As you meet more and more people in the Pagan community, you’ll occasionally encounter someone who claims to be a “hereditary witch.” They may even tell you they’ve been “Wiccan since birth,” but what does that really mean?
Well, it could mean a variety of things, but for a lot of us, it generally sends up a red flag when someone uses the phrase “born witch” or “Wiccan from birth.” Let’s look at why that may be the case.
Is There Witch DNA?
You’re not born Christian or Muslim or Hindu. There’s no “Wiccan DNA” that makes any one person more genetically witchy than someone who begins practicing in their fifties. You simply cannot be a Wiccan since birth because Wicca is an orthopraxic religious system that generally involves you doing and believing certain things that make you Wiccan. You can be raised by Wiccans–and many children are–but that doesn’t make you Wiccan from the moment you pop out of the womb, it simply means you were born to Wiccan parents.
That said, certainly, there seem to some people who may be more adept at Witchy Things at some point in their life, but there’s no chromosomal or biological difference in these folks as compared to the general population. You’ll obviously meet people that are psychically gifted, and whose parent or grandparent or child also displays these same traits. But if you operate on the assumption that everyone has some latent psychic ability anyway, it may be that these individuals were encouraged to use their talents while growing up, rather than repressing them like the majority of other people.
You may also encounter people in the Pagan community who claim “born witch” status because of some ancestral link to an individual in the past who was accused of witchcraft. You’ll bump into plenty of people who think Salem ancestry makes them special. It doesn’t, for a variety of reasons.
Familial Traditions of Magic
Also, there are certainly hereditary traditions of witchcraft, but by “hereditary” we don’t mean that the practices are biologically inherited.
These are typically small, familial traditions, or Fam Trads, in which beliefs and practices are handed down from one generation to the next, and outsiders are rarely included. PolyAna identifies as a hereditary witch, and her family hails from Appalachia. She says,
“In our family, what we do is more of a folk magic tradition. My son and I and my granddaughter, who is adopted, practice the same folk magic as my mother and grandmother did. We’ve done it as far back as anyone can remember. We follow the Celtic gods, and my Granny was nominally Catholic but brought a belief in the old gods with her from Ireland. She found a way to make it work, and we’ve carried on those traditions.”
PolyAna’s family practices aren’t typical, but there are certainly other hereditary traditions like hers out there. However, it’s hard to even estimate how many there are, because the information is generally kept within the family and not shared with the general public. Again, this is a family tradition based on practices and beliefs, rather than any documentable genetic link. For families with an Italian background, Stregheria is sometimes practiced in the United States and other countries.
Author Sarah Anne Lawless writes,
“The passing on of traditions through the family is a global concept, and is not restricted to culture or continent. There are many family traditions existing in the United States… who all bear a striking resemblance to the fairy doctors and cunning folk of Northern Europe, many of whom were hereditary themselves. The traditions… were strict and binding; they could only teach one student from the next generation of the family of the opposite sex. In many older witchcraft families in the UK, the traditions of transferring knowledge are thought to follow similar rules.”
For many modern Pagans, including those in hereditary family traditions, witchcraft is either a skill set that is developed and honed over years of practice, or it’s a belief system that is seen as a religion that one spends a lifetime working towards.
For some people, it’s a combination of the two.
So, after all that, could someone be part of a hereditary familial tradition? Absolutely, he or she certainly could. But if what they’re claiming is some sort of biological superiority that makes them witchier than everyone else, you should consider it suspect at best.
drawn to dark, mysterious things?
not just interested in Vampires and Faeries, you want to be one?
unable to stay away from books about witchcraft and sorcery?
able to see or sense ghosts, and the past lives of places?
excited about going to places like Salem, or Whitby?
into dark glamor and wish to convey a powerful presence?
compelled by the Mysteries?
having trouble staying in your body? Are out of body experiences a away of life?
Since childhood you have practiced rituals to either placate the Gods, or communicate with spirits.
in a natural deep communion with nature and the spirits in trees, plants, animals, and landscapes.
passionate that sacred things and places must be protected.
more perceptive than most other people you know?
convinced that you have to keep these qualities to yourself.
These are just some of the possible traits that can indicate that you may be a hereditary witch — that you are a carrier of the Witch Blood
How it Used to Be
I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, in a small town of Irish and French Catholics in Massachusetts. Witches were believed to be either fairy tale characters or evil old women who were burned at the stake in the Middle Ages.
England had serious laws against witchcraft until 1951. After these laws were repealed, Gerald Gardner went public with Wicca, a religion he developed by cobbling together folk lore, the ideas of Margaret Murray, some involvement with British magical traditions, and perhaps with a mix of the tribal ritual he may have seen in his years as a civil servant in Indonesia.
Robert Cochran came along later claiming to come from a long line of witches, as did Sibyl Leek. Still, the idea of a family carrying on an unbroken heritage of witchcraft or magical practices was considered a very wild claim. Yet some people seemed to be born with psychic and magical powers, were clearly drawn to tales of witchery and magic, and had the imagination to create communities of like minded souls who came together to be witches.
Those desires had to come from some place! This is where the idea of the Witch Blood was born. It may have been Robert Cochran who coined the term to describe people who for some inexplicable reason were willing to risk everything — jobs, houses, partners, families, etc. in order to pursue the path of witchcraft. Witch Queen Maxine Sanders was driven out of her home by frightened neighbors and had another house torched when they found out she was a Witch, even though she had done them no harm.
The conclusion was that, just as in fairy tales in which the Beggar Maid is discovered to be a Princess by virtue of her uncharacteristic beauty and refinement, someone with witch blood in their veins can be spotted by other witches. Perhaps there are people who come from families where the Craft was practiced long ago. These practices went underground, or were replaced with Christianity, but something remains in the genes that is passed down to one or members of the family unrecognized, or misunderstood.
Dormant Witch Blood can also be ignited by Initiation into Wicca, Faery Witchcraft practices, and the creation of a magical way of life.
Today, many people have been born into witch families, and raised in the Craft. There is no doubt that they are hereditary witches and carry the Witch Blood. There is no mystery surrounding it as there when I was a young person just finding this stuff out about myself.
Still, I am sure that there are some in the current generation who feel these things and have no role models in their families. Their families may even be fundamentalist Christians — I have known a few people like that. Some Christians doth protest too much, and some ex-witches have gone into Christianity because of bad experiences in covens, or after frightening themselves when the magic actually works! They can be the most virulent antagonists against witchcraft.
Of course films and now television are currently having a field day with witches. Teenagers can take them on as role models, and in many cases, not be stigmatized as weirdos. In general, I have found witches to be a pretty happy lot, optimistic and creative, imaginative and fun loving. If sinister overtones are there, it is because of the dark cycle we all must go through, and the way some us walk between the worlds. Some witches are also sociopaths, but that isn’t just because they are witches, nor is sociopathology exclusive to witches and magicians.
If you have found yourself wandering in the woods, or walking the hills like a lost soul, hoping somewhere deep inside, where even you cannot verbalize it, that you will find them, then you might be blessed with the witch blood. If you leave offerings for the spirits, try to engage others to sit in a circle and call the spirits, if you feel you have a secret name, you might have the witch blood. If you are more drawn to these things than “normal” activities, are more comfortable in nature than in a church, if you can’t get your nose out of certain types of books….then I may have news for you….you maybe a Hereditary Witch,