Misconceptions of Witchcraft
Tempest Smith's Suicide
Here we go...
- First, I want to point out there is a Commandment in the Bible that applies here. It goes, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." So if you are hearing any of the following from any source whatsoever, they're breaking their own rulebook. People like far-right pundits, certain radio talk show hosts, Steve Russo, Catherine Sanders, Focus on the Family, and other so-called experts are perpetuating the same age-old Blood Libel that got Witches burned at the stake. It is not okay.
- "Witchcraft is terrifying and super powerful" - calm down. The Powers That Be, including any Divine Entity such as Thor, or the God of the Bible, or Allah, or literally any other Divine One, eat human efforts for breakfast and spit them out. Witches are human. No one and nothing can countermand the will of the Powers That Be. If you're worried about it and religious pray a bunch and try to have some more faith.
- "Witchcraft is Satanism." No. I grew up Jewish and have the advantage of knowing that since Judaism has no devil or hell and Christianity is built off of Judaism, Christianity is the first religion after Zoroastrianism that references a "devil," thus the devil is a Christian thing; probably a Christian invention. Witchcraft is older than all three, therefore has no "devil." As far as I know, most branches of Witchcraft are actually Goddess religion that pay homage to the Mother of all Life. For the vast majority of Witches, what we do is completely unrelated to Satanism. I can't really say if it's "opposites" because I don't know that much about Satanism, because guess what? It doesn't interest me. Unfortunately, some dishonorable cretins like to call themselves "Satanic Witch," dishonoring the Witches who died in the Burning Times by claiming they both work with something literally created by the medieval Christian Church to terrify Pagans into conversion (Satan) AND practice Witchcraft. That, in my opinion, makes them Satanists who work magic, not Witches. See here: LearnReligions and here: Religious Tolerance and here: Blood Libel. Also here: Golden Rule. What the medieval Catholic Church did was amalgamate the Horned God of nature, life, death, and fertility and Pan, the God of vegetation, wilderness, and play, into a caricaturized, blasphemed "devil" that was quite literally a scapegoat and intended to create mass hysteria so the faithful could steal the land and wealth of the Pagans. It worked quite well and the Catholic Church is extraordinarily wealthy and powerful to this day. They stole a whole lot more while they were at it, including the rituals of Easter, the Christmas tree, and many, many Pagan traditions. And then they decided to kill off most of the midwives, herbalists, and wise women, Witches or no. While they were at it they did a Crusade here, and an Inquisition there, committed genocide, and then later down the line committed lots of child abuse. Although the Catholic Church has a lot of good in it, it's got problems.
- There are some who claim that Traditional Witchcraft; aka the oldest version of the Craft, gets its power from the Devil. They are helping to perpetuate the libel of the Catholic Church and to smear the Horned One, Cernunnos. The blood of our Witch forebears lies heavy on my heart and they would mock them. Shame! There is no way to describe their disgrace!
- For the record, even literal Satanism is in most cases not what evangelicals think it is. Most of the Satanists I've met have been extremely nice people. Really. I've known Satanists with happy, loving families who treated me (and everyone else) with respect and kindness when no one else would - and mind you this was in a very "Christian" place full of hateful jerks. Do I get it? Nope, and I probably never will. To my mind Cernunnos is the OG/superior, plus the devil has too many ties to Christianity - I don't have the time for that fearmongering bullshit. But don't think that just because someone is a Satanist that they are a bad person. In my experience most times that just isn't the case. Unless they also call themselves Witches or Traditional Witches, in which case yeah, they are bad people. In a world where being transgender or a minority is often a death sentence what do you think they'll do to us, huh?
- "Witchcraft is evil." Actually, it is a neutral term for working magic, generally from a Neopagan, Earth-centered, Female Divinity-oriented perspective. Some claim it has its origin in Europe, and some claim it is from everywhere. No one really knows where Witchcraft came from, or what it is exactly. What we do know is that the roots of the word "Witchcraft" may come from "Wit" and "Wisdom." Also, one's personality going into the Craft is exactly the same as it is in the Craft.
