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Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Author: Jason Miller (Inominandum)

The Greeks made a distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy literally means “God working” and refers to spiritual work that leads one into illumination or gnosis. Thaumaturgy means, “wonder working” and refers to the conjuration of spirits, casting of spells, blessing, cursing, curing and harming through practical magick. The balance between these two aspects of the craft has been an issue since the emergence of Wicca in the 1950’s. Does spell casting overshadow religion? This debate has been heating up in online groups and blogs recently due to a story on beliefnet.com by Carl McColman entitled Is Wicca Under a Spell, which deals with both sides of the issue. Many people in the Pagan community that I have spoken with feel that magick and sorcery do the religious aspects of Wicca no good and should be downplayed. Some I have spoken to have no interest in spell-casting at all, or perhaps don’t even believe in practical magick, and thus see this aspect of the craft as an obstacle to Wicca taking its place as a major Western religion. I would like to take this opportunity to present the opposing argument.

What often gets overlooked is that Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing. The terms are often used interchangeably but Witchcraft is a craft that can be, but isn’t necessarily, part of a religion. Wicca is most definitely a religion. While not all Wiccan traditions stem by lineage from Gerald Gardner, by and large they use a constellation of terms and beliefs that were first put in place by him and those that came after, thus we can say that we can trace Wicca more or less back to him. Witchcraft is a larger area than this. Isaac Bonewits once provided a breakdown of the types of Witches in America, which can help put this into perspective:

10% Neo-Pagan – Revivalist traditions, including Wicca.
70% Neo-Classical – Those who practice folk magick with mixed Christian and Pagan roots without regard to Witchcraft as a religion.
1-2% Classical village healers who practice completely non-religious folk magick.
1-2% Neo-Gothic – Practitioners of Satanism which is based on the Gothic Witchcraft of the Witch Hysteria Era.
1-2% Family Trads.
1-2% Immigrant Traditions: Pow-wow etc.
10% Practitioners of Vodou, Santeria, etc.

For example one of my ancestors was allegedly a “water witch” who told people where to dig wells. While in Venice I was offered a charm to obtain by a Witch. In both of these cases the Witch in question was a devout Christian. According to this breakdown Neo-Paganism and Wicca account for only %10 of American Witches but even within that scope there are many Witchcraft traditions that make it very clear that they are not Wiccan: The Feri Tradition, The Clan of Tubal Cain and the Cultus Sabbati all represent traditions of the craft that have non-Gardnerian roots, and do not fall under the umbrella of Wicca.

I have an enormous respect for Wicca but I am a Witch, not a Wiccan. I object when the terms are used interchangeably and when Wicca attempts to speak for all Witchcraft. I got involved with the craft during the mid 80’s in North Jersey, just outside of Manhattan. Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, Herman Slater’s Magickal Formularies, and the little spell books from Original Publications had much more of an influence on my Witchcraft than Scott Cunningham or Ray Buckland. This is not to say that I am not religious: I am. But I learned to use practical magick at an early age and was successful at it. I have traveled all over the world to learn traditional magickal techniques: from New Orleans, to Europe, to Nepal. Today I do magick professionally and consider traditional techniques of spell-working to be just as important as religious and spiritual traditions.

I would argue spell-casting is just as sacred as Wicca and Neo-Paganism and far more ancient and widespread a tradition. So where McColman asks the question: “As publishers produce more books about casting spells, is the spiritual message of Witchcraft getting lost?” I ask the opposite: Is the popular influence of Wicca and Neo-Paganism negatively impacting the tradition of spell casting, or if you will, the Witches’ Craft?

I think it is, on a number of levels. I will give just three examples:

Ethics:

The Wiccan Rede provides a very strong ethical principle for Witches to follow. As such, any mention of curses, jinxes, or harmful magick is frowned upon by the Pagan press. Some take this even further and extend it to spells that influence another’s will or reverse a curse back upon its sender. Very often in modern books I read “A REAL WITCH would never do harmful or coercive magick…” While I can applaud the good intent of these writers, and understand that authors are trying to paint a picture of Wicca that is acceptable to mainstream America, the fact is that this type of magick IS part of a “REAL” Witch’s repertoire. From the lead curse tablets of Greece, to the Gospel of Aradia, to more modern Witches like Sibyl Leek and Andrew Chumbley, cursing and coercion have always been a part of the Craft.

When my teacher taught me my first pieces of harmful magick, I was surprised. I had no interest in harming anyone but she told me, “You have to learn how to harm, in order to learn how to heal. The power comes hand-in-hand.” Apart from that lesson, life has taught me that a curse can be justified, and that in rare instances it can be down right compassionate. It is the use of knowledge that determines whether it is good or evil, not the knowledge itself.

To my mind allowing Wicca’s religious stance to determine what gets printed about traditional Witchcraft is wrong and pollutes the baraka of an ancient art. For instance Paul Huson’s book Mastering Witchcraft is one of the only early books of the craft that deals with the subject of vengeance and attack, and was given a horrible reputation in the Pagan community because of it. I have been to stores that refused to even carry it. One that did felt the need to put disclaimers all over it stating that it was “Not Real Witchcraft.” The book didn’t endorse vengeance and attack. It merely tried to present the full scope of the art it claimed to teach. In doing so, it put the preceding chapter on counter-magic and protection into great context. If anything, the craft teaches personal responsibility. Why then can we not trust readers to make their own ethical decisions about the craft?

