“outside the bounds of modern Neo-Paganism, witchcraft is NOT about Goddess or God, seasonal celebrations, procuring a good harvest, reliving the past, dancing in a cloak while drinking wine or wearing flowers in your hair or even necessarily about being Pagan. Witchcraft is about sovereignty.”
In a Facebook group someone posted a picture of Besom Stang & Sword by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire, with the above quote. I can’t speak on the book as I have not read it. I believe in historical witchcraft more so than modern Neo-Pagan and social aesthetic forms of witchcraft, but I’m not really tied into the trad-craft movement. That said, I do like some trad-craft writers and approaches. I’ve heard enough good things about Besom Stang & Sword that I am curious to read it.
This particular quote – which again I cannot attest from the book but rather from the forum; leaves room for discussion. It certainly drew some interesting responses in the forum.
The first individual suggested that the word sovereignty was a biased and Christian view. I think maybe she did not understand what sovereignty means on an individual basis…or that they were speaking of witchcraft outside of the context of NeoPaganism, and thus historically that might also include Christians.
One person dismissed any book that would use the term NeoPaganism, because the term seems “dictatorish” (sic).
Others seemed to view witchcraft along the lines of modern ceremonial magic – a path to enlightenment and the spiritual pursuit of the higher self. In fact, that seemed to be predominant. Most did not like the idea of witchcraft as a means of power. Some felt that you would grow past the desire for power. Others felt that witchcraft is humbling and would teach you not to seek power. Some said it is not a path of power at all but only one of wisdom and harmony.
Some people today say that the revival authors and the NeoPagans of the 60s and 70s reclaimed the word witch, but you can’t reclaim that which was never yours. They’ve stolen and abused the word and left us with these sad, weak, and uneducated points of view.
The only comment I responded to was one which suggested that witchcraft was the birthright of all mankind. I responded that this position was directly in opposition to all historical meanings of the word witchcraft. But I should further point out that this powerlessness is also antithetical to the idea of witchcraft. In modern parlance we view witchcraft to be witchery, the things done by witches. People who can’t quite figure out what a witch is say that a witch is someone who does witchcraft…a rather meaningless definition due to its circular quality. Historically Kraft was not science, or a skilled knowledge, Kraft was power or force. Witchcraft is the power that a witch has to work magic. Witchcraft is inherently about power.
I am not in the habit of saying a witch must be this or that. Witchcraft is not a system but rather a state of being and something possessed of one in that state of being. Historically there is a quality of antagonism associated with the witch. Modern writers have said that witchcraft is a recourse to power for the powerless. Historically this is well supported. So, the idea that witchcraft is not a path for power cuts away its teeth and turns its back on its history. It takes away from the important place witchcraft has had in mankind’s experience.
We truly need to turn from this silliness.
I was not intending to focus on that, but rather write a short post on the quoted passage, so I will turn to that.
In saying that witchcraft outside of NeoPaganism is not about a God and Goddess, or nature worship or creative anachronism, but rather about sovereignty, I must agree that this statement is 100% correct.
Even with it being 100% correct I’d say it’s not 100% complete. But then why should a quote out of context be 100% complete? I thought perhaps people’s hesitance to agree with it would be because they needed more than sovereignty to define witchcraft, but as we’ve seen it’s because the people reading the quote didn’t know what witchcraft is. Still, let’s look at some of what else there can be. I think sovereignty is important and can be expanded but it isn’t what I’d center a definition of witchcraft around.
Sovereignty is important. Being able to be effective as a witch involves being self-determined, I’d like to say also being self-possessed but that’s not exactly right. A witch should have a certain hold on their own being and an acceptance of their own character and selfhood, but the calmness and emotional stability implied by being self-possessed aren’t necessary. In fact, a turbulent spirit might be a more natural quality.
A witch needs to feel and know that they are ruled by their own power and have the awareness that they might stand against a sea of disagreeing powers, but that only their power and determination for themselves matter; they will either change the sea, or navigate the sea until they reach their own end.
More than this sovereignty, which arises in part from power, I would say otherness and liminality are the central qualities of witchcraft. These natures provide access to the power to be sovereign. Existing in a liminal state of being is central to the power we call witchcraft. A witch is tied to spirits in such a way that the witch stands between the world of man and the world of spirits. Historically witches were often described in an otherworldly way somewhere between mankind and spirit-kind. Inhabiting this state more fully empowers a witch’s relationship with the spirits with whom they will work. This liminality also allows the witch to be the crux of change in the magic they work. Existing liminally the witch’s heart is like the crossroads and so possibility flows through. Along with possibility the thing to be changed, the force of change, the state of what is, and the possible ways that it may come to be, may all simultaneously be held by the witch until they allow one road to arise.
With this liminality comes otherness. The witch is separate, but at the same time able to intimately connect because of this separateness. The witch is other from the average man, but also other from the spirits. The witch is outside the norms which create boundaries because the liminality creates a different relationship to boundary. Consider anyone who is by their nature a witch and you will see the influence of these qualities upon them and their life. These qualities give rise to witch-power because they are the basis and nature thereof.
Ultimately, a witch is sovereign to be who they choose to be. Their quantum relationship to boundaries and borders, to normalcy and otherness give them a fluidity to be who they choose and at once to be many different things. With that in mind, rejecting modern pigeonholing – both that of the NeoPagan priests of nature and humble servants of wisdom crowd, and that of the re-wilding witchcraft politically charged seekers of antedeluvian freedom; is welcome, because witches don’t fall into pigeon holes; witches rise powerfully in what manner they choose, from what place they choose into whatever venue they choose.
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If you would like to explore more of my ideas on magic please check out my book Living Spirits, and keep an eye on this space for information on my new book which will be coming out soon.