Which Witch is Which and Which Witch is Not
by Deborah Breuer
Which Witch is Which and Which Witch is Not?
By Deborah Breuer
There is a truth to be said about the society that exists today. People, as opposed to a person, are not always accepting of what they do not know. For example, the words “witch” and “witchcraft” are often associated with demonic worship and practices. Throughout the years many stigmas have been attached to these words such as, evil, black, Satanism, and so on. While some of these have been misinterpreted or misused many others do not belong attached to what has been deemed “The Craft.” The fact is that Witches exist beyond the realms of storybooks and Hollywood movies. As Witches, real witches, they do practice witchcraft; however, witchcraft is not what the media and fairy stories have made it out to be. Upon further study one will encounter many truths about the lifestyle of a Witch. The most astonishing of these is that lay deep within the foundation of magick and witchcraft there is a scientific basis that is imperative to the understanding and practicing of Witchcraft. The following lays its own groundwork, proving that there is such a thing as a Witch and that their craft is not based in the whimsical but the scientific.
In order to explain what a Witch is, it is important to first explain a few things that Witches have been misconstrued to be in the past by inspecting a few of the stereotypes surrounding the “Hollywood Witch.” Entertaining thoughts of Witches as whimsical creatures provoke some to ask the sarcastic and unnecessary question, “Can Witches fly?” In an equally sarcastic and obvious retort, “Is the earth flat?” No! So where did this idea of Witches flying come from? Witches of olden times, the same as in any religious group, would conduct rituals asking their deity/deities for a plentiful harvest. In an older practice, not seen today, “Witches of old would dance around the fire, riding their broomsticks and jumping in the air mimicking the directions the plants should grow and rise” (Penczack 162). This ritual would later and unnecessarily be manufactured into Witches flying through the night air looking for sleeping children to add to their evening stews. Granted, the original practice may have been seen as a little unorthodox, however, it was by no means dark in nature, much less cannibalistic. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of simple practices such as this one does not cease here. Another popular misconception is directed toward the use of the color black in the daily practices of a Witch.
Why do Witches wear black? The consensus of the general population would probably describe something having to do with Witches involving themselves in dark practices or worshipping the Devil. This ludicrous assumption is as far away from anything resembling accuracy as black is from white on the color spectrum. First and foremost, it is important to understand that Witches have no connection to the Christian Devil. In fact, most traditions of witchcraft, apart from one, do not believe in a monotheistic God or his nemesis as revealed in the Bible, nor do they acknowledge Heaven or Hell. “Yet Christians are quick to link anti-Christian Satanists with Witches, while failing to recognize the older pre-Christian spirituality of Wicca” (Moura 131). Black is seen as appropriate, although not required, apparel during rituals because it attracts the most energy of the colors. It is also the color associated with the Goddess, one of many deities associated with the practice. In the past, Witches also wore black as a form of camouflage during late-evening rituals in order to avoid capture and punishment by Witch hunters.
Before, during, and after the Burning Times, Witches have been falsely labeled with terms ranging from good to bad, intelligent to insane and evil incarnate to healer. However, Witches have never, will never, and should never apply labels of any sorts to themselves. Magick, spelled with a “k,” as practiced by Witches, deals wholly with energy. Now, while there is positive/good and negative/bad energy, magick does not take part in such distinctions. All magick is ruled by intention and governed by the heart of the Witch. Because magick carries no predefining term, neither does the Witch who practices it. Unfortunately, those unknowing continue to label followers of the Craft, often choosing certain preferable terms above others amidst less punishable circumstances. For example, one was labeled as a Witch (this being used out of context most of the time, of course) or Devil worshipper if they were to be punished for their deeds, but if benefit could be had from the work done by a local practitioner, they were labeled a Shaman or healer.
Now that some of the stereotypes are out of the way, it is important that one understand that there is a religious tone to a Witch. A true Witch is associated with a religious belief system called “Wicca” by one way or another. There are many things to be said about this system however, only the basics will be lined out today due to an over abundance of information to be discovered.