Materia:

In the aforementioned article on beliefnet.com, Gardnerian Priestess Judy Harrow, author of Spiritual Mentoring, was quoted as saying:

“I remember once a man solemnly informing me that if a spell calls for, say, blue candles, and the candles are whi

te candles dipped in blue instead of being blue all the way through, the spell will fail or maybe even backfire… People who believe that (magic) power is in ‘the stuff’ will not be able to access the power if ‘the stuff’ is not handy.”

A proficient Witch learns to substitute items that can’t be gotten in time. We also learn the magics of breath, gaze, gesture and incantation that can be cast without materials of any type whatsoever. While I agree that not all the power is in “the stuff, ” there certainly is quite a bit more than many modern writers would have you think. Many modern books make the case that “it’s all in your mind” and that the materials are just props with no real power of their own. This to me is disrespectful to the Witches and sorcerers that painstakingly wrote down formularies and philtres over the centuries. If this was really the case, why bother getting the ingredients right at all? Why not just write down “Devils Shoe Strings” on nine pieces of paper and use them instead of the herb? Try it and see what kind of results you get. Having lived in Nepal and worked with various Ngakpas (sorcerers) and Jankris (shaman) , I can tell you that they take their ingredients very seriously. I can say the same about the Bokors and Root Doctors of New Orleans.

Flying ointment made from mugwort in a carrier oil may be safer, but it is not just as good as one made from hemlock, belladonna, and other baneful herbs carefully mixed and applied. A stone with a hole drilled in it will not work as well as a real hagstone formed by running water. A twig from the backyard will not provide as good a basis for an influence charm as a whole High John root. These things have a tradition that goes back hundred of years and should not be cast aside so easily.

Psychological Reductionism:

Australian sociologist Douglas Ezzy was quoted in the beliefnet.com article regarding the effect of spells themselves:

“In his paper ‘New Age Witchcraft? Popular spell books and the re-enchantment of everyday life, Ezzy notes that spell books ‘encourage individuals to take control of their lives through self-exploration and self-affirmation. Furthermore, ‘performing magical spells functions as a way of re-discovering the enchanted and mysterious aspects of life.’”

McColman further interprets this:

“In other words, spells are more than just magical recipes for getting your own way; they are miniature rituals designed to foster a sense of mystery and wonder (what Ezzy calls ‘enchantment’) in everyday life, and to evoke a positive sense of power and hope in the spell-caster’s life. Even if casting a spell doesn’t make you rich or win you love, it could give you hope that such blessings really are possible in your life.

There are many Pagans and Wiccans that have no interest, belief in, or talent for spell-casting. That’s okay. I don’t believe that Witchcraft was ever meant to be a widespread practice. It may be elitist of me to suggest it, but I don’t think that everyone can cast an effective spell. Some can, some can’t. What we have today however are people drawn to the purely religious and spiritual aspects of Neo-Paganism and mistaking it for Witchcraft. They need to find a way to explain the place of spell-casting in a modern world, so its gets explained away in psycho-babble.

Many teachers today will explain that spells don’t actually offer outer change, only inner change. A spell to help you get a job will perhaps build your confidence but not affect the mind of the interviewer. The claim is that the magick is providing mystery, wonder, and self-affirmation. These are all good things, but it is clear that Witches throughout history did not feel this way about their craft, and neither do I!

I and many others know from experience that a well placed and executed spell can alter future events, affect the mind and spirit of a target or a client, and generally deliver the goods that are traditionally attributed to the craft. The effectiveness of this depends on the ability of the practitioner, knowledge of the art, and skillful application of that power and knowledge. Some people have a talent for practical magic. Some do not. Not so long ago, if you didn’t have a gift or calling for Witchcraft, you would not have been drawn to it. Now that it has become a popular subculture and religion, I wonder if people that don’t have much talent for spell work feel the need to write it off? To be clear I don’t think that you need to practice spellcraft to be a Pagan, or even a Wiccan, but that doesn’t mean we should reduce the classical art of Witchcraft to therapeutic drama.

McColman quotes writer Laura LaVoie as saying: “One of my fears with the spell books is that they send the wrong message to those looking for answers on how to be Pagan.” I have heard her fear echoed often in the Pagan community but very few consider the other side of the coin: Neo-Pagans can sometimes send the wrong message to those that just want to practice Witchcraft.

It’s pretty easy to tell whether a book is religious or is a collection of spells. I find it difficult to believe that someone looking to get a start in a new religion would pick up an Encyclopedia of Spells. On the other hand I do know of many people who came to a spiritual path, Wiccan or otherwise, through a desire to cast spells that opened up deeper questions.

I have what I consider to be a very rigorous and serious spiritual practice. I also am a professional Occultist who does readings and magick for pay. If Wicca doesn’t want to be confused with spell-casting, then they should stop using the term Witchcraft and Wicca interchangeably. Wicca represents one tradition of Witchcraft, not the whole practice.

There is room for both spells and Spirit. Keep the spell books coming! Keep the Pagan books coming! Keep the Wiccan books coming! Let them all get better researched and lead people deeper into the mysteries, from whatever angle of approach they choose.

