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Witchcraft And The Modern Witch

Witch Flying - on her broomstick, above some trees, silhouetted against the moon.

In the past, witches were held in high regard by various members of society (including Kings and Queens). This is because they were seen as multi-talented individuals, who fulfilled many roles:

  • Doctor. Able to understand and use herbal lore.
  • Magician. Able to change things through force of will alone.
  • Priest. Able to lead various religious rites for the benefit of the general populace.

Despite this, witchcraft underwent some dark times when it was banned and outlawed by various “new” religions (which we won't get into here). As such, it is only within the past fifty years or so that witchcraft has been “freed” again and practised openly (by those that are interested).

We shall now consider several important aspects of being a modern witch.

Beliefs

Witch Beliefs - a black cat, broomstick and witches hat.

Witches feature a drive/desire to be closer to nature (both physically and spiritually); because in doing so they believe that it makes them happier and more well grounded (both ethically and morally) than they would otherwise be (i.e. more balanced). There are many ways this closeness can be seeked, including (e.g.):

  • Appreciating the beauty that lies in sunrise/sunset – letting it wash over their souls.
  • Sitting against the back of a sturdy tree – letting the strength of the tree ease their stress.
  • Listening to the sounds of the birds – letting their songs brighten their mood.

Now, nature herself provides us with the four elements – each of which playing important roles within witchcraft:

  • Air (East). Believed to encompass new beginnings, youth and thoughts.
  • Fire (South). Believed to encompass enthusiasm, maturity and passion.
  • Water (West). Believed to encompass our emotions and middle age.
  • Earth (North). Believed to encompass our physical self, actions, old age and wisdom.

These beliefs further translate into witchcrafts other main belief: that the divine is both male and female.

Many Paths

Witchcraft is old, and has given rise to many paths to interact with the divine (e.g. Celtic, Druidic, Gardnerian, Irish, Norse and Pagan). Although many of these paths are steeped in ceremony and hierarchy, it is also true that witchcraft is flexible – with the added bonus that if you don't like something, then you are free to “create your own” path. This is especially true for solitary witches, who may be unable to find/attend a Covern (i.e. group of witches), and as such undertake only “tasks” that they feel truly comfortable with.

Magic/Spells

Magic Witch - with arms outstretched and yellow stars emitting from her hands.

Casting a spell involves a witch sending her will/intent out into the “universe” (towards a specific target – for a specific purpose). Spells rely upon the power that is “within you” – thereby making use of the elements and the divine. As such, spells tend to focus on subjects such as: healing, relationships, protection and enhancement (e.g. “help me learn”).

Witches must be careful when casting spells – since magic has a habit of not working as intended. Several reasons for this are:

  1. Not describing exactly what they want from a spell. For example, instead of saying “I'd like so-and-so to be healed”, it would be better to say “I'd like so-and-so's toothache to be healed”.
  2. Only half-heartedly willing spells to be true (and/or not believing). As humans its hard to achieve anything unless you fully commit to it – and as such you must want something with every ounce of your being before it can be so.
  3. Not enough research into their chosen God and Goddess (i.e. representations of the divine for their current rite). [This is akin to not knowing enough about the energies their working with].

Even allowing for these, there is one area of magic that is considered (by many) to have a mind of its own: love. Here, even if a witch gets exactly what they wanted, it may turn out to make them/others very unhappy.

Divination

Scrying Witch - hands either side of a crystal ball, to help her see the past, present and future.

Here a witch attempts to discern answers to questions which are otherwise unknown (for herself and others). These can be questions relating to:

  • The past, present and future – what was, what is, what now? [Typically discerned using palmistry, runes, tea leaves and/or tarot].
  • The location of an object/resource (e.g. water). [Typically discerned using dowsing].

Further to this, it is important to mention that witches don't believe in summoning back the spirit of a dead person for assistance in such matters (that is left to mediums e.g.).

General Rules

You may wonder what's to stop a witch becoming bad (i.e. casting hexes and revenge spells). Well, there are two guidelines which help discourage such activities:

  1. The “rule of three”. This states that you should only cast a spell if you are prepared to receive three times the results back (be that good or bad).
  2. The “Wiccan Rede”. This is known as “An it harm none, do what thou will”.

Further to this, is the witches belief/aim that they should only use from nature what nature can provide. For example, if a witch is making a necklace, then they should aim to use materials that have already fallen from a tree (e.g. after a thunderstorm) – and not those materials that they have to take themselves.

The Sabbats

Witch Sabbats - a half moon, overlooking a black cat, Halloween pumpkin and witches hat.

Witches believe that they can increase their magic's potency (and chance of succeeding) by adhering to various cycles. One such cycle is the “Wheel of the Year” – a collection of eight special days (called Sabbats). Sabbats are important to witches, since they celebrate the changing seasons and mark important festivals that are associated with the divine. On each Sabbat, a witch can perform certain types of spells (with improved results); or simply celebrate the traditions that fall on that particular date. Here we list the Sabbats (including approximate dates and basic descriptions of each):

  1. Samhain (31st October). A time for remembering those that have gone before us – since the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest (also called Halloween). This is also one of the best times to get your fortune read. It also marks the start and end of the yearly cycle.
  2. Yule (21st December). This is the time when the sun starts to grow strong again. Associated with rebirth, it coincides with the shortest day and longest night. It is also a good time to make a wish.
  3. Imbolg (2nd February). Some flowers begin to blossom and various trees begin to bud – as it is with the first signs of spring. It is also another good time to make a wish.
  4. Oestara (21st March). Spring now has a strong grip – leaves and trees both showing their strength. This is a great time for throwing out the old – and commencing the new.
  5. Beltane (1st May). Another time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. However, witches may attract the influence of more mischievous spirits at this time! As such, it is not a good time to have your fortune read.
  6. Litha (21st June). A time to be out and about – since it coincides with the longest day and the shortest night. It is also a time for reflection on the year so far – and for what is to come.
  7. Lammas (1st August). A good time to “count your blessings” – and offer thanks for what you have received, and consider those less fortunate than yourself.
  8. Madron (21st September). Another time for throwing out the old, and commencing the new. However, this time, the emphasis is on grounding ourselves (by forgiving ourselves and others for past mistakes).

The Moon

Witch Moon - a smiling moon, above the clouds, with twinkling stars.

Since the Sabbats are spaced throughout the year, it is usual for witches to make use of the monthly cycle of the moon to help empower their spells. Each phase of the moon can benefit certain types of magic:

  1. Growth – spells relating to new projects, skills and jobs.
  2. Fullness – spells relating to healing, nurturing and protecting (both ourselves and others).
  3. Decline – spells relating to knowledge, understanding, fortune reading, binding and elimination of bad habits.

Overall

Witchcraft is regarded as a nature based religion, that can help people lead kinder more balanced lives. It makes use of magic, but since magic is controlled through the intention of the wielder, it can accomplish much good. At the very least, many of its practices appear to be for the good of the planet – which can benefit all of us.

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Copyright © 2011 Victorian Hawk.

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