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Saturday, April 13, 2024

What’s All That Blood??!!?


When I was in high school, a friend took a copy of “Magic Power of Witchcraft” by the Frosts from his grandmother’s house and gave it to me because he knew I was into magic. He was not, and in fact, we’re still Facebook friends and he is now raising a very conservative Catholic family. The book was mostly an advertisement. One chapter explained a sex magic ritual for invoking the forces of Mars. It talked about squeezing blood out of meat onto a woman’s bare breast and other bizarre salacious things. My friends and I used to stand out in the courtyard of our somewhat posh Catholic prep school and read that chapter out loud to each other amongst a twitter of adolescent boy giggling. I still remember one guy who insisted he wanted us to read it every afternoon because he thought it was funny, despite the evidence he enjoyed it for another reason. It was hysterical, good fun while ridiculing a goofy description of blood magic. 

Recent discussions of blood have been way less fun. 

I recently taught a class on witchblood. I presented it at two different conferences. It’s a subject that is important to me and that I’ve talked about frequently over the years. As there was interest in the classes, I shared the audio from them for free online once I wasn’t set to present it anywhere else. 

A lot of response has been fairly positive. There have been a few negative responses that were quite visible. There were some more responses in support. This blew up into lots of posts about how everyone was discussing the subject…as happens on Facebook and other social media. 

I have felt some of the negative response has been unfair. There is a possibility that some things were questions with earnest intentions and seemed more intense than intended because of the hubbub. It’s also possible I may have interpreted some people as more confrontational than they were because of it, and if I have, I apologize. 

A very close friend and frequent co-collaborator that I’ve known offline for about 20 years pointed out that she doesn’t know what I mean exactly by “witchblood,” and so it might help if I define it. If she is unsure of my meaning, it’s fair others might not be. A couple other people have similarly suggested a simple definition post. 

So, here we are. My goal here isn’t to further stir up controversy. The controversy has been neither fun nor helpful. I’m also not using this to address an individual who has been intentionally antagonistic. This is meant in good faith to clear up the basic idea’s meaning and a couple other points of confusion for folks who might really just be scratching their head and unsure if it’s safe to ask an honest question…or folks who thought they were but were interpreted otherwise. 

I plan to address…

  1. What is witchblood?

  2. Is this about physical blood, or genetics or an idea about exclusivity or racial purity?

  3. Is this just a way for some people to sound special? Am I just talking about this so I sound special?

  4. Why should we even talk about this?

Point 1: Witchblood

Witchblood is a word typically used to describe the nature and power that makes a witch a witch in more traditional or historical modalities of witchcraft. The term is likely contemporary but the ideas behind it aren't new. 

Often it is used in the context of families in which certain affinities, spiritual gifts, and connections with spirits are frequently present. 

The term is not exclusive to families in which such things are inherited. It is also used in some tradcraft contexts to refer to the power that is birthed in and changes a person into a witch through initiation or transmission. Sometimes it is also used to refer to it when someone seems to develop it spontaneously or through experiences. 

Witchpower and witchfire are similar terms. Witchblood was the term I knew when growing up, and as a young adult when I met people with similar experiences they also used this term. I use it largely because it is the one most familiar to me. 

Some people dislike the term but acknowledge that gifts like the sight and connections with spirits may be in born, might pass through families, or might be acquired through dramatic and deeply transforming experiences. They contend that those capabilities or features don't make someone a witch, because you choose to be a witch and you learn the skills or religious beliefs and practices that make you a witch. 

This contention is the newer view. Even through the 1970s, decades into the advent of NeoPagan witchcraft, the common perception and the folklore perception was that having the sight, or consortium with spirits, de facto made you a witch. Prior to the 1920s, witch was never a term one elected for themselves. The idea that possessing these traits was what denoted someone as a witch was the traditionally held view and still influences many traditional concepts of witchcraft. 

This does not invalidate newer concepts of witch or witchcraft. Both can have value and meaning. This also isn't an assertion that this is the only way people can have or do magic. There have always been many types of magic and many types of magician. 

So, when I talk about witchblood and promote the concept, what exactly am I asserting?

The core of my argument is that the historical and folklore conception of the witch is based on real components. While these descriptions need some filtering due to sensationalism and propaganda, we can still look globally at trends and determine ways of understanding the witch as it occurs throughout the world. 

By understanding the witch through an historical lens, we can understand and explore experiences people still have today. This can also create modes for understanding how to approach and pursue witchcraft. 

Specifics of my view have evolved over time as I have continued research. Some core elements I am currently exploring and discussing include:

The witch is a particular subset of magician. Magic is diverse, not just in details of practice but in terms of forms of agency, the ways it works, and the ways in which we engage it. Those elements associated with the witch are one of several ways of experiencing magic. 

Witches are defined by their nature and power as a witch rather than a particular tradition of practice, their practices can be similar to other magicians outwardly, elements of the witch, their agency, and how they engage magical power and practice define witchcraft. 

The power possessed by the witch is innate and intrinsic. It is part of the nature of the witch and can not be removed from the witch. 

The power possessed by the witch can be acquired in several ways which include:
1. Being born so that power or connections with spirits are inherited and occur naturally

2. Being born under particular circumstances or times which imbue power

3. Experiencing life events that connect the individual with power and the spirit world in an intrinsic way

4. Being changed by a spirit through intimate exposure to that spirit’s power

5. Being changed by a spirit through empowerment, or being rebuilt spiritually
6. Being changed by consuming or grafting spirit elements that fundamentally change you

While this includes the idea that people can be born with witchcraft either through familial inheritance or circumstances irrespective of family context, it also includes several options not related to birth by which this can be acquired. These could be sought out by an individual, and some could be conferred as part of initiation or adoption.  