- "Witchcraft or magic is a way of making your life go exactly the way you want it to." Nope. People generally find this out from experience.
- "Magic is bad, or supernatural, or just plain weird." Incorrect. It is a part of everything and everyone in the universe. Falling in love, for instance, is magic. You could call it the Force, or vibes, or whatever; it's still magic.
- "There are no negative consequences for working bad magic." Let me make this clear: working bad magic is a crime in the eyes of the Universe and the Universe itself prosecutes it as such. There is such a thing as Universal Law. Screw up, and you won't like the results. Furthermore, any magic that causes harm, even in self-defense, is unfulfilling, unpleasant, and depressing to work. I speak from personal experience. I highly doubt that any Witch worth their salt is unwise enough to actively seek out such work. There are two kinds of Witches: good ones and stupid ones. There are no exceptions.
- "Working magic is bad or imaginary." Actually, it is a way of manipulating natural energies to create desired change. Ways of doing this have been passed down throughout the ages and refined so that they actually became effective. Magic is both sentient and linked to the forces that run through the Universe, including Deities. Anyone who misuses magic, such as by causing harm to the innocent, is severely penalized by the Powers That Be in various ways, such as karma, alienating allies through worsening personality, 'getting the wish you never should have wanted' and extreme dissatisfaction with life. These are the most minor consequences. Although Witches generally do not believe in hell, it is generally accepted that some fates are just as bad.
- People really like to take some things out of context and sensationalize them: usage of blood in magic, ritual ceremonies done in the nude, the ritual knife known as the athame, cursing/hexing, confusing fairy tales and Hollywood with the legitimate Craft, the belief that Witches are somehow 'The Biggest Baddest Awesome Glamorous.' One by one now: it is acceptable to use one's own blood, one drop, in spells for positive purposes only and with strict adherence to hygiene. Gardenerian covens tend to work in the nude; it's not necessary for a Witch to do their work in the nude. The athame is used to direct energy and never to cut anything. Cursing or hexing is acceptable if done in self-defense or for a just cause after much consideration, and never to harm the innocent. If it sounds like something that came out of a RenFaire, odds are it's probably got nothing to do with the Craft. Witches are literally just people; if they're trying to cultivate a mystique that just means they lack self-esteem. And of course the Witches depicted in the Bible are completely different from the Witches of today. They don't do the same things or believe in the same things.
- "Witchcraft has no rules." It has no WRITTEN rules. Experienced Witches have learned that there are rules indeed, ones you do not break. The most common one is "do not harm the innocent," thankfully I have never done that except by harming myself, which is dumb but hey, I learned (I think). Another rule is "create only positive changes." Any spell or working that is not specifically intended to create positive change only has, ahem, "side effects." Another is "common sense still applies in Witchcraft the same way it does in real life." Another is "do not break oaths to the Gods." Those who break their oaths are known as "warlock." In the Burning Times warlocks "outed" Witches to inquisitors. So anyone calling themselves "warlock" in the Witch community is looked at askance, to put it lightly. Breaking the rules results in Karma 2: Electric Boogaloo. It may also result in you losing all your friends, your job, and your sanity, simply because becoming a bad person tends to do that.
- "Witchcraft either doesn't work or isn't dangerous at all." False. One of many reasons why I do not recommend dabbling in the Craft before turning 18. Dangers primarily stem from the fact that little previous life experience prepares one for working magic and without expert guidance you are running blind. There is also the fact that Witchcraft by definition causes enormous, unpredictable life changes, often within a short period of time. If you aren't very wise and well grounded to begin with it's a recipe for disaster. However, the most practical danger in the Craft is the plethora of bad information on it. You can't learn the Craft from Tumblr, from TikTok (ugh), from most books on the market today, or even from a lot of people who claim to be "Witches." It takes something like five years to safely find and use the resources that help you without harming you, and that's if you manage to avoid the temptation to try things from questionable sources during that period. Bad information is worse than no information. If you have this dilemma, then you can hit me up on the MacRev Discord server and I can point you to some resources that don't suck. If I feel like it. You can also try www.pookapages.com and www.pentacle.swankivy.com.
