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Article ID: 9019

VoxAcct: 1559

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 5,230

Times Read: 5,658

The Magic of Witchcraft

Author: Zyalia The Crone [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: February 20th. 2005
Times Viewed: 5,658

Witchcraft Then:

The classical Witches were not the village elders though they were frequently old. They were not priests or wizards (those people were called priests or wizards). And, while the classical Witch may share a common ancestor with the shaman, she was not considered one. The classical Witch is probably the one most of us have an emotional connection with. I know I do.

The classical Witch (Witch in this instance being an ambivalent term encompassing both respect and contempt) was generally an older woman who either never married or had outlived her family. She existed on the edges of the local society both physically and metaphorically. Having reached advanced old age for the times, she would have acquired a goodly share of information, which she would have used to her best advantage. Herb lore, husbandry, psychology, and a fair bit of magic would likely have been within her capabilities. Her clients would come from all walks of life when they had a problem they didn’t want generally known.

The local Witch was there to dispense an abortifacient, a prophylactic, a sedative, a love potion, a repellent, cures for common ills not discussed in polite society or even, on occasion, a poison. She could curse with a look and cure with a gesture and see truths hidden around corners. She could blight crops as easily as bless them, deliver at a difficult lambing and assist the occasional human birth for those too poor to have a more qualified attendant. More than that she also had the ability to bend or twist reality to her own will.

Frequently associated with weather-working for good or ill, and being a diviner at least, if not an active engineer of future events, the Witch’s services could be bartered for. By and large these Witches lived and worked alone, guarding their recipes from any who might have become competition, rarely passing down useful information…but it did happen occasionally in families, usually if there was an unmarriageable daughter. The idea of a group or coven of Witches getting together to swap recipes, trade stories and truck with the devil was a much later invention by the Roman Church.

The magic of the classical Witch was not tied to theology. The Witch would probably (at least marginally) have been considered a member of whatever religion was prevalent.

Common Forms of Magic:
  • Alchemy: The practice of utilizing natural elements in creating potions and compounds to effect magical results.
  • Necromancy: The practice of magic by using contact with the dead to get magical results.
  • Thaumaturgy: The practice of manipulation of energies to get magical results.
  • Theurgy: The practice of magic with, or in supplication to, a divine entity; a powerful form of prayer, to obtain magical results.
  • Divination: The ability to foretell future events.
The Witch as Alchemist:

While she wasn’t seeking to turn base metals into precious ones, her knowledge of practical botanical alchemy was thorough. The local Witch would be intimately acquainted with every useful plant within her area. Her knowledge of the properties of each flower, leaf, stem, branch, twig and root would be comprehensive based on a lifetime of experimentation and experience both her own and that which was handed down. The fact that she was still alive was testament to her skill. She could cure an ill or cause one with a herbal concoction of one form or another. In addition to the plants, she would also know where to find minerals such as salt and saltpetre, sulphur and other useful ingredients for potions and medicines. These would have been closely guarded secrets.

The Witch as Thaumaturgist:

The art of weather-working was another area where the Witch was a useful ally. This was a specialty for some Witches and took many years to get it right. Learning to call rain or stop it at need was the height of energy work for the times. Being able to recognise the right conditions and then manipulate the energy over the vast distances necessary to affect the weather was not a common talent. The ability to weave reality would also have been useful for cursing and blessing, both of which would have been done at distance.

The Witch as Necromancer:

The local Witch would also have been a conduit to the dead. She may well have had spirit helpers, relatives and other Witches or teachers who had passed beyond to aid in her magic. She may also have acted as a medium for the local bereaved in sending and receiving messages.

The Witch as Diviner:

The local Witch with a talent for prognostication would have been highly sought after. For water-witching or foretelling the future, the diviner was often an integral, if under-appreciated member of the country village. Whether reading the cards, stones, bones, sticks, runes or entrails, one who could accurately foretell the future would have been generally recognised as an asset.

Almost certainly, any local Witch would have had high levels of what Isaac Bonewits has termed the claire or “paranormal” senses. She would also have been an astute and shrewd judge of character. These women would have depended on their wits and their magic for their very survival.

It was in the fifteenth century when the Roman church was running out of heretics to burn and needed a scapegoat on which to blame all the ills of man that Witchcraft became a heretical crime punishable by death…and it was nearly the end of it.

Witchcraft Now:

In 1951 the last of the archaic “Witchcraft Laws” was repealed in England. Almost immediately three branches of the modern Craft emerged. The Traditional Village Witchcraft of Robert Cochrane, the genteel middle-class magical study of Louise Leek’s Pentagram Club and Gerald Gardner’s reinvention of the Old Religion, all vied for a place in the renaissance of Western occultism.

When Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today, he claimed to have been initiated into an ancient form of Witchcraft in the New Forest of Hampshire, England. We now know that he largely invented what has come to be the fastest growing religion in the West today, Wicca, and in so doing kick-started the Neo-Pagan movement.

Today the forms of magic being practiced differ little from what our ancestors did:
  • Alchemy: The practice of utilizing natural elements in creating potions and compounds to effect magical results.
  • Necromancy: The practice of magic by using contact with the dead to get magical results.
  • Thaumaturgy: The practice of manipulation of energies to get magical results.
  • Theurgy: The practice of magic with or in supplication to a divine entity; a powerful form of prayer, to get magical results.
  • Divination: The practice of foretelling future events.
I tend to define the word “Witch” as someone who practices various forms of folk magic, and the word “Wicca” or “Wiccan” as a religion or an adherent to a religion that encourages the belief in and practice of magic. Not every single Wiccan is comfortable working magic. Many of those who do, seem to gravitate towards the theurgical workings most closely associated with the concept of “prayer.” This may be a carry-over from their former religious environment. How many times have I heard: “I asked the Goddess for…” or “I prayed to the Goddess to…” While I understand that some at the elementary level feel more comfortable leaving the real decisions up to a divine power of some sort, the skilled theurgist would enlist the active aid of deity as a working partner. By invoking a specific and appropriate god/dess or aspect if you prefer, and requesting aid with your magical spell you are accepting the responsibility for your magic and not relinquishing your will to that of some divine unknown. Supplication to an omnipotent Divine who has the ultimate say in the matter is a distinctly Christian world-view. While Paleo-Pagans certainly offered sacrifices to the gods in order to placate them or gain favour, I like to believe that today’s Neo-Pagan has grown into a working relationship with the gods who are happy to have our attention and our worship once more. Not every theurgical working need involve a material magical goal. A successful “drawing down” can be a working of the most magical kind! Because of its nature, theurgy tends to be the most heavily ritualised of the more common magical styles.

Thaumaturgical workings require no divine intervention. I tend to do more thaumaturgical work than any other kind. My feeling is I am here to serve my gods - they are not here to serve me. I have the power within myself to affect change within my life and my environment. Most of my thaumaturgical spells are simple rituals, which involve an incantation and fire. I am thrice a fire sign and a dragon to boot, so I work well with that particular element. I sometimes incorporate some alchemical elements to the working as well. While thaumaturgy is definitely the magical realm of the Witch, you do not have to be of any particular theological persuasion to accomplish your goal. I personally believe, however, that if you are going to be a Christian-Witch you should check with a pastor of your particular denomination for their rules on the subject. Most (though not all) Christian denominations today frown on the actual practice of any magic other than theurgy and that only as practised by qualified clergy.

Many of today’s alchemists work in the botanical realm of herbs and tinctures, teas and potions. Understanding the properties, contraindications, growing needs and preparations of plants is only a part of the modern Witch’s herb working. There are also the magical times, places and manners of harvesting, the incantations and other esoteric ingredients to master. It is no wonder that magical herbal alchemy is a lifetime commitment. But most Witches have at least a rudimentary working relationship with a group of their favourite herbs, which they use for magical purposes. The more skilled, the more uses there are for the herbs. I strongly recommend a good class on medicinal herbalism before attempting to make any potions for ingestion!

I think necromancy is probably the most misunderstood of the magical practices. For many the word conjures up images of a mad magician summoning diabolical forces for dastardly purposes. While demonology may be the most dramatic, mediumship is also a form of necromancy, as is divination, which employs the use of spirit guides. By speaking with or channeling spirits we can often gain a profound understanding of our own place in the cosmos. When a loved one passes beyond, it is only natural for those left behind to want some affirmation that they are “okay” in the afterlife. Sometimes spirits bring messages or offer advice in the form of dreams when we leave ourselves open.

Divination is often the most maligned of the arts, and for good reason. For years fakers and charlatans have cheated the gullible out of their money. Fortune telling has been a lucrative scam, which has hurt the serious practitioner of this ancient art. Today we have a responsibility to ourselves as well as our clients to be as honest in our prognostications as humanly possible. It will take years if not decades to repair the damage done by thieves who have robbed not only their customers, but us as well.

As should be apparent, there is invariably some crossover between the various forms of magic. Some theurgical workings will incorporate elements of thaumaturgy, and divination may include necromancy while today’s alchemist may bring in elements of all the other forms.

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

And now we come to the colour codes so often assigned to magic.

I have found that the terms black magic and white magic have been bantered about with really little understanding about the actual meaning. Generally in the study of magic, the term white is used to describe construction and black to describe destruction. On the surface it looks like we can agree on these definitions. But let us scratch the surface a bit.

