Witchcraft is a religion!

Those who insist on the weight of historical prejudice against ‘witchcraft’ as defining only ‘malevolent ritual acts of criminality’, deny to modern Witches the right to identify as ‘practitioners of natural (neutral) magic’ on the grounds that “no such thing as ‘good witchcraft’ existed” prior to the modern resurrection of ancient pagan religions. Witchcraft is not a synonym for ‘black magic’ – it never was!

They would claim that the sheer number of modern practitioners who today proudly claim the terms Witch and Witchcraft to identify who and what they are, are in fact self-deluded and have no real right to claim these terms as definitive of the modern international religious movement – Witchcraft – a movement that spawned the modern Pagan and neo-Pagan movements on four continents.

The detractors, Pagans and Christians alike, are not really interested in why we have chosen to use these terms as indicative of an existing and thriving international religious community; their sole occupation is to attempt to force examination of any such identification by appealing to that old mainstay of prejudice and intolerance in every age… common (and sometimes even pseudo-academic)knowledge.

These statements are repeated here without express permission from their speakers, but for good reason and fair use.
(Names have been excluded to protect their identities)

“But the term is still used for indigenous practices around the world which are rather horrifying even in comparison to the most awful of things cunning folk in this country ever did.”

“I just don’t think most neo-pagan “witches” who have popularised the term have ANY idea about the global usage of the word and their own personal usage of it has some kind of psychological function….rebellion, the capacity to shock.”

“I have come to believe that in part, the reason for the terminology is to create confrontation and ideas of persecution, which makes being “it” more edgy.”

“The witch is traditionally sly and underhanded, ruthless and amoral. Her art is primitive, backwards and more than a little dark. I’m not sure where the idea of twee herbalist wise woman full of mother wit and in touch with nature comes from. To me (and the majority of mainstream folk), the witch is either the foul hag who performs abominations by moonlight or the renegade pariah who has traded their soul in with diabolical entities in exchange for supernatural gifts. In terms of historical witches being evil. I challenge anyone to find a historical witch (who actually practiced witchcraft not an innocent wrongly accused) who wasn’t evil. Gilles de Rais, La Voissin, Elizabeth Southerns…they where all bloody horrible.”

All four statements make sweeping assumptions about Witches, modern and pre-contemporary.

‘The Witch’ is not a stereotype!

These arguments are reminiscent of black slaves refusing to strive for freedom because the white man had said black men were inferior and would never amount to anything better! Stupid arguments that unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, retain wholly untested stereotypes of prejudice against non-caucasians.

These comments (just hearsay actually) refer to nothing but reported historical prejudice and serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and prejudicial memes, concocted by those with prejudice against anyone demonstrating knowledge regarding the “supernatural” or skills not sanctioned by the dominant society of the time.

Today the terms Witch and Witchcraft are incorrectly applied to describe a number of widely different indigenous Indian and African religio-magical belief systems, whose adherents do not, and have never, used these terms with which to self-identify, nor to identify their traditional religions or magical practices.

Many neo-Pagan / Pagan Witches in South Africa are only too aware of the global use of these terms to both accuse and to identify. But they, we, remain the only real Witches in Africa! Modern Witches are adherents of a religion called Witchcraft!

In South Africa, Witches who publically oppose witch-hunters and who advocate against the use of these words ‘as accusation’ alone, will argue that just use in exercising the fundamental human right to self-identity, must always take precedence over historical cultural and religious stereotypes of Witches and Witchcraft. The accusers do not have any fundamental right to murder people they merely suspect of being Witches or of using Witchcraft.

Witchcraft is identified by both Witches and international academics as a modern religion inspired by, and inspiring the new religious movement that is Paganism.