May the Blessing, Cursing, and Cunning Be!

_______________________________________

Footnotes:
McColman, Carl, , beliefnet.com, 2005.

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Calendar of the Sun for November 17th

Calendar of the Sun

17 Blutmonath
Holda’s Blot

Colors: Brown and white
Element: Earth
Altar: On cloth of white and brown lay a spindle full of spun wool, a basket of white goose-feathers, two white candles, a needle and thread, a horn of mead, and a dish of honey-cakes.
Lean a broom against the altar.
Offerings: Cakes buried under the earth. Organize and clean the house.
Daily Meal: Hearty stew with root vegetables. Wholegrain bread.

Invocation to Holda

Frau Holle, good Lady
Of the Land Under The Earth,
Who we reach through
The well into the deep places,
You who reward each
As to the temper of the work
They accomplish each day,
You who have eternal patience
And yet no patience at all
With lazy fools who will not
Lift their hands in another’s need.
Lady of the hearth, the loom,
The spindle and the wheel,
The needle and the cooking pot,
These things that so many
Take simply for granted,
They are your kingdom
And your warm domain,
And if they should be removed,
We would sorely miss them,
Much more than we could guess.

Chant: Snow is coming
Feathers on the wind
Mother Holda
Winter will begin…

(All approach the altar, seize handfuls of the goose feathers, and fling them into the air so that they fall like snow. Each then takes a turn with the broom, sweeping them up. The mead is shared and then poured as a libation.)

[Pagan Book of Hours]

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The Witches Spell for Nov. 6th – Power of the Earth Spell

sam7

Power of the Earth Spell

From Malaysia, a power spell that harnesses the power of the earth. This spell can be used to empower yourself in any situation.

You will need:
A small stone
A small amount of soil or sand
A piece of cloth
A bowl of spring water

This spell can only be begun two nights prior to a full moon.

Put the soil or sand into the bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with spring water. Place the stone in the bowl of water. Place the bowl, with the stone in it, in a place where it will be exposed to the light of the moon. Leave it there for two nights prior to the full moon.

On the night of the full moon, remove the stone at midnight. Wrap the stone in the cloth and place it under your pillow as you sleep.

In the morning, you must be up before sunrise. Place the stone in a place where it will receive the light of the rising sun. When the sun has fully risen, the spell is worked.

Carry the stone with you whenever you need to be empowered.

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Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Author: Jason Miller (Inominandum)

The Greeks made a distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy literally means “God working” and refers to spiritual work that leads one into illumination or gnosis. Thaumaturgy means, “wonder working” and refers to the conjuration of spirits, casting of spells, blessing, cursing, curing and harming through practical magick. The balance between these two aspects of the craft has been an issue since the emergence of Wicca in the 1950’s. Does spell casting overshadow religion? This debate has been heating up in online groups and blogs recently due to a story on beliefnet.com by Carl McColman entitled Is Wicca Under a Spell, which deals with both sides of the issue. Many people in the Pagan community that I have spoken with feel that magick and sorcery do the religious aspects of Wicca no good and should be downplayed. Some I have spoken to have no interest in spell-casting at all, or perhaps don’t even believe in practical magick, and thus see this aspect of the craft as an obstacle to Wicca taking its place as a major Western religion. I would like to take this opportunity to present the opposing argument.

What often gets overlooked is that Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing. The terms are often used interchangeably but Witchcraft is a craft that can be, but isn’t necessarily, part of a religion. Wicca is most definitely a religion. While not all Wiccan traditions stem by lineage from Gerald Gardner, by and large they use a constellation of terms and beliefs that were first put in place by him and those that came after, thus we can say that we can trace Wicca more or less back to him. Witchcraft is a larger area than this. Isaac Bonewits once provided a breakdown of the types of Witches in America, which can help put this into perspective:

10% Neo-Pagan – Revivalist traditions, including Wicca.
70% Neo-Classical – Those who practice folk magick with mixed Christian and Pagan roots without regard to Witchcraft as a religion.
1-2% Classical village healers who practice completely non-religious folk magick.
1-2% Neo-Gothic – Practitioners of Satanism which is based on the Gothic Witchcraft of the Witch Hysteria Era.
1-2% Family Trads.
1-2% Immigrant Traditions: Pow-wow etc.
10% Practitioners of Vodou, Santeria, etc.

For example one of my ancestors was allegedly a “water witch” who told people where to dig wells. While in Venice I was offered a charm to obtain by a Witch. In both of these cases the Witch in question was a devout Christian. According to this breakdown Neo-Paganism and Wicca account for only %10 of American Witches but even within that scope there are many Witchcraft traditions that make it very clear that they are not Wiccan: The Feri Tradition, The Clan of Tubal Cain and the Cultus Sabbati all represent traditions of the craft that have non-Gardnerian roots, and do not fall under the umbrella of Wicca.

I have an enormous respect for Wicca but I am a Witch, not a Wiccan. I object when the terms are used interchangeably and when Wicca attempts to speak for all Witchcraft. I got involved with the craft during the mid 80’s in North Jersey, just outside of Manhattan. Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, Herman Slater’s Magickal Formularies, and the little spell books from Original Publications had much more of an influence on my Witchcraft than Scott Cunningham or Ray Buckland. This is not to say that I am not religious: I am. But I learned to use practical magick at an early age and was successful at it. I have traveled all over the world to learn traditional magickal techniques: from New Orleans, to Europe, to Nepal. Today I do magick professionally and consider traditional techniques of spell-working to be just as important as religious and spiritual traditions.

