I got an email from someone via a message board I am registered with who is new to Paganism and Witchcraft and trying to find out what it’s all about. He says he feels like this is where he’s supposed to be, but still has so many questions because it’s very different than the religion he was raised in (Christianity). I linked him to my blog in hopes that he’d poke around and pick up on things, but I also realize that my blog isn’t the most organized spot on the internet, so I went ahead and tried to answer his questions directly.
Lots of times, people ask the same questions that I’ve heard before. That’s not a slam against them — it just shows that most people have more in common than we might think — but it does mean that when I haven’t had breakfast or my cup of hot peppermint tea yet, I might do a bit of copy/paste/tweak to save time and be able to respond quickly. I share things like this for that reason: people have a lot in common, so maybe you’ll come across a question or answer I give here and it will help you out or spark something. That’s my hope.
So, if you’ve followed my posts and some of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because some of it I’ve written it before somewhere else.
Are you a Witch or a Wiccan?
I’ll just start with: I classify my beliefs/religion as Pagan or as Religious Witchcraft. Sometimes I use the term Wicca when such is necessary, mostly because Wicca is the legally recognized name for Religious Witchcraft and I’ve had to rely on that for various instances in my life, but in general, it’s not my go-to definition. I prefer Witch though I use both terms totally interchangeably. I’ve studied with and trained under various different Pagan traditions and Wiccan organizations, but what I do myself, what I teach, and what I hope to pass on to future students as a tradition is my own creation. So, here comes the standard disclaimer that I’m not speaking for all Witches, Wiccans, Pagans, etc. I have written a huge essay on this issue (Witchcraft v. Wicca debate — see the tab at the top of this blog) if you want to explore my thoughts on that in more depth. Or, if there’s a specific question, you can ask and I’ll answer so as not to bog you down with too much stuff. I don’t really get into the “Witch or Wiccan” discussion because Wiccans are Witches. Wicca means Witch. Those who don’t understand this need to learn more and educate themselves further.
Do you believe in Jesus? What do you think about hell? Do you think God will punish you for being a Witch?
The whole Jesus thing gets into a theology I don’t practice, so there’s not really much I have to say on it other than I get what he was doing or saying. I don’t follow a belief system dealing with sin or salvation, so to me he’s a teacher and humanitarian. He did what he had to do. I can respect him for it.
The concept of hell as a punishment for being a bad person was always a laughable cop-out to me (according to Christian tradition) because it was all based on getting God’s forgiveness and had nothing to do with the act or acts that were performed. You could be the most vile, reprehensible being on the planet, but if you asked God to make it all go away, you were golden. I also don’t really believe that punishment for wrong-doing happens in the afterlife —thus the absence or lack of a need for hell for evil people. The other thing that would get someone a place in Hell is if you don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God who died for sins, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, etc. I don’t believe that, so if I’m to be condemned for not believing that, so be it. I can’t change that and don’t really care to. It has no real place in my own beliefs, so it’s not my thing. I have other beliefs that mean more to me, so I focus on them and I don’t worry about what might happen based on something I don’t follow or don’t believe in. I consider it to be along the same lines of why a Christian doesn’t care what the Qu’ran says, why a Hindu doesn’t care what a Scientologist says, or why the Amish don’t care what a Buddhist says.
What about good and evil? What about casting a spell to hurt someone? Would you ever do that?
Good and evil are subjective and based on intention, they aren’t opposite of one another, but points on an ongoing scale. Murder — the willful taking of another human life — is considered evil. But what about when it’s not, depending on circumstances like self-defense for yourself or your loved ones? Everything has to be weighed and measured and personal responsibility taken for it.
Courage is a virtue, but too much courage makes you foolhardy, too little makes you a coward. It’s only a good thing, a healthy quality, if it exists in balance between those extremes. Likewise, if a wrong is done and if you believe an action is justified, then you accept the consequences for performing it. Consequences might not be a reward or punishment in after you die, just as you might not see direct results in the immediate future. What matters is your intention and your responsibility in what you are doing. Anything taken to one extreme or another can be good or evil — it’s only when such exists in balance, in the middle, that it can truly be helpful or beneficial.
I believe in seeking justice or punishment for wrongs committed, but that has to be handled well. The bigger picture I think is that we don’t always know everything about what’s going on. I’m not saying that it’s an excuse for the behavior performed, but I do think there are patterns at work in life and while there is some wiggle room, fate does exist to an extent. It could be the wrong-doer’s purpose to have committed the action they did, when weighed on the cosmic scale of things. So, in situations like that, it’s not really about personal justice or seeing the perpetrator get what’s coming to them. You or I may have to settle with never knowing if they got what they deserved. I think that hope and belief in hell is in large part born out of humanity’s need for justice and fairness. Since life doesn’t always seem to give it, somewhere the balance has to be made, so if not in life, then after life. I take each situation as it arises and try to make the best decision I can, like whether to cast a hex or curse, pray/invoke the gods for justice, or simply let it go.
