When I Do Spells: Thoughts on Working Magic and the “Craft” of Witchcraft

If witchcraft is a craft (in addition to being a religion, as it is for many of us), then what exactly is the “craft”? And how often do we have to be engaging in that craft in order to really be witches?

For a lot of people–both witches and non-witches–we immediately think of spells. Witches do spells! Of course they do, we think. But what exactly are spells? And how many do you have to do before you know you’re a witch? If someone picks up one of those cutesy turn-your-man-into a toad spell books and tries something once, or writes a wish on a bay leaf and burns it because they saw that meme on Instagram, or blows out their birthday candles and makes a wish, are they practicing witchcraft? And do those spells have to work? What failure rate is allowed before you have to throw in the towel and admit to being a non-witch? What if you never throw in the towel, and you just keep failing at spells your whole life? Is that witchcraft?

…and the questions keep coming.

It gets kind of ridiculous, really, writing it all down. But I think about these things sometimes, and often these are the questions I get asked the most by the witchcraft-curious.

Keep reading…

My Five Favorite Recent Witch Books

AfterlightImageI’ve made a lot of blog posts and videos in the past about favorite books: advanced books, beginner books, books for people interested in taking things in a new direction, classics I think everyone should read, and books that I’ve got in my personal to-be-read pile. But I was recently asked to share my thoughts on which recent releases were important, or would have an impact for people exploring witchcraft right now. In other words, if you couldn’t recommend anything written more than two or so years ago, what would you pick?

We’re lucky today, because there are so many exciting new books coming out all the time. It can often be difficult to choose (and if you don’t have to choose, please read them all)!

I decided to limit myself to four, but then through my own book in at the end as a fifth, because I wrote it to do something very specific, and I believe that thing is important.

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The Nature of the Gods

My personal theological position has moved as my Craft has grown and changed, and I find that it loops around. For a long time, I identified as a hard polytheist. More recent experiences make me less sure. But ultimately, I appreciate the paradox that presents itself in so many magical traditions: one can hold multiple positions without being in a perpetual state of internal conflict. Here, I think out loud about the nature of the divine, how we experience the gods individually (and collectively), and why so many of our questions won’t ever get satisfactory answers.

Wiccan Non-Witches

[Please observe right away that this conversation is specifically about (all kinds of) Wiccans.  Please don’t write irritated comments designed to inform me that there are other kinds of witchcraft.  I am aware.  That is a different subject, and not the one at hand.]

It’s popularly asserted in Pagan and witch spaces that one can be Wiccan without being a witch.

This comment makes me a little crazy in its weird semantics.

My gut reaction is, “Uh, no it’s not.”

And then I have to check myself.

Keeping in mind that I’m coming from a BTW perspective, where “witch” and “Wiccan” are often used interchangeably, the idea that Wicca—which is the practice of a specific kind of witchcraft—can exist independently of witchcraft is nonsensical.  In an orthopraxic tradition (I feel a little dirty as a religious studies scholar making these kinds of distinctions, but bear with me for a minute) where that praxis is witchcraft, what exactly is one doing as a Wiccan if not witchcraft?

The answer, I guess, is believing.  The argument that gets flung around is that Wicca (enter the eclectic perspective) is fundamentally about belief in a divine couple and the development of a connection to natural cycles.  So one’s Wicca-ness can be entirely devoted to praying and nature walks, theoretically.

Nevermind my Gardnerian snobbery for a second, but even if we take this to be true, does that mean that these kinds of Wiccans aren’t engaging in ritual?  And if they are what do those rituals look like?  Are they not casting circles or summoning assorted spirit-y things (both of which are certainly acts of magic and therefore, potentially, witchcraft)?

This is a real question, guys.  What are those of you who identify as Wiccan non-witches doing?

And all of this falls apart the second that we realize that “witchcraft” isn’t a cohesive, universal thing with a meaning we can all agree upon.  Honestly, I’m finishing a freaking graduate degree in this stuff and I can barely provide you with a concise definition that I actually feel comfortable flinging around in public.

So that checking of my gut reaction comes upon the realization that, most of the time for me, witchcraft has something to do with the practice of a particular kind of practical, need-based magic.  What sometimes gets termed “low magic” as opposed to the high magick of Hermetic traditions (where Wicca has a good many of its roots).

I realize that’s kind of a terrible, incomplete definition, but that’s usually my operational position, even if I can scholasticize (totally a word now) my way out of it.  And given that, I must realize that this doesn’t necessarily fit the Wicca that is so near and dear to my heart, further affirming that assertion in question.  I know traditional Wiccans who I wouldn’t trust to magic their way out of a paper bag, either because they don’t practice, don’t care, or have never had the need.  They’re still performing the rites and necessary woo that is entailed in being Wiccan (which might be witchcraft, but not strictly according to the above definition), but they’re not witches in the day-to-day sense (spells, potions, working with particular kinds of spirits, travel into spirit realms, etc.).  So in this sense, yes, they are Wiccan without being witches.

(Which sounds super boring to me, but what have you.)

It’s fundamentally kind of a silly conversation, just because we don’t have agreed upon definitions for any of these terms (Wiccan, witch, witchcraft, magic), but maybe there are still grounds for a conversation.

So what’s your perspective?  If you identify as Wiccan but not as a witch, what’s your reasoning?