I would argue spell-casting is just as sacred as Wicca and Neo-Paganism and far more ancient and widespread a tradition. So where McColman asks the question: “As publishers produce more books about casting spells, is the spiritual message of Witchcraft getting lost?” I ask the opposite: Is the popular influence of Wicca and Neo-Paganism negatively impacting the tradition of spell casting, or if you will, the Witches’ Craft?

I think it is, on a number of levels. I will give just three examples:

Ethics:

The Wiccan Rede provides a very strong ethical principle for Witches to follow. As such, any mention of curses, jinxes, or harmful magick is frowned upon by the Pagan press. Some take this even further and extend it to spells that influence another’s will or reverse a curse back upon its sender. Very often in modern books I read “A REAL WITCH would never do harmful or coercive magick…” While I can applaud the good intent of these writers, and understand that authors are trying to paint a picture of Wicca that is acceptable to mainstream America, the fact is that this type of magick IS part of a “REAL” Witch’s repertoire. From the lead curse tablets of Greece, to the Gospel of Aradia, to more modern Witches like Sibyl Leek and Andrew Chumbley, cursing and coercion have always been a part of the Craft.

When my teacher taught me my first pieces of harmful magick, I was surprised. I had no interest in harming anyone but she told me, “You have to learn how to harm, in order to learn how to heal. The power comes hand-in-hand.” Apart from that lesson, life has taught me that a curse can be justified, and that in rare instances it can be down right compassionate. It is the use of knowledge that determines whether it is good or evil, not the knowledge itself.

To my mind allowing Wicca’s religious stance to determine what gets printed about traditional Witchcraft is wrong and pollutes the baraka of an ancient art. For instance Paul Huson’s book Mastering Witchcraft is one of the only early books of the craft that deals with the subject of vengeance and attack, and was given a horrible reputation in the Pagan community because of it. I have been to stores that refused to even carry it. One that did felt the need to put disclaimers all over it stating that it was “Not Real Witchcraft.” The book didn’t endorse vengeance and attack. It merely tried to present the full scope of the art it claimed to teach. In doing so, it put the preceding chapter on counter-magic and protection into great context. If anything, the craft teaches personal responsibility. Why then can we not trust readers to make their own ethical decisions about the craft?

Materia:

In the aforementioned article on beliefnet.com, Gardnerian Priestess Judy Harrow, author of Spiritual Mentoring, was quoted as saying:

“I remember once a man solemnly informing me that if a spell calls for, say, blue candles, and the candles are whi

te candles dipped in blue instead of being blue all the way through, the spell will fail or maybe even backfire… People who believe that (magic) power is in ‘the stuff’ will not be able to access the power if ‘the stuff’ is not handy.”

A proficient Witch learns to substitute items that can’t be gotten in time. We also learn the magics of breath, gaze, gesture and incantation that can be cast without materials of any type whatsoever. While I agree that not all the power is in “the stuff, ” there certainly is quite a bit more than many modern writers would have you think. Many modern books make the case that “it’s all in your mind” and that the materials are just props with no real power of their own. This to me is disrespectful to the Witches and sorcerers that painstakingly wrote down formularies and philtres over the centuries. If this was really the case, why bother getting the ingredients right at all? Why not just write down “Devils Shoe Strings” on nine pieces of paper and use them instead of the herb? Try it and see what kind of results you get. Having lived in Nepal and worked with various Ngakpas (sorcerers) and Jankris (shaman) , I can tell you that they take their ingredients very seriously. I can say the same about the Bokors and Root Doctors of New Orleans.

Flying ointment made from mugwort in a carrier oil may be safer, but it is not just as good as one made from hemlock, belladonna, and other baneful herbs carefully mixed and applied. A stone with a hole drilled in it will not work as well as a real hagstone formed by running water. A twig from the backyard will not provide as good a basis for an influence charm as a whole High John root. These things have a tradition that goes back hundred of years and should not be cast aside so easily.

Psychological Reductionism:

Australian sociologist Douglas Ezzy was quoted in the beliefnet.com article regarding the effect of spells themselves:

“In his paper ‘New Age Witchcraft? Popular spell books and the re-enchantment of everyday life, Ezzy notes that spell books ‘encourage individuals to take control of their lives through self-exploration and self-affirmation. Furthermore, ‘performing magical spells functions as a way of re-discovering the enchanted and mysterious aspects of life.’”

McColman further interprets this:

“In other words, spells are more than just magical recipes for getting your own way; they are miniature rituals designed to foster a sense of mystery and wonder (what Ezzy calls ‘enchantment’) in everyday life, and to evoke a positive sense of power and hope in the spell-caster’s life. Even if casting a spell doesn’t make you rich or win you love, it could give you hope that such blessings really are possible in your life.

There are many Pagans and Wiccans that have no interest, belief in, or talent for spell-casting. That’s okay. I don’t believe that Witchcraft was ever meant to be a widespread practice. It may be elitist of me to suggest it, but I don’t think that everyone can cast an effective spell. Some can, some can’t. What we have today however are people drawn to the purely religious and spiritual aspects of Neo-Paganism and mistaking it for Witchcraft. They need to find a way to explain the place of spell-casting in a modern world, so its gets explained away in psycho-babble.