- "Witchcraft is a low commitment way of life that doesn't involve exerting personal effort, or really any work at all." Some see it that way and then wonder why things go badly for them.
- "Witchcraft is not spiritual." Again, some believe that. It usually doesn't last long. Although each Witch tends to have a different take on spirituality, you can't stay in the Craft for very long without formulating some spirituality that works for you.
- "Witchcraft can be handled by anyone, and everyone is a Witch." Although people all have magical abilities, only a very small portion of the population is disciplined, ethical, and wise enough to handle the responsibilities of being a Witch without completely destroying their life in the process. Not only is it not for everybody, but even people who are called to the Craft as a spiritual way of life do not have an easy time of it. It is a full time job and a lifetime (or eternal) commitment. In fact, a lot of the time it isn't even that fun (but fulfilling for sure). It's a calling. That's it.
- "Witchcraft is homogenous. There is one book, one set of practices, one way of doing things." No. However there are some things that define Witchcraft to keep it from being lumped in with everything else: 1. The working of magic 2. The respect, reverence of, and acknowledgment of nature as a sentient force or forces - yes, it's animist 3. The acknowledgment of and acceptance that one's actions have consequences 4. The acknowledgment that Satan was created by Christianity and has nothing to do with the Craft. The last one is controversial for some social justice warriors who would probably say that I am gatekeeping. I hate them. Indeed, I think they are pretty close to a modern-day version of the warlocks of days gone past, though most of them probably swore no oaths to the Gods. What they claim to work with, Satan, is modern... and Witchcraft is anything but modern. If this is you, then I implore you to choose the Horned God and claim your title as a Witch or just go with Satanism and say you are a Satanist. You can't be both. As for anyone claiming the Horned God IS the devil, well, I don't have words vile enough for you. Is the genocide of the Burning Times not enough for you? Must you destroy the legacy of the Craft as well?
- "Witches are special/exceptional/insert-label-here." No. Just people.
- "Witches do Witch stuff all the time." You have any idea how freaking exhausting that would be? Yikes!
- Witchcraft is glamorous and cool. *laughs*
Cultural Differences Between Witchcraft and Monotheistic Religions
- Witchcraft is not just a way of life, a practice, and a religion, it is also a bunch of cultural beliefs. Here is how they stand out.
- There is no central dogma. There is no sacred text, unless you believe that nature can be considered a sacred text. Witches often have an individual diary of their personal experiences with spirituality called a Book of Shadows. That's it. And of course, Witches do not believe in the sacred texts of other religions, including the Quran, the Bible, the Vedas, etc. Therefore there is nothing in the Craft that disallows being LGBTQ+, having respect for women and nature, valuing the Earth, being sex-positive, or working magic. Most notably there is nothing in the Craft that encourages fear at all, or blind obedience. In fact it seems many of the other religions' sacred texts were specifically written to terrify their adherents away from doing anything related to the Craft, and to encourage them to kill Witches, for reasons known only to the scribes.
- Witches tend not to worship or work with anything that is unethical but calls itself Divine. To a lot of Witches, what is written about in various sacred texts seems more like a demon than an infinitely loving Deity, mostly because a lot of Witches actually have had experience banishing demons, which is as unpleasant as it sounds. Other Witches believe that a perfect, infinitely loving Divine still works its will through those sacred texts and religions. And yet others don't know.
- A lot of Witches have been seriously traumatized by their experiences with other religions. The hurt runs deep. For extreme examples of this see High Magick by Damien Echols and Tempest Smith's Suicide. It really hasn't been that long since we've been burned at the stake - which by the way is a negative, harmful magic ritual and done to an innocent Witch is technically classified as black magic. And Witches do not have the monopoly on sending bad energy, oh no. Energy follows intention, and with enough intention, hatred can be felt and it can hurt, and it is evil. Now that you know, I hope you personally do not focus too hard on hatefully wishing someone ill. Witch or no, you can hurt someone that way... and you will reap the karmic consequences. Luckily the opposite is true and merely by being loving and positive you can create some good karma for yourself while blessing others.
