The outline for this post was prepared as presentation to Concordia University, October 29, 2018.
Do you believe that all stereotypes are rooted in a perceived truth? There are endless lists on the internet that can tell you if you might be witch… here is some fine print for them!
1) Having cats does not make you a Witch.
Most popular images of Witches include cats. Why? Is it their aloofness, their playfulness, their independence, their agility, their resilience, those cute eyes matched with dangerous claws? Mrrow.
I love cats and this stereotype makes me smile, and also makes me sad. People who mistreat and hurt animals, like cats, often justify themselves with the stereotypical relationship between cats and the occult. I know many practitioners with cats, but it isn’t really about cats specifically…
These living beings need a home. Their lives are extraordinarily different when they don’t have to fight for their own survival. It’s amazing to observe the difference as they realise they have a home, and that they’re safe, that they have a secure source of food and care.They develop personality, confidence, preferences, and they learn how to communicate. It’s a beautiful thing.
All beings desire love, a recognition of their existence.
Even the abandoned ones.
Even the ugly, repulsive and terrifying ones – insects, lizards, amphibians, rodents, birds – they might even need it more.
Choosing to have compassionate understanding towards that which repulses you is the attitude that will change the world. It is also an important step towards self-compassion. The understanding of this is essential to Witchcraft.
2) Love of the night doesn’t make you a Witch.
Most people love the night – sorry, it isn’t that unique of a quality. Fascination with the darkness is a very human trait and very much a part of the present culture, as can be seen in idealization of the anti-hero in film. There is value in having a full awareness of that dark part of ourselves and I hope that different kinds of counselling and therapies will become more accessible and a normalized part of our culture.
There is a kind of dissatisfaction the status quo that is common to people interested in the occult and the esoteric, the hidden and the sacred. There is a curiosity here, the curiosity to ask “Why” and the incredible courage to keep questioning others, and themselves, and keep pursuing answers. What about the night is so fascinating? Why do I live during the day? Why must I work for a salary? Why do so many people continue in lives that make them unhappy?
We should be like annoying children in the backseat of a car. When we begin asking “why”, every day is new experience which informs a greater perspective, and therefore a different reality. The child-like wonder and persistence is an essential quality of a Witch, and is embodied in the maxim “The Wise Never Grow Old”. The Book of Shadows says “I desire to know in order to serve.”
3) Worshipping Nature does not make you a Witch.
I’m concerned about the word “worship”. People worship that which they feel separate from. “Separation” is opposite of Witchcraft, the art of understanding interconnectedness.
Let’s instead consider the words “awareness, celebration, gratitude, honour, respect, awe, fear, acceptance” as well as “worship”, for we worship not just nature, but That which is so perfectly manifested and expressed in Nature, kind and cruel. As the Book of Shadows says, “by joy and terror we know Thee nigh.”
It is very easy to idealize the tranquil serenity of nature when we feel separate from it. (I am guilty of this, as I live in the city.) What does “Nature” even mean? For most people it evokes qualities like growth, nurturing and freedom. The beauty of a flower or tree or stream that is simply and effortlessly itself. Undeniably, there is also wilderness, dark, dangerous, chaotic and uncontrolled.
Architects look to nature to be inspired by and understand structure, form, durability, the beauty of “form follows function”. “Demolition by neglect” doesn’t exist in nature. Time will patiently destroy all constructed spaces and will restore all wild ones.
Most creatures find a kind of shelter for themselves. Some create environments for themselves. Few do so as thoroughly as the human animal. Most human animals have the privilege of secure food and shelter, and so with those needs met, can have the ironic luxury of seeking refuge in nature. This is ironic because the wilderness is not a “safe space:. It is a refuge not from external dangers, but the internal ones, the pressure, anxiety, expectations and disappointments of “first world” life.
We seek what we don’t have. Understanding this brings an awareness of a certain tension between polarities.
When we discuss the “Nature of” something, what we are discussing is actually habit. The Nature of nature is that cyclical flow between extremes, of safety and danger, need and desire, the cycle of indiscriminate transformation, birth, growth, death, decay, rebirth, of all that manifests. Nature includes our destructive habits and our constructed environments. It is in the wilderness of planet Earth, this Mystery that feels so out of our control. And so some use it, worship it, honour it, respect it, celebrate it.
And yet, there is also the Nature of the planets, of the stars, of That which comes after; Of that which is deep beneath the sea, which is also a Mystery.
The awareness and responsiveness to the whole of this is Magic.