Forgiveness is important too, and justice and retribution aren’t necessarily tied to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an instant cure that makes all the anger suddenly evaporate. Anger must be worked through like any other part of life. However, I can say from personal experience in my own life that when I employed forgiveness, I experienced the difference and was able to heal from it because I no longer had to feel the emotion bound to the hurt. It doesn’t erase what happened, that would be a very naive concept, but it does permit the ability to look back on the experience without revisiting the pain or other feelings brought about by the harm that was done. I still seek justice and retribution for wrongs that have been committed and I offer forgiveness once I’ve worked through the anger to the point I can do so and be sincere.
Also, I never said that the person who harmed me or someone under my protection gets off scott-free. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and so am I.
In Christianity, we’re told that to be a good person we should try to be like Christ. That when he lives inside of us and we let him guide our lives, people will see his goodness. Do Witches have something like that to help them be good people?
No, not really. Individual Witches may find role models and people they admire and want to emulate, but we don’t really have anyone that we all aspire to be like. We’re too individualistic for that. Some Witches might even aspire to emulate Christ, while others want to be like Genghis Khan. Personally, my role models include Hypatia of Alexandria, Carl Sagan, Khalil Gibran, and Boudicca the Queen of the Iceni.
Also, and I’ve talked about this before on my blog as well, I don’t really know if one of my goals in life is to be a “good person”.
Life is unfair. You aren’t guaranteed to get good things for being a good person. You aren’t necessarily destined for misery if you’re an asshole. People who have to have that sort of outlook — either that some benevolent and gregarious deity loves them and watches over them all the time, or that they can think happy-happy-joy-joy thoughts into winning the lottery or losing twenty pounds are operating outside of rational understanding, in my opinion. Sometimes it works like that, but it’s random enough to be considered either good luck or bad luck. Life is life. That’s why the gods have given Witches the gift of magic to even out the playing field a bit, bend things one way or another as needed, and seek our own health and happiness.
My spiritual purpose or identity or whatever you want to call it isn’t based on being enlightened, achieving higher states of being, nirvana, or whatever. I don’t even necessarily consider myself a spiritual person in that context or have a solid use for that phrase. I practice spirituality along with religion and if enlightenment happens to me, it’s more of an after-effect brought on by doing what I do, but it isn’t the purpose or goal. My personal code is one of honor, intelligence, honesty, knowledge, and personal responsibility. My goal is education of and service to the gods. If that aligns with ‘raising the planet’s vibrations’ well, good. If not, it’s not really my problem. I do what I do and I’m happy and good at it.
Why are you a Witch? Did someone tell you that you’re a Witch? What kind of goals do you have as a Witch?
I’m a Witch because I embrace a system of belief that sees this life and this world as sacred. I enjoy laughter, music, dancing, conversation with friends, the touch of my lover, the deliciousness of really good drink or food as it passes my lips, the feel of the sun on my skin or the wind as it blows through my hair. I’m a Witch because all of these things resonate with me and connect me to what I personally know to be Divine. I understand and work magic. Not as a slight of hand or some fantasy performance, but because I understand and accept that on the very lowest (or highest) level, everything is made of energy and as long as that energy is moved in accordance with Nature (because nothing can exist or operate apart from Nature) that I can make things happen that often seem to be coincidence, but that I know goes deeper than that. I got into this path through studying history and science. I’d been fortunate to have always had a knack for Witchcraft, but didn’t know there was such a thing still practiced and understood, so the new-age stuff never really had any allure for me. I consider the path of the Witch to be the Walker Between the Worlds — that means, one foot in the mundane and one in the magical. I prefer to be grounded, not spacey, which is what most new-age things come across to me as. It’s all about balance. That’s the goal. That’s the key to it all.
As far as someone telling me that I’m a Witch — yes, I’ve had that happen, but I don’t see that as validation. I was a Witch before another Witch told me I was a Witch. It was nice to hear, but if it had never happened, if I had never heard another Witch tell me I was a Witch, I don’t think it would have changed things for me one way or another in the long run.
That’s NOT the same thing as being ordained a Priestess of the Craft. I do believe that proper training is necessary if you’re going to take on that role and be effective. Few things anger me as much as someone claiming to be a High Priest or High Priestess who have not earned that title, don’t deserve it, and tout it around for their own ego boost. You can name yourself a Witch if you honor and practice the Craft, but you cannot name yourself a High Priest or High Priestess — that must be done by another who is recognized in that role and can bestow it upon you.