Before moving into any further, it is imperative to define exactly what a Witch is. In the old days, prior to the existence of neo-paganism, a Witch would be defined as any practitioner of witchcraft. This led to be a problem due to people’s lack of understanding of just what witchcraft was. Eventually, this changed over the years so to include the religious affiliation of being a Witch. This allowed some individuals to expand their ideas about Witches and the Craft. A Witch, by today’s standards (should it be logical to say such a thing as it would apply in a world of true understanding), is an initiated practitioner of the religious congregation of Wicca and a practitioner of the Craft. While there should be no distinguishable line placed between “white” and “black” magick or “good” or “bad” Witch, there are definite divisions among the various traditions of Wicca that can be followed. Among the many traditions are Alexandrian, Cabot, Celtic, Christian Wicca, Dianic, Gardnerian, Greco-Roman, Green Witchcraft, Hereditary, Radical Faery, Seax Wicca, Solitary, Italian, Wiccan Shamanism, and Eclectic. These plentiful paths may co-exist because Wicca is a non-dogmatic religion. Each Witch is free to follow his/her own interpretation of ancient texts. “What is required in Wicca is a simple belief that our consciousness is not dependent on the body, but can extend beyond the limits of the sensory world, and that the life force should be reverenced” (Crowley 7). Witches also share a common ethical philosophy, to be explained shortly, which is also a reflection upon their scientific notions and philosophies. The word “initiated” can have several meanings but generally involves some sort of ceremonial presentation to the elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), the corners (North, East, South, and West), and/or the gods (whomever they may be to that particular practitioner). Wicca requires many years of studying as in any religion. Wicca is considered a neo-pagan religion with the concrete understanding that Witches and their practice have been around much longer. Wicca stems from a much older religion called Paganism. The truth as it stands according to Ann Moura, author of Origins of Modern Witchcraft, says that
“Witchcraft has evolved over time, adapting to the changes of societies and cultures, finding resistance and persecution with the formation of unfriendly and unsympathetic political bodies, yet persevering nevertheless because the truth of the ancient forces are everlasting and immanent” (Moura 2).
Many Witches still consider themselves Pagan while others Wiccan. It is all in the heart of the Witch. Michael Streeter, author of Witchcraft: A Secret History, defines Wicca as “The name given to the modern Witchcraft religion by its founder or re-creator Gerald Gardner, and preferred by many witches or Wiccans because it has fewer negative associations than ‘Witchcraft’” (Streeter 189).
Wicca as a religion believes in respecting and honoring nature as a part of the divine, teaching Witches “[…] to value our planet because it is sacred soil” (Crowley 4). As far as an after death belief is concerned, those who follow the Wiccan way of life believe that “Death is not the end, but a new beginning” or in other words reincarnation (Crowley 5). “Wicca is a religion that looks to the good in human beings rather than to the evil and seeks to bring out that good rather than dwelling on people’s faults” (Crowley 5). While Wicca teaches all of these things, as apposed to monotheistic traditions, Wicca believes that there may be many forms of the same truth and theirs is simply one of them.
Magick is a life-long study to every Witch. It requires many years of studying and dedication prior to ever beginning to “practice” magick. According to the “average Witch” “Magick is the art and science of creating change in accord with your will” (Penczak 24). The Craft can be practiced through various channels including meditation, spells, potions, and hands-on practices. Magick, through any of these means as previously explained, is ruled by intention and, simply put, involves the “manipulation” of energy to produce a desired result. Supporting the seemingly lucid craft is a set of indisputable scientific principles. These seven earthly principles have been combined into what is called the Hermetic philosophy.
