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Article ID: 14894

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Age Group: Adult

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Family Traditions?

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: March 11th. 2012
Times Viewed: 2,424

Many people take tiny superstitions or practices (and sometimes psychic abilities) and blow it up into full-fledged Witchcraft. However, the little charms your grandmother used would have been more likely a charm against Witchcraft than any form of it. Yes, I take issue with people claiming to be from a Family Tradition. It’s not that it’s impossible, just that it’s highly unlikely that everyone claiming his or her grandmother was a Witch is being truthful (either with their peers or themselves) .

I fell into the trap too, seeing Witchcraft where none existed. I’m the child of middle-aged parents. My mother was thirty-four when she had me and my father was forty-five. Both sides of my family have their more recent roots in West-central Pennsylvania, which is much more rural than other regions of the state. The region has a lot in common with the Ozark and Appalachian communities. My parents call themselves “rednecks” and “hillbillies” with great pride. Having older parents from a more rural region (who had parents from an even more rural region) gave me insight into some older practices.

No matter where we lived, there was an iron horseshoe nailed by the front door; the open side had to be facing up so that “the luck didn’t fall out”. When you look at the magical properties of iron; nailing the horseshoe close to the main threshold makes a lot of sense. Iron protects against malevolent faeries and probably became associated with warding off all bad energy because of that association. I’ve seen other families that always hang it open-side down, though I don’t know if there’s a reason for it as there is in my family for hanging it open side up.

My eldest sister is twenty-four years older than me (we have different mothers; my mom did not have a baby at age ten) . She uses a thread and a needle to divine how many children a married woman will have and what sex they will be. She was right about one of our other sisters, so I’m going to guess she’s fairly accurate. This is the use of a pendulum, plain and simple. I’m not sure she would call it divination, but that’s what it is. I have also heard her have conversations about other practices, such as not killing crickets in your home as that brings bad luck.

My mother’s side of the family has more of the “inherit psychic ability” that some would claim is a sign of a family tradition of Witchcraft. My grandmother could not wear watches; they always stopped on her. Both my mother and my aunt have seen ghosts and had prophetic dreams (my aunt’s eldest daughter died at a young age and was buried in the wrong plot, my mother and aunt both became aware of the mix-up through a dream) . My cousin (grand-daughter of that same aunt) gets intense feelings of déjà vu. While my family is most certainly Christian, there is definitely belief that the dead can hang around, try to communicate and generally cause mischief (my mother blames missing items on my dead uncle, he was a bit of a prankster in life, so it’s possible) .

This excited me a lot when I was new to the Craft. Maybe I was descended from Witches who have just forgotten they were Witches! It’s more likely that I would have been descended from cunning-workers (this is what much of modern Witchcraft is based on, but they would never have called themselves Witches as many of their charms where made to protect you from Witches, though some worked both sides of the battle and some teamed up with Witches so that they could sell more charms; remember Witches were seen as bad things by many, so protection from them was important) . It is even more likely that a several-generations-back ancestor learned a charm from a cunning worker and passed that down through the centuries.

Psychic gifts are trickier, especially those dealing with the dead. Many traditions of Witchcraft have some form of ancestor worship and Samhain, at least, is a holiday devoted to honoring and communicating with the dead. Honestly, I think there needs to be more honor shown to the dead and our ancestors as ancestor worship was very much a part of ancient spirituality (basically, just as you should tell your mate you love them on days other than Valentine’s day, you should honor the dead outside of Samhain) . However, I doubt most psychics would call themselves Witches. Would John Edward call himself a Witch? How about Sylvia Brown? (Regardless of their actual ability or credibility, these two are the most recognizable psychics in modern media; this is why I used them as example.) Sylvia Brown is a Gnostic Christian and even formed her own version of Gnostic Christianity (based on ; she would certainly never call herself a Witch. Since one of his books involves the rosary, it’s more likely that John Edward is Catholic than it is that he’s a Witch (I realize, Catholics aren’t the only group to use prayer beads, but I would say using the term rosary is Catholic) .

If there once was a tradition of Witchcraft in my family, it’s long gone and I have no right to claim it if I was not directly advised of its existence by my family.

