Advice for Beginners
Beginners, you are about to embark on what may be the most important journey of your life. To you, I say, “Welcome. Be joyful on this road, for it has chosen you, and only special few are chosen. This is a powerful journey that may save your life; indeed it has my own, many times. Many blessings be with you on this magical journey.”0″>What is your best piece of advice for those just starting out?
To those just starting out — read, read, read, and when you’re eyes go buggy, rest them a minute, then read some more. Many wonderful books, magazines and web pages exist for you today, explore them. Remember, this is your journey and you must take active responsibility for it. There is literally a plethora of information out there available to you, and much at little or no cost to you.
Some may start by using the KIS method. Keep it simple. Choose one author, or one topic at a time, and methodically read and work it. Really study it and work the methods suggested. Submerge yourself in it. Get really acquainted with techniques, keep what works and discard the rest. Then go on to the next author or topic.
When you are called, and yes, I mean called by the Goddess, you will be guided. This path is not for everybody, and many may explore its ways and then choose to go elsewhere. When Goddess chooses you, the feeling will be very different. Either way inner guidance will show you the way.
Tools are lovely, but remember they are just that tools. You are the magic. The Witch is the magic. More magic exists in your mind and your own finger than any hand-crafted, solid (insert the metal (or wood) of your choice), jewel encrusted do-dad that you can buy at any price. Are they nice? Of course. But, I’ll match any found twig wand’s magic against any $2, 000 one any day. Pagan artisans do create beautiful tools, but the beginner need not spend oodles of money to work well on this path.
Your tools will be presented to you as you need them, and at the right price. It will be like the floodgates have opened. You will find the shop that you never knew existed. You will find a teacher, etc. You will find out that people you’ve been dealing with are Witches. And each are as varied as there are numbers of grains of sand. Your first teacher may not be the only teacher, so keep and open mind. And you may get the answers from unlikely sources, so discount nothing. Listening in the very beginning is vital.
As time goes on, keep notes and then question, question, question. Accept nothing at face value. Remember that this is more than just a religion, its a way of life. This is a very important road to travel, and you are in the driver’s seat.
Ritual is lovely, but its only part of the Craft. Some people get stuck on ritual — getting it right. Don’t worry about the mechanics. It will come. Ritual is like riding a bike, or any new task, it gets easier with practice. Remember, its only a part of the Craft. Until, I had students some years back, I did very little physical ritual. Because of living arrangements, most of the ritual I performed took place in my head. Did it make me less of a Witch? No. Did it make my magic less effective? No. Different strokes for different folks as they say. Witches are the most adaptable and creative people I’ve ever met. How do you think we’ve survived through time!?
Mistakes, will you make ’em? You betcha. Like anything they should be learned from; they are tools, too. Actually, this is important in any area of life, not just the Craft. Not only will you learn from them (hopefully), but you will then have a knowledge base that you can draw from when you become teachers. Yes, that is how we grow, the young’ens will become teachers eventually. Its simply a natural progression.
Elders — listen to them. They have a body of knowledge — experience, and that you just can’t buy, or read, its earned. Just like parents, they’ve been around the block and know a thing or two. And sometimes they need to tell you things that you don’t want to hear (many times for your own good).
It bothers me when I hear young folks criticize elders, especially with erroneous data. Or, those they’ve never met, or even read their work. Come on folks, get real here. Our computer age has added to this dilemma. Almost anyone can be an expert — NOT! As was mentioned earlier, read and question. Just because you found it on the Web or written in a book for that matter, doesn’t make it so.
Remember, that teachers (elders) are people too, and aren’t perfect. Our country is prone to hero worship, and it can be devastating to some when they find out their Œguru’ is human. At times you will learn more from a bad teacher, or experience, than a good one. Its extremely helpful to know what not to do, as it is what to do. This all helps build your knowledge base.0”>What was the best piece of advice or wisdom that you have ever received?
Know why you are doing what you are doing. Very simple. This does play off much of the above. You do not need toys. They are fun, but you don’t need them. You are the magic, you are the tool. Many times I feel my best magic’s come from when I am sitting on the edge of my bed, with my eyes closed, and performing the perfect ritual in my head. Solitaries are no less Witches than our covened brethren. On the other hand, public ritual is nice and fun for we are social creatures. Its great to join in with those of like mind from time to time.
If asked to do anything illegal or immoral, run. Oprah Winfrey has a saying with problems, you usually get a pebble before you get the brick. Beware teachers who push toys (I mean tools), or who charge exorbitant fees for training. If classes are held in a shop, the proprietor pays rent, and are providing a service to you, so some form of remuneration should be expected. Remember, you’re asking someone to share their knowledge with you that they earned. And, you will pay more attention to it, if you have to pay for it. Some of the poorest things come to you on a silver platter. Listen to your inner voice in all matters, it won’t let you down.
Enjoy the journey, don’t rush it. You don’t have to get everything right, right away. This is a lifelong journey, not a 6 week course and your done. Take your time. Enthusiasm is one thing, but rushing is unneccessary.
If you could tell a beginner only one thing, what would it be?
Trust yourself. This goes from choosing a teacher, to performing magic. Take nothing at face value, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Its that simple. Nothing should be forced. Does this mean the Craft will be smooth sailing? Hardly. You will be tested, Goddess knows, but never before you are ready. Remember, without conflict there can be no growth. Witchcraft is not static, it grows and evolves.
One last piece of advice would be to check out all the goodies available to you right here at The Witches’ Voice. This is simply one of the best sites for Witches and Pagans anywhere. But, since you’re reading this piece on that site you already know that. Many blessings on your journey.
A Witch By Any Other Name (The Great Wicca vs. Witchcraft Debate)
Author: Mike Nichols
“A difference that makes no difference is not a difference.” –Ambassador Spock
It took more than twenty years before I first ran across the notion that Witchcraft and Wicca were not the same thing. I don’t remember where I first read it, but I do remember feeling bemused at such an assertion, and assumed the author had failed to do adequate research into the origins of the word “witch”. I also assumed I’d heard the last of it. I assumed wrong!
Over the years, I’ve seen this sentiment turning up more and more, in conversations, in online discussions and websites, and even in published works on Witchcraft. It is often stated with such conviction that one might conclude it is the very least one needs to know on the subject. The author is usually at pains to convey the distinction that Wicca designates a religion, whereas Witchcraft is merely the practice of magic. In recent years, I have come across three further amplifications: The first is that some groups identify themselves as practicing Wicca exclusively, as a religious or spiritual path. As such, they do not hold with the more “debased” practice of Witchcraft or other magic! The second is that some groups claim that Witchcraft predates Wicca (which they apparently believe was invented by Gerald Gardner) and is therefore more “authentic”. The third is that only practitioners who are in a lineal descent from Gardner or one of his covens may use the word Wicca to describe their tradition. All others would have to default to the word Witchcraft for their praxis.
Needless to say (or is it?), this so-called “distinction” between Witchcraft and Wicca came as a huge surprise, and a bit of a shock, to those of us who embarked upon this path back in the 1960s and ’70s. Although the term Wicca was known (as the origin of the word Witch), it was seldom used. We were Witches, pure and simple. And we practiced Witchcraft, or sometimes “the Craft”, or (based on a popular but incorrect etymology) “the Craft of the Wise”, or “the Old Religion”. But nobody practiced “Wicca”. Even Gardnerians called themselves Witches, typically modified by others to Gardnerian Witches. On the rare occasion when the word Wicca did come up, it was used interchangeably with Witchcraft. Most often, it was when someone was trying to dodge the issue. Potential father-in-law: “So what is this weird cult my daughter says you’re into?” Boyfriend (blood draining from face): “Uhhhhh….. OH! I think you must mean Wicca? yeah, that’s it… Say, how about those Dodgers?”
The attempt to make a distinction between the spiritual, devotional, or celebrational side of our religion, and the more utilitarian use of ritual and ceremony to effect desired changes in our world, would never have occurred to us. One of the principle tenets of Witchcraft is that the spiritual and material sides of life interpenetrate one another and cannot be meaningfully separated. To attempt to do so is to encourage the sort of Neo-Platonic dualism that has bedeviled our Western society for centuries and led to, among other things, the demonizing of sex and the body, and disdain for our environment. In fact, any attempt to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, the religious practice from the magical practice, is not only historically misguided, but politically dangerous. It plays us directly into the hands of our detractors. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The first question to tackle is where this idea came from. It clearly wasn’t there in the 1960s. Nor can it be found in the writings of the 1970s. In fact, an unambiguous reference to this idea does not occur until the late1980s! So the first thing to realize is that this notion is of far more recent vintage than most people would believe. Books about Witchcraft (such as Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch, in which she speaks of Witchcraft as a religion) began to be published frequently from the 1960s onward, yet they used the word Wicca quite sparingly. In fact, the first popular book to use the word Wicca in the title did not appear until 1988! This was Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Had this title appeared in bookstores in the ’60s or ’70s, the most likely reaction, even from Witches themselves, would have been “Huh?!” They would have recognized the word, but would have wondered why such an obscure term should have been preferred to a common one. Not coincidentally, Scott Cunningham was among the first writers to claim there is a difference between Wicca and Witchcraft.