“There are more Witches in the Pagan movement than there are other Pagan practices, but we are only one among a variety of religious paths that I think fall under the term Paganism”. Aline O’Brien, better known to Pagans internationally as M. Macha NightMare, [1] describes herself as a Priestess and Witch. O’Brien is the President of the Board of Directors of a U.S. Pagan seminary, Cherry Hill Seminary. [2] “My religion is not a faith, as other religious persons define this term. It is experiential. In the world of interfaith relations in which I am active, we distinguish between revealed Abrahamic religions and experiential religions of the Pagan religious movement. In the context of interfaith, I call myself a Pagan. In the academic field of religious studies, Paganism is considered a new religious movement (NRM), meaning that it is fewer than 200 years old. We share this NRM category with Latter Day Saints, Baha’i, Scientology and others. I hasten to emphasize that we Pagans draw upon a rich heritage. However, as a sociological phenomenon that arose primarily from the counter culture of the 1960s and ’70s, we are an NRM.”

O’Brien is a founding member of one of the largest Witchcraft traditions based in North America. [3] “Reclaiming began as a small collective of Witches teaching and offering public sabbats and open Full Moons outdoors in San Francisco. Reclaiming expanded, primarily via WitchCamps, week-long intensives offered around the U.S., Canada and Europe. In that process Reclaiming inadvertently evolved into a recognizable tradition in its own right.”

Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft covens and groups are non-hierarchical and do not require initiation. Reclaiming places a strong emphasis on political, social and ecological responsibility and involvement. “Reclaiming’s Principles of Unity express the essence of what it means to be a Reclaiming Witch.” [4]

“Like most Witches of my vintage, I searched for years for a spirituality that made sense to me before I found the Craft. I encountered Witchcraft at the meeting point of three paths in my life, at the sacred trivia of the goddess Hekate. The first path was Second Wave Feminism; [5] in Craft I had my first experience of a feminine image of the divine. Secondly, my concerns for the environment (before I’d ever heard the word “ecology”) were accorded a theological foundation in Craft. Third was an acknowledgment and respect for intuitive ways of knowing. These concerns, spiced with the flavors of mythology and folklore, seeking knowledge of my personal ancestral heritage, and engaging constructively in society to help make a better world, continue to inform my theology and praxis.”

Boston born Lizz Clements has been studying Witchcraft since 1996. “I have experimented with several traditions. I was part of the ‘Silver Ravenwolf Generation’ [6] but went on to explore Stregheria after that. Neither were a fit for me, and the more I studied grimoires and other Neo-Pagan traditions, I simply decided that eclecticism was likely the best for me.” Clements, author of ‘Marie’s Book of Spells’, ‘Car Chases & Fake Bologna’, ‘Apollo Weeps’, ‘Generational’ and ‘Inside Glass Jar Goodies’ [7] identifies Witchcraft as both her religion and a way of life.

“Witchcraft is a way of life for me. It is a combined philosophy and spiritual path. I believe it has shaped my personality, my morals, and the way I behave on a daily basis. Witchcraft is more than casting spells, it is why you choose to do things, the way you see the world, and why you choose to react to situations the way that you do. I do consider Witchcraft to be my religion. I understand that a lot of people don’t consider it that way on its own, but I don’t understand that. Wicca is a type of witchcraft and a religion so I can’t help but rationalize that other types of Witchcraft are types of religions as well.”

Clements defines magic as “any sort of mental application applied to physical action. I practice positive visualization constantly and I’m very much into kitchen witchery. Food has a direct impact on the way that we feel as well as the energies we put out and attract. The greatest magical act, to me, is to remain free of illness. Maintaining a healthy diet supplemented with herbs can prevent colds, flu, and the development of some diseases. Magic is the study of the universe and how we can affect or control it.”

Fey Fand is High Priestess of the Kwazulu-Natal based Celestine Circle of Southern Africa, one of the largest Wiccan groups in South Africa. [8] Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner in the UK in the 1950’s. Fand describes Wicca as “a nature religion which acknowledges Mother Earth as a living deity and believes that all Creation is sacred. It is an initiatory mystery religion and it’s credo is ‘An it harm none, do what you will’.”

