That Old Time Religion
That Old Time Religion
by Christopher Brown
There’s more to being a witch than spells and fancy garb, wearing pentacles and dressing in black. When a witch approaches spirituality, there is a simple and specific path laid out before them. All of our tools, techniques and symbolism blend into a quiet synthesis that aids us in overcoming our weaknesses and honing our strengths.
You see, this path isn’t about magic. It’s not about self-importance. The secret power in witchcraft isn’t found in an ability to insulate yourself from the world around you. A witch’s power is found the day that we learn to face our fears and, as they flee before us, we find the strength and joy true freedom can bring.
Everything within the Craft is geared toward personal and spiritual growth. Our path isn’t referred to as “The Old Art” – it’s referred to as “The Old Religion.” To our spiritual ancestors, those we look to for inspiration as we build our own Traditions and personal practices, being a witch wasn’t about developing a certain set of skills and abilities and then applying those skills to a spiritually disconnected path. The techniques we learn are simply tools with which we can pull aside the veil that hides us from our personal truth and, once that veil is removed, even for an instant, we can begin to deal with the implications of accepting what that truth has to show us.
The Heart of Nature
We begin from the very start of our practice by developing an understanding of the cycles of the natural world. Students are taught to welcome the sun to a new day and to usher in the dark cloak of the night. We begin to watch as the moon slowly transforms herself, moving from new to full, her light growing to a pregnant brilliance only to fade into darkness once more.
As the days slowly creep by, we watch the world around us begin to change. Flowers bloom and fall away. Trees once filled with blossoms slowly grow ripe with fruit. Leaves change colors. The night begins to win its see-saw battle with the sun and snow begins to fall. Darkness claims the world, only to be pushed away by the sun, the hours of daylight struggling steadily into the world like the shoots of green that begin to appear through the snow. An endless cycle of life, death and rebirth comes to life before our eyes.
This spiral dance of nature is to a witch what the scriptures are to a follower of Christ. Within the heart of the natural world, we feel the breath of the divine. Mankind’s uniqueness isn’t in our ability to create technology, to subdue the natural world, but rather in our ability to seek out the implications of what we see. Within the weave of nature, we see a reflection of our own lives.
As we seek to understand the world around us, the pattern of the seasons we observe becomes divided, broken into sacred days, and these days are given a meaning that speaks of the substance of life at that time of year. At Imbolc we celebrate the first stirrings of life. At Yule, we welcome the birth of the sun. In these celebrations, witches begin to draw parallels between man and nature, between the magic of the environment and the magic of our own lives. What was once a celebration of the ripe harvest, we mirror as we honor the harvest and bounty in our own lives. As the sun descends into the darkness of the underworld, we choose to accompany it, standing between the worlds on Samhain as we work our magic, as we honor our right as witches to develop and hone the abilities that allow us to interact with the spirit realm at will.
What we discovered through observation, we begin to interact with by choice. The lessons that present themselves to us deepen and we find ourselves challenged to begin addressing those issues which keep us from reaching the next level. A lack of discipline in meditation becomes a battle to hone our mind and our metal focus. We discover that the things we once ran to for comfort, those habits and distractions that insulate us when we feel uncertain or weary, also insulate us from the magical energy we are learning to interact with. Slowly, we begin to set aside our fears, our weaknesses, and begin to master ourselves, each step toward wholeness as a person brings us deeper into the spiritual realm we seek to embrace.
The Craft Of The Wise
Witchcraft has been called “The craft of the wise,” and as we move forward on our path, our lessons breed knowledge, the application of our new-found knowledge forges wisdom. Step by step, we slowly grow, not only with skills and techniques that we use to move deeper into our path, but in the gentle wisdom that truly accepting what our lessons have to teach hones in our lives.
A simple, intrinsic cycle begins to emerge. We open ourselves up to observe and learn from our lives and we are shown opportunity. Accepting the opportunity, we begin to step forward, often needing to learn new skills and win battles against our own weaknesses and fears to complete the step before us. In that process, we carry new skills and new perspectives away from our victories and defeats, and they open our eyes a little wider than before. With new perspectives, we see new opportunities for growth. With new skills and techniques, we have the tools necessary to begin taking the next step. Level builds upon level and we grow in an ever-climbing spiral. The path isn’t about learning magical skills; those skills are the side-effect of facing our fears and weaknesses and honing ourselves as individuals.
As time passes and we continue to grow, we reach a level where we become intimately tied to the magic of the natural world we first witnessed as a new student. We feel the changes in the world around us. We know when the moon is waxing or waning, not because we can see it with our eyes, but because we are now linked to it’s soft glow. We can feel it because it is a part of who we are.
But this power isn’t something we simply sense. We’re not at it’s mercy. The skills we’ve learned along the way are also the techniques with which we can harness the energy and bend it to our will. As witches, we begin to become the caretakers of reality. We understand how our own actions can have wide ranging implications, how a whispered incantation can influence human lives and the weave of nature. This power comes with great responsibility. We know this because of the wisdom we’ve slowly accumulated along the way. There are only two reasons why a witch causes harm with their magic – either they are out of balance with their path or they are working with powers they have not yet earned the right to wield.
Each step forward on the path, isn’t one where we blindly gather a detached set of skills which have no real meaning or implication in our lives. There is nothing mundane about the Craft. To be a witch means to be offered the chance to grow as an individual and as a member of an extended magical family. Each step toward knowledge is also a step forward in mastering and honing ourselves.
The Power Of Spirit
I tell each of my students as they begin their initial year and a day, “Picture the person you want to be at the end of your path, when you’ve achieved the things you’re hoping to learn. Are you wise? Are you kind? Are you sure of yourself?” We don’t tackle tarot or astrology as we begin the path, but rather focus on developing our strengths and addressing our weaknesses. If, at the end of the path, we have only grow smarter and more talented, then we have failed. If, all we have accomplished is creating a person who is happy and sure and truly appreciates both their own life and their place in the weave of life, who honors the divine in themselves and the entire scope of reality, how can we not have succeeded? Our spiritual growth isn’t different than any other system of belief. Only the tools we employ set us apart. As we learn to develop ourselves as we move deeper and deeper into the realm of spirit, we grow on two levels. Our fears and weaknesses are slowly addressed, replaced by confidence, strength and love. This growth allows us to move ever deeper into our spirituality, opening the doorways to the mystical side of life and the real power that awaits those who choose to grow as a witch.