But is there really a difference? In point of fact, “wicca” and “witch” are the same word. This cannot be overstated because few people today believe it. Nonetheless, it is true. Wicca is simply the earlier form of the word witch. Proof of this can easily be found in the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. The O.E.D. (as it is known by scholars) is the highest court of appeals for questions of etymology. “Witch” comes from the Saxon word “wicca”. That is a noun with a masculine ending, and (hold on to your pointy hats!) it should properly be pronounced “witch’-ah”, not “wick’-ah”! In the Saxon tongue, nouns had either masculine or feminine endings, depending on their referents. The feminine form was “wicce”, properly pronounced “witch’-eh”. Note the same word was applied to both males and females (no ‘warlocks’ here!), with only the ending changed. As the word evolved into modern English, the gender ending was dropped, leaving us with a word that is pronounced “witch”, and ultimately spelled that way.
When you consider that the Saxon “cc” was pronounced “tch”, it becomes easier to understand how the modern word “witch” is derived from the Old English “wicca”, and how, ultimately, they are the same word. To say that they are different words, with a different provenance, and different meanings, is to ignore these simple facts. While we’re at it, here’s one more surprise: the word “wiccan”, although typically used by modern Witches to modify a noun (“This is a Wiccan ceremony.”), is not an adjective. It’s a plural noun. One wicca, two wiccan. That’s the masculine plural ending, obviously. The feminine plural form would be “wiccen” (rhymes with bitchin’). 😉 Although in modern English, the “s” or “es” plural ending is the most common, the “an” or “en” plural is not unknown, the most obvious example being child > children.
So how is it that Wicca came to be seen as distinct and separate from Witch, in both provenance and meaning? One might speculate that Gerald Gardner himself played a role. Not only did Gardner revive and popularize the craft of the witch, he also revived and popularized the older Saxon form of the word, wicca. In doing so, however, he spelled it with only one “c”, rendering it as “wica” in his writings. This tended to undermine the correct “tch” pronunciation of the original “wicca”, and thus to obscure its obvious connection with the word “witch”. Further, it may have encouraged the now common pronunciation of “wicca” as “wick’-ah”, an entirely new critter in our English lexicon. This criticism of Gardner’s spelling may actually be too harsh considering “wicca” dates to a time before dictionaries or standardized orthography were invented.
Incidentally, there are some authors today who are so convinced that Gardner invented modern Wicca, or Witchcraft (as opposed to simply reviving it), that they also mistakenly believe that he invented the word “wicca” itself! (Even more amusing, an article on a well-known Wiccan website recently claimed that Selena Fox invented the word Wicca in the 1960s!) Again, anyone who takes the trouble to do a modicum of research will discover the antiquity of the word. According to the O.E.D. (and as noted by Doreen Valiente), the oldest extant appearance of the word “wicca” can be found in the Law Codes of Alfred the Great, circa 890 C.E. Alfred was a Christian and zealous about converting everyone under his rule to his faith. Those who followed the pre-Christian “superstitious” practices of their Pagan ancestors were called Wiccan, whether they were Alfred’s own countrymen, or the Celtic people in the areas Alfred was conquering. What did the Celts themselves call these people, in 890? Not Wiccan, because that was the Saxon word for it. Very probably, they used some form of the modern word “druid”. That being the case, we have a scenario dating back over a thousand years, where the word “Witch” was applied to people who called themselves “Druid”. This is one reason I have always believed that Druidism is one of the tributaries (and a large one!) of modern Witchcraft. (This will no doubt give hissy-fits to all those authors who have written Wicca-Isn’t-Celtic articles.)
So now the question becomes, did the word Wicca become totally extinct at some time before Gardner resurrected it? The answer will come as a shock to many. It may have been “extinct” in the sense of being replaced by “witch” in common usage, but it continued to be known in its earlier form, “wicca”, even before Gardner came onto the scene. One quick and obvious proof of this is that J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, used the word “wicca” when drafting his earliest manuscript of The Two Towers. We know this because Tolkien’s son Christopher has meticulously documented his father’s creative process throughout twelve volumes of analysis. In volume seven, “The Treason of Isengard”, Ch. XX, “The Riders of Rohan”, Christopher mentions, in a passing footnote, that Tolkien uses the word “wicca” apparently to identify the characters Gandalf and Saruman, who were otherwise called “wizards” throughout the trilogy. The word “wicca” is written in the margin next to the scene discussing the identity of a mysterious old bearded man wondering Rohan. Tolkien was writing this draft in 1942, ten years before Gardner published his first treatise on Wica. So it is impossible for Gardner to have influenced Tolkien’s use of the term. Nor did Tolkien influence Gardner, since this marginalia was unpublished. These were totally independent uses of the same word by different authors working in different fields, with Tolkien giving the more common spelling a full decade before Gardner.
Therefore, if Wicca is merely an earlier form of the word Witch, and still extant in the decades before Gardner, it seems highly unlikely that Wicca and Witchcraft mean two different things. Of course, to make them perfectly parallel, one should give the latter the fuller Saxon form, Wicce-cræft. But what did the word Wicca actually mean? How does one define it? Before traveling too far down that road, it will be necessary to dismiss a couple of pop etymologies that have gained favor in recent decades. The first is that “wicca” is the origin of our modern words “wisdom” and “wise”. Hence, Wicce-cræft is the “Craft of the Wise”. This is a lovely concept, and one embraced by many practicing Witches today who call their religion “the Craft of the Wise”, or simply “the Craft” for short. Sadly, this etymology is no longer supportable. Still, it is easy to see how the confusion arose, since the two concepts touch each other at many historical points. It was a common practice for many centuries to refer to the village herbalist or midwife as either a “witch” or a “wise woman”. As Reginald Scott says in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (published in 1584), “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch,’ or ‘she is a wise woman.'” We also know that the male equivalent of such a person was often termed a “wizard” (remember Tolkien’s wizards, also designated “wicca”), and wizard is etymologically connected to the words “wisdom” and “wise”. Finally, it will be recalled that King Alfred applied the word “wiccan” to people who very probably referred to themselves by a variant of the word “Druid”, which has been translated as “oak wisdom” or “oak wise”. So the connection between “witch” and “wisdom”, if not linguistic, is a long-standing and stubborn one.
A slightly more recent attempt at the etymology of “wicca” relates it to an ancient word that meant “to twist or bend”. Supporters of this theory “explained” it by saying that Witches are people who “twist or bend” reality ˆ a reference to their magical workings. The only thing that seems twisted or bent about this explanation is that it is strained almost to the breaking point. So if “wicca” doesn’t mean either “twisted” or “wisdom” (or Twisted Wisdom ˆ which would be a great name for a Pagan rock band), what does it mean? My own inclination is to follow the lead of historian Jeffrey Burton Russell and trace the word wicca back to its ultimate origin in the Indo-European root word, *weik2. Linguists now believe that *weik2 had a meaning that was about halfway between our modern concepts of “religion” and “magic”. It might best be explained by drawing a Venn diagram of two overlapping circles, one labeled “religion” and one labeled “magic”. *Weik2 would apply to the area where the two circles overlap. And this meaning is just what one would logically expect. (Interestingly, the only other word in any modern Indic language that is also traced back to weik2 is the word “Veda”, a word used to designate Hindu sacred scriptures, once again underscoring its connection to religious tradition.)
So then, is Wicce-cræft or Witchcraft a religion? Is someone designated as Wicca or Witch a follower of that religion? The short answer is that it all depends on what you mean by “religion”. Scholars of comparative religion will already know where I’m going with this. In our Western culture, we tend to think of religion in very narrow terms. We suppose it always comes with certain trappings and structures, and that it remains highly consistent over time. We might assume a religion must have specific beliefs, that it has sacred scriptures, that it has a recognizable clergy, that it has some connection to a God or Gods, that is has a specific set of rituals, that is has a hierarchy of followers, or that it champions a certain set of moral precepts. Surprisingly, as travelers to the Orient have discovered, many of the world’s great religions break one or more of these rules. All the more so do the hundreds of smaller, tribal, and aboriginal religions break them. Some of these religions are little more than a loose collection of rituals and devotions that change dramatically over time. They are not the large-scale, well-funded, organized religions typical of the West. Rather, they might best be described as “folk religions”. It is in this sense that Witchcraft is a religion. And always has been. And always will be.
