Chapter nine – Witchcraft Today
by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.
A thousand years ago or today, if you asked a witch why she practices the Craft, her answer would be universal: It accomplishes results. However, the many “workbooks” and “spell books” on the market won’t necessarily teach you how to become a witch or to perform magic. Pursuing witchcraft without a coven, without ceremonies, without initiation does not generally work. At best, it will probably be self delusion; at worst, it can do some psychological damage. There are some witches who work alone. There are even courses one can take in big cities such as New York or San Francisco. But Witchcraft is more than just a few spells – it’s a religion. Without the tenets, the commitment, the depth of feeling for the earth – it’s just an imitation.
There is no doubt that magic still exists, and that it can be powerful. But how do you define it in a world such as ours? If all the nonsense is dismissed, it means using some abnormal ability or a talent. The witch creates a change in circumstances – a change that would not have occurred naturally. Some people have psychic powers, just as others have a natural talent for painting or music. When trained, the powers are enhanced. When used in the correct manner, they are quite successful. Naturally, these powers can be used either for good or for evil. Those who use it for good tend to become witches. Those who use it to do harm call themselves Satanists or Devil Worshipers. There is always a choice.
As seen in previous chapters, all isolated societies have ceremonies, initiations, and some form of magic. Witches, the descendants of such people, have not lost the knowledge. Other organized religions tend to ignore the magical connection, with one exception – prayer. All religions claim that prayer accomplishes tangible results. What is prayer but an attempt to convince the supernatural to do what we want?
Most witches believe that the power is found inside their own bodies. This is the reason why some witches prefer to work in the nude – they feel that the clothes block the power’s release. Other witches work partially nude or dressed in loose robes. In today’s society, with its relaxed attitude toward the human body, nudity is not a problem. After all, the witches do not engage in any immoral activity during the ceremonies. But during the Middle Ages, or even the 18th century, people sometimes didn’t take off their clothing even to bathe. They wore special “bathing robes” for the purpose, so that they would not have to look at their own nude bodies! It is easy to imagine the uproar when the nudity of the witches was discovered. Naturally the general population assumed the witches engaged in orgies.
In the East, it is commonly believed that each person generates a personal electromagnetic field. It is called the Aura. Many Westerners agree that the Aura exists, and some parapsychologists and physicians are currently investigating it. Many books about the subject are available, so there is no need to go into a discussion of the Aura here, but it does bring up an interesting point. Those who see the Aura, whether with the naked eye or with the new scientific apparatus, say that clothes do interfere with the observation of color and vibration of the Aura. Investigation, therefore, is always carried out in the nude. As it is possible that some of the magic is dependant on the Aura, it would be interesting if someone would conduct a combined study.
There is so much more that can, and should be done. Today’s New Age scene makes practicing Witchcraft easier than ever. There is a climate of greater tolerance to these matters, and other disciplines benefit as well – such as parapsychology, homeopathy, and the more serious research into the occult. Those disciplines are not at all alike, but there are occasional overlaps that are immensely interesting. One such connection is the subject of Out of Body Experience, or as parapsychologists usually refer to it – OBE.
OBE is the condition in which the person undergoes separation between body and soul. The body remains asleep or immobile, while the soul travels the world or even the universe. The condition has been observed by such different people as Tibetan monks, German mystics, and Medieval witches. No one really knows how it happens, or if something actually leaves the body. Some say it’s simply a vivid dream, or a hallucination. Others feel that one’s consciousness is able to “stretch” to any distance, but the soul has nothing to do with it. We don’t know.
Witches have always done it. They believe that it is a dangerous pursuit, best done only after strict training, and under a “buddy system,” like scuba diving. When the soul leaves the body, a shining “silver” cord seems to connect them to each other. The witches say that it may snap and the person could die, unless carefully watched by the “buddy.”
Many modern witches, and some researchers as well, tend to believe that this was the base for the legend of the flying witch. The Medieval witches were so certain they actually flew when they were out of body, that they confessed doing so to their tormentors, much like what they did when they had flying dreams induced by drugs.
