Five (or Six) Witchcrafts: An exploration of purpose, action, and philosophy in the Craft22 November 2016
Five (or Six) Witchcrafts: An exploration of purpose, action, and philosophy in the Craft
© Gede Parma 2016
“If it is not to stare into the Eye of Fate and pronounce Love before all else, I do not know. It is the Art we come by when none other will draw close to tend us and raise us up. It is the sanctum, not of tyrants, but of the lowest before the men of wickedness. And it is the firebrand of the ancient Bacchanalia that gave us ecstasy, emancipation, and the wonder and fury of God as Art and Knowing.”
Felix, my fetch-mate (What is the Craft?)
Witchcraft is often spoken of today in – broadly – three discourses.
One, that it is the Old (Pagan) Religion of the British Isles and that initiated witches are the priests and priestesses of the Craft of the Wise. Sometimes people go so far as to say that witches were the priesthood and pagans the laity. This we know to be historically and even magically revisionist and inaccurate, though not without narrative truths. If, as some people do, we begin to speak about European shamanisms and native and syncretic sorceries, we begin to move into terrain that is probable.
Two, that it is simply the practice of folk-magic, and that therefore all who practise it – even unconsciously – are participating in a witchcraft act. Some might say those who make a ritual habit, or business, out of the practices are in fact practising witches.
Three, that witchcraft is some of both of the above, and its context is catalysed by the trials and events of the European and New World witch hunts, the lore of the European Sabbat, the ecstatic flight of witches to the Sabbat, the sorcery and story arising out of pacts with familiar spirits, and initiation by the Devil, the Familiar Spirit, and sometimes the Faerie Queen.
Discourse One and Two often dismiss each other, and they might both be at odds with Three, except that Three embraces One and Two, but in the context of progressive historical events between pre-Christian culture and tradition, the realities of Christianisation, and equally the realities of pagan survivals and the ongoing practice of sorcery in all cultures.
In my travels amongst witches of various orders and inclinations in Britain, Ireland, Turtle Island, and Australia, I have come across initiates who are passionately reconstructing ancient paganisms and sorcerous practices from our European ancestors, writing books about it and discovering survivals in pockets of modern-day Europe and the Isles. I participate in ritual with intelligently eclectic, multiculturally-informed witches and pagans seeking to restore right relationship and justice in cities and communities drawing upon hundreds of roots and making mistakes, and listening deeply. I have spoken about the natively and ferociously syncretic and heretical attitude and folklore thriving inside traditional witchcraft houses, aware of Biblical and Apocryphal storying, the treasure trove of natural magic written and passed orally, as well as what might be classed the reinvigoration of indigenous European shamanry and sorcery.
I have observed several major threads of narrative and purpose that are highly resonant with the Witch historically, magically, and culturally, and alive in contemporary witchery.
Gnostic or Luciferian Witchcraft.
Diabolic or Malefic Witchcraft.
Shamanic or Ecstatic Witchcraft.
Inspired by and named for the character-deity-witch whose presence and memory has carried through to us and become concrete in the British witchcraft revival through Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, this witchcraft is vividly anti-oppression. Aradia is the daughter of Diana, Queen of Witches and Night, and Lucifer, God of Light. She is to be the first of witches known, the first in all the world, and she is to teach the arts of sorcery to peasants, and the poor. She instructs them on how to free themselves from their shackles, to poison the lords in their towers, and to bind them with Power. This current is alive in several witchcraft traditions today: it is alive in Anderson Faery, Reclaiming, Wildwood, Anderean Craft. This concept of witches fighting for – and freeing ourselves – those who are “under the thumb” of over-lords/over-culture is romantic in a traditional sense, but not without folkloric and historical support.