No, of course Witches don’t practice their rituals the same way their Pagan ancestors did two thousand years ago. Neither do Christians still gather in catacombs to hold their agapes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t followers of Christianity. Any more than Witches aren‚t followers of their own ancient religion. Of course Witches didn’t call their religion “Witchcraft” two thousand years ago. Neither did Christians call theirs “Christianity”. They didn’t even speak the same language! Any more than Witches did! Nor did they worship the same Gods! The Jewish religion once had many Gods (and Goddesses! ˆ see the work of Raphael Patai) and, according to archeological evidence, kept them well into Roman times, long after the monotheistic reforms were supposed to have taken place. (There’s something you won’t hear from your local Rabbi!) Early Christians had many Gods and Goddesses, too, as anyone familiar with the Nag Hammadi Library knows only too well. Yes, I’m speaking of “Gnostic” Christians, but remember they probably outnumbered the proto-orthodox Christians by the second century and, as recent archeological discoveries have shown, spread as far as the British Isles! What eventually became “normative” Christianity had to be painfully hammered out at Nicea and similar Church councils over the centuries. Most religions, including Christianity, have gone through just as many changes down the centuries as Witchcraft has, and yet we don’t doubt their continuity. Why should Witchcraft be held to a different standard?
When Christianity and Witchcraft first began to clash, Christianity certainly regarded Witchcraft as a competing religion. In the “Canon Episcopi”, a part of official Church doctrine, which may date back to the fourth century, Witches were accused of following the Goddess Diana. It wasn’t until later that the Church shifted its stance and began accusing Witches of devil-worship, instead. Although Margaret Murray is the scholar usually credited with the thesis that European Witchcraft was the remnants of the old, pre-Christian Pagan faith, she was by no means the first to suggest this. That honor should probably go to German linguist and folklorist Jacob Grimm (yep, that Jacob Grimm, of Grimm’s Fairy Tales fame). However discredited some of Murray’s ideas may have become, to jettison her core thesis (and Grimm’s) may be throwing the baby out with the bath. Modern historian Carlo Ginzburg, in his exploration of the “Benandanti” in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy, has unearthed much well-documented evidence of the survival of ancient European Pagan spiritual practices well into the Christian era. Since this material has been widely accepted even by skeptics, could it also throw new light on that pivotal 1899 publication by Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, which examines the survival of Witchcraft practices in Tuscany? If one defines “religion” in the broad sense used by scholars of comparative religion, it seems clear that Witchcraft does indeed meet the criteria. But Witchcraft is even more than that.
It is also the practice (or the “craft”) of magic. As we have seen, “wicca” may have come from a word that mixes elements of religion and magic in equal parts. Why is this so important? Because it underscores the idea that religion and magic are not mutually exclusive, that they can exist side by side harmoniously: that religious people can use magic to improve their lot, and that people who use magic can be spiritual, religious, “good” people. Academics had long tried to drive a wedge between religion and magic. This can be traced back to the pioneering work of Sir James Frazer and The Golden Bough. Although modern occultists may honor him for codifying the “laws” of magic, he had another agenda. Like most social scientists of his day, he was overwhelmed by Darwinian thinking and began applying evolutionary theory to everything, even to areas where it didn’t fit. Consequently, magic, in Frazer’s view, was nothing more than a debased precursor to “true” religion. As he saw it, the evolution went something like this: Mankind started with a flawed version of cause and effect, called sympathetic and contagious magic. Then, as he evolved, he became animistic, invoking the spirits that inhabit every river, tree, and rock. Then, as he became still more enlightened, he became polytheistic, believing in many Gods and Goddesses, each with different functions. Finally, as man evolved into the paragon of reason that he is today (sic!), he became monotheistic, realizing there could be only One True God.
Granted, this model was quickly dismantled, at least in academic circles. Theodore Gastor, professor of comparative religion, took Frazer to task for this idea, in his preface to a newer critical edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Gastor rightly points out that even the most “primitive” magician does not typically perform magic without invoking a God or Goddess. And in even the most “sophisticated” monotheistic religions, there is still a goodly amount of magic, although it may be re-christened as “liturgy” and “prayer”. (In the West, the Catholic Mass is the parade example of magic as liturgy.) In fact, Gastor goes on to posit that religion and magic are inescapably found together throughout all cultures of the world, throughout all periods of history. Although academics have accepted this revision, non-specialists have been slower to catch on, and the Frazerian model still holds sway for many. It especially appeals to those “sophisticated” monotheists who believe they have already attained the zenith of theological ideals, and that the practice of magic could not possibly have a place in it. Apparently, there are even some new “Wiccan” groups that buy into this, seeing themselves as religious only, and holding themselves above such practices as magic.
To sum up, it seems that the current drive to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, to say that one refers to religion while the other refers to magic, is full of “Frazerian residue”. It appeals to those who are uncomfortable with the thought that religion and magic can happily co-exist. (I suspect that it appeals mainly to Witches who are recent converts from monotheistic creeds, yet have ported a certain amount of their previous belief system into their new faith.) Yet both historically and linguistically, it can be shown that Witch and Wicca are the same word, and that they both mean the same thing, a combination of religion and magic. I am perfectly aware, however, of something that linguists call the “etymological fallacy”, i.e. that a word means its etymology. We all know that the meaning of words can change over time. Maybe this has already happened to the word Wicca. Maybe too many people have too often repeated the newborn platitude, “Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing.” Perhaps it is already too late to turn the tide of opinion. Nonetheless, supporting this view would be a catastrophic mistake for a religion like ours. And more to the point, it could be politically dangerous.
It wasn’t long ago that Witches were sometimes arrested for the “crime” of “fortune telling”, e.g. for reading Tarot cards, etc. In many such cases, Witches were able to mount a successful defense by arguing that such magical practices were part of their religion. However, I can envision a scenario in the not-too-distant future where the prosecutor will counter with, “That’s not true! Her religion may be Wicca, but she was merely practicing Witchcraft!” In a culture like ours, in which all magic is seen as suspect by the increasingly political majority religion, it is perilous to allow a dark line to be drawn between religion and magic. Words like Witch and Wicca present us with a unique opportunity to erase that line. These words are the linguistic equivalent of a petri dish in which the cultures of religion and magic have been allowed to mix in equal proportions. I believe it is important for us to champion this unique mix of beliefs. When I first embraced Witchcraft as my path, I knew I was embracing both a religion and a practice of magic. Therefore, I will continue to proclaim that I am a Witch, and I am Wiccan, for it means the same thing. It is my religion, and it is my craft. It is my life.
Most Recent Text Revision: February 25, 2006 c.e.
Proofing and editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press.
Permission is given to re-publish this document only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others.
Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.
A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft
Whenever I hear the urban legend that witchcraft died out and then was recently re-discovered… well, I have to shake my head in disbelief. Such a mindset digresses from the expansion of witchcraft, which has been in existence since the dawn of humankind. And which continues to flourish to this very day. There are many threads that lend themselves to the tapestry of witchcraft. And for one thread to claim to be the weaver is very naïve.
In many instances, a witch is simply a healer. Witches employ knowledge of herbs and folk magic to assist those who seek out such help. In spite of all of the negative hype, not all witches engage in seeking out malevolent spirits or seek to engage in grand acts of esoteric knowledge. Unlike religions, witchcraft is not defined by a particular dogma, but rather is a mystical spiritual path with an ever-expanding body of knowledge. It is up to the individual as to how to harness and utilize that knowledge.
In keeping with this thought, back in the mid 1980’s I was married to a wonderful Hispanic woman. And by way of her family, I became aware of the practice of curanderismo. In fact, I recently completed a short course in curanderismo, which was offered through the University of New Mexico.
What is a curandero, you may ask? The word “curandero” is Spanish for “healer”. These healers are found throughout South America and, in recent years, through parts of North America as well. These healers are sometimes known as Shamans. Curandero, as a form of healing, has been around for over a thousand years or so. These folks are healers who manipulate the supernatural world as well as the physical world in an effort to heal. One of the earliest depictions of curanderos is found in the ceramic artwork of the Moche people. Theirs was a civilization that flourished in northern Peru from about 100 C.E to circa 800 C.E. And though Curanderos do not call themselves witches, they employ identical elements in order to heal others in their community. I have no problem as seeing them as yet another thread in the tapestry of witchcraft. For at the end of the day, labels are for those who create them and are often narrow in interpretation.
