, can this state of being exist with others? Of course it can! In the ideal Circle, Coven or faith family experience, your individual faith and energies will mesh in harmony with the other members with whom you practice directly and will weave them into a magickal song that the Universe itself sings back to your heart and soul.

However, any group is only as strong as its weakest link…so weak-willed persons who do not hold their individual faith in as high esteem as the rest of the group can often bring down workings that effect everyone involved. All the more reason, to my mind, to keep especially the initial stages of your learning in paganism close to your heart and deeply sacred, something totally for yourself and you alone. Finding others to fellowship with can come later when you are strong in your own foundations.

Learn your faith from within yourself and from the world around you, not just from the latest in a long line of cool books or the most well advertised coven you can find in your area. Books and groups are great for learning history, various practices and a great deal of information, but the internal processing of it must still come from you and you alone.

Find your security within yourself, not within the presence -- or lack thereof -- of the pentagram dangling around your neck. Understand that an altar is made the moment that you center yourself and place yourself in counsel with the God and Goddess; it isn’t just that cool room with the cool table in your basement covered in pretty, seasonally appropriate trappings.

Know the God and Goddess live within you. Have your personal relationship with Them established firmly so that no other person’s viewpoint can shake the balance within you on that note. Let your personal relationship with the God/dess be the foundation and reassurance that lets you smile with confidence when faced with a doubting public.

Learn from the Dark Times that a witch cannot be his or her tools. Tools can be taken away and destroyed. Faith cannot be so easily destroyed. The Witch IS the Tool… a willing, harmonious tool of the Universe whose faith, knowing and connection to his or her world is unshakable. You are this tool whether in flowing robes of velvet or jeans and a t-shirt in the woods at dawn making coffee on a campfire.

Witches and most Pagans are forever students of the Universe continually learning new topics, new ways of doing things, new tools, new knowledge of all kinds and then finding the ways to weave these new threads of understanding into the tapestry of who they are and what their practice is.

Their faith practice should always reflect positive growth in themselves and those they touch—even if they weren’t “popular” with the general public (or even their own Pagan community). They are students of LIFE, not just students of religion or faith.

If you cannot have books at home, then read at the library. What your library doesn’t have, they can generally get on inter-library loan. If you cannot keep a book of shadows, then memorize—our ancestors did, you can too. If you have to wait 1, 2, 5 or more years to be open about your practice until you’re out from under the oppression you’re influenced by, then use that time to learn yourself and YOUR relationship with Nature and the Gods. Go camping, hiking, fishing; spend time in the garden. Talk with the plants, the animals.

Speak frankly to yourself. Find your strengths and weaknesses and practice what you know of personal balance and honorable behavior. Good manners, being polite and giving service when needed by family or community, learning the value of duty and following through on one’s word, being a good, honest person—these are a goodly portion of the common ground between pagan paths and what they teach as behavioral structures for good living.

Learn… learn about everything! Find the places within Pagan practices that aren’t threatening in your immediate environment such as aromatherapy and herbalism, healing, mythology, associated handicrafts and history. Most of this sort of learning is generally non-threatening to mainstreamers who cannot comprehend your need for Paganism as a whole.

If you cannot wear your pentagram, carry a stone in your pocket. If you cannot gain a stone, find a fragrance that keeps your mind in sacred space, use it to draw your pentagram to your flesh daily and make it your “signature scent.” Learn about the more “OMG, you’re studying WHAT?” types of topics when you’re on your own and making all your own choices, in your own space.

If your faith is true, just like love, it’s going to be with you long after you turn 18 and you are out on your own, or out from under whatever other influences keep you from studying openly now. Learning appropriately can start at any time. You just choose how you learn, what you learn and when, tailoring it for your immediate environment so you can—you guessed it—keep the balance within yourself and your environment.

We are the Craft of the Wise, so be wise about your learning first. Being a witch, being a Pagan, isn’t about what you have, what or whom you know, what books you’ve read or what crystals you own, how cool your robes are or even how long you’ve been practicing. It isn’t about the Festivals you’ve attended, the number of classes you’ve taken or taught, initiations, titles and being a “big high muckity-muck.”

Though these are great examples of personal accomplishments in a human life, they are not what the Craft or in general, what Paganism is about. Being a pagan, being a witch is about how you and your Universe relate, how you stay in balance with it and how you and the Universe compliment each other. It’s about how you live.

So, that being the case, don’t show the world you’re a witch by the books on your shelf, the robes in your closet or the pentagram around your neck. Show the world what a witch or pagan is by being a good one.

Keep your faith for yourself first and those that respectfully ask for more information later. Then when the public has no reason to fear you, you can educate… informing them, if and when asked, about this path that guides you to feel, think and live as you do.

When those around you have come to understand you and to admire your work as a person on a human and community level, you have—unknown to the common mainstreamer—already quietly opened the door to an understanding for the ones you’re trying to educate (and may previously have bludgeoned with your religion) and you are doing so without the resistance created by fear and misunderstanding arising as a hurdle to be negotiated with every step.

Thus, you have accomplished the very difficult task so many before you have struggled with in the name of the freedom of our religion: the task of teaching the mainstream that we may be a bit different, but we are not to be feared.

And you have accomplished it by simply being who you are…a good witch...a good Pagan…a good person.


Kestryl Angell

Location: Columbia, Missouri

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