Goals… hmm, well, it’s tough, but not impossible. Life is a state of constant flux, but that’s life. Balance is a goal, and may seem ‘unreachable’, because that’s because life changes all the time, not because a person ‘fails’ at keeping balance. It’s being mindful of your life, being an active participant instead of a passive observer. It’s taking action. Sometimes you get tired, or frustrated, or lazy, or apathetic, but that’s not failure, it’s human. You just work around it and when you get your feet again, you keep going. It’s got nothing really to do with deity. It’s just accepting and understanding and working with the human condition.
I don’t know where to start. I went to a ritual gathering and felt really out of place. The people were nice, but I didn’t really know what was going on. Everyone knew more than me and I felt stupid. I want to see if this is right for me, but I’m scared. How do I learn how to do this?
You did really well with diving in and exploring what a circle with others is like. Even if you felt uncertain, I think it’s good that you did it and it shows a lot of courage and determination. But, if you need your religion or religious practice to be taken in small chunks so that you can easily accomplish what you want and feel good, then that’s what your religion or spirituality or practice should be about. No one says you have to take off more than you can chew. Somewhere in the bible (I can’t quote book, chapter, and verse) but it says: “Let there be milk for babes and meat for men.” in regard to spiritual practice or a relationship with God.
Everyone starts where they are. Don’t compare yourself with others, because you don’t really know what’s going on in their lives. The person you see being uber-religious and deeply spiritual might be struggling with it and they just make it look easy.
You work at it. You study. You learn. It’s a goal of always practicing and improving because the practice and improvement is the reward itself.
Here’s an example of what I mean: I do music because I love music, it is its own reward and because I love it, and love the feeling it gives me, even when a piece is frustrating the hell out of me, I keep doing it. Spirituality should be like that. Not everyone feels that way about religious practice, and not everyone should. That’s the point of us all being individual. If ritual or practice is hard for you, then let that go, at least for now. Ritual is the path, not the destination. If it’s not the path for you to take right now in your religious practice, that’s fine. You can always try it again when you know more.
There were people talking about gods at the ritual like, “Dionysus likes it when I do this.” and “Pan likes it when I play this song.” How do I know what the gods want?
Different gods want different things, and even between their devotees, they want different things from “person A” than they expect or desire from “person B”. It’s all subjective. Ritual is for the benefit of the person or group mostly, because it serves to provide a connection they can experience between themselves and deity. It’s been my experience that deities like to be acknowledged, but they don’t always have the same sort of desire for that acknowledgement in the same way. I’d start with just studying mythology first and see if a particular god or goddess resonates with you. Once you find a god or goddess, then you can work out what they would like to see from you.
For example, maybe between Brighid and I, there’s a particular relationship and connection. But Brighid could want one thing from me and a different thing from someone who is coming to her fresh from Christianity, or maybe carrying spiritual baggage from whatever religion they were in before embracing Paganism. Devotion to the gods in Paganism doesn’t necessarily mean ‘worship’ or doesn’t mean it in the same context that Christians worship their God. But Brighid could have been like, “Okay, that’s what you’re familiar with when you come to a God, so we’ll go with it.” It’s hard to say what was going on in that relationship. You never know where exactly someone is coming from, so it’s best to reserve judgment in those cases and not worry that so-and-so is better at this than you are.
People are people. Being a Pagan doesn’t automatically grant you some vast maturity and grasp of all things in the universe. It just means that you have this particular way of touching that elusive feeling of ‘a-ha’ that is a bit different from Christianity, or Buddhism, or Islam, or Shintoism, or…
I know some extremely intelligent Pagans who still make a muck of things every now and then. I know some Christians who have such a solid grasp of the humanity of Jesus as well as his divinity that some of their compatriots are certain they’re going to hell on roller blades. You have to look at people as individuals and not necessarily as ‘representatives of this or that faith’.
Maybe they’ve only read a single book. Maybe they’ve been to three rituals but were worried about who would see them there, so they wanted to act like they ‘got it’ so that the hot girl or guy next to them would be impressed. Maybe they’re a genuine seeker, trying things out and not sure where they fit in with all this, so if they get asked questions, they want to give the best answer they can, but really don’t understand what they’re doing, they just know that at this moment in their lives, it’s what they should be doing. Maybe they’ve studied and practiced for years and years and have a solid understanding on their own, but suck at being able to effectively communicate that understanding to others — in other words, the ‘teacher gene’ is totally absent in them and they come across as a condescending twit. It happens in all practices. Pagans aren’t immune because we have this messy thing called ‘life’ that we’re all trying to figure out.