Within the Hispanic community, if one were to refer to a curandero as a Bruja (female witch) or Brujo (male witch) , this would be seen as an insult, as these terms for “witch” are used to identify folks who engage in sorcery. And the practice of sorcery is considered to be negative as compared to the practices of the curandero. Due to religious persecution and as a matter of survival, curandero became intertwined with Catholicism, much like the Vodou belief system did in order to survive and prosper. As a result of this, Curanderos tend to be very religious and very spiritual and believe that you have to have the Christian God in your heart to be a true healer. Curanderos (male healers) or Curanderas (female healers) believe that illnesses are caused by malevolent spirits, a life lesson from Deity, or from someone placing a curse.
As with any practice, there are specialties that one may engage in, in order to relieve the afflictions that are present in their patients. For instance, “Yerberos” are primarily herbalists. These folks are generally well trained in hundreds of different herbs and their medicinal values. As a witch who lives a homeopathic life, I can certainly relate to such folks. And like many traditional witches, they gather their herbs from the surrounding fields and woods of their locale.
“Hueseros and Sobaderos” are bone/muscle therapists who emphasize physical ailments. They are trained in healing methods that use rub and massage techniques. These healers look for abdominal tenderness, feeling knots in the calves, and/or rolling a fresh chicken egg over the abdomen. Empacho (impact of the stomach) is confirmed if the egg appears to stick to a particular area.
“Parteras” are the midwives and for decades have been the only source of such aid in many Hispanic communities. The Parteras will often employ a method called “manteadas”. This is a form of body rocking on a blanket or shawl, with precise rhythmic movements in an effort to facilitate delivery, promote conception in infertile women and to relax the body by removing stress. It is also used to rearrange the whole body and/or bone dislocation and so forth. Often a rebozo is utilized for this type of healing. The rebozo is a type of long shawl.
Then there are the “Oracionistas” who work primarily through the power of prayer. This type of Curanderas healing is heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic views that have been intertwined with the Curandero path. They are viewed as a type of faith healer. Among these primary specialties there are a number of sub categories. For instance, Yerberos who work primarily with tobacco to heal patients are known as “tabaqueros” (Tobacco-using shaman) . As part of their healing process they employ the use of Nicotiana rustica, (Amazonian wild Tobacco) .
There are Curanderos who employ limpias energeticas (clean energy) , which is a form of ritual for spiritual cleansing. There are those who utilize Jugo terapia (juice therapy) , which as the name indicates is a method of mixing various fruits and herbs as a means of healing.
There are Curanderos who work primarily with ayahuasca and are known as ayahuasqueros. These shamans utilize the spirit of ayahuasca as a means of physical and spiritual healing.
By the same token, Curanderos who work with peyote are known as peyoteros. And akin to the ayahuasqueros, these shamans utilize the spirit of the peyote for spiritual healing. As an interesting side note, as of this writing, there are only three peyoteros in the United States who are licensed to harvest peyote, which is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance by the U.S. government.
In closing, I have barely covered the healing techniques, which fall under the description of curanderismo. The whole point of this article is to shed a bit of light on one of the many pools of knowledge that are available to the aspiring witch.
As I stated earlier on, witchcraft is not a single body of knowledge encased in some form of dogma, but rather an esoteric path that is constantly being expanded upon by applying both old and new knowledge. By opening one’s mind and horizons, one is able to continue to grow both mentally and spiritually. A witch is one who is constantly seeking the path to wisdom…
10 Things I Love about my Sacred Work as a Public Witch
Author: Michelle J. (Sorcha)
This week I’ve been honored to present at Pitt Community College within two World Religion classes on the subject of neo-paganism and Modern Witchcraft. I’ve done this once or twice a semester for several professors over the last few years. I also was privileged be part of a discussion panel on the intersection of LGBT issues, gender identity, and religion at East Carolina University, my alma mater. I was invited to do these things because own the local Metaphysical/Occult store* through which I privately teach a year-round a course I call, Modern Witchcraft 366: The Art, Science and Psychology of Nature-based Spirituality. I’m currently learning from the 5th group of students who are treading this mill with me. I love them all.
Not everyone can be a public witch. Not everyone should be, as this really is a very private and subtle path not suited to many. They don’t call these “mystery teachings” for nothing! However, the Gods demanded this of me and groomed me for it since I was a child. They first called me to action as a young teenager and I tried to ignore that call for 15 years. Eventually, they removed every barrier to my work and took away every excuse I could think of to keep me from coming out of my broom closet. In many ways, on many days, I wish I didn’t have this cross to bear. Like Jesus in Gethsemane**, I often ask that I not have to drink from this particular cup–that this work not fall to me. Alas, once you know, you cannot un-know; ignorance is a bliss I am not afforded in this lifetime.
However, despite the thorny path, there are still roses aplenty. Here are 10 of my favorite parts about my sacred work, which for me is the open sharing with others of the “good news” of the Modern Witchcraft paradigm (as I see it) when they seek me out.
In no particular order:
1) . I love giving sacred permission to question everything, engage their minds, decide what is correct for themselves, discard what does not serve their highest good, no matter how old, nor how revered it may have been to someone else, nor what their parents think. Go back far enough and I promise you have pagan ancestors. What did they think? EVERYONE has pagan ancestors, even Jesus, even Muhammad, even Siddhartha Gautama, and no exceptions. They would be proud of you for having the courage to dig up those bones and roots, discover what they found to be sacred. You do them honor, not disgrace, when you cease to be a mindless sheep.
2) . I love seeing the release of joy when I affirm that that they are sovereign beings worthy of dignity and respect, and I honor them as incarnate God/desses, no matter what their outer self looks like, nor who their inner self wants to be. I especially enjoy giving my LGBT listeners sacred permission to be themselves and love as they love, without hindrance.
3) . I love the giggles, followed by delight, when I equate the Big Bang creation with the first cosmic orgasm between god/dess, and then quote “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” from the Charge of the Goddess. This is, at its heart, a fertility religion. Yes, we affirm the natural-ness, necessity, and sacredness of sex, and not just for procreation. It is a Divine expression of that ecstasy of Spirit within the flesh. Please, go do that, and for God/dess’ sake, do it well (and responsibly, harming none.)
4) . I love watching their brains sorta melt, meld, and blow open wide, as I over-lay quantum mechanics, and holographic theory, biomorphic field theory, with ancient mystery school teachings. You can actually *hear* the pop, whirr and sigh as the connections sync up in their thinking. The collective WHOAH! creates cosmic eddies that tingle my spine. Yes, your thoughts create the world. Let’s think up a better one!
5) . I especially love it when a college student who needs to attend a ceremony for a class project, and claims to be an atheist who believes all this is foolishness, attends one of my guided meditations just to get a grade. Yet, and it happens time and time again, these folks with the LEAST expectations, are usually the ones who, no sh*t, travel to heaven and meet GOD–like a specific god/dess–or an ARCHANGEL–and very definite, very profoundly REAL things happen that are in complete alignment with occult wisdom of which they knew nothing. Lives have been changed. I love it when the lid of black/white thinking is blown off.
6) . I love when they *feel* their own power for the first time. When they connect to the flow of the Universe, and the unseen becomes tangible. The need for “belief” or “faith” evaporates because the toe-curling wonder is right before them to see, touch, feel, smell, and KNOW. I love when this ceases to be a question of religion and becomes the IS-ness. It just IS. It becomes the thing that cannot be denied or ignored.
7) . I love introducing my first two rules of Witchcraft:
— 1: Don’t burn the Witch. You know, fire safety, and be careful not to conjure up what you can’t handle. Followed more importantly by NOT attacking and denigrating yourself; stop burning yourself at the stake! Love yourself first. Most importantly, in the name of all things holy, PLEASE! stop attacking or denigrating your fellows within the pagan community. Good grief, we have a hard enough time not being “burned” by the rest of society, if we can’t treat each other with respect, WTF are we playing at?
— 2: Don’t be the a**hole. First I enjoy it for the laughs, then I love it when the deep responsibility of Divine Being sinks in; knowing what it means to live life as a benefit, and not a detriment blooms within them. I love seeing folks become the warrior, stand in their truth, living authentically OUT LOUD, and yet doing so with ego properly aligned with Divine Will, and being gracious and beautiful even when they need to crack a few heads and defend the boundaries–because today I am loving you by saying, NO, and YOU SHALL NOT PASS whatever boundary is being trespassed. (I call this going Gandalf on someone.) Even better, I love seeing them step back and “hold the space, ” centered in compassion and love, honoring that wounds drive the poor behavior of others and they dismiss their drama and not engage in pissiness that cannot serve any good. That takes heart and is all too rare in the world.