“Witchcraft is my religion, my calling and my way of life. I think most Witches really do feel a sense of homecoming and familiarity when we encounter Witchcraft for the first time. I think many of us have a whiff of the Temple or Grove about us, and were practitioners in many previous lives. Witches cannot be made – even an initiation ceremony will not make a Witch, although initiations are important to me. You either are a Witch or you are not.”

Are Witches born?

Aline O’Brien qualified the question from her perspective as a Witch. “Well, neither and both. I see Witchcraft as a religion and in that sense it’s chosen. That said, among the talents and skills associated with Witches, some have gifts that others don’t, or have them in greater measure. For example, some naturally see the auras of others, some can learn to see them, and some cannot see them at all. Some are skilled at divination, others are not. One is not a better Witch than another for these differences.”

Lizz Clements responded by saying “I think it’s conceited to say that you were “born to be a witch” in the respect that you’re trying to make yourself seem more genuine than someone else. On the other hand, when you finally discover the witchcraft path, it seems like you were destined for it. I can see both sides and because of that I can’t agree or disagree with such a statement.

U.K. born Ginney May, High Priestess of Temple of the Midnight Sun based in KZN believes “Technically everyone is born gifted but usually staunch religious beliefs tend to squash it out of us. I tend to think that we are born with the ability to be anything and everything we want to be but how we grow up molds us into who were are today. So I would say a Witch is made. A child born into a family of Witches is more likely to be drawn into Witchcraft than one who is not. However as each person takes their own Spiritual journey they will have to decide for themselves what they wish to be. I do not think one has to come from any bloodline or race in order to be a Witch.”

Two male South African Witches who responded to my request for interviews wished to remain anonymous by choosing their own pseudonyms.

Stormlotus explained “I think Witches are both born and made, in that certain hereditary qualities will make some people more or less curious and open to learning experiences, and people are born into different families and circumstances that give them the environment that forms them. I don’t believe in Witchcraft as some innate power or state, but as a choice that one is led to when the spirit and mind are prepared and have the need for magic to enter one’s life and soul. Some people will never explore Witchcraft in this lifetime as that is not part of their environment or path; those that find their way to it were prepared by life from birth.”

Penton Pagan Magazine [9] columnist Le Corbeau replied “I think that there are some born with natural leanings and gifts, but it takes commitment and learning and seeking and a form of initiation (which only ever happens through the action of the Dame and Horned God, whether it be in the context of a coven initiation or solitary experience – true initiation takes place on an inner level) – which is the Witch being made.”

What is Witchcraft ?

Le Corbeau defines Witchcraft as “a form of a Land-based cultus of a (mostly) Northern and Western European folk religion. It has a strong shamanic component, where the Goddess, Old Fate, and the Horned God (who is both Lord of the Greenwood and Lord of the Skull and the Mound) are communed with in trance states. Being a magico-religious system, there is very much a Craft side to it, working with the energies and powers of the Land to cause various effects in the world, whether it be the gaining of information and knowledge from said powers, or the casting of spells and the making of charms.”

Stormlotus defines Witchcraft as “an awareness of, use and respect for magic as a real force of nature, as well as an awareness and respect for other forces of nature, spirit, and other living beings. What defines a Witch to me is one that believes genuinely in magic and practices it.”

Ginney May agrees. “We harness the powers of the Universe – both magick and the mundane in order to work in harmony with Nature and the Universe and its cycles. We use it for enriching our lives and the lives of others.”

“The ethics of a proposed magical action need to be carefully considered before undertaking any spell work” says O’Brien. “Ethics are personal and vary. I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about the whys and wherefores of spell work. They just want a lover or a job or an apartment, and don’t necessarily consider (a) its possible or likely affect on others, and (b) the fact that you need to back up any magical work you do towards a specific end with real-world action. In other words, you won’t get that perfect job if you just make a mojo bag, light a candle, and pray to some entity you think can help you and then sit around waiting for the phone to ring with an offer; you need to get out in the world and seek employment.”

Witchcraft does exist!