Many teachers today will explain that spells don’t actually offer outer change, only inner change. A spell to help you get a job will perhaps build your confidence but not affect the mind of the interviewer. The claim is that the magick is providing mystery, wonder, and self-affirmation. These are all good things, but it is clear that Witches throughout history did not feel this way about their craft, and neither do I!

I and many others know from experience that a well placed and executed spell can alter future events, affect the mind and spirit of a target or a client, and generally deliver the goods that are traditionally attributed to the craft. The effectiveness of this depends on the ability of the practitioner, knowledge of the art, and skillful application of that power and knowledge. Some people have a talent for practical magic. Some do not. Not so long ago, if you didn’t have a gift or calling for Witchcraft, you would not have been drawn to it. Now that it has become a popular subculture and religion, I wonder if people that don’t have much talent for spell work feel the need to write it off? To be clear I don’t think that you need to practice spellcraft to be a Pagan, or even a Wiccan, but that doesn’t mean we should reduce the classical art of Witchcraft to therapeutic drama.

McColman quotes writer Laura LaVoie as saying: “One of my fears with the spell books is that they send the wrong message to those looking for answers on how to be Pagan.” I have heard her fear echoed often in the Pagan community but very few consider the other side of the coin: Neo-Pagans can sometimes send the wrong message to those that just want to practice Witchcraft.

It’s pretty easy to tell whether a book is religious or is a collection of spells. I find it difficult to believe that someone looking to get a start in a new religion would pick up an Encyclopedia of Spells. On the other hand I do know of many people who came to a spiritual path, Wiccan or otherwise, through a desire to cast spells that opened up deeper questions.

I have what I consider to be a very rigorous and serious spiritual practice. I also am a professional Occultist who does readings and magick for pay. If Wicca doesn’t want to be confused with spell-casting, then they should stop using the term Witchcraft and Wicca interchangeably. Wicca represents one tradition of Witchcraft, not the whole practice.

There is room for both spells and Spirit. Keep the spell books coming! Keep the Pagan books coming! Keep the Wiccan books coming! Let them all get better researched and lead people deeper into the mysteries, from whatever angle of approach they choose.

May the Blessing, Cursing, and Cunning Be!


Footnotes: McColman, Carl, Is Wicca Under A Spell?”, beliefnet.com, 2005.

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Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Spell Casting: The Witches’ Craft

Author: Jason Miller (Inominandum) 

The Greeks made a distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy literally means “God working” and refers to spiritual work that leads one into illumination or gnosis. Thaumaturgy means, “wonder working” and refers to the conjuration of spirits, casting of spells, blessing, cursing, curing and harming through practical magick. The balance between these two aspects of the craft has been an issue since the emergence of Wicca in the 1950’s. Does spell casting overshadow religion? This debate has been heating up in online groups and blogs recently due to a story on beliefnet.com by Carl McColman entitled Is Wicca Under a Spell, which deals with both sides of the issue. Many people in the Pagan community that I have spoken with feel that magick and sorcery do the religious aspects of Wicca no good and should be downplayed. Some I have spoken to have no interest in spell-casting at all, or perhaps don’t even believe in practical magick, and thus see this aspect of the craft as an obstacle to Wicca taking its place as a major Western religion. I would like to take this opportunity to present the opposing argument.

What often gets overlooked is that Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing. The terms are often used interchangeably but Witchcraft is a craft that can be, but isn’t necessarily, part of a religion. Wicca is most definitely a religion. While not all Wiccan traditions stem by lineage from Gerald Gardner, by and large they use a constellation of terms and beliefs that were first put in place by him and those that came after, thus we can say that we can trace Wicca more or less back to him. Witchcraft is a larger area than this. Isaac Bonewits once provided a breakdown of the types of Witches in America, which can help put this into perspective:

10% Neo-Pagan – Revivalist traditions, including Wicca.
70% Neo-Classical – Those who practice folk magick with mixed Christian and Pagan roots without regard to Witchcraft as a religion.
1-2% Classical village healers who practice completely non-religious folk magick.
1-2% Neo-Gothic – Practitioners of Satanism which is based on the Gothic Witchcraft of the Witch Hysteria Era.
1-2% Family Trads.
1-2% Immigrant Traditions: Pow-wow etc.
10% Practitioners of Vodou, Santeria, etc.

For example one of my ancestors was allegedly a “water witch” who told people where to dig wells. While in Venice I was offered a charm to obtain by a Witch. In both of these cases the Witch in question was a devout Christian. According to this breakdown Neo-Paganism and Wicca account for only %10 of American Witches but even within that scope there are many Witchcraft traditions that make it very clear that they are not Wiccan: The Feri Tradition, The Clan of Tubal Cain and the Cultus Sabbati all represent traditions of the craft that have non-Gardnerian roots, and do not fall under the umbrella of Wicca.