8) . I love expanding the idea of love…and exploring the difference between the battleground paradigm of Abrahamic Religions (Good vs. Evil) and the honeymoon paradigm based on the polarity of Goddess loving God. We explore how the polar opposite of love grows from the root of a fearing a lack of love. When I ask, “What are you afraid of?” and there is that deep, mournful, resonant A-HA! it spreads across the face in the most painful of ways, but the tension releases. I see the wounds; I feel them, then into those fetid places I whisper of interconnection, of acceptance, of unconditional Divine love from which we can never be separated. We ARE love. We have everything we need at our fingertips. We are blessed in our nature.
9) . I love standing up in a crowded room and saying out loud, “I am a witch and a priestess” and the fact that those words no longer make my voice shake, nor tears to flow, because I’ve now been able to say them so many times that I can have that courage where others might not. I love it that no stones are thrown, no pitchforks, no blazing inferno ensues. I love it that room upon room of eastern NC people now have had a moment when a reasonable person who defies the stereotypes***, claiming to be something they previously thought was malignant and terrifying, was actually just a decent neighbor of theirs, and made them feel good about themselves. I hope they all went out and told a few friends what they heard me say and that changed the world just a little bit for the better.
10) . I love it when my customers preface a question with “This might sound crazy….” and I can honestly say that no questions are crazy, or stupid or weird to me anymore. Hell, they are probably just singing the song of our people. Its nice to find out you have “people.” I do enjoy making those introductions.
“Is this all in my head?” “Yes. But you have no idea how big your head is.”
* The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, 414 S. Evans Street, Greenville, NC 27858 http://www.thesojo.com
**Yes, I referenced Jesus the Nazarene. The shock that I cause by being aware of the work of Jesus should be my #11th favorite thing to do as a Witch.
***Despite my owning 2 black cats
Broom Closet: In or Out?
Author: Rev. Ryan Saunders
One topic that comes up every now and then, both here at Sacred Mist and within the Wiccan and Pagan communities as a whole, is the ever-present “Broom Closet: In or Out”. Over the years, for me since I first started studying the Craft of the Wise, this question has been asked, “Are you in or out of the Broom Closet?” In the beginning, I was so deep in the Broom Closet that I had no idea what faith I was. Okay, maybe you don’t know my back-story, so let’s start there.
For the first 15 years of this life, I was raised Protestant and toward my early teens I started falling in with a bad crowd. They did drugs, drank, and, in general, were bad news (hacker, outcast, even borderline terrorist) . Me, I was a bit of a goody-goody. The joke became: “You are so good you’ll either be a cop or a priest!” Sure enough, I started to train as a youth minister. Never finished and the reason was this:
My Grandmother (my mom’s mom) had cancer. I asked to go see her. I was denied and told to go to the church and pray. She passed away. I asked to go pay my respects. Denied, on the grounds she looked too bad and she wanted me to remember her how she was. “Now, go and pray”. I asked to go to the wake. Denied. “Pray”. I went to church and prayed for all that I had asked for and just to say goodbye. But I felt hollow, like my prayers were unheard. I ran from the church and back to my bedroom at home. I hate to say it: throughout these times of denial and prayer, I tried to kill myself at least once but my Aunt (my mom’s sister) caught and stopped me.
I knelt in the middle of my room sobbing, begging, and pleading with every fiber of my being for answer or for death. To this day, the following is etched into my mind. As I knelt there, a bright light lit the room, and before me stood God (the Christian God) arms spread wide with a sad look on his face, “Come unto.” He said. I looked up eyes full of rage and yelled “HOW DARE YOU TAKE THOSE WE LOVE WITH NO GOODBYE! HOW COULD YOU ALLOW CANCER TO TAKE THOSE WE LOVE?” I lowered my head and sobbed while flipping him off with all the angst of a hurt teen.
His words echo in my mind, “I sorry you find no comfort in my light. I pray you find it in the light of another.” With that, he faded from the room. But even as he left, the light of the Full Moon streamed in from the window behind me. As the moonlight slipped up my back, I felt soft feminine arms wrap about me. I knew I was in the arms of a Goddess. She said not a word. She just held me. Without thinking or knowing, I said, “Thank you, Mother! Thank you, Mishra!”
Soon, I begged to be sent away, to get away from the troublemakers, and start fresh. It wasn’t until my second year at the new prep school that the school officials made me a Big Brother in charge of helping new underclassmen get settled in. That is when I meet the kid who would change everything and ultimately became my best friend. We got to talking about our beliefs and when I told him mine, he said I sounded “Wiccan”. Not knowing anything at that point, I went to the bookstore and started looking.
I picked up a few Scott Cunningham books, a Tarot beginner’s pack, and a few other things. I kept them all hidden, and the only one other than me who knew was my friend. I rarely did anything to show who I was and what I believed in. To most, I was just the weird guy who played D and D and other such games that involved “magic”. I would hold Esbat holed up in my dorm room, always mindful of the anti-candle rule. Back then, I hated going to the bookstore to get more books on Wicca, as the clerks would give me the dirtiest looks. But after reading the books, I could never tell why that was. I found them to be really positive. Then again, looking at Cunningham’s work, he never really covered the history of the Craft. So for those first few years of study, I missed any references to hatred towards the Craft.
After I graduated the prep school, I went off to college at College of Mount St. Joseph (Yes, a Catholic college) . I started wearing my plain silver pentacle out in the open. One day a young man got in my face and yelled, “HIDE THAT, YOU %$^#en SATINIST!” Before I could react, a nun slipped between us and said to him, “Did he ask you to hide your crucifix? No? Then why should he hide who he is?” He turned beet red and walked away. She turned to me, shook my hand and said, “I’m Sister Maryann, and I look forward to seeing you in Personal Spirituality class.” I signed up that day.
In her class on the first day, we all went around the room and told what faith we practice or believe in. At first, it was Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, but then someone said, “I’m a Druid”, another proclaimed “I’m Pagan”, then a young woman named Kat, “I’m Wiccan”, and finally there was me, “I am also Wiccan.” Kat and I became close friends in a very short time, and she introduced me to a new Wiccan Bookstore, the Celtic Knot (sadly this closed years ago) . It was there that I meet Cynthia (an older Wiccan Priestess) and Lucas (who was a Wiccan Elder at only 15 years old) , and they invited me to take their Wicca 101 class.
Classes were great and those who were with us all started to feel more and more like family. After class or ritual we would all head out to Big Boy’s for a meal together and talk about class or ritual and what we planned to do next. But during all this I was still very much in the Broom Closet. I kept my books hidden, and kept my Pentacle tucked away most of the time, and outside of certain classes, my faith never came up. That summer was Cynthia’s Witch Camp. I, of course, could not pass that up! I had a blast with it and found the parts that would become the Wolf Star I still wear to this day. I also found my Shapeshifter Tarot, black scarf and rosewood box to hold them, my oak walking stick, and my crystal balls that summer.
At home though, I was still in the Broom Closet and miserable for having to hide.
I came home from work one night after stopping at a shop to have my ear pierced. My parents flipped. I came out of the Broom Closet too; they flipped. At this point, I would say they are in the final stage of “grief” and have given in to things, a.k.a. denial. Back at college, I was becoming ever more open. Everyone knew if I left the dorms, backpack on, walking stick in hand, I was headed out to the woods to work my magick or hold a secret ritual. I met a woman (who we will not talk about) , who helped to craft my Wolf Star and for a while worked with me. Friday and Saturday nights before we would all head out to the clubs and bars, I would be in the common room of the dorm doing Tarot and Crystal reading for the girls. For the most part, things were great.
Then some close-minded jerk started messing with me. He would vandalize my dorm room door and other such things. One night at 2a.m., there was a knock on my door. I hesitantly opened it. Standing before me, cracking his knuckles was the quarterback of the football team with two other members. “We know who is messing with you, and why they are messing with you. Say the word and we will take care of them for you!” I told him, “I am completely opposed to violence but do what you feel is just.” No one ever messed with me again.
The only other incident took place out in the woods. A young man had followed me out to where I held my rituals. I had just called an Elemental Circle, when he approached. I told him “Come no further just yet!” He asked what was I doing. I cut him an opening and said, “Why don’t you come in and find out? Head to each direction and feel the energies there.” He entered and I closed the Circle behind him. He moved to the East and as he pushed his hand forward “There is a breeze here but no wind elsewhere.”
He moved to the South and after a bit and pushing, his hand went forward and then he jerked it back abruptly and yelled, “Ouch! It’s like I just stuck my hand in a fire but there is no flame here!” He held his hand out feeling the heat for a bit then moved to the West. As he push his hand forward, he said, “It feels like my hand is in water but it is in midair.” As he pulled his hand back little drops of water fell from it.