This is either a conscientious or well-reddened folkloric expression. It is often written of as the dual-faith observance of traditional witches, though some might not identify with that word. This might be the multi-generational integration of historical self-preservation in rural communities; though the idea that working cunning-folk were disproportionately affected by witch trials is incorrect. Many of them were well-loved and well-attended by the nominally Christian church-goers of England and otherwhere. Cunning-folk were often positioned and criticised by clergy as “white witches” as the laity, the folk, often referred to them in opposition to witches performing maleficia.
Heretical witchcraft, from the point of view of the dominant religious cosmologies and practices (i.e. Christianity in Europe and the British Isles), is problematic and largely the effect of Diabolic witchcraft. A conscientious witch might know and use their “good words” and “bad words”. This might be Christ or Angels when in the company of non-witches, or the Young Devil, the Old Gods, or Faeries, amongst witch-kin. Heretical shrines are covered in ornaments familiar to any devout Catholic: bibles, images of the saints, Christ, and Mary, rosary beads, written-out psalms, holy water, and perhaps even significant relics. All of these are likely being used to redirect stemmed or untapped power to a sorcerous end, as well as to exorcise the demon of fanatical and oppressive Christianity. And it can not go without saying that the continuation of magical and pagan practices under the guise of saints and psalms is in itself a sufficient reason to tap in. The rigorous and eventual syncretisms are in some cases treasure troves of indigenous and quite old understandings and practices. Many red threads of sorcerous practice, pagan animism, and ritual-craft have survived in this manner.
Gnostic or Luciferian Witchcraft:
In some ways Gnostic witchcraft arises out of Heretical witchery, or is inextricably linked. Gnostic or Luciferian witchcraft is a devotional sorcery with mystic ends. The late traditional witch Michael Howard is believed to have coined the term “Luciferian Witchcraft” as an identifier of threads or houses that enshrine a desire for Knowledge, an initiation via Wisdom, and the revelation of Truth through the Lucifer, the Blessed and Fallen Angel, the Witch’s Master, who has been called the Devil, the Serpent, the Prince of this Earth. Gnostic witchcrafts often pass stories that are hinged on key Biblical and Apocryphal narratives, especially concerning Eve, the Apple, the Serpent, the Tree, and the Watchers and Daughters of Man. Gnostic witchcraft can often inspire rapturous wonder and a kind of religious conviction and awe in witches who practise its arts and walk its ways.
Diabolic or Malefic Witchcraft:
This could just be called maleficium. It is the classical witchcraft that says a witch is in essence a creature who blights and curses, who brings ruin and disease. That she is a practitioner of malevolent anti-social arts, and that she has sold her soul to the Devil (or deals with Faeries who are demons) – to the Christian Satan (meaning any deity other than the Trinity) – and in this way brings his evil into the world. Many traditional witches I know understand and embrace this legacy as part and parcel of their greater witchcraft narratives, as do I. In some ways the witch as an agent of fate, as a Faerie or kin with the Good Neighbours, is a form of ecological insurance against the terrorisation committed by our species among ourselves and to the greater biosphere. Context may be key, or it may be individually petty and without recourse to cosmology, ecology, or history.
Shamanic or Ecstatic Witchcraft:
This list would not be complete without the inclusion of this thread. The witch as the hedge-rider, the witch who can fly, the witch who enters states of ecstasy and descends into the Underworld to be harrowed, dismembered, torn apart, and who in the process learns secrets arts in the darkness, and brings them into the world above to heal and harm. She becomes the “shaman” and is both embraced and kept at arm’s length. He knows how to traverse the three/seven/nine worlds and is technically proficient at going and coming back with needful knowledge that will aid the collective’s relationship with what lies beyond the hedge, or outside of the glow of the camp-fire. The shamanic witch may even become enshrined as some kind of priest/ess for the community, as one who is skilled in mediating between humankind and the Spirits. Indeed, this may be our origin. And ever we are reminded; the witch who cannot harm, cannot heal.
