The Many Paths of Witchcraft
In a very broad sense, Witchcraft means the practice of, and belief in, magical skills and abilities. It is, however, a very complex concept that varies in it's definition depending on the culture and may play a religious, divinatory, or medicinal role.
Witchcraft, in general, is a very old practice. Archaeological discoveries have revealed that people worshiped a Hunter God and Fertility Goddess during the Paleolithic period. This has been proven by the discovery of cave paintings which are estimated to be 30,000 years old.
During these ancient times, Witchcraft was known as the "craft of the wise", as the wise persons were those who followed the path of nature and were in tune with it's forces, had the knowledge of herbs and medicines, gave wise council, and were held in high esteem as Shamanic healers and leaders in the village or community.
As mentioned above, Witchcraft tends to be a very nature-based practice. A good example of this are the practitioners of Egyptian witchcraft who honor the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, including the Triple Goddess of the waxing, full, and waning moon, as well as The Horned God of the Sun, Death, and animal life. Though many traditions are focused on the Earth or the stars, there are those that are solely focused on the divinity or magical aspect of their craft, such as Luciferianism, which focuses more on Lucifer, who they believe to be an angelic deity.
Witchcraft didn't fully become recognized as a religion until after Word War II in Britain. It became more widespread when the anti-witchcraft laws were repealed in 1953. As a modern religion it is considered a form of Paganism, but there are many forms of Paganism that are not Witchcraft.
Venus and The Sorcerer
Wicca is one of the most recognized religions when one might think of "Witchcraft". It is practiced both by groups (called Covens), which are led by a High Priesthood, and solitary witches (those not initiated into a Coven). It was founded by Gerald B. Gardner in the 1940s.
Those who practice Wicca are adamant about doing only good magic. Wiccans may practice different types of rituals, called "high" and "low" magic. Low Magic, also known as Practical Magic, is thought to be the easiest form of magic as the spells only affect the physical world around us. A practitioner may employ the gods, goddesses, spirits, or angels during these rituals. The belief behind low magic is that everything is connected, whether that be the elements, celestial bodies, animal, vegetable, mineral, or human. This belief is synonymous with Folk Magic, which is focused on the idea that there's an energy or power present in the physical world to draw on. A common tradition of folk or low magic is Hoodoo, which developed from West African beliefs.
"High" Magic involves transforming oneself spiritually. It focuses on contacting divinity, usually through secret rituals and ceremonies (sometimes called White Magic or the Great Work). These rituals often include astral travel, meditation, and dream work. It was very popular during the Renaissance.
Charge of the Goddess
"All acts of pleasure are the Goddess’ rites".
This is one of many inspirational quotes that may be spoken by a High Priest/Priestess after the Drawing Down the Moon ritual, which is one of the central rituals practiced by Wiccans (both covens and solitary practitioners). The Charge of the Goddess is used primarily in Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions, but is not limited to them.
The Wiccan Rede
“If it harm none, do what you will.”
This statement is used as a moral code and is part of the Five Tenets listed below.
Five Basics Tenets of the Craft
- The Wiccan Rede - “If it harm none, do what you will.”
- Reincarnation as an orderly system of learning. This is not a tally of “sins” and punishments. Human experiences are comparable to term papers: a way of learning.
- The Law of Attraction - What I do to other living creatures I will draw to myself. Shakespeare called this “measure for measure”. It can also be expressed as “birds of a feather”.
- Power through Knowledge - Each living creature has the power (energy) within its body. The skill of directing that power can be taught and learned. Whether the power is “good” or “evil” depends on the intent in the mind of the worker.
- Harmony - There are rhythms in the patterns of the Sun, the Moon, the Seasons. It makes sense to learn those rhythms and to live in harmony with them.
Though it depends on the specific Coven or Solitary Practitioner's beliefs, there are a few deities that many Wiccans may choose to worship. These include the Mother Goddess, who is loosely identified with Artemis of the Greeks, Diana of the Romans, the moon goddess of the Egyptians, and the Fertility Goddess of the Stone Age; the Horned God, who may have been known as Duvel in ancient times; and Aradia, who may be known as a younger version of the Mother Goddess, though she is more of a central figure for the Stregheria tradition.
Mother Goddess, Horned God, & Aradia
Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches
"When I have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full..."
This is the beginning of a quote by the goddess Aradia (from Charles Leland's Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches) that is often used as a Charge of the Goddess in rituals.
Stregheria is an Italian witchcraft religion popularized in the 1980's by Raven Grimassi, who claims that it evolved within the ancient Etruscan religion of Italian peasants who worked under the Catholic upper classes.
Modern Stregheria closely resembles Charles Leland's controversial late 19th-century account of a surviving Italian religion of witchcraft, worshiping the Goddess Diana, her brother Dianus/Lucifer, and their daughter Aradia. Leland's witches do not see Lucifer as the evil Satan that Christians see, but a benevolent god of the Sun and Moon.
A modern practice founded by Victor Anderson, his wife Cora, and Gwydion Pendderwen. It is an ecstatic tradition which places strong emphasis on sensual experience and awareness, including sexual mysticism, which is not limited to heterosexual expression. Most practitioners worship three main deities: The Star Goddess, and two divine twins (one of which is the Blue God). They believe there are three parts to the human soul, a belief taken from the Hawaiian religion of Huna.
The tradition was named after the coven of "Faerie Women" Victor worked with as a child.
A belief system similar to Stregheria in that they do not view Lucifer as the devil or Satan. Rather, in this context, He is seen as one of the many morning stars, a symbol of enlightenment, independence, and human progression. Lucifer, in this tradition, may also be known as Lumiel, who is considered to be a benevolent angelic being who aided humanity's development.
Clan of Tubal Cain/Cochrane's Craft
An influential tradition founded by Robert Cochrane in England in the 1950's. Practitioners of this tradition believe in a psychological grey magic. Their one basic tenet is that your opponent should never be allowed to confirm an opinion about you, but should always remain undecided. They believe this gives you a greater power over said opponent, because the undecided is always the weaker.
The rituals are Shamanic in nature and just like Wicca, they worship the Mother Goddess and Horned God.
Witchcraft is very popular in the media. It is portrayed as both good and evil, as a religion and a genetic anomaly. Some commonly known pieces are listed below:
- Books: The Secret Circle & The Vampire Diares by L.J. Smith
- Plays/Musicals: Macbeth by Shakespeare, The Crucible by Arthur Miller
- Films: Hocus Pocus, The Craft, Practical Magic
- TV: Charmed, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Supernatural
Original Trailer for "Practical Magic"
Charmed 1998 Original Trailer
Do you practice Witchcraft?
Do you practice any of the traditions listed in this article? (Feel free to talk about them or others I haven't mentioned in the comments!)
What's your favorite Witches pop culture?
© 2018 Krista Duranti