He moved to the north and as he pushed his hand forward said, “This feels like the freshly tilled soil on my daddy’s farm.” I called him over to join me at the center, and he said, “This feels like I’m standing in Church in the presence of God.” I told him those are the Elements that make up my Circle: Air to the East, and Fire to the South, and Water to the West, and Earth to the North, and here in the Center the energy of Spirit.”
I closed the Circle and he said, “Man, am I hungry!” I told him, “Yes, Circles will do that to you. Which is why after Circle, we Wiccans like to ground ourselves with a good meal.” We headed back to dorms and then out for a bite to eat. We became good friends after that.
I rarely ever hide who I am any more. Why should I? Because others are too close-minded and still believe the negative press of the past about the Craft? I think not! After all, if I have the strength and courage to openly show who I am and what I believe, I owe it not only to myself but to all other Wiccan who are still in the Broom Closet, to be as open and honest about my beliefs as I can be (without coming across as a BoS thumping loony like some other faiths tend to be) .
Looking back at history, is there a good reason why many pagans still want to stay in the Broom Closet? You bet! Like a 400+ year-old smear campaign against Witches. I mean, come on! The Burning Times in Europe, the Hanging Times in the New World… Take those, combined with the fact that up till the 1950’s there were still laws against Witchcraft in England and till 1957 in the US, and if that wasn’t bad enough to scare some to stay in the Broom Closet, the news stories from around the world of people still being killed as Witches is enough reason to remain hidden.
Heck, even the horror stories of Wiccans finding their beloved pets “nailed to a tree as if on a cross!” or having their sacred places vandalized, threats at work or home, even the threat of death. Is it any wonder at all that most want to remain hidden? Yet, then there are those like myself who step out of the Broom Closet and take action.
When I heard of the Pentacle Quest, 10 years ago when it first started to help Wiccan and Pagan soldiers killed in action and families add the Pentacle to the headstones of those soldiers where none had been allowed before, I proudly signed every petition, and wrote letters to congress to make this right. After all, that is what it is a RIGHT! After years of hard work, I was beside myself to see the news that the Pentacle, along with many other symbols of faith previously disallowed in government-run cemeteries such as Arlington National and others around the country, would be allowed from that point forward and added to those who had made to request. At this point in time, I know of 80+ such graves that bear the Pentacle proudly. I have even run across Pentacles in other graveyards as I have visited my own deceased relatives’ gravesites. But none of those Pentacles would have ever come to be unless we, as Wiccans, had the courage to step out of the Broom Closet and make their voices and rights known to others.
It is said that being Wiccan is not about titles, degrees, or initiations, but it is about how one leads life as a Wiccan. I find this very true in many ways, especially out of the Broom Closet. When I told one of my friends back in college I was a Priest he said, “How can you be a priest? You are not even ordained are you?” Foolishly (you will see why I say this in a moment) , I sought out how to become ordained. As I soon realized ordination is for legalization not legitimization, I felt foolish for a time, but in a way, adding Reverend to my name gave it some more “weight”. And signing more petitions and letters as Rev. Ryan Saunders (joke realized: goody-goody became a Priest) seemed more effective.
This is due to the way our society views titles like Reverend or honorary Doctorates. Just having them somehow makes us seem more important to others. Yet if you do nothing truly meaningful with that title, then what is the point of that title? If you study hard to work your way up to High Priest/High Priestess/Elder or whatever title it is that you’re working towards and still are hiding in the Broom Closet, who, other than your peers, know what you’re working towards. And even if out of the Broom Closet, if you have those titles, most will not care one bit as they carry little weight or meaning outside certain (no pun intended) Circles.
But if you do have those titles and you do step up and take action in a positive and meaningful way that makes a difference. It shows you are not just living your title; you are living your faith. If you truly don’t want to step out of the Broom Closet, then stay there, keep yourself safe. You can still take action, working on cleanups, taking part in chats and forums on rights and ecological protection. But think about it this way: Who are people more apt to listen to? Riolis Silverwolf (as you know my magickal name) ? Or Rev. Ryan Saunders, when I sign those petitions and letters? You can only remain hidden away for so long, before you want to drop that mask, and step out of the shadows.
I’m not saying go out and thump your BoS, or press your beliefs on others, or “save” others. Leave those things to other faiths. But stand up for your rights, your beliefs, and for those who feel they can’t stand up for themselves. Know that your actions can make a real impact on our world. But too know that any time you play to the stereotypes or show Wicca in a negative light, you are undermining all the hard work that others such as myself have worked to bring about.
If you wear your Pentacle out in public, you owe it, not only to yourself, but also to all other Wiccans, to do treat this –right and it is a right — with the highest level of pride and respect. If someone gets your face and tells you to hide, do the same thing Sister Maryann did, “Did I ask you to hide who you are? No? Then why should I hide who I am?”
Beyond my work within Craft related petitions, I have also backed the rights of other groups, from the LGBT community to Environmental causes to help save and protect rainforest, reefs, sharks and rays, and many other animals and plants. I have had to face opposition at every turn.
This has also led me to get behind and support a number of anti bullying campaigns such as Cartoon Networks, “Stop Bullying! Speak up!” to the Matthew Shepard Foundation for LGBT Anti-Bullying Support, and even Wicked’s “Defy Gravity!” that takes parts of their play to schools to show kids the effects of bullying and how to rise above it.
Sure, this has made me an even bigger target for some haters. Even my own sister has clocked me on Facebook for backing Gay Rights. But, are they really “Gay Rights”? No, they are not! They are Human Rights, hands down. Why would I back those Rights? Just look at how LGBT community views things. They are in the Closet just like some Wiccans are in the Broom Closet, hiding out of fear of what others might do to them if they show themselves as they are.
On that note, let’s take a look at a not-so-good story first, and then I’ll cover a good one I heard a few weeks ago.
The bad story starts when a good friend of mine and of my sister, who was at the Mount with me, after seeing me come out of the Broom Closet, worked up the courage to come out of the Closet as Gay to his parents. This backfired on him big time, as his folks were not as willing to be open as mine. They kicked him out of their house, had him removed from college, and sadly, I lost track of him after that. I only hope he found the courage to stand on his own and start anew. The tragic thing is this is how many such stories go and some end worse. People either kill themselves or get killed over things like this. It shouldn’t be like that. Why should the courage to show one’s true self be so harshly punished?
Okay, now for a good story! This one took place while I was up diving in Venice a few weeks ago. I had just finished cleaning my gear and was headed back to the car. As I was walking, I took notice of an older lady with a couple of Fairy tattoos, one holding a Quitrotra, the other holding a Pentacle. I couldn’t resist going over and greeting her with a “Merry Meet and Blessed Be!” She looked at me and said, “You must be Wiccan too?” I told her, “Yes, I am Wiccan. Rev. Ryan is my name and it is always a pleasure to meet a fellow Wiccan.” We got to talking and I told her much of what you have seen here. That’s when she told me her own coming out of the Broom Closet story with the best twist ever.
You see, she had been in the Broom Closet for 20+ years; only her husband had known; she never told her son. She worked up the courage to tell him and planned to when he came home from the Navy. Now here comes the twist. When he came home and dropped his duffle bag some books toppled out. “Umm… Mom, I can explain. I have been hiding something from you…” Before he could finish she said, “And I have been hiding the same from you! Blessed Be, my son! It looks like we are both Wiccans!” Just goes to show, sometimes we share the same secret with those around us but it takes courage on both sides to reveal those secrets.
Let’s wrap this up with some of the more common tips you might hear about how to best come out of the Broom Closet, or at least handle the haters and survive the bullies we will face in life out in the open.
Okay for one, don’t do what I did unless you are totally ready to face the fallout. When I came out of the Broom Closet, it was like “Shooting a bazooka to blow open the Broom Closet door with a HONEY I’M HOME!” I couldn’t help it back then. I was young and tactless and more than a little foolish. If I could do it all over, I would use a tad more tact and come out more gently.
But who am I kidding here? Chances are good at some point my Craft books too would have tumbled out and been found. This is the usual way our secret is revealed to our loved ones: by pure dumb/or bad luck. How they, and we handle things after that moment sets the tone of how the rest will play out.
I handled things really roughly back then. My mom yelled, “You were baptized! You were confirmed! How can you turn your back on that?” I told her the blunt truth, “I never truly felt connected to the Protestant faith to begin with.” My dad asked, “Do you still believe in the Bible?” Again the blunt truth slipped out: “I find most of it hard to swallow, I mean, come on! All people came from just one man and a woman formed from a spare rib?”