I have an enormous respect for Wicca but I am a Witch, not a Wiccan. I object when the terms are used interchangeably and when Wicca attempts to speak for all Witchcraft. I got involved with the craft during the mid 80’s in North Jersey, just outside of Manhattan. Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, Herman Slater’s Magickal Formularies, and the little spell books from Original Publications had much more of an influence on my Witchcraft than Scott Cunningham or Ray Buckland. This is not to say that I am not religious: I am. But I learned to use practical magick at an early age and was successful at it. I have traveled all over the world to learn traditional magickal techniques: from New Orleans, to Europe, to Nepal. Today I do magick professionally and consider traditional techniques of spell-working to be just as important as religious and spiritual traditions.

I would argue spell-casting is just as sacred as Wicca and Neo-Paganism and far more ancient and widespread a tradition. So where McColman asks the question: “As publishers produce more books about casting spells, is the spiritual message of Witchcraft getting lost?” I ask the opposite: Is the popular influence of Wicca and Neo-Paganism negatively impacting the tradition of spell casting, or if you will, the Witches’ Craft?

I think it is, on a number of levels. I will give just three examples:

Ethics:

The Wiccan Rede provides a very strong ethical principle for Witches to follow. As such, any mention of curses, jinxes, or harmful magick is frowned upon by the Pagan press. Some take this even further and extend it to spells that influence another’s will or reverse a curse back upon its sender. Very often in modern books I read “A REAL WITCH would never do harmful or coercive magick…” While I can applaud the good intent of these writers, and understand that authors are trying to paint a picture of Wicca that is acceptable to mainstream America, the fact is that this type of magick IS part of a “REAL” Witch’s repertoire. From the lead curse tablets of Greece, to the Gospel of Aradia, to more modern Witches like Sibyl Leek and Andrew Chumbley, cursing and coercion have always been a part of the Craft.

When my teacher taught me my first pieces of harmful magick, I was surprised. I had no interest in harming anyone but she told me, “You have to learn how to harm, in order to learn how to heal. The power comes hand-in-hand.” Apart from that lesson, life has taught me that a curse can be justified, and that in rare instances it can be down right compassionate. It is the use of knowledge that determines whether it is good or evil, not the knowledge itself.

To my mind allowing Wicca’s religious stance to determine what gets printed about traditional Witchcraft is wrong and pollutes the baraka of an ancient art. For instance Paul Huson’s book Mastering Witchcraft is one of the only early books of the craft that deals with the subject of vengeance and attack, and was given a horrible reputation in the Pagan community because of it. I have been to stores that refused to even carry it. One that did felt the need to put disclaimers all over it stating that it was “Not Real Witchcraft.” The book didn’t endorse vengeance and attack. It merely tried to present the full scope of the art it claimed to teach. In doing so, it put the preceding chapter on counter-magic and protection into great context. If anything, the craft teaches personal responsibility. Why then can we not trust readers to make their own ethical decisions about the craft?

Materia:

In the aforementioned article on beliefnet.com, Gardnerian Priestess Judy Harrow, author of Spiritual Mentoring, was quoted as saying:

“I remember once a man solemnly informing me that if a spell calls for, say, blue candles, and the candles are whi

te candles dipped in blue instead of being blue all the way through, the spell will fail or maybe even backfire… People who believe that (magic) power is in ‘the stuff’ will not be able to access the power if ‘the stuff’ is not handy.”

A proficient Witch learns to substitute items that can’t be gotten in time. We also learn the magics of breath, gaze, gesture and incantation that can be cast without materials of any type whatsoever. While I agree that not all the power is in “the stuff, ” there certainly is quite a bit more than many modern writers would have you think. Many modern books make the case that “it’s all in your mind” and that the materials are just props with no real power of their own. This to me is disrespectful to the Witches and sorcerers that painstakingly wrote down formularies and philtres over the centuries. If this was really the case, why bother getting the ingredients right at all? Why not just write down “Devils Shoe Strings” on nine pieces of paper and use them instead of the herb? Try it and see what kind of results you get. Having lived in Nepal and worked with various Ngakpas (sorcerers) and Jankris (shaman) , I can tell you that they take their ingredients very seriously. I can say the same about the Bokors and Root Doctors of New Orleans.

Flying ointment made from mugwort in a carrier oil may be safer, but it is not just as good as one made from hemlock, belladonna, and other baneful herbs carefully mixed and applied. A stone with a hole drilled in it will not work as well as a real hagstone formed by running water. A twig from the backyard will not provide as good a basis for an influence charm as a whole High John root. These things have a tradition that goes back hundred of years and should not be cast aside so easily.

Psychological Reductionism:

Australian sociologist Douglas Ezzy was quoted in the beliefnet.com article regarding the effect of spells themselves:

“In his paper ‘New Age Witchcraft? Popular spell books and the re-enchantment of everyday life, Ezzy notes that spell books ‘encourage individuals to take control of their lives through self-exploration and self-affirmation. Furthermore, ‘performing magical spells functions as a way of re-discovering the enchanted and mysterious aspects of life.’”

McColman further interprets this:

“In other words, spells are more than just magical recipes for getting your own way; they are miniature rituals designed to foster a sense of mystery and wonder (what Ezzy calls ‘enchantment’) in everyday life, and to evoke a positive sense of power and hope in the spell-caster’s life. Even if casting a spell doesn’t make you rich or win you love, it could give you hope that such blessings really are possible in your life.