Destructive does not necessarily equate to bad as constructive does not necessarily equate to good, any more than the dark of the moon is malevolent or the full moon is beneficent. In magical practice it is the equation of “intent + consequence = result” that counts. Granted this is an oversimplification. But there are certainly times when the performance of a destructive act has positive results and the reverse is also true. It is no different in magic. If one were to perform a working for a cancer patient, the first logical step would be to intend to destroy the tumour. The consequence of this action would be destruction (of the cancer) and (hopefully) the result would be a remission for the patient. Working within the confining definitions of black and white magic, this would be a black magic spell.

The concept of dark being bad and light being good is a concept of the medieval Church, when things were decided in absolutes and life itself was seen as an unremitting battle between God and Satan. Life was hard, and the Church needed to be able to reason in terms of black and white in order to maintain its political hold on Western Europe. Black magic was anything perceived as a threat against the Church; white magic was the domain of the priesthood in the service of their One God. Any local deities were demonized and their adherents therefore followers of Satan. (Satan as the antithesis of the good god was himself another creation of the Church during these times, but that is another essay.)

Modern Wicca was never about white light and dark shadows being good or evil. Wicca was not intended to be learned in a day, a week or even a year and a day, except at the most basic levels. There was a reason for the hierarchical structure. While I do not consider myself strictly Wiccan, I have been trained in several traditions and am an acknowledged Wiccan Elder. There is a great difference between saying something is just semantic confusion, and using/teaching incorrect and misleading terminology for accepted and tested occult practices. It’s like saying you can still be a respected surgeon and have people trust in you when you ask for that pointy little knife with the straight edge, instead of a scalpel. You wouldn’t be operating on me I can tell you that.

The practice of Wicca as it has been handed down from Dr. Gardner, Alex Sanders, Doreen Valiente, Janet and Stewart Farrar and others, includes and encourages the practice of magic…thaumaturgy as well as theurgy, necromancy and alchemy, magic from within and without, divine and mundane. Wicca is not the only religion to make use of these systems of magic and applying the terms of black or white as acceptable or unacceptable is simply not valid. By continuing to propagate the use of such terms we are bringing absolutes which simply do not exist in reality, into Pagan practice: The Christianisation of Neo-Paganism. At the same time we do a great disservice to people of colour. In Paganism there is no absolute good or evil…we strive for that balance which allows us to survive and thrive and do the best for our community, our species, our gods and our planet that we can.

White and black magic sound good, but they are neither Wiccan nor Pagan in concept. We have to stop oversimplifying the ethics of working magic by colour code and start teaching practitioners how to be responsible for their actions. This will not happen by whitewashing or by binding Christian biases to Pagan philosophies. In fact magic either has no colour or it includes all colours. In the true spectrum, as any art student will attest, it is impossible to either absorb or reflect all light, therefore pure black and white really don’t exist.

ALL magic is manipulation…the bending of energy to our will. The root word Wic: to bend, to manipulate. That does not make it bad or harmful so long as we are given the tools to develop ethical practices. Our Witches, whether working within a religious connotation or a strictly magical one, need to be trained as we train our surgeons, scientists, artisans and other professionals: With hard work and hard study…and lots of time to learn. Magic isn’t a subject to be mastered after reading one book or ten books. It requires a commitment.

I would like to share some of my favourite quotes on magic:

Quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf: "As smart as we are in the modern world, we apparently can never pass behind the veil which divides the seen from the unseen, except by engaging ourselves in the way appointed by the Ancients - the Mysteries."

Paul A. Clark: "I describe it as the art of producing effects, initiated by changes in consciousness, by directing or aligning with the secret forces of the cosmos."

Gareth Knight: "Magic is the skilled and objective use of the imagination, both as an organ of perception and manifestation."

Recommended Reading:

Real Magic - Isaac Bonewits
Authentic Thaumaturgy – Isaac Bonewits
Modern Magick - Donald Michael Craig

Others of Interest:

Witchcraft: A Concise Guide - Isaac Bonewits
Witchcraft Today - Gerald Gardner
Triumph of the Moon - Ronald Hutton
Drawing Down the Moon - Margot Adler
The Black Arts - Richard Cavendish
Magick in Theory and Practice - Aleister Crowley

Copyright: © 2005 by Trish Reynolds


Zyalia The Crone

Location: Budd Lake, New Jersey


Bio: Trish Reynolds is the author of the Doctor and the Witch series of occult fiction. She wrote for New Moon Rising Magazine for the twelve years it was in print as Trish Reynolds, Zyalia the Crone and TarishAnu.

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