A better way would have been to gauge their take on different faiths first, preferably in private, in a calm environment. Maybe even ask if they believed if Witches are real. And if they said no, ask why they say that. If yes, find out how they view us. By this point, they will be wondering why all the questions about Witches! At this point, depending on their views, it might not be the best time to be blunt.
Keep asking questions, and if asked questions, give a tad more info of what you know of real Witches. Always be mindful not to play to stereotypes and steer clear of pop culture icons. Maybe work off of what you do know from the works of Gardner, Buckland, Cunningham, Starhawk, even your work. This will show you have been doing a lot of reading, research, and deep thinking on a little known topic. Depending on how they take this, you might then want to say, “I have been giving this a lot of thought, and now I wish to tell you I have been keeping a secret: I am a Wiccan, what you may more commonly known as a Witch. I know this might sound hard to take. But I have found a spiritual path that is very positive and truly means harm to none.”
Okay, at this point was roughly when things sort of ended until my dad asked a few more questions. “Are you part of a cult?” My response to this, “In order to be a part of a cult, one must follow a charismatic leader and I practice my faith, for the most part, on my own and sometimes with class at a local Wiccan Bookstore. So am I part of a cult? By those definitions, the answer is no; I am not part of a cult.” He asked, “Who made you turn to this path?” My answer, “No one. I stumbled from one path and landed on another, and found I love this new path. It was like I came home.”
He asked, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “I believe in Gods and Goddesses, more in line with the polytheistic beliefs of older pre-Christian Europe and Egypt.” Him: “Do you still believe in Jesus?” Me: “I believe he may have been a real man at some point, but his stories are too jumbled and have way too many holes and gaps with no hard evidence to back them in my book.” Him: “Do you hate Christianity?” Me: “No, I have to say my only animosity toward Christianity or any other faith or institution is in so far as they claim to be the one and only true way to divinity and, in so doing, have sought to suppress the beliefs of others. I would never press my beliefs on anyone. I only insist on the right to practice my faith freely, as it is a truly valid and positive path.”
Off and on through the years since then, the topic of my Wiccan beliefs hasn’t popped up much around my family. I mean, sure I came out to my cousins at the New Orleans Voodoo Museum, while taking a tour of it…and my other cousins (heavy Bible family) found my books and told me I was going to hell. I just smiled and laughed, “Hell? What’s that? Never heard of it?” “As to Satan, that sounds like some sort of fairytale to scare kids from doing bad things!”
One of my favorite moments was when I finally got my mom to read the Harry Potter books. When she finished one she looked at me and said, “So your dad and I are Muggles, and you are one of them. Is that right?”
Sure my mom or sister still tries to make me tuck my Wolf Star out of sight and not wear my rings. But again, I can always fall back on “Did I ask you to change your style? No? Then why should I change mine?” They say they are embarrassed to be seen with “Flavor Flav”, but please… my Wolf Star is no bigger than most Crucifixes or Stars of David. The say, it is tacky for a guy to wear such a necklet out in the open. But that is what I see all the time in my day-to-day life at work and around town, so what’s wrong with that? Nothing.
Other than that, I look like a normal guy and really don’t stand out. I lost the ear stud years ago, my tattoos are non-visible, and I don’t really talk much about myself other than with my closest friends and co-workers. But if asked about my Wolf Star or rings, I give open honest answers. If asked about my beliefs on the clock at work, I switch the topic as I feel faith is best not talked about on the clock. All the while working quietly, yet in the open, on the things I truly care about.
I follow all the news stories of the oppressed and those fighting for their rights, and if there is a way for me to help out, I try to. I pick up trash wherever I find it, and recycle what I can. I lend an empathetic ear to those who want to vent, and try to help them through their problems. And I try never to turn down a person in need. Sure, this leads some to see me as just being used or as a doormat, being abused. I never see it as such. When I help out, I know if I ever need help myself, I too can ask for it.
In truth, being out of the Broom Closet is not that much different than being in it, with the key difference that being out makes it easier to take action when need be. Being out is not revealing anything that truly must be hidden, like the things we learn that are not meant to be shared, but to unveil a faith that was pushed to the shadows out of fear and misguided hatred. Being out of the Broom Closet is both a right and a huge responsibility, as it shows you are willing to be open about a faith that has only been legally recognized for a little more than 50 years. Our words and actions must show that those things that pushed the Craft to the shadows were indeed falsehoods.
But always be mindful even though showing our faith is a legal right in the U.S. and in most of Europe, and the Burning/Hanging Times are in the distant past, the dangers and damage of those times still linger in our world to this day. In parts of Africa, men, women, and tragically even young children, are still put to death as Witches or as the demonically possessed. This belief is spread by a handful of Evangelical extremists. Worse, they are trying to spread that same poison outside of Africa, resulting in hangings and burnings and other grisly murders in the U.S. and Europe. This same misguided understanding of the Craft, resulting in murders of “Witches”, leads Africans to take homophobia to the extreme level too. Gays are jailed and even outright killed because of the belief that they are the sole reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS. As you can see, in both counts, human rights would seem to carry little weight there.
The killings of “Witches” are not limited to Africa today, as within parts of the Middle East and Far East. People are also killed based on “Witchcraft” charges. In those cases, these charges are lowered on people when other charges can’t be applied. A recent case took place in Iran, when two women spoke out over the oppression of women by their husbands and sought to divorce them. The husbands sought a law that would not allow this to happen based on the grounds that women are “unworthy of Rights”. When no such law could be found, the husbands trumped up a “Witchcraft charge” on their wives. The end result: the women were decapitated as “Witches”.
Even here in the U.S., we may not be as safe as we think. There have been some who have the idea the Wicca is a false faith and that we should convert to Christianity or be put to death. This was part of a statement made by a Congressman recently. To paraphrase this statement: “Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, should all leave the U.S. and go back to their homelands, and Wiccans should convert or die as the USA should solely be a Christian nation.” Under this misguided ideal, the right to freedom of religion would apply only to Christians and to no one else. How is that “freedom”? Is it any wonder this chump didn’t get re-elected? But it goes to show this same bad idea may be taking root.
All those above stories may scare you into thinking being out of the Broom Closet may be a really bad idea. And yeah, in some ways, it could be. There are nutjobs out there who may burn, hang, and murder people. Their perceptions are based on 400 years of negative propaganda and warped stereotypes. Sure, books like ‘Harry Potter’ and shows like ‘Charmed’ have tried to show Witches and Wizards in a more positive way but still rely on misguided stereotyping.
Thus, it becomes more than a right to be out of the Broom Closet. It becomes a duty to dispel the stereotypes. This is never an easy thing to do. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been asked to curse, hex, or jinx someone. Or had someone say I affected the weather or caused something to happen. In almost every case like this, I have said, “That is not how magick works, and even if it were, I wouldn’t do those things as they are not in line with the Rede of and it harm none, do as thy wilt.”
I have been asked many questions about my faith only to have the person not really listen to what I have to say; instead, they spin it as I am trying to convert them to a sinful path and start throwing out Bible passages. There are a few who really listen and start to see Wicca as a non-threatening, positive path, to be respected. Still, others could care less and want nothing to do with any faith-based ideas, Wiccan or otherwise. But the biggest reason all these reactions pop up is because I am open and honest about my path. I never would reveal the truly deep secrets of Wicca nor talk about anything of a confidential nature to others. Being out of the Broom Closet is not about revealing everything, but is mostly about working to dispel stereotypes.
I was spotted one day walking into the woods with two brooms. Someone asked me, “Are you going to fly on those?” I told them, “No. This one is a mundane broom to help sweep up the trash I found left at my Sacred Grove, and this one is magickal and is used to clear out the negative energy left by the ones that left the trash behind.” This person looked at me and walked off. I caught them following me into the woods, trash bag in hand, and they helped me clean up the mess.
Being open and out of the Broom Closet may open other opportunities to us as well. I have heard of Wiccans and Pagans becoming chaplains for Prisons, Hospice, Colleges, and many other such things. I, for one, plan to ask about working as a chaplain for AVOW Hospice, a local hospice here in Naples FL. After all, isn’t it the job of a Priest/ess to ease the mind of those about to pass to the other side and to console and council those left behind? I would even consider the Prison Chaplain role, but there is no jail close to Naples.
With more time and training, I could take steps to join anti-bullying programs and speak at schools and other areas where bullying and hazing are issues. I sure am glad to see that these programs are starting to become more common. How many young Wiccans and Pagans are out there afraid to show who they are because of bullies, or worse still were bullied because they were not afraid to be who they are?