The Hermetic philosophy can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Greece. Originally, these epiphanies were credited to Hermes Trimesistus, “known as the father of occult wisdom”, but in 1912 three unknown initiates translated and elaborated on the seven earthly principles to create a book called The Kybalion (Wolf 369). Each of the seven principles is essential and has survived failed attempts of scrutiny only to reemerge in the form of Quantum Physics. The Initiates impress upon those who study The Kybalion, “The Principles of Truth are Seven; he who knows these, understandingly, possesses the Magic Key before whose touch all the Doors of the Temple fly open” (Initiates 25). These seven truths are as follows: The Principle of Mentalism, The Principle of Correspondence, The Principle of Vibration, The Principle of Polarity, The Principle of Rhythm, The Principle of Gender, and The Principle of Cause and Effect. Each of these when properly grasped allow a better understanding of one’s practice of witchcraft.
Witchcraft is, as stated before, simply a manipulation of energy. Because of that one must consider all of the aspects of energy. The following are the seven principles in the Hermetic philosophy and an explanation of each.
The Principle of Mentalism states that everything in the universe is a creation of “The All.” “The All” is a non-gender, non-pantheistic way of referring to the divine and many Witches preferred name for their deity. For many Witches this divine spirit is personified as energy. In such a case, The Principle of Mentalism accordingly explains that everything is joined by the energy in the universe. This statement encounters little argument because as basis for its stability, the student must embrace one of the fundamental laws of physics. The argument is generally as follows: The amount of energy in the universe is constant; it can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy is the one constant and uniting factor in the entire universe. The same energy that is flowing through this page is going to flow through the tree outside eventually, ultimately connecting the two through energy and patience. Food for thought. In a more spiritual way of phrasing such a context: “We are God, and God is us, and the material world is an expression of the spiritual one” (Wolf 370).
The second principle, The Principle of Correspondence, is not as easily understood at first glance. It states, “As above, so below; as below, so above” (Initiates 28). In perhaps a more relatable way of thinking this principle declares, the whole contains the part and the part contains the whole. Christopher Penczak explained it this way:
“Think about the structure of the solar system. You have one large body, the Sun, at the center. Orbiting around this center are several smaller particles, the planets, arranged at regular intervals. Now think on a smaller scale, to the atom. The atom has a nucleus at the center of it. Circling around the nucleus are smaller particle, electrons, spaced at regular intervals. The atom and the solar system are almost maps of each other” (Penczak 139).
This is just one example of this principle in action. Silver Raven Wolf, author of several books based on Wicca, Witchcraft, and Witches in general, says that “Regardless of what religion or spirituality you follow, the axiom of As above, so below will apply, and has several meanings, depending on your idea of how the universe ticks” (Wolf 370). She continues claiming that for some “[…] it means that the invisible and visible are all manifestations of the divine. Everything is one” (Wolf 370). This particular principle bridged the gap between science and spirituality.
“When Einstein shocked the world by proving that energy and mass are equal, identical, and interchangeable, the old mystery teachings of the ancients found new vigor and have continued to grow. Why? Because now science and spirituality meet on common ground. This ancient conclusion that the same laws operated was now validated” (Wolf 370).
”Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates” (Initiates 30). The Principle of Vibration divulges to its students that even when all seem still and calm, atoms and particles are still hard at word and in motion. The Principle of Vibration also explains that similar vibrations tend to resonate and gather together. This offers an explanation for why people are either drawn to or pushed away from certain other individuals. Many will, in defiance, offer rebuttal arguing, “Opposites attract.” The fourth Hermetic Principle offers an explanation for this. Pay attention.
The Principle of Polarity, simply put, says that everything has its opposite; everything has poles; everything is dual. The trick to grasping the concept behind this principle is to understand that poles are not everything. A range of responses falls between the poles. The reason that the “opposites attract” theory does not falsify the tendencies of similar vibration to resonate together is that no two people are exactly alike nor are the finite opposites. Any description of two opposites is never absolute. Life and existence is not black and white. There is a whole spectrum of gray and for that matter color. It is all relative.
