Witches on Witchcraft
In its review of Malawi’s Witchcraft Act the Malawi Law Commission asked eight questions for further discussion. I’ll answer the first two and last questions posed by the Commission from the point of view of actual Witches;
Does Witchcraft exist? Does the law need to change the legal assumption that witchcraft does not exist? If the law recognizes the existence of witchcraft, would it mean that the law is legitimizing witchcraft?
“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, 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. “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. “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.”
“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; 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’ 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’ 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. 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 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 not 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 must not be dependent on national judicial recognition or pre-approval.