Then there’s the problem of family tradition Wicca (I do separate Witchcraft from Wicca as while some Wiccans do perform acts of Witchcraft, not all Wiccans do; just as not all Witches ascribe to the religious beliefs and laws of Wicca) . For me, this depends on how far back you’re claiming it goes. Wicca is a religion based on older Witchcraft traditions combined with Ceremonial Magickal Ritual that was popular in the early twentieth century. Gerald Gardner combined those two systems and created Wicca (I’m not saying that Wicca is not based on older, perhaps ancient practices; just that it’s not old just because its foundation is) no earlier than the 1930s (and I’m being very generous here) . Wicca did not really gain a good foothold over here in the US until the 1960s.

In my opinion, to have a “family tradition of Wicca”, it at least needs to go back to your grandparents. If we have the average birthing age as twenty years old, that means your grandmother was forty when you were born. If you were born today, your grandmother would have been born in 1971. However, if you’re reading this, you weren’t born today. Are you over twenty years old? That puts your grandmother to sixty, meaning she was born in 1951. This is probably the most likely age for older Wiccans, the “first wave” if you will. This being the case, the fourth generation of the “Family Tradition” is just being born and raised. If you want to go back any further, then your family has to be British with immigration to the US within the last fifty or so years, and that would still only add one generation, given the already determined age of Wicca.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I had thought claims of being from a Family Tradition without giving any real evidence of such had died out, especially given more scholarly academic works available regarding the history of Wicca, Witchcraft and ancient European Pagan practices. I was apparently mistaken as I’ve heard the claim again more recently. I realize that certain Wiccan traditions have used this as a basis, but looking at the currently accepted historical data, it really seems highly unlikely. There might have been a family tradition of witchcraft or cunning folk that grafted Wiccan ritual and deity concepts onto itself later; but that would have occurred after Gardner combined what he learned in the Golden Dawn and from Crowley with the folk traditions of Britain and should therefore been seen as an off-shoot of Gardnerian Wicca (as all forms of Wicca, even neo-Wicca, should be seen) .

People who claim to be from a Family Tradition may be seeking accolades that they haven’t otherwise earned. Many today are solitaries with little chance to join a coven to be taught (because many covens are too full already, are unstable due to internal problems, are just unavailable in the area, or –as in my case- there are none that mesh with your belief system...the covens I’ve come across in this area are all Wiccan and I’m closer to Old Craft such as Tubal Cain) and can therefore not get their “certified degrees.” Some might feel that that makes them illegitimate somehow and feel they need to bolster their status with claims of being trained in-family but are able to provide no proof of it at all (their mother turned from the path and won’t talk about it anymore, or the familial Book of Shadows was stolen or lost somehow) .

There are times I still feel illegitimate myself (after 15.5 years of study and practice as a solitary) , but I’m an old dog and am VERY picky about who I would work with. The time I did have a “teacher” it didn’t go so well (if you’ve read my article on being “Otherkin” you’ll remember that our relationship was inappropriate for a student and teacher) , and I have been very wary since then.

There is also the problem of my form of Witchcraft being rarer in these parts and if I wanted to be part of a group, I’d pretty much have to start one. I also, however, am not the type to read one book and declare myself “High Priestess Ravenflower of the MuckyMuck Tradition” (and some “newbies” are that type) ; I have read so many books I’d actually have to count what I have and I know I gave some away so that still would not be an accurate number (and I’m still constantly getting new books…I have a bit of book hoarding problem) .

There is also the possibility that those claiming to be of a Family Tradition are feeling guilty. Maybe their grandmother died when they were really young and they have few memories of her, so they are trying to connect with her through the Craft and have linked her to it somehow. Maybe they grew distant from many family members and are trying to find some common ground to stand on. Maybe they just over-all feel lost and want some connection to something and they need to believe this about their family so they feel connected.

Someday, though, you need to grow up. It’s okay not to follow the spiritual tradition of your family; it’s even okay to separate yourself completely from them if that’s what you need to do. Using fantasy as a safety net works for a while, but eventually you need to work without that net. It’s hard, but as long as you trained well when you had it, you can get along perfectly fine without it.

Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton


BellaDonna Saberhagen

Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania


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