- Historic activities associated with Witchcraft according to my research: midwifing, herbalism, honoring the forces of nature, healing, counseling, learning and literacy, serving the Divine in one way or another, gardening, bathing, housekeeping, general clergy duties such as handfastings and funerals. Many of the older folk magic charms that survived until the present day had to do with protecting one's family and home. If you have a family superstition that "just makes you feel better," it may be a relic of an older Pagan religion or of the Craft. For instance, an evergreen wreath on the door during Yuletide is placed there for protection and luck, and Easter eggs are also ancient charms for both protection and fertility.
- Witchcraft doesn't define magic as that "harry potter" explosions and fireballs stuff. Honestly it's more like "kissing a boo boo to make it better," "add a pinch of love to this meal," and "hugging trees" type stuff. Or sometimes banishing nasty ghosts. Or kissing your mate. Most magic is done with the help of the Divine. Actually, ritualistic prayers are a kind of magic. One good example of this is the wedding ceremony. Since magic is seen to be both real and important, and originating from one's mental state, Witches are taught to control their thoughts, intentions, energies, and mental health early on in order to prevent snafus.
- There is no intermediary between a Witch and the Divine; no priest or rabbi or clergyperson. The Witch IS the clergyperson. Usually this results in a daily large amount of both prayer and confusion. The nature of the Craft seems to require sincere communion with the Powers That Be, often. How, exactly, a Witch goes about it is their business. The Craft also requires deep introspection, at the very least so you can figure out what is sacred to you and what your ethical boundaries are.
- At heart Witchcraft is about one's own personal, spiritual truth, which is actually a lot harder to figure out than you'd expect. It is not dictated to you from outside of yourself. You have to figure it out yourself.
- Witches do not believe; they know from experience. Frankly if they blindly believe they're doing it wrong.
- The consequences for not working on yourself and doing your best to be a good person seem to be a lot more obvious in the Craft than they are in other religions. This effort has to continue day in, day out, 24/7, 365. Remember what I said about Karma 2: Electric Boogaloo? Yeah... that's why.
- Witchcraft welcomes psychics, especially those who were born with similar abilities. Monotheistic religion doesn't really have a way of dealing with that except to make psychics into clergy who can then put those talents to good use in communion with Deity. At worst, however, monotheistic religion can treat people with psychic abilities as if they are crazy or possessed, or it can claim that those abilities are imaginary. For anyone who has ever had any psychic talent, they can tell you it sure ain't imaginary, and it really isn't that convenient or fun unless you know how to deal with it!
- Monotheistic religions demand goodness. Witchcraft heavily suggests it, as a result of simple observation of the laws of cause and effect. It is often seen as both desirable and wise to do one's best to embody positivity, goodness, love, and one's highest ideals in the Craft.
- Monotheistic religions often stifle original expression in an attempt to prevent evil. Witchcraft actually has a habit of dragging its practitioners through something called "shadow work," where you face your worst tendencies head-on, learn from them, get rid of what you don't want and learn from what is good, and even gain power from your dark side. In the Craft, dark is not evil unless you make it that way. Also, shadow work is generally seen to be beneficial, creating both wisdom and a prevention of literal evil in the Witch. If you know someone who perpetually insists on "lace and kittens" everywhere but has the worst personality you've ever seen, or know a bunch of metalheads that are gentle and sweet when not headbanging, then you understand this concept.
- Have you ever heard of animism? Yeah, Witchcraft is an animist belief system. Herbs, crystals, the Earth Herself - these are believed to be sentient and deserving of the utmost respect.
- There is no concept of original sin in Witchcraft, nor of anything that saves you from the consequences of your actions. Therefore since there is nothing that forgives you or absolves you of the consequences of your actions, there is little tolerance for making poor decisions. Discipline and devotion to personal ethics are a must in the Craft.
- Neither nature nor women are seen as evil or inferior but in fact are considered divine. You must respect your mama in the Craft.