There is a large selection of books about OBEs. Particularly good are those written by Robert Monroe, a modern American who had incredible experiences with OBEs and had established a research center devoted to it.
Of course it is just one example. A combination of many disciplines, including the understanding of religion and history, can do much to open our eyes to new possibilities. Fortunately, some witches are willing to talk and cooperate, and their help is important. One of them is Sybil Leek.
She is an extraordinary woman. A truly nice human being, and a warm and committed family person and friend. A successful journalist, mostly in Radio and Television, and a writer of the most interesting books. She leads a normal life in every way, but in addition is, and has been since early childhood, a practicing witch. She has made it her mission to educate the public about the difference between Wicca and Satanism. The reason is her fear of the merging of the two systems. So many covens are sprouting, without the benefit of the traditional training, that some, she feels, may be drawn to the dark side. She strongly objects to the practice of occult knowledge without the mental discipline. Dabbling with the powerful forces of the Occult without being able to fully control them can be dangerous to the practitioners as well as to the people around them.
In addition, she is also concerned about the split in Witchcraft that took place during the 20th century. There are two major systems. One is the old Celtic Tradition which she follows with her coven, Horsa, located in New Forest in England. The other was led by the late Gerald Gardner, and is stronger in another part of England and in the Isle of Man. Both systems are influential in America as well.
Many consider Gardner the father of the revival of Witchcraft in our time, though he disagreed. He always maintained that good friends, who were members of a coven, introduced and initiated him to Witchcraft. Either way, he certainly did much for the followers of the Old Religion, and his books are outstanding for their accuracy and historical interest.
Since 1951, the year in which the last laws against Witchcraft were repealed in England, many covens, on both sides of the Atlantic, came out of hiding. During the years of secrecy, they grew in different directions, and some have little or no resemblance to original Witchcraft. While Sybil Leek objects to that, other people feel that it doesn’t matter. As long as the basic tenets are followed and no harm is ever done, there is no reason to prevent evolution in the Old Religion.
It is impossible to outline a religion based on thousands of years in one short chapter. In addition, so much is private and never revealed by any real witch. But some basic knowledge of the Old Religion is necessary even in a historical review such as this book. It is particularly important to set the record right, because the student can be misled by the number of modern books that pretend to teach the actual ritual. Those books are fun and mostly harmless, but they are not the Old Religion.
To understand how the Old Religion is structured, let’s start with the description of the Beginning. It is based on the old Celtic tradition, but of course it goes back much further.
In the beginning, there was Energy. The Energy was a mixture of the sublime, the material and the etheric fire. The fire contained life and creative thoughts.
The Supreme Being used these to create vapor, which eventually condensed into water, earth and air. They combined with the fire and together created physical and spiritual life.
Intelligent beings came to life. Some were lower than humanity, such as animals and plants. Some were higher, such as angels and nature spirits. All slowly evolved over millions of years into more complex and diverse forms.
This happened, and will happen again, not only on earth but throughout the universe. The great energy, directed by the Supreme Being, allows growth and reincarnation for everything – from the smallest creature to a star system.
Since spirit is always present, thought is a form of matter. By sending out thought, one can build matter from energy. This is one way “magic” is done – the creation and manipulation of events and matter in ways which are different from the usual.
Reincarnation allows continuous education. Each life, in the thousands of bodies the spirit occupies, teaches and refines the spirit. It is slowly prepared for the final merging with the creative force, when it will bring back all the rich experience to enhance the source.
Nature is the body of this life force. We are all part of it, and hurting even a small section is doing damage to the whole. This is why the witches are the guardians of the earth. They seek to protect and heal it. Each blade of grass, snail, or elephant is as important to the witch as her own body. This is why Witchcraft and ecology have so much in common.
Witchcraft does not have a Bible, but it has a code. In other religions, most of the tenets are based on the difference between good and evil. In Witchcraft, most of the tenets are based on natural laws. They stress a balanced life, based on the understanding of the cyclical nature of the universe and the earth.