There are many Pagans and Wiccans that have no interest, belief in, or talent for spell-casting. That’s okay. I don’t believe that Witchcraft was ever meant to be a widespread practice. It may be elitist of me to suggest it, but I don’t think that everyone can cast an effective spell. Some can, some can’t. What we have today however are people drawn to the purely religious and spiritual aspects of Neo-Paganism and mistaking it for Witchcraft. They need to find a way to explain the place of spell-casting in a modern world, so its gets explained away in psycho-babble.

Many teachers today will explain that spells don’t actually offer outer change, only inner change. A spell to help you get a job will perhaps build your confidence but not affect the mind of the interviewer. The claim is that the magick is providing mystery, wonder, and self-affirmation. These are all good things, but it is clear that Witches throughout history did not feel this way about their craft, and neither do I!

I and many others know from experience that a well placed and executed spell can alter future events, affect the mind and spirit of a target or a client, and generally deliver the goods that are traditionally attributed to the craft. The effectiveness of this depends on the ability of the practitioner, knowledge of the art, and skillful application of that power and knowledge. Some people have a talent for practical magic. Some do not. Not so long ago, if you didn’t have a gift or calling for Witchcraft, you would not have been drawn to it. Now that it has become a popular subculture and religion, I wonder if people that don’t have much talent for spell work feel the need to write it off? To be clear I don’t think that you need to practice spellcraft to be a Pagan, or even a Wiccan, but that doesn’t mean we should reduce the classical art of Witchcraft to therapeutic drama.

McColman quotes writer Laura LaVoie as saying: “One of my fears with the spell books is that they send the wrong message to those looking for answers on how to be Pagan.” I have heard her fear echoed often in the Pagan community but very few consider the other side of the coin: Neo-Pagans can sometimes send the wrong message to those that just want to practice Witchcraft.

It’s pretty easy to tell whether a book is religious or is a collection of spells. I find it difficult to believe that someone looking to get a start in a new religion would pick up an Encyclopedia of Spells. On the other hand I do know of many people who came to a spiritual path, Wiccan or otherwise, through a desire to cast spells that opened up deeper questions.

I have what I consider to be a very rigorous and serious spiritual practice. I also am a professional Occultist who does readings and magick for pay. If Wicca doesn’t want to be confused with spell-casting, then they should stop using the term Witchcraft and Wicca interchangeably. Wicca represents one tradition of Witchcraft, not the whole practice.

There is room for both spells and Spirit. Keep the spell books coming! Keep the Pagan books coming! Keep the Wiccan books coming! Let them all get better researched and lead people deeper into the mysteries, from whatever angle of approach they choose.

May the Blessing, Cursing, and Cunning Be!


Footnotes: McColman, Carl, Is Wicca Under A Spell?”, beliefnet.com, 2005.

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SPELL FOR A GAMBLING MOJO HAND(HooDoo)

SPELL FOR A GAMBLING MOJO HAND

Reputed to be “The Best Gambling Hand” in the work attributed to Marie Laveau — it is made by taking a 3.5 x 3.5 inch piece of chamois and fashioning it into a bag.

Inside, you must place a small lodestone, a black cat bone, a swallow’s heart, a pinch of five finger grass, a small John the Conqueror root, and some devil’s shoestring root. Then on top of all this you must place a prepared nutmeg, which is made by hollowing out a large whole nutmeg and filling it with liquid mercury, then sealing it in place with wax. (Be careful if you actually try this — mercury is poisonous.) With the bag filled, sew it all shut. To activate the mojo hand, apply 3 drops of Jockey Club perfume, and dress it with another 3 drops every week thereafter

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Hoodoo Still Practiced After 100 Years

Hoodoo Still Practiced After 100 Years

By Mark Hoerrner

Witch doctors and their mojo spells aren’t just products of Hollywood imagination—for over a century, the practice of Hoodoo has been an integral part of the culture in countries all around the world, including the United States.

Stemming from African tribal magic, Hoodoo is currently practiced primarily in the Southern U.S., Haiti and West Africa. Brought to America during the African Diaspora fueled by American slave trade, the “white magic” of Hoodoo was a welcome counter to the Voodoo practitioners who also originated from Africa and spilled onto Haiti and other Southern Atlantic islands. Much like Voodoo, the quasi-religion was a mix of nature magic and spirit calling that would eventually mingle with the predominantly Catholic religions of the busy city of New Orleans and subsequent Catholic expatriates have propagated the mixture of Hoodoo and Christianity in Haiti as well.

It should be noted that practitioners will quickly tell you that the practice of Hoodoo is spiritual in nature but it is not a religion. There is no established formal practice other than spells and incantations passed down in written form and no clergy to speak of. Nor does there exist a hierarchy among practitioners. Each Hoodoo “witch” or “witch doctor” is completely autonomous, as is common among many of the botano-spiritual offshoots from Africa.
Common terms like “mojo,” “mojo bag” and similar terms are often used interchangeably with Voodoo practitioners and refer to material goods supposedly ensorcelled to give the user a specific benefit. Hoodoo, in fact, is meant to empower the individual, granting fiscal and physical prosperity, luck in love and gambling and similar self-interests

.
Hoodoo derives, however, from a complex system of magic, according to spiritualist Mama Zgobe.
“For example, in the West African & Diaspora Mami Wata Vodoun tradition,” she says in a web interview on Hoodoo, “the forest spirits, known as ‘Azzizas,’ were the most evolved guardians of the forest, who first presented themselves to the African hunters, and planters. They taught them the esoteric, medicinal (ahame) use and alchemical properties inherent in the abundance of herbs, trees, roots, minerals and life forms thriving in their mists.