- Sex is not seen as evil, but as sacred. It is also approached with a serious emphasis on consent, informed decision-making, and making sure that no one gets hurt.
- Reincarnation and life after physical death are very common beliefs in Witchcraft, mostly because a lot of us can actually see ghosts, or have other psychic abilities. And a lot of us can remember our past lives. Tied into these are very often deeply held beliefs about Deity, and how that Deity relates to birth-and-death transitions. Therefore it's usually seen as important to honor and respect the Dead.
- It is not seen as good to subvert your will to a higher power in the Craft. Thinking for yourself is emphasized before "surrendering to a higher power" mainly because no one knows if you're actually surrendering to a higher power or to some spirit that wandered in and decided to interrupt your channeling. In the Craft it is generally supposed that we should think for ourselves and logically reason out how to do things; stand on our own two feet; instead of be slaves to an invisible force or being, even if it calls itself the master of the universe. Personally I have also noticed that the Gods and the Lord and Lady (female and male Divine; very close concept to God of the Bible/sacred highest power of the universe) don't seem to like it when you try to have them make all of your decisions for you.
- Monotheistic religions have all the answers; you do not need to experience anything, but just follow along with the one sacred textbook. Witchcraft is experiential. You don't understand it at all unless you experience the rituals yourself; call on Deity yourself; try things. Then you really know you don't have all the answers.
- Monotheistic religions are each the "one and only true religion." Witchcraft is decidedly not. In fact, it is forbidden to recruit anyone into the Craft and even people who wish to become Witches must first learn all they can about it for the traditional year and a day. Also, there is no sense of superiority for being a Witch, because it is not seen as the "best religion ever," just the best path for that particular person with their unique needs and quirks.
- Monotheistic religions have a large list of ways in which their adherents must conform. There is little relevance for or demand for personal freedom. Witchcraft's main emphasis is on personal independence, freedom, and choice. All of these are cherished core values.
- Truth is another core value in the Craft. Therefore, Witches generally get as much education as they possibly can, reading through libraries' worth of stuff. Dogma is anathema to the religion, particularly if it happens to be false, or a half-truth, or something like that. Skepticism comes with the territory.
- Monotheistic religion has a large emphasis on fear. Adherents follow the rules out of fear of punishment, as well as desire for reward. Although Witchcraft does have some emphasis on fear, it is based on practicality derived from personal experience, the experience of another Witch, or common sense.
- Monotheistic religions have a value system that defines morality for their adherents. Each Witch creates their own and adapts it to changing circumstances based on experience and hard-earned wisdom. For many Witches, their value system, or what they personally believe to be right, and/or what they personally cherish and hold to be sacred, is worth more to them than any threat of punishment or promise of reward.
- Monotheistic religions often use magic and yet claim it is evil. Witchcraft uses magic and accepts it as an intrinsic part of the religion. Admittedly magic is not misused as often by those in monotheistic religions as it is by poorly-trained or ethically questionable Witches.
- Witchcraft sees divinity as something that pours through every other legit religion, and accepts other religious paths, and is a part of other paths in many ways. However, monotheistic religions recoil in horror from the Craft and claim it is evil, etc. for whatever reason they see fit to peddle today, usually in order to gain money. Hopefully that changes soon.
- In other words, yes, monotheistic religion is absolutely chock full of divine magic (see the bottom portion of Nondenominational Spirituality for an explanation of allowing the Divine to work magic for you aka miracles). People often come into the Craft because they want reassurance, safety, a little more power in an uncaring world, and so on, when that's completely unnecessary. Monotheistic religions already have all that if you actually follow their practices and delve into them a little more to understand the why and how. So does a lot of other stuff, such as (really) being very into science. Magic = miracles. Miracles = magic. Magic gets demonized, miracles get canonized, there is absolutely no difference, that's the way it goes.
All The Ways People Have Screwed Up Witchcraft
- Witchcraft is certainly not perfect. From historic crackpots like Aleister Crowley to Gerald Gardner's special brand of crazy to the tumblr social justice warrior Witch of your choice, it's been twisted and contorted too often.