Largely most of the modern-day witchcraft movement (inspired by Gardner’s Wicca) adheres to a sixth variety and is typified as modern Pagan witchcraft. It is often a religious as well as a magical practice involving the veneration of certain pre-Christian European deities, as well as the revival or reconstruction of Pagan/pre-Christian magical practices. We could call this Wiccan(ate) witchcraft. This kind of witchcraft is deeply influenced by European Grimoires and Western Occult ceremonial structures. It often ignores Heretical and Malefic witchcraft and therefore may engage in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a noticeable lack of Shamanic/Ecstatic threads, at least in the more popular forms of this Neo-Pagan witchcraft. It is the kind of witchcraft that often combines folk magic, natural magic, and Grimoire or Victorian ceremonial structures, and is more interested in the raising of power and the operation of a spell, then the kinship between a familiar and the witch, and the elixir of the Sabbat.
Each thread or tradition of the Craft exemplifies or enshrines each of these witchcrafts in various doses and expressions.
Reclaiming tradition is an intriguing example of a modern-day witchcraft tradition which has evolved into an international network of practitioners and allies rallying around the work of Aradian witchcraft. It is most assuredly Shamanic/Ecstatic witchcraft and has inherited some of this from Anderson Faery which is a Heretical, Gnostic, Shamanic, Diabolic, and Aradian Craft in various dosages depending on the initiate or line. Reclaiming is also influenced by the Neo-Pagan movement (influenced by Gardner’s Wicca) and therefore has internalised language, histories, and self-speak that arises from these aesthetics. In our Principles of Unity, we include this line: “We value peace and practice non-violence, in keeping with the Rede, “Harm none, and do what you will.” And yet within our communities, and certainly amongst the eldest of our practitioners, we speak of the wisdom of the two-handed witch and the necessity of binding and hexing when justice calls. Dual or multi-faith witches in Reclaiming are common, with Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Yoruban, and Jewish iconography and customs observed.
Wildwood Witchcraft could be, to the observer, a largely Shamanic and Aradian form of the Craft, and for some its inner mysteries are intimately Heretical and Gnostic/Luciferian. It also depends on the individual witch, or the community embodying the tradition.
If I was to apply this “pie chart” or dosage experiment to my own witchcraft in and around my Traditions, I could say that my witchcraft is intimately Gnostic/Luciferian in poetry and flavour, Shamanic and Aradian in action, and that my participation in Malefic craft is filtered through these. My Craft might look Heretical or Pagan depending on the purpose, the context, and where I am. In my Shrine are several prayer books, bibles, crucifixes, and saints, as well as statues of pre-Christian deities and spirits that I am in relationship with. There isn’t a demarcation here, I look at the whole thing and it all interweaves together as one messy reality. The purpose of my Craft is to better know myself in all my parts, and to enact my Daimon’s Work in all the worlds. I do this in allyship with several Great Ones, Hidden Potencies, my ancestors and fetch-mate, and with the currents of several threads and lineages that I am woven into and made oath with. It is about Love, Truth, and Wisdom, it is about Beauty, and both releasing Story and embracing it paradoxically. And I agree with my fetch-mate.
Ask yourself – what is the purpose of my Craft? Who am I? Where am I coming from? Why am I here? – and – What am I doing?
This article is influenced by —
Selected reading of:
Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner, 1954.
Witchcraft and Christian Heresy by Lee Morgan, 2013.
The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente, 1989.
The Visions of Isobel Gowdie by Emma Wilby, 2010.
My experience as a practising witch within four traditions:
Wildwood, Anderson Faery, Anderean, and Reclaiming.
My experience travelling and teaching the Craft and Magic throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, and the British Isles between 2008-2016.
Conversations with various Magisters, Priestesses, and Initiates of various lineages and traditions including Gardnerian Wicca, eclectic and “Progressive” forms influenced by Wicca, an Anglo-Welsh Traditional Order, several Appalachian traditions, Lady Circe’s Romano-Celtic tradition, Clan of Tubal Cain, and Italian and Slavic witchcrafts.