“It was the Azzizas who also taught the African how to make poisons, potions, medicines, and Gbo, ‘ebo’ and ‘boicho/bo.’ Joined with the Azzizas, was the divinity later to be identified as “Legba,” the great messenger of the gods, who also taught the Africans the use of Gbo and transported their prepared requests to the respective divinities.
“The first practical and most extensive use of herbs, amulets and talismans in the forest was for protection from accidents & tropical disease, dangerous animals, repairing injuries, as well as to assure success in their hunt. However, their esoteric use was mainly for protection from jealously, envy, and death by other hunters, as well as protection from the angry spirits of those animals which were killed for food, or by accident during the course of the hunt. From these primary ancestors, eventually evolved a group of specialized priests and priestess known in Dahomey as Bokonons, (geomancers), Azondoto, Zokas, Garbara, Akpases (socerers), and Botonons.”

Other practitioners come from less of an African influence but still promote the strength of the practice. Martha White – yes, like the baked goods – says that she was indoctrinated into the world of Hoodoo by her great grandmother and subsequently by her grandmother.
“At first, it was something to tell friends about,” she says, a rolling creole accent carrying every word. “But later, I began to notice that other people had faith in what my grandmother was doing. They altered their lives based on her charms and spells. It was not long after that the spirits came to me.”
Spirits, she says, of wild areas, of deceased persons, of wild animals, all assisting her in her practice of magic. Through her enchanting, she claims to have made couples fall in love, to have made cheating spouses fidelity and children do better in school.
“Some people call me a witch,” she says, fitting the part in a long flowing green gown. “But I’m not a witch. I’m not sure what you’d call me, but I’m not a witch. My broom is just for sweeping.”

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In the New World

In the New World

by Selene Silverwind

For over 300 years, slaves were kidnapped from the coast of West Africa and taken across the Atlantic to the New World. The bulk of the Dahomeans and Yorubans arrived in lands controlled by the French and Spanish (Caribbean and South America), while the Ashantis were taken to the English islands and later to the United States. Upon arrival in the Spanish islands, the slaves were forcibly converted to Catholicism, because they were seen as human beings and therefore their souls were worth saving. The slaves taken to the English islands were not considered equal to humans and their owners spent less time trying to force religion on them.

Emergence of Vodoun

Vodoun derives from the Dahomean word for spirit. Today it is also called Vodun, Voudou, Voodoo, and Sevi Lwa. It emerged in Haiti and the other West Indian isles as a response to enforced Catholicism and as an attempt to maintain the old ways.

The African slaves, with the help of their priests, assimilated their gods, called loa, to the Catholic saints. Through these saints they were able to continue to worship their original gods in secret. Due to a lack of training and the increased prominence of sorcerers, the priesthood died out. Instead, the people turned to medicine men and sorcerers for help. The sorcerers fomented uprisings and cast spells to improve the lot of the slaves. The medicine men, meanwhile, found new plants to work with and their practice continued unabated.

An 1804 uprising in Saint Domingue resulted in the establishment of Haiti as a free republic. Most of the Haitian slave-owners and other nonblacks fled to Cuba and other islands. It was around this time that Vodoun traveled to New Orleans. In New Orleans, Vodoun was practiced openly, with public dances held in Congo Square. Both whites and blacks practiced the faith.

The government of New Orleans became concerned about Vodoun and sought to quell it with raids and new laws prohibiting it. Vodoun went underground again in the 1850s, and many of its practices were again hidden within Catholicism. A free black, Marie Laveau, declared herself the Voodoo Queen and attempted to reinvigorate it by giving the saints new, Vodoun-related roles, and manufacturing new saints when necessary. She also established the practice of charging for services and the annual ritual on St. John’s Eve. Her daughter started the Monday night feast of spirits.

Emergence of Santería

Santería is derived from the Spanish term santos, or saints, and was initially a derogatory term. The religion was also called Lucumi, the Way of the Saints, and Regla de Ocha. In Brazil it is called Candomble and Nagos. Santería grew on the Spanish Islands, especially Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the South American Spanish colonies, and later made its appearance in the United States.

Like the followers of Vodoun, the African slaves in Latin American colonies, some of whom were priests, recognized the similarities between their deities and the Roman Catholic saints and assimilated the two groups. On the Spanish islands, slaves were also allowed to continue with their drumming and singing, which the owners saw as entertainment. In reality, it was an important facet of their faith and helped maintain its strength.

The British infusion of new slaves in the 1700s helped keep the old ways strong. It eventually transferred to the Hispanic peoples of Cuba, and also began to attract whites. It spread to the United States following the Civil War.

While being less diluted than Vodoun, Santería is not exactly like the faith practiced in Africa. Santería absorbed spiritism in the 1800s, which reawakened ancestor veneration, and adopted some of the ways of the Plains Indians. In addition, the religion of modern Nigerians has evolved while Santeríans attempted to preserve the older traditions.

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