Directly in co ordinance with the Principle of Polarity is the Principle of Rhythm. Energy has a range and it can move from one extreme to the other, flowing freely. The Principle of Rhythm describes how it flows: Everything flows, out and in, everything has its tides and so on. All patterns move in a cycle. The Hermetic Principle can be easily demonstrated through the mammalian circulatory system. Blood flows from head to toe in a continuous pattern starting in the heart. Again, this is only one example of Rhythm; just looking at the human body, there are several more that come to mind. Besides, every writer, artist, what have you, has their cycle and rhythm also. No one is great all the time.
The Principle of Gender is perhaps the most understandable theory provided. It explains that gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine qualities. Masculine energy is attributed to the more logical, rational, aggressive, and physical traits in nature. Feminine energy, on the other hand, is ascribed to the intuitive, creative, healing, and emotional characteristics. This application of gender does not stop with animals but continues to all things in nature. Remember biology?
No matter which tradition a Witch follows or how they acknowledge the higher power, The Principle of Cause and Effect is reflected in everything a Witch does. Wicca does contain a loose moral code. A Witch’s ethical way of thinking is not in the form of the Ten Commandments or any other written form; it is a simple phrase that most have heard since they were very young: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Following the same train of thinking, the Principle of Cause and Effect literally states, “Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause…” (Initiates 38). Along side this ever so important principle is what is known as the Wiccan Rede:
“Bide the Wiccan Law ye must.
In perfect law and perfect trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.
What ye send forth comes back to thee,
So ever mind the Law of Three.
Follow this with mind and heart,
Merry ye meet and merry ye part” (Penczak 157).
This Law of Three that the Rede mentions is better understood through the in-depth study of casting spells. So now one must pose the question: “What is a spell?”
Unfortunately, the word “spell” is often taken with bitter association and questionable repose. In response to such skepticism, a spell, in its simplest explanation, is a thought developed into a concentration of energy, which is then sent into the universe, missioned to inspire a certain outcome. In order to relate to those who follow more mainstream religions, a spell can be understandably compared to a prayer. The process of casting a spell is roughly conducted as followed. A Witch, while in a meditative state, allows herself/himself to relax into a subdued yet conscious state of mind transferring theta brain waves. Theta brain waves are those made use of during this deepest form of thoughtful meditation. Once in this state of extreme awareness and relaxation, the practitioner will conceive an extremely concentrated thought transforming into controlled energy. This moldable configuration of usable power is, in a sort of fashion, then manipulated to bring about the desired results. Through the power of thought and controlled will, this energy is then cast to the outreaches of the universe. Upon its returning voyage to its place of origin, the accelerating force will have increased its intensity three fold. This is the basis of the “three times three” understanding that all Witches acknowledge. In exchange for this sort of ethical philosophy, witches do not take reverence in the concept of sin. Since sin is a deed punished in the after-life and Wicca teaches reincarnation, it seem only appropriate that it be this way. A walker of the Wiccan trail contains their strong sense of morality and consequence for one’s actions in a study that is most relatable to Karma and the previously explained philosophies. Simply put, what goes around comes around. One would be hard pressed to find a single Witch who denies such a seemingly substantial and concrete statement.
For many, science is as concrete as it gets. For the general population, magick, witchcraft, and Witches are meant for the whimsical fairy tales, nothing more. The truth is that there is a science to magick, seven earthly principles paving the road behind every spell and meditation. There will always be a stigma behind words like “Witch,” “Witchcraft,” “Magick,” and so on to the like but in the correspondence between magick and science there lies hope that understanding and compassion for the truth too will follow.
Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium. San Francisco,
CA: Aquarian Press, 1989.
Moura, Ann. Origins of Modern Witchcraft: The Evolution of a World Religion. St.
Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
Penczak, Christopher. The Inner Temple of Witchcraft: Magick, Meditation, and Psychic
Development. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.
Penczak, Christopher. The Outer Temple of Witchcraft: Circles, Spells, and Rituals. St.
Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Streeter, Michael. Witchcraft: A Secret History. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Publications,
Three Initiates. The Kyabalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt
Wolf, Silver Raven. Solitary Witch. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Posted on 04/16/2017
Copyright © 2017 Deborah Breuer