An Introduction to Witches and Witchcraft
I get asked often about Witchcraft and being a Witch and what these things actually mean. So I thought I would take the opportunity to write a little article on the topic, hopefully dispelling some of the myths for those who are still a bit weary.
What is a witch?
“One of the best definitions I have heard for a Witch is ‘healer, teacher, and parent.’ The village Witch was the nurse, doctor, mid-wife, vet and counsellor for the community.”
-The Real Witches’ Handbook by Kate West
What is the official definition? Officially, there is no real definition any more. TV shows, movies and tall stories have all seen to it that the word ‘Witch’ has attracted an awful lot of bad press – conjuring up images of stinking, bubbling cauldrons, demons and voodoo dolls. There is so much negativity linked with the word ‘Witch’ that even many of the Witches out there now like to refer to themselves as ‘Wiccan’ instead!
My definition? You are a helper, a healer and a teacher. You are open to the world of the supernatural and spiritual. And you are definitely in love with and connected to the realm of nature. Witches tend to be strong supporters of environmental protection, equal rights, global peace and religious freedom, and sometimes magick is used toward such goals.
In my opinion, a Witch works magick within a definite code of ethics. A Witch acknowledges and often uses the male-female polarity in their rites and takes total responsibility for their actions, themselves and their future.
Witches are aware of the world around them. They are in touch with the seasons, with the plants and with the animals of their environment. We see signs and messages in the animals that cross our path and we use the herbs, flowers, stones and crystals about us to draw energy from and create talismans, herbs and potions for healing, divination and more! We work in harmony with all of the elements; Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit.
A Witch is also aware of the many layers of ‘reality’. We know that there is more than just the physical plane, and we often contact and work with those of the unseen worlds, such as Elementals, Spirit Guides, Deity, Ascended Masters and Angels. We often use such methods as meditation and divination to help us access these beings, seeking healing and guidance both for others and in our own lives.
The path of a Witch is a never ending journey of learning, healing and discovery! And it is something that you incorporate into your life, not just live every now and again.
What does that make witchcraft?
Witchcraft, is also known as “The Craft”, “The Old Religion” and “Wicca” and is a very personal and personalised religion. Most practitioners follow their heart and include what feels right to them.
Witchcraft is literally what Witches do!!
The core of Witchcraft centers around a reverence and kinship with nature. We believe that Earth is a divine manifestation and that all of nature constantly speaks to us if we will only listen to it. Our temples are the forest, the beaches, the deserts, and the gardens. We believe that when we lose touch with our blessed planet, that we lose touch with all that is divine.
Witchcraft doesn’t claim to be the “One True Way”. We believe that every person has their own path to follow and that all paths inevitably finish at the same place. We therefore have respect for individual choices of faith. Because of this belief, Witchcraft groups and covens do not actively recruit – there is an assumption that people who can benefit from the Old Religion will “find their way home” when the time is right.
Witchcraft had its organised beginnings in Palaeolithic times, co-existed with other Pagan (“country”) religions in Europe, and had a profound influence on early Christianity. But in the medieval period, tremendous persecution was directed against the nature religions by the Roman Church. Over a span of about 300 years or so, many men, women and children were hanged, drowned or burned as accused “Witches.” The Church accused them of black magic and Satan worship, though in fact these were never a part of the Old Religion.
The practitioners of Witchcraft went underground, to practice in small, secret groups called “covens.” For the most part, it stayed hidden until recent times. Since then pioneers such as Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland and Lucy Cavendish have shed some light on the origins of the Craft, and new attitudes of religious freedom have allowed covens and individuals to begin becoming more open.
“Wicca is a joyous religion springing from our kinship with nature. It is a merging with the Goddess and Gods, the universal energies that created all in existence. It is a personal, positive celebration of life.”
-Wicca, a guide for the solitary practitioner by Scott Cunningham
It is my personal belief that all those calling themselves a Witch have some basic central beliefs which we adhere to. Each individual then takes basic beliefs and builds on them as they see fit, incorporating the attitudes and values they feel necessary.