To the witches, good and evil are human ideas. The powers they follow are neutral – they can be used to heal or to destroy. By carefully staying with the rules, they avoid harming anything.
Witches seek the Absolute Good by trying to find and correct imperfection within themselves. They also try to transfer the idea of goodness to all that surrounds them. The goodness within is the spark from the Supreme Being.
Evil must be shunned. Association with evil slows the pursuit of the absolute good. However, since everything was created by the Supreme Being, there is no point in judging other people’s behavior. Each person is responsible for their own acts. So the witch will not curse or put a hex on anyone – it will only hurt her own Karma. The world is full of matters beyond one’s control, but by using reason, the witch can avoid the pitfalls and go successfully through each incarnation. She avoids blaming circumstances, gods, or other people for her misfortunes, and tries to learn something from difficult events.
Witches have no temples. They worship the Creative Force through nature. Representing it are the Goddess and the God. The Goddess takes precedence – it is a matriarchal religion – but the male principle, represented by the God, is greatly honored. He warms the Earth to bring the harvest, and therefore is identified with the sun. He is also the essence of the spirit within the woods, trees and water. The Goddess is the all-mother, the symbol of fertility. She also represents the moon and its cycles.
It is easier to worship and identify with these two Gods, because they are part of the Earth. The Supreme Being, who is above all else, is involved with the concerns of the entire universe, and therefore more remote.
Through meditation, a witch can be in touch with higher beings. They help her with the growth of her character and development of her life. But this should not grow into dependency. Each person is responsible for her or his own growth, so mediation and contact with those beings are limited. As the spirit evolves, higher vibrations are developed, and one becomes closer to the Supreme Being. This makes magic easier to achieve.
The clue for witchcraft is the ability of the witch to see, really see, the connections and relationships in the universe. Since the Creative Force of the Supreme Being made the universe, everything is connected. When the connections are perceived, they can be manipulated. The witch does exactly that. You can learn a hundred different incantations and magic brews, but unless you see the hidden unity between two things or events which seem to be far apart by time and space – you’ll accomplish nothing.
All this is organized into the tenets, which are as important to the witch as the Ten Commandments are to the follower of the Judeo-Christian traditions.
The tenets are not in order. They are all equally important and depend on each other. Following them is as essential to being a witch as the knowledge of magic or the celebration of the ceremonies. There are various versions, but for the greater part they are in agreement.
* The tenet of reincarnation. Each human being has three parts – the body, which is the earthly vehicle; the mind, which is the reasoning part; the spirit, which is the immortal part. The spirit inhabits many bodies until it has learned enough to return to the Supreme Being.
* The tenet of the balanced life. One must learn to live a life which is orderly, balanced and free of any excess. Body and mind must be healthy. One must work and support oneself. Relationships must be reasonably good. Lifelong education must be pursued. Duty to one’s family and community must be honored.
* The tenet of the harmony with the universe. One must realize the unified nature of the universe and one’s place in it. Harmony is essential for the successful life and the Karma.
* The tenet of tolerance. One must accept the fact that others have different opinions, and endure it without suffering or inflicting pain.
* The tenet of learning. Learning should not be limited to books. Practical as well as theoretical learning is essential, and it must be applied to everyday life. It is best to learn personally, from a mentor, and at one’s own pace. One should realize what one is best at, and learn to specialize.
* The tenet of trust. All love must be accompanied by trust. This means love of every kind, toward people, animals, nature or the universe. Without trust love is meaningless.
To practice Witchcraft, the witch needs a few tools. They are very much the same since the dawn of the Old Religion, and are basically simple.
- A sword, used for forming magic circles.
- A knife, used to guard against evil.
- A white-handled knife, used for cutting herbs or heather for the broom with which the witches sweep the circles clean.
- A wand – for small private rituals, such as praying to the Guardian Spirits.
- The Pentacle, a five or six-pointed star, used as an amulet, and carried at all times.
- A censer – a vessel for burning incense.
- Four candlesticks to burn in honor of East, South, West, and North.