- Playing Pretend and Saying It's Witchcraft: a major reason why no one takes the religion seriously. Indeed, you can LARP all you want, but that's not Witchcraft. It's the difference between imagining a change and directly causing a change. If nothing changes no matter how vividly you imagine something, you aren't practicing the Craft. You're just daydreaming.
- Power Tripping: yes, a lot of people join up because they think they'll get Ultimate Power Over The Universe. That's not how it works, but they are insufferable assholes until they learn that indeed, that's not how it works.
- Bloated Ego: this needs no explanation.
- Performative Witchcraft: because sharing your Craft on social media for the world to see can be done for one of two reasons 1. you want to help people and 2. you want to be praised. Attention-seeking Witches give us all a bad name, for heaven's sake, please stop it.
- Fluffy Bunnies and the Anti-Fluffy Bunnies: one side of the spectrum is the stereotypical New Age person that can't handle anything that isn't dainty and perfect, the other side of the spectrum is the person who is allergic to the first type and often enjoys being an insufferable edgelord, perhaps even fully embracing the stereotype of "big bad spooky Witch." They both give us all a bad name, for heaven's sake, please stop it.
- Social Justice Warrior: takes cancel culture to new and improved levels to the point of trying to bring about the world of 1984, complete with newspeak, censorship, and playing whack-a-mole with any person who isn't so 24/7 plugged into social media that they don't know about the new flavor of "woke" they're supposed to be today. They give us all a bad name, for heaven's sake, please stop it.
- Using Witchcraft as a replacement for mental health care: this is just sad. Witchcraft will guaranteed make any mental illness worse, unfortunately. I know from experience.
- Using Witchcraft as an excuse for criminal behavior: doubly stupid. 1. Karma will kick your ass 2. It proves that you really suck at magic, because using criminal behavior as a crutch for working magic means you don't know the real techniques for doing magic at all. I d i o t.
- Bastardizing the Craft by mixing it with other stuff that is incompatible or via excessive cultural appropriation: nope, it isn't a good idea to invoke a different Deity every day, nope, it is not compatible with Islam or most kinds of Judaism (Kabbalah is a notable exception but, having been raised Jewish, I question whether Kabbalah is even Jewish at all; I left Judaism behind out of respect when I converted to the Craft).
- Misusing the Craft: harming the innocent in any way, forcing someone to "love" you, or interfering with someone innocent's free will are all major reasons why the Craft has such a bad reputation in the first place. Also, it'll make every other Witch declare open season on you to force you to stop.
Little-known facts about Witchcraft
- New Age and conspiracy crap which revolves around magical thinking, "faith," "belief," and so on often has very distant ties to actual magic and thus to Witchcraft. The difference is that real magic takes hard work and effort, and most importantly TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. These dipshits think that if they believe hard enough, all of their wildest dreams will come true, all of their problems will be solved without any effort on their part, and nothing will ever be difficult again (usually with an "if only They would stop keeping us down" threat narrative). Real magic is the opposite. The more impressive the goal, the harder you have to work, and the more you have to give up (time, energy, bad personality traits, habits, even material stuff like incense and candles). Magic isn't your fucking free lunch. And even if you start out by doing it only for yourself, over time you come to realize it's not for yourself at all but for the benefit of the whole universe. That's a whole lot of responsibility.
If you read through all this because you have more or less been called to the Craft even before you knew there was a name for it, know that you are loved, you are appreciated, and you are not alone. There are many more of us, in places you would never expect, and we are proud of you. Keep your chin up and always be true to yourself.
Why I am a Witch: I never have to lie to myself. There's no cognitive dissonance. If something isn't true, I don't need to pretend it is. Here are two books that I recommend: Embracing the Moon by Yasmine Galenorn and Dancing with the Sun by Yasmine Galenorn; they'll tell you everything you need to know about the Craft. Understand: they are textbooks intended to be put to use, not scriptures, but do not do anything from them unless you have studied the Craft for a year and a day and then dedicated yourself to it. Practicing the Craft carries with it extreme responsibility and accountability. IT'S NOT FOR EVERYONE.