Witchcraft is Uncomfortable

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.

 

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8 thoughts on “Witchcraft is Uncomfortable

  1. Rapha

    That might be a weird thing to say but your article is very reassuring, to me at least. Every time I read that “Anything is ok if it feels comfortable to you” I have a funny feeling. As if religion/spirituality was deprived from the personal sacrifice (or call it challenge) that, to me gives it meaning.
    So when it comes up in a blog post, I tend to read it more like “This is an ok thing to think/do if it belongs to your tradition or practice” (and if it ok with your values and won’t get you to jail). Witchcraft is in my opinion a personal challenge in a way, take the challenge away and you get nice overly loving new age stuff. Not my thing.
    Great post, as usual.

    Reply
  2. Chris Mann

    This is a little of topic, but this reminds me of a video I watched on youtube by an atheist who was bothered that many other atheists turn to atheism because they don’t like what religion tells them (particularly Christianity). As she pointed out, it’s an appeal to consequences, which is a logical fallacy. I’ve seen that in some videos and among people who comment on videos. Another way of putting it would be that they are rejecting belief in a deity because to believe in a deity makes them uncomfortable.

    I’ve wondered how often it happens that people turn to neo-paganism because they don’t like what Christianity (or another religion) has to tell them. A promise that you can believe and do whatever makes you comfortable would be very appealing to someone who is primarily trying to get away from another religion. (Obviously it wouldn’t be true for all neo-pagans just as it isn’t true for all atheists.) I’m sure there are people who turn to New Age for that reason. I probably just insulted somebody.

    I also wonder why someone would turn to atheism instead of Neo-paganism (when promised comfort). Is it that they ran into atheism first?

    Reply
  3. Davin Raincloud (@druidcrafty)

    I resonate with what you say. In my ‘learnins’ there is this concept of the ‘witch’ as the Other, as being outside the ‘group’. I’ve been bullied most of my life for the way I look, my size, and my thoughts. The trouble with the modern pagan movement is that real witches (TM) are mixed in with general seekers. Then groups form, bullying happens, group normalisation, group think happens… and then you get mainstream Wiccan Reverends. (Which some are great people and suspect are real witchy also, it just allows so many non-witches to be Wiccans).

    When I first found a ‘Wiccan’ group to start training with, and who I thought was my home, I was stunned when people corrected me and said that Wiccans aren’t necessarily Witches. I had thought that Wicca was the religion of the witches (like Gardner said). Nope. I fell out with this group and I am ultimately glad. I am studying Black Rose Witchcraft with Storm Faerywolf which is more influenced by Feri Trad.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Witchcraft is Uncomfortable « PPW

  5. Crystal L.

    I think there is a difference in “what’s comfortable” and “what resonates”. I’ve rarely been comfortable as a Witch. The word itself speaks, at least to me, of being uncomfortable. Pushing limits and boundaries of what you believed was possible, then pushing a little more.

    Being a Witch feels right, but I think “comfortable” only goes so far as finding a path you resonate with. The rest is hard work.

    Reply
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