- The scourge – a knotted rope, used as a symbol of power and of suffering.
- The cords -symbolic of the binding quality of the power.
While many of the practices are unknown, some are no longer a secret. Since the witches believe that the original Wicca came from the East, the altar is placed in the east. In addition, the witches start from the east when forming the circle. The representatives of the God and Goddess generally stand in the east, too.
Prayers are made toward the north. In the old days, the witches believed that the North was the direction of Paradise. It was underground, in a hollow earth, and the northern lights shone from there.
A circle is purified. The priest and priestess, as representatives of the God and Goddess, bless cake and wine in a short ceremony. They place a cauldron in the middle of the circle, and spirit is poured in and ignited. Herbs and flowers are thrown in. The priestess and priest, standing in a pose that represents the magical pentacle, chant a prayer. Everyone dances around the cauldron. After that, there is a feast, including the blessed cake and wine.
The circle represents a sacred place between our world and the world of the gods. It is drawn with chalk or paint on the floor, or simply drawn as a mark on the carpet. Another symbolic circle is drawn in the air with a magical knife. The circumference of the circle is between nine and 11 feet, unless there is a reason for a larger circle, perhaps to include a larger coven. The inside is blessed and purified, and is considered the gods’ domain. It contains the power inside it, and does not let it dissipate.
Obviously, this is a beautiful, nature oriented, peaceful religion. But if one is not stable and balanced, the control of magic can be psychologically damaging. An unlimited use of the power may lead to Satanism. The Satanist has little self control, as Satanism does not demand it. So he or she is always willing to promise instant, powerful results to those who seek their aid. Satanism, therefore, is tempting for the new student who is not always patient, and wants to see quick results. Also, it has drama and style, and is more exciting than the balanced, controlled way of the Wicca. It glorifies unlimited mental power and justifies any excess as the natural state of humanity.
For example, an important difference is the way the gods and spirits are treated. To the witch, everything depends on free will. Even the choice of obeying the Goddess and God is exactly that – a choice. The price for such liberty is that the Gods do not have to give the witches what they want, either. If asked, the Gods may answer the request, or they may decide otherwise. The witch does not expect the requests to be answered regularly. The favors certainly cannot be demanded, and they are never bartered. There is no such thing as a sacrifice, for instance. No witch ever thinks – God, if you do such and such for me, I’ll say twenty prayers. Or if you answer my request, I’ll give to my favorite charity. Also, the Gods are never blamed for any natural calamity, such as an earthquake, or a forest fire. Such things are part of the natural history of the planet, and if the witch suffers because of it, well, that’s the way the world is. The only prayer the witch would say could be something like: “Dear Mother Goddess, give your daughter the courage and the strength to bear this calamity.” These are not the exact words – they are not available – but this is the gist of it.
The Satanist, on the other hand, feels the need for control. The entities he approaches, be it demons or the spirits of the dead, are conjured and commanded to do the magician’s bidding. If the spirit manages to release itself from the spell, it generally turns on the magicians and destroy them.
However, it must be understood that the power itself is the same whether used by the witch or by the Satanist. The energy is coming from the same source, and is neither good nor evil. It’s just there, available to those who can use it. The Satanist knows about the unity of the universe as well as the witch, and conducts his or her magic accordingly.
To put a curse on someone, there must be a link made between the man, the “medicine” or charm, and the magician. The magician will obtain a few fingernail clips, some hair, or at least some clothing of the victim and establishes the link. If such objects are not available, the magician tries to create an artificial link. He will hide a magical object in the victim’s house, or will create a wax image in his likeness. Occasionally, the magician will create a psychic link by simply declaring the need for it. The energy of magic then goes through the link as if it were a channel.
While witches have no need to tamper with other religions, the Satanists must. There is no Satanism without Christianity. As seen in a previous chapter, Satan, or the devil, is a Catholic creation. There is no real Satanic bible, Satanic code, or Satanic tenet. All that exist are the reverse of those of the Catholic Church. So the Satanist ritual is a crude and unpleasant mockery of the Church. Mutilated crucifixes, the Lord’s Prayer read backwards, obscenities inserted into the Bible readings are some of the rituals.