A Witches Beliefs:
And it harm none, do what thou wilt
Witches believe in what some call the law of karma, where one’s actions will determine one’s future (what goes around comes around). This is covered in what is commonly known as the ‘Wiccan Rede’ or ‘Wiccan Law’ which states:
“Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.
What ye send forth comes back to thee
So ever mind the law of three,
Follow this with mind and heart,
Merry ye meet and merry ye part.”
The term “harm none” includes all living beings in the world, the planet itself, and of course yourself. There are many different interpretations on the Wiccan Rede, which does sometimes cause confusion. Basically, you need to look at what you intend to do, and decide if any of your words, thoughts or deeds will harm or manipulate anyone. Remember that you are responsible for anything that you do.
We also have a threefold law of return, which basically states that whatever you do will return to you threefold (times three). This applies to you, whether you set about with good intent or a bad intent.
Speaking of intent, there is huge debate between practitioners of magick, about white and black magick. Let me tell you that magick is actually neither black nor white. Magick is simply magick.
In everything there exists good and bad, light and dark, black and white, positive and negative. You cannot get away from it. Without sadness and grief, one could not experience the brilliance of joy and exhilaration. They are two sides of the same coin. Dark and light exist in everything, and one cannot exist without the other. Magick is really a pure force in the Universe, and thus is actually neutral.
Some would have you believe that because magick is neither ‘white’ nor ‘black’ it is therefore ‘grey’ or ‘green’. I am not into excessive labelling such as this. As I said before, magick is magick. It is our intent that decides if what we do has a positive influence or negative influence on that magickal energy we are utilising.
Understand that EVERYTHING that one single person does, affects every other person in the Universe. We are energy, affecting the energy around us, which affects the energy around that, which affects the energy around that, etc (you get the picture). We do a lot without even realising the effect we are truly having.
So, we do need to understand magick as a whole to have any concept of what we are sending out and what that in turn might do on its return to us—and believe me when I say it does return. Energy is like a boomerang – it goes out there and does what it needs to and then returns with whatever that energy has attracted to itself. This is what the rule of the Wiccan Rede or the Law of Three helps us to keep in mind. When you perform any type of magick work, you are going to cause some type of change. How positive or negative is up to you.
And I am here to tell you that the Universal Law of Three really does work. It is not some faerie tale made up to scare you into hopefully “doing the right thing”. And no form of protection spell, amulet or disbelief in the law will save you from it. Your reckoning may not come today or tomorrow, but it will come. There is no escaping it.
Witches also believe that Deity is within all life, which therefore makes ALL LIFE SACRED!
As such we acknowledge and have respect for every human being, every animal and all of the plants that are in the world—everything that is living! This can cause many problems. Some look at this statement and wonder, “what then do we eat? For we cannot destroy and eat that which is sacred.” We do not need to starve ourselves, but we can show honour and respect for the beings that we have to eat to survive. This can be a simple silent prayer of thanks before a meal.
Witches also believe that the physical is just one aspect of many realities. We believe that through altered states of consciousness via such things as chanting, meditation, music, dance, invocation and ritual we can tap into and work with these other realities and commune with those in spirit, the plants and animals.
However, while we do honour spirit, the God and Goddess, we also recognise that the spirits of all entities in the Universe are equal (i.e. we are just as sacred as them!). So we do not need to grovel to spirit or feel unworthy of their love and connection.
Witchcraft is a religion that embraces magick. What is magick? It is very hard to define exactly what magick is.
I believe that magick is finding your connection to the Earth and all that is natural and alive and moving in the Universe! Magick is living in balance with the flow of life, and knowing that you are a vital force within that flow. Magick is everywhere! In the trees, in the rain, in the stars, and in the sea! It is the spark that quickens a seed to rise up from the soil. Magick is laughter, and joy, and wonder, and truth! It is the subtle enchantment that reminds us not to waste a single moment of this gift that we call life! Magick is not greed, or power or pretence… but it is real! It exists and it works. Magick is the mystery that lies in the secret soul of the world. It is the essence of creation. Magick is within you and with it you can create your dreams, heal your world, love your life, and find the peace that lives at the center of every human heart.
