Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What's a Witch, These Days?

I read my last SnakyPoet blog post, about Wendy Rule’s recent concert, to the writers’ group.

‘What do you mean by the word ”witch” in a contemporary context?’ asked one. She wasn’t being smart; she genuinely wanted to know.

(I forget how little awareness of Paganism there is in the general community. When I mentioned to a friend — one who identifies with witchcraft, moreover — that I was going to a ‘Pagans in the Pub’ meeting, she hooted with laughter at the name, as if this were a clever joke that I had just invented instead of a well known way of getting together which goes on all over the country. But I dare say it’s not so well known if you've never subscribed to any publication listing the regular meetings.)

It was quite hard to explain contemporary witchcraft to someone for whom concepts that I take for granted were new.  She wasn’t septical and had no axe to grind; evidently she had just been unaware of Neo-Paganism, even as a word. That was the first word I tossed off, thinking to give a quick answer, but it led to more questions. I found myself getting into the whole thing about witch versus Wiccan: how one can be a witch without being Wiccan, but not the other way about; that Wicca is the religion of witchcraft, but not every witch subscribes to it — for instance, there are Christian witches. (I didn’t mention it at the time, but I happen to know both Buddhist and Hare Krishna witches; I dare say the same applies in other religions.)

We got into magic and what that is, after I answered a question as to what I mean when I say specifically that I’m a witch: why that particular term? I answered that I cast spells and participate in magical rituals. I explained magic as shifting energy to bring about a result in the everyday world. (I don’t think I expressed it as clearly as that, but it’s where we got to after I floundered around a bit.)

My questioner had spent time in Aboriginal communities and was aware of skills those people had which the white population, for the most part, lost long ago — telepathy, for instance. She wanted to know whether that was the sort of thing I meant. Was it the same as being psychic? And, having heard of the group spell casting at Wendy’s concert, she asked, ‘So does casting a spell mean getting together in a group and allowing the music to put you in a certain frame of mind?’ (Or words to that effect; I didn’t take notes.) She spoke of the way music can change one’s mood; was that what I meant by magic? If I didn’t mean these kinds of things, then how did I differentiate?

I ended up asserting that, whereas telepathy etc. are gifts which some people have more than others, witchcraft is something you DO. And it can be done either in circle or solitary. ‘Spells,’ I said, ‘Are active prayers. It’s like the way a Christian might pray alone at home, or might go to church and join in prayer with other people.’ That was understood.

I explained that there are all kinds of Pagans, as there are different denominations of Christians. (There are different kinds of Wiccans, for that matter, but the conversation didn’t get that far.) The question of Satan was left rather inconclusive. I trotted out the usual Wiccan line, ‘The devil is an invention of Christians’ but one of the group pointed out that there are Satanists who call themselves Pagans. I know this is so, but know little about them. I have the impression, however, that modern Satanism is about self-determination rather than evil deeds, and suspect that its adherents don’t worship the Christian devil — but I’m only guessing. (A quick Google reveals various, very different  ways of being Satanist.)

And then I told my story, in outline:

That I was a psychic child who was told it was her vivid imagination, and got the message that it wasn’t true and you’d better not think so or you must be mad. So I shut down hard for many years.

That eventually things happened which I couldn’t explain away. I struggled with them a long time, trying to find the rational explanation and eventually gave up and accepted the ‘irrational’, i.e. that these experiences were real. Upon which, the floodgates opened.

That in the course of time I explored Druidry, Shamanism, Ceremonial Magick, but had a resistance to witchcraft — until one day I realised that of course I was a witch, had always been one (a recognition based on things I did as a child). It was a homecoming.

That nevertheless I think scepticism is healthy. There’s a lot of bunkum out there. After my floodgates opened, I used to joke, ‘Now I believe anything‘ — but I didn’t really. One of the writers asked, ‘How do you decide what to believe?’  I answered that I believe what I personally experience, and which I can’t explain away by ‘rational’ means. I told them my personal slogan of which I’m rather proud: ‘Magic is science for which we haven’t yet found the scientific explanation.’

For my story in more detail, click on the 'About this crone' tab above.

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