These practices are mainly stupid and lacking in good taste. Unfortunately, Satanists engage in some other, much more dangerous activities. There is evidence of desecration of cemeteries, animal mutilation, and even, though rarely, ritualistic murders. While not everything is known about their cult, there is no doubt that the animal mutilation is a form of sacrifice. The desecration of cemeteries is done for the purpose of digging out the dead bodies. The Satanists need the bodies for practicing necromancy.
The power of the Satanists should not be underestimated. Like the witches, they have psychic powers, and a variety of physical and mental tools. There are incantations and magic words, which are really a way of setting vibrations in a certain way. They use wands, rings of power, various herbs, and knives. The clothing is specially designed, with embroidery of the names of the demons or other forces.
Aleister Crowley was an interesting modern Satanist, living between 1875 and 1947. Crowley studied the occult from a very young age, with a particular interest in the dark side of magic. Blood, torture, and mutilation fascinated him. He even neglected to get his Cambridge degree because of his involvement with magic. For a short while he was part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – an organization close in philosophy to Witchcraft. However, he was rather quickly expelled.
After that, Crowley completely dissociated himself from the Old Religion. It was much too tame for his taste, which leaned toward the dramatic. He called himself “The Great Beast” and his services were quite showy. He wore a wardrobe of incredible ritual garments, had an impressive collection of ceremonial swords and knives, and conducted the services on a huge altar, decorated with extremely tall, valuable antique candlesticks. The combination of the opulent surroundings, his magnificent voice, and his extremely dominant personality made him one of the most famous modern Satanists. For a long time Crowley had a large following.
Addiction to drugs and heavy drinking, however, destroyed his body as well as his mind. Still, he left books that may be of interest to the student of modern Witchcraft. Despite his many problems, Crowley was a very intelligent man and an interesting writer. His love of the theatrical, however, interfered with the accuracy of his writing. For example, he was blamed for practicing necromancy and human sacrifice, which in reality he never did. Not only he did not deny the activities, some people claim he actually started the rumors – to enhance his reputation as the “Great Beast.” So one does not know how seriously to take some of his statements.
Another interesting Satanist is Anton LaVey. He is the founder of the Church of Satan, and the author of The Satanic Bible. As said above, it’s not really an official bible. It’s really just LaVey’s views. He maintains the traditional ideas, though, that Satanism is the reverse of Christianity. God, to him, represents evil, while Satan, who is good, will eventually triumph.
Interestingly, LaVey admits that he had never seen Satan. He feels Satan is a mirror image of humanity. While one can communicate with him, much like the way one communicates with God, Satan cannot be conjured or summoned any more than God can. The smaller demons and devils he considers mere dreams and hallucinations. This interesting approach got him many followers. Most of his success, though, he owes to his sense of drama, like Crowley, and his ability to manipulate people. His attitude to Witchcraft is clear. He despises witches and all they stand for, and considers them hypocrites. Obviously, Satanism has very little to do with Witchcraft, and is best avoided by the serious student. In addition, it has little to offer by comparison. A little instant gratification, sure, but not the depth of the Old Religion. It is a much younger religion, too, a mere few hundreds of years old, while the Old Religion had been here from the beginning.
In a religion this old, obviously there have been ongoing evolutions, and many branchings of the roads. It is good and even necessary that it should be so. But still, it is always important to maintain a balance, as the witches say. So we all benefit if the Old Religion is kept, at least by some, in its ancient and pure ways. As we are entering the twenty-first century, we do so with an ecosystem partially destroyed by our own lack of respect for nature. Perhaps it is time to learn from the ancient Guardians of the Earth. They can help us restore our planet to its former health and beauty. And then the sad eyes of the old Shape-Changer, the wise and innocent man/beast whose picture is so beautifully drawn on the dark walls of Stone Age caves, will no longer accuse us of the destruction of his beloved domain.
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