The applicable use of this knowledge is Witchcraft.
There is beautiful spiritual, ceremonial celebration of this in Wicca.
Nothing, not even humans, are separate from Nature. Some humans will look at Nature to justify their human animal habits. In Understanding Nature, habit and interdependence, a Witch chooses to be better than an animal. Indeed, they dare to be the best human they can.
More than ordinary. Extraordinary. Superhuman?
Some might call this Nature Worship. Some might call also call this The Great Work, The Garden of Eden, Heaven or The Ancient Harmony.
4) Fashion doesn’t make you a Witch. No amount of jewelry, goth or medieval clothing will do it.
Fashion is a tool. It influences people’s impressions of you, their behavior towards you based on their own biases. We wear different things in different situations, according to our different moods and needs and wants. It is interesting to ask ourselves who it is that we’re dressing for.
People serve as good mirrors. Their perception and reaction to things says a lot about them, and also about us. This is a post-Cable-TV world; This is a time of entertainment on demand, of binge-watching and completely losing yourself in another reality. We must be aware of the lure of the spectacle, and that it is an extraordinarily tool for impact as much as it is a dangerous trap of escapism.
I call fashion a tool because it’s something you use. It doesn’t use you. You are not actually an aesthetic. Your style is like a label you use to communicate your values to others, maybe attract others who also have those values, or influence others through inspiration or shock. There is something very impressive about people fully embrace this technique.
Discretion is equally impressive now, and rare in this era of clickbait and social media influencers. Secrecy is very important in mosts traditions of Witchcraft and occult orders.
Labels are something to help you communicate with others, but you should be careful to avoid labeling yourself to yourself. You are adaptable. Just as you can change clothes in different situations, you have variable personality in different situations. They are all you, and to label, judge and limit yourself cheats the world of so much you could offer. You are many and we are all one , and the remembrance of That is the sacred seed of the Mystery Tradition of Wicca, and the root of the practice of Witchcraft.
Witchcraft is not a costume, your clothing or your personality. It is simply and undeniably a part of who you are, of your relationship to the Universe. This is embodied in that image of Witches dancing and practicing naked. The Charge of the Goddess says “Come ye all naked to the rites in token that ye be really free.”
5) Being a Witch is not one’s inheritance as a Woman, not because of the possibly birth-giving-potential of their internal organs nor because of society’s past or present attitude towards people who appear similar, and is not a radical revolutionary strategy.
Calling yourself a Witch is not an acceptable expression of your strength as a woman. Or as a man. As both, or neither. Wicca teaches that “All Goddesses are One Goddess, all Gods are One God, and together they are One.” You are an individual, and you are also and intrinsic part of the Whole. Some people refuse this contradiction. Some people embrace it and say that all great truths are paradoxes.
Calling yourself is a Witch is actually distasteful. Are we really succeeding at being something if we have to define it to someone? What kind of recognition are we looking for? Do you actually believe people who tell you how great they are? No… it makes us suspicious.
Are you a great friend because you call yourself one? No, that’s for other people to say about you when you’re out of earshot.
Does a dog call itself a dog? No, it is just itself. It’s life revolves around being of service to its owner. Some people see this as slavery. In Mystery Traditions, the choice to serve isn’t slavery. A slave follows rules. A mystic recognizes the game, makes the rules, breaks the rules, because the exceptions are the rule.
Service is not necessarily slavery, just as leadership is not dominion, but about helping others find greatness in themselves. Being a Witch isn’t about doing it for you. The work is about “getting yourself out of the way”.
What is it a Witch, then? It is the result of a very significant choice to hold yourself to a high standard.
Some say that it is Initiation that makes a Witch, but Initiation doesn’t guarantee they’ll be a good, not in skill nor in ethics.
If Wicca is character training, but a candidate’s readiness is gauged by their character, we find ourself in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.
If calling oneself a Witch is inappropriate. I can’t help but also feel that calling someone NOT one to also be inappropriate. I’m labelling. I’m categorizing. I am contradicting myself.
The western habit of black and white thinking, this or that, right or wrong, is just that, a habit, and is a bad one. It holds us back and forces us into orthodoxic thinking, intellectual deconstruction and labeling. This separates us all. That separation, that polarization is only bad if you fall into the trap of thinking you must choose only one or the other.
This subject and approach was inspired by “What Makes You Not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, which I interpreted to be abrasive, sarcastic and thought-provoking reminder that labeling ourselves actually blocks us from reaching our potential.