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Ignore the Big Green Book from 'That Show'!

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: July 1st. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,373

You know what show I’m talking about... Charmed. Like me, you probably secretly love and hate it all at the same time. I loved some of it, other parts (such as demonizing old gods) , not so much. I stopped watching regularly after a demon was named Hecate (this was season one by the way, so not much more after that, just bits here and there if it was on and not anger-inducing) . The one thing that got to me even from the first episode was the big focus on avoiding personal gain. I’d been a Witch for a few years already when Charmed first aired, so I had a few books and they mentioned no such rule and had plenty of spells used solely for personal gain (wealth, success, love, etc.) .

My books at the time were all by Scott Cunningham. This was 1998, after all; just be glad I found Wicca before seeing The Craft by almost a whole year (I got my first book in the summer of 1995. The Craft was released in May of 1996) , so they were definitely on the “love and light” side of the Craft and Cunningham definitely was more about personal gain than about helping others (he thought helping others without their consent was manipulative and therefore to be avoided) . Well, it was just a TV show; no one believed anything from Bewitched or Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, right? Nobody I knew seriously twitched a nose as a way of aiding energy being raised, so no one’s going to take a plot-developing device as a real law of witchcraft, right? *Sigh* I was so wrong…

I used to belong to several online witchcraft and Wicca forums. one of the forums was open to new practitioners so that they could learn from those more experienced. One girl posted, “How do you avoid personal gain?” After I picked my jaw up off the desk, I asked her where she got that rule. She admitted Charmed was her source but that it really spoke to her. My response was, why be a Witch if you have nothing to gain from it? Even from the purely spiritual side, you’re gaining something. She hadn’t thought of it that way and I hope she gained something from that insight.

Lately, I’ve heard it again. Someone at my job is a former Wiccan (now returned to Catholicism) and mentioned that as part of the rules. I responded with, “I’m not one of the Charmed Ones.” I have found some references online, but very few, to some traditions that have rules against personal gain (One website was started in 1996 but is copyrighted through 2010, so who knows when they might have added that bit to it) . Here’s the kicker:

If you don’t work for personal gain, you’re not a Witch. You’re just calling yourself one.

Ok, I know I’ve ruffled some feathers there, but let me explain myself. Can we agree that most forms of Witchcraft have a shamanic basis (but are still somewhat different than shamanism) ? Can we agree that shamans of traditional cultures speak of fighting “evil” magic users (the Benandanti are a good example of this) ? Ok, let’s take a look at shamans: A shaman is a person who works for the spiritual benefit of the community at large; they will converse with and placate spirits and gods (or fight evil spirits and demons) for the community’s prosperity and well-being. According to the shaman, a witch is a person who uses those techniques for their own personal gain (the implied meaning is that a witch will traffic with bad spirits and stop at nothing to get their own way, but that’s not the most important part of the definition) . This perception was one that Christopher Penczak mentions having to deal with when attempting to learn shamanic techniques from traditional sources in The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft.

Personal gain. Without it, you’re a shaman not a witch. The Charmed Ones are magical warriors pitted in a battle against evil spirits, demons and dark magic for the world’s benefit; while the word witch might be empowering, shaman is a better word to describe their practice (they even “travel to demonic or heavenly realms” –to fight The Source of evil in its own realm one instance and Piper honeymooned in heaven with her White-lighter in another) .

In English history, what we would call “witches” were split into two main groups: the cunning folk and the witches. Villagers went to the cunning-man/woman for health remedies, charms and the like. Villagers consulted a “witch” if they felt slighted by their neighbor and wanted to hex their cows. Their neighbor could then go to the cunning person and pay to have the hex removed. There are examples of husband-wife witch and cunning-worker teams, or ones that simply worked together and simply those that worked both sides of the fence- meaning you’d pay them “protection” money-similar to how the mafia “insures” local businesses.

Incidentally, historically both cunning folk and witches were paid for their services; as by that point the complete communal living of tribal society was behind them and they needed to survive somehow (this rightly negates any nay-saying about whether you should be paid for spell-work; you should be if that’s what you want to do for a living, but you should also be fair in pricing-not only so people can afford you, but so that you appear less money-grubbing than the “psychics” who try to dupe several thousand dollars out of someone just to light a candle in a church) . Cunning folk were more accepted, but also ran the risk of being called witches and tried as such.

Now, I’m going to show my callous and jaded side. With any good deed comes some personal gain. No matter how selfless you may be, there is still a small part of you that takes pride in helping others. In the show Friends Joey challenges Phoebe to find a truly selfless act, one that she did to help someone but did not make her feel any better about herself and she was unsuccessful. If your grandmother is hospitalized and you perform a healing spell for her, you’re not being selfless. You’re helping your grandmother, but you’re also helping yourself feel better about the situation; that it’s not out of your hands and that you aren’t as helpless as many would feel in this situation. Even planting trees, walking to work instead of driving (less carbon foot-print AND needed exercise) and giving money to the bell-ringers at the holiday season…they all make you feel at least a little better about yourself (and that’s even without resorting to schadenfreude, feeling better about yourself for not being as bad off as someone else) .

If you combine the “no personal gain” rule with Cunningham’s “no performing magic for someone else without their permission” rule, you can get whole groups of people calling themselves “Witches” that have never done a single act of magic outside of casting the circle for religious observances! (This is also why I think there needs to be more of a separation of the terms Witch and Wiccan – and by extension- Wicca and Witchcraft. Witch indicates a magical practitioner and Witchcraft is a magical path; Wiccan indicates a member of Wicca which is the name of a religious sect – it becomes disheartening when searching for books on folk magic and practice to find books on a religion calling itself by the same name…but I digress) .

The saddest part is, when these “Witches” would happen to get asked for magical aid, they wouldn’t know what they were doing because they never got any practice. I will admit that I’m an “as need dictates” kind of Witch and since my “needs” ebb and flow, there are times when I don’t do much magic and get out of practice. Sadly, it’s usually about the time I realize I’m rusty when “needs” pop up and I need to get out my magical “oil can” and get myself moving again. If someone who practices primarily for personal gain can get rusty, I’d hate to see what only doing magic for others would do for their practice.

Basically, in the modern era, since shamans and witches are not called upon to use their talents by the people around them with any great frequency, then the Witch needs personal gain to train him/herself to use magic at all. If great needs do come from others and you don’t have that training, you will feel hopeless and useless indeed.

Earth, Air, Fire and Water by Scott Cunningham

The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak

The Witch's Book of the Dead by Christian Day

The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner

Hedge-Rider by Eric De Vries




BellaDonna Saberhagen

Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania


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