Or at least it should be.
The popular refrain in Wiccan and Neo-Pagan witch circles is that the Craft is “whatever makes you comfortable” or “whatever makes you happy.” Newcomers are constantly being assured that they should never be asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable. That they can modify rituals, liturgy, common beliefs, or whatever else is at hand to suit not just personal taste, but previously established routines and social mores.
I’m not necessarily advocating throwing out personal boundaries, exposing ourselves to triggers just for the sake of it, or violently disrupting our lives, particularly in the early stages of exploration. But I do want to challenge the assertion that “Wicca is about whatever you’re comfortable with.”
In fact, if there’s anything I’m sure about where witchcraft is concerned, it’s that it should make you uncomfortable sometimes. In Wicca we talk about suffering to learn. We talk about working between the worlds, or crossing into another completely. Other kinds of witches use terms like hedgecrossing. Witchcraft, I think, is fundamentally transgressive. Witches are outsiders. Witches are dangerous (for many reasons, beyond what we usually think). Witches exist outside the law, outside the norm, outside established boundaries. That’s why in the stories they’re so often loners.
If we only ever put ourselves in circumstances where we’re comfortable, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to learn or grow or experience anything new. I go to lengths to make my outer court uncomfortable. I think about all the times that I was made to be uncomfortable in my own training. The first time I ever participated in skyclad ritual, bringing all of my scars and body issues with me. All of those times that I circled when I was in emotional pain, or exhausted from work or school or depression. All of those magical projects and exercises that had me doing things I never thought I would do (hunting, anyone?).
You get used to things and you get comfortable again, but I usually take this as an indication that it’s time to push out and try something new. Like working out.
“Whatever makes you comfortable” is not necessarily the same as “whatever is good for you in your practice.” The latter is the thing to strive for, though I think it’s normal to feel like we need some guidance in this (hence, a competent HPS/HP, inspiring peer group, or talkative gods/spirits). I think comfort is part of the reason why Wicca now looks so much like church, with reverends, chaplains, an all-loving omnipotent Mother Goddess, and whatever else reminds us of the Christianity we (probably) grew up with. Maybe sometimes these things are necessary, but I think for a lot of people it’s rooted in a fear of being challenged, or perhaps in a failure to appreciate how these things might be unchallenging (even stifling).
And everyone needs different things, to be pushed in different ways. Part of the responsibility of group leadership seems to be figuring out how to push seekers in useful and appropriate ways.
I think it’s important to be a little wary when strangers on the Internet, witch teachers, introductory books, and others we might encounter in passing assure us that Craft work is “whatever makes you comfortable.” That phrase warrants a lot of unpacking, and it’s worth taking into consideration what sort of value magical “comfort” has.