In very basic terms, you could say magick is the practice of moving natural energies to cause change. It can be used to cleanse ritual areas, to improve ourselves and enhance the world around us.
A prominent Witchcraft author by the name of Starhawk defines magick as “the changing consciousness at will by being in tune with the rhythms of life. To create change for ourselves and for our world. We use herbs, oils, colours, stones, crystals, and other symbolic materials to represent the change we want to create.”
Witches do not use magick for destructive, manipulative or exploitive means. It is NOT used as a way to force nature to do your will (remember that the core belief does not allow us to do this).
The energies of magick are the energies of life itself. We “plug into” the divine energies all around us and use them to create or manifest something worthy and positive. Magick is a religious act to unite yourself with your Deities and to better yourself and the world around you.
Understand, too, that you do not have to create huge elaborate ceremonies with every magickal tool you can find for your ritual to work. Rituals can be as simple as sitting in front of a lit candle and visualising what you intend to manifest.
Many are afraid of magick. Some develop a belief that magick is dangerous and scary. Yes, magick can be dangerous, if you approach it from a negative and power hungry viewpoint. But if you call upon the Universe to protect and nurture you and infuse all your magick with love, then you will be in no danger.
For me, these are the central beliefs of a Witch. Most people will have more beliefs than this, but beyond these few you will find belief systems that vary tremendously from Witch to Witch – many because it is such an individual path. But for me these are the fundamentals of being a Witch.
There are many misconceptions that center around Witches and Witchcraft too. I would like to clear up a few of the following ones.
- Witches DO NOT worship the devil. In fact the devil is not included anywhere in the belief system of the Witch. We believe all things in nature contain good and evil, but we do not believe in a devil, a Satan, a hell or any other personification of evil.
- Witches DO NOT perform blood sacrifices or sacrifice animals. This concept actually goes against all that Witches stand for. We have a great respect for animals and all of the realm of nature.
- Witches DO NOT turn people into toads (though sometimes we’d like to when they are REALLY irritating us…)
- Witches are NOT all old hags with warts, hooked noses and stringy hair!! (thank goodness!!)
- You DO NOT have to be ‘special’ or ‘psychic’ to be a Witch. Witches are men and women of all ages and backgrounds. If you are drawn to Witchcraft then I encourage you to explore this path and find out the reason for it.
- Witches DO NOT have to wear all black. Nor must they wear a cloak or a pentagram or be dressed in medieval costume. We wear whatever we wish! When it comes to appearance you generally cannot tell a Witch apart from other ‘non-Witches’!!
- Witches DO NOT fly on broomsticks. (This is a common myth which came about because of something known as ‘flying ointment’. This ointment was actually quite a deadly concoction of herbs which gave the person using it the illusion that they were flying – in reality they were having a wonderful ‘drug trip’)
- You DO NOT have to be part of a Coven in order to be a Witch. There are many very happy solitary practitioners out there (Witches who practice alone)!
Overall, being a Witch for me, is a practice that is constantly evolving. It is a path where I am regularly co-creating with my higher power. It contains some structure but is as unique as the energy that my individual soul brings to it. One of the best things about being a ‘modern’ Witch is the freedom I have to follow my faith wherever it may lead me. When I was first starting on the path (in fact it was early enough that I didn’t even recognise it was a path) I soon began to glimpse how wide and deep Witchcraft practices were and this somehow paralysed me a little. But after awhile I came to realise at its essence it is about putting your relaxed attention into finding the sacred (God/Goddess/Universe/Source) wherever you go and in each day, not just in books or in a certain Coven or within a certain tradition.
For whatever reason you were drawn to read this article, I hope that you have found what you needed. My intention is not to convert anyone, but simply inform for I would love it if less people were frightened of the label ‘Witch’, because that is exactly what I am – and proud of it. So wherever direction you find yourself headed I wish you many blessings on the path ahead xox
© Copyright to Amanda Godfrey, but this article may be reproduced and distributed provided the author is acknowledged.