At the end of the day, the fact that you’re in or out of the Broom Closet really matters little, if at all, as most people truly do not care at all. They take little note of what you may or may not have done, unless it was something that really hooks their limited attentions. Case in point, two news stories headlines:
“Wiccans and Pagans gather at Stone Henge to celebrate the Solstice”. For us this is a good story and a fun read. Even better if we were lucky enough to be at that gathering.
The second one “Woman believed to be a Witch killed her neighbor and child. Now which of those two headlines do you think most would zero in on?
Your neighbors see you out in the backyard calling the Quarters while holding that new sword or axe and call the cops (and yes I have been there) . Are you ready to answer their questions? Are you willing to invite them and your neighbors over for the feast after your ritual (I was, they still declined but I did ask) ? What type of garden do you keep? Is it really “Witchy” or sort of none descript? I have been to houses with both and they blew all other gardens on the block away. And of course, the best looking yards attract all types of attention. Not always good. I have seen open Wiccan friends gardens have fairy statues broken and herbs ripped up by haters. But that same friend helped a kid stung by a bee recover with those same herbs, went home and told his mom who was happy to see my friend had helped out and wanted to know what herbs she had used.
Being in or out of the Broom Closet is a responsibility at differing level. At the core is maintaining the secrecy and confidentiality; this is very important when it comes to our teachings, for sure, but doubly important to protect our fellow Wiccan, online and off. I may be out of the Broom Closet, but someone else may not be and even if we attend the same Circle or go to the same local Wiccan Bookstore, they may not want anyone outside of those places to know. So respect their wishes if they decline going to a more open, exposed Esbat out in a park, or attending a function at a local restaurant, as they may not want to bump into someone they know who does not know they are Wiccan.
Even with the seeming cover of changing our names online to our magickal name or other alias used to cloak identities, anything you share online once out there is out there. The privacy settings on Facebook are good filters, but not 100%. I may have been out of the Broom Closet to my family, but when I started liking and sharing LGBT newsfeeds, I had to come out of the Closet as being Bi to my family as well. This was a tad easier, as they already knew most of my “secrets”. I also explained to them I back LGBT Rights because I see them as Human Rights just as I see my rights to my beliefs.
Even if you use a high level of discretion and try to hide away everything Witchy in your life — aka no telltale jewelry, your altar hidden in a closet, your books tucked away maybe even locked up, and nothing shared online — someone may clue into a change in you, they might stumble across your altar, or ask what you have locked up. This would be a good time not to come out right away to them, but to start asking questions and, more importantly, listening to their answers.
How do they react to questions like “Do you think magick is real?” “What about Witches are they real?” “Do you think the symbol of a Pentacle is evil?” Just test the waters, so to speak, and see what type of answers they give. It is never easy to sit on a secret for such a long time, and even harder to share that secret. But with knowledge on your part, and understanding on theirs, it might not be that bad.
One of the projects I followed for years and signed every petition that was connected to it was that of the Pentacle Quest. If you are not familiar with this, it was a 10-year quest by families for deceased war Vets who were openly Wiccan/Pagan to get the Pentacle added to their headstones within Arlington National Cemetery. After all those years, I am proud to know that our efforts paid off and that 80 headstones in Arlington and over 100 more in other VA cemeteries now proudly show the Pentacle alongside Crosses and Stars of David (and dozens of new symbols of faith that are now being added) .
These men and women had the courage to fight for our country, I felt honor-bound to help fight for their rights after they died to protect our country. So weigh things on the scales: In the Broom Closet hiding in fear and carrying the weight a heavy secret for most of your life? Or taking the risk of coming out of the Broom Closet and using that as a springboard to help bring about lasting changes in your life and the lives of others. Blessed Be and go forth with Courage!
Without trying to be more open and allowing ourselves to remain even semi in the Broom Closet, aren’t we just relegating ourselves to the oppressive shadows that we have been forced into by the negative propaganda of the last 400+ years?
I look back at history and think, where would African Americans be today if Lincoln had not pushed to end slavery, or Dr. King to end Segregation? If women had never push for their Rights, or any other minority pushed for their Rights? And let us never forget the success of Pentacle Quest! Yet because we are still seen in such an unfavorable way, what things we learn, can do, and what our core values reflect, are so overshadowed by the perceived negatives reactions of others. I am so tired of feeling like even though I am out of the Broom Closet, in so many ways. I still am in it. For every step into the light, I am forced to take one back into the shadows.
And so, although I respect those who wish to remain in the Broom Closet, I personally see absolutely no reason why we should have to hide who we are if we truly mean no harm and respect the Earth and all living things.
Before You Call Yourself A Witch
“When can I call myself a Witch? What are the basics everyone is telling me to learn first?” In this essay I will try to provide you with some answers to these questions. Please note that this is by no means the “end-all, be-all” of such views; it’s simply my own answer to a seeker’s aforementioned questions. Take it with a grain of salt people; this is the Internet after all!
So, you found a path that seems to fit you and satiate your spiritual hunger. You have probably read a couple of books, skimmed through a couple of sites, talked with a couple of people and feel a genuine, honest and strong pull towards religious Witchcraft. Thus you proceed to call yourself a Witch. Right?
Before you pause in disbelief and stare the screen calling me all sorts have… names (mehehehe) for my apparent “bigotry” stop and think. What does calling yourself a Witch entails? Is it just a name for this spirituality that anyone delving into can take up? Or does it mean something more, something deeper?
Well, I’d say the second. Why you ask? Because any name or title of any empirical, practical and knowledge-filled system has specific connotations and denotes an understanding and a form of capability in the name’s/title’s fields. For our own example, what does one profess, even unknowingly, when taking up the name of a Witch? Well, you’ll find that views differ on this (just as they do on any other subject) , so I’ll present my own view here.
I believe that by calling one’s self a Witch, that person professes a level of mastery, understanding and experience in a variety of fields. Specifically, it denotes a range of various experiences, a degree of mastery over various arts of Witchcraft, a developed and well-grounded spirituality and an effective relationship with deity. I doubt any newbie that starts studying or is at the first few months of their studies have attained or reached any of those things.
I’ll provide a list of requirements that one should meet before they can take the name Witch for their path.
1. Sabbats: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of what the Wheel of the Year and its Sabbats deal with as well as have observed it wholly (without having missed any of the sacred days) at least once (meaning, throughout at least a year) .
2. Seats: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of what an Esbat deals with as well as have observed any number of Esbats between 4-7 or more within a year.
3. Arts and Crafts: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of a number of arts of Witchcraft of their choice and preference as well as have attained a level of mastery in those.
4. Deities: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of the deities of their choice and preference or calling as well as have built a working relationship with them.
5. Organization and Structure: One should have formed and follow a standard, stabilized and concrete path, with regular observances, rites and practices.
Of course, those apply on a specific form of religious Witchcraft, one that is influenced heavily by outer court Wiccan material (known as Neo-Wicca or Dedicatory Religious Witchcraft) or has Celtic influences. If you find yourself drawn to another form of religious Witchcraft, simply replace the sacred days, the requirements etc with the appropriate ones. In addition, this is geared mostly towards solitaries and not people under training with a traditional coven. If you happen to fall under the latter, please consult with your uplines/High Priest/ess regarding the requirements that specific Tradition has set.
Why do I say all this? What does it matter whether you meet certain requirements or not? I say all this and it matters because to call yourself something you have not yet attained, have not yet fully understood and have not yet fully realized will cause issues.
First of all, it will deceive and trouble those that seek you out for help be it practical or spiritual. Second of all, it will confuse you since you’ll find yourself unable to neither meet the expectations of the community nor help those in need. You’ll say, “But I don’t intend doing so!” I know you probably don’t wish to deceive others or find yourself in a tough position.
I’ll give you an example: let’s say you have a medical issue and want to find what it is and how to treat it. What will you do? You’ll probably seek out a doctor. Now, think for a moment how you will feel if the person you found calls him/herself a doctor but in all actuality is still only a sophomore of medical school. Won’t it cause you problems? It’s something similar with calling one’s self a Witch.
After reading all this you’ll most probably feel confused, lost and wondering, “What the heck do I call myself then?” Call yourself a Seeker. Call yourself a Student. Or find another term that fits your case better. However, I ask that you do not mislead others and burden yourself by calling your path something it isn’t yet or something it might never be.
NOTE: Due to the fact people might overlook this part of the essay: this refers only to Wiccan-influenced paths. If your path is different, more power to you. I am not Wiccan-influenced either. I simply understand that the majority of people are indeed on such a path, at least while in their Pagan “infancy”. These are completely my own views of the “basics” of such a path. I am in no way an authority on a subject. My word is not law; it’s not written on stone.