African legislation does need to change the legal assumption that real Witchcraft does not exist! Witches themselves have identified Witchcraft as an experiential magic-using religion with a strong environmental and social conscience through which they seek to commune and inter-act on a deeper and largely intuitive level with the world around them.

O’Brien says “I think the very best form of PR work Pagans can do is to be casually open about their religion with people they regularly interact with in their daily lives. Many years ago a friend of mine from work spoke strongly in defense of Witches when she heard someone mis-characterizing us. She said she had a friend at work who was a Witch, she knew what they did, that they were a religion, and that we didn’t eat babies or put curses on people or kiss the devil’s bum.”

U.K. born South African Lee ‘Red Oak’ Johnson thinks everyone can be a Witch. “We are all born in the same manner, and we are all connected to the Land. It is the Awakening of the Red Serpent and the Witch Blood within us that makes us a Witch, and we all have the capacity for that. Of course when I speak of these things in this context, we can liken it to any other spiritual path using different terminology. It is a spiritual awakening that happens within, and we all choose the particular path we must follow according to our own personal Wyrd. So, to be a Witch is no different to being a Buddhist or an iSangoma, except that we are following a different set of practices and understand the Cosmos in a different fashion using different terminology.”

Legislators must distinguish between belief based on common self-identity and belief based on historical prejudice (whether religious or cultural). Acknowledging the existing human right to freedom of religion aught not to be perceived, by any but the dumbest fanatic, as the legitimization of demonstrably fraudulent beliefs about Witchcraft. The international human right to religious freedom and religious identity is not, and must not be dependent on national judicial recognition or public pre-approval.

Witchcraft is a religion and real Witches exist, and WE are not going anywhere!



[i] Definition of Witchcraft
Witchcraft is a religion, characterised by clearly identified occult philosophical and spiritual belief-systems. Modern Witchcraft is inspired by European ideas of Witchcraft which originate from the folklores and mythologies of pre-Christian peoples, but also from post-Christian philosophies and religious movements.

[iI] The Complexity of Religion and the Definition of “Religion” in International Law.
T. Jeremy Gunn.
“The term “religion” remains undefined as a matter of international law. The absence of a definition of “religion” is not peculiar to international human rights conventions; most national constitutions also include clauses on freedom of religion without defining “religion.” ”


[1] M. Macha NightMare

[2] Cherry Hill Seminary

[3] The Reclaiming Tradition
The Witches Voice (Witchvox)

[4] Reclaiming Principles of Unity
“My law is love unto all beings . . .” The Charge of the Goddess
The values of the Reclaiming tradition stem from our understanding that the Earth is alive and all of life is sacred and interconnected. We see the Goddess as immanent in the Earth’s cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration. Our practice arises from a deep, spiritual commitment to the Earth, to healing and to the linking of magic with political action.
Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.
We are an evolving, dynamic tradition and proudly call ourselves Witches. Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form. Our community rituals are participatory and ecstatic, celebrating the cycles of the seasons and our lives, and raising energy for personal, collective and earth healing.
We know that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic, the art of changing consciousness at will. We strive to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to all. We make decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility.
Our tradition honors the Wild, and calls for service to the Earth and the community. We value peace and practice non-violence, in keeping with the Rede, “Harm none, and do what you will.” We work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender and economic. Our feminism includes a radical analysis of power, seeing all systems of oppression as interrelated, rooted in structures of domination and control.
We welcome all genders, all races, all ages and sexual orientations and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity. We strive to make our public rituals and events accessible and safe. We try to balance the need to be justly compensated for our labor with our commitment to make our work available to people of all economic levels.
All living beings are worthy of respect. All are supported by the sacred Elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. We work to create and sustain communities and cultures that embody our values, that can help to heal the wounds of the earth and her peoples, and that can sustain us and nurture future generations.

[5] Second-wave Feminism

[6] Silver RavenWolf

[7] Lizz Clements

[8] Celestine Circle of Southern Africa

[9] Penton Independent Pagan Media


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  1. May 18, 2012

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