Point 2: Blood and Genetics

For the sake of clarity, to begin I will state flatly that witchblood is not about concepts of blood purity, the passing of traits through biological means of inheritance, any sort of racist or racialist concept, or similar problematic beliefs. 

I do not believe there is any reason to think that physical genetics have any relevance to this concept. I do not think that we have a full explanation of the mechanism for this, or most magical concepts. I believe it is likely that various mechanisms can exist which create this same result. 

I believe this is one amongst many ways to engage magic and is not the only way. I also believe this mode is not specifically a doorway to dangerous ideologies since it includes several ways in which people can obtain this nature without relation to birth. Concepts of power being tied to birth are not exclusively concepts related to familial inheritance. It is neither tied to an exclusionary assertion nor to assertions about national, tribal, ethnic, or racial identities. 

A handful of people are concerned about the use of the term blood. Some have noted that my explanations seem fine but the choice to use the word blood is concerning. Personally, I think the content is more important than the term, and those with an ability to engage and understand the concept and the details of its presentation should be able to engage it, and even express concern over word choice in responsible, civil, and reasoned ways. An inability to do that reflects more of an issue with those individuals than the term or the concept. 

As noted above, the word was chosen primarily because it is the term I’m used to. The choice was not a particularly intentional choice and was innocent in nature. 

There are reasons I do like this term, in addition to familiarity. 

It would be dishonest to say that blood does not apply familial connections. It does. In my case, and the cases of several people I know, family context is part of their experience. There is also a wide community that uses this term for whom the implication of family is important because it describes the nature of the relationship described in the initiatic lineages through which they obtained and through which they pass witchfire. It is also my view that most ways of obtaining this also have the potential to continue to pass this along family lines. 

The utility of the term is not limited to the implication of family. It also describes the intrinsic and permanent quality of the concept more than a word like witchfire. Witchblood indicates the visceral quality. Many writers would say it expresses the “embodied” nature of witchcraft and how the body specifically exists in an embodied context. Embodied also often has links to political discourse and performance art that are less desirable for me, and so I would use “visceral” to describe the idea that this is a core, personal, intimate, organic experience tied to our bodies and our physical experience of life. I wouldn’t be bothered by someone using embodied to express the same idea. 

Blood also has clear links to the concept of life force. Bone is a good physical material for binding spirits to physical locations and structures. Blood can have similar properties for transferring, containing, applying, and linking to spirits and spiritual power. Blood calls to mind that there is a link between spirit presence, and spiritual power with our bodies because of the occult faculties of blood. Bone has a similar potential and could easily result in expressions like “he’s a witch in his bones,” but “witchbones,” feels like an odder turn of phrase. 

I am intimately aware of the types of problems racist and blood purity rhetoric can lead to. As a biracial person, I am very aware that we are frequently seen as worse than others within the ideologies of blood purity rhetorics. As a person of color I have literally snuck away from an event and fled because people showed up in hoods claiming to be from the KKK.  

In terms of Pagan, occult, and cultural identity contexts, I have avoided going to Heathen events I was interested in because I was concerned I wouldn't be welcome. I have been invited to Heathen events and then been told maybe it wouldn't be a good idea since the group was Volkish. I've been warned not to go back to a Heathen group I previously visited because they've become Volkish. I've had people suggest I've been passed over for leadership roles in occult groups, and promotions at work because of my skin color. I've had white family members tell me to drive straight home and not stop anywhere til I was out of their town because my skin made me unsafe there. I’ve had non-family members question my presence at family events. I’ve felt uncomfortable at cultural festivals celebrating elements of European heritage I possess - and with which I was actively very engaged - because I was worried people would look at me and think I shouldn’t be there. I’ve had the leader of a magical group I was in laugh at me when I mentioned European heritage.

I have significant more experience with these issues on a personal level than those who are dismissing my position as Harry Potter level thinking and describing it as blood purity rhetoric. 

Talking about witchblood is dramatically less Volkish than people who say “Only black people can do Hoodoo.” It’s more realistic than NeoPagans doing Golden Dawn derived practices and claiming they’re living the path of their ancestors. 

There are lots of good ways we can talk about heritage, inheritance, talent, connecting with ancestors, and drawing from our past. We can discuss those things with an openness to self-determination and exploration. It’s also possible to drift into AFA style territory and talk about how “we thank our white gods, for our white heritage which has provided us with our beautiful white children, hailsa!” It’s also clear that that isn’t what is going on here. 

Point 3: Well aren’t you special…

Above, I list six ways people can have witchblood - four of them are things people can engage in to acquire it. I have been fairly consistent in discussing it as something that can be acquired. That means it’s open to everyone. Things which are open to everyone aren’t exclusionary and they aren’t modes by which you can claim to be special. 

I’ve never seen anyone who seemed to legitimately have witchblood, whether by family inheritance, circumstance, experiences, or initiation, talk in anyway about how special they were because of it. There are a lot of circumstances where it can be a problem. It can create serious problems for people. Through most of history and in most cultures it isn’t an advantage. Even in contemporary NeoPagan and Occult communities, it might help you magically, but it doesn’t have any social currency. 

Suggesting, in response to me talking about it, that it’s just about being special, is frankly insulting. My bio doesn’t reference witchblood. I don’t lean into it to promote my books or classes. I am a very educated and accomplished magician because of my work and commitment and that should be obvious to most people who know me. I’m also accomplished in several other areas of life. Witchblood discussion tends to result in pushback, not praise. I have no reason to need to talk about witchblood to try to look special, nor do most other people I know who have it. 

Point 4: Why talk about this?

The most absolutely daft example of this question has been someone essentially raising the question “The Greek Magical Papyri aren’t based on witchblood, so why do we even need to discuss it?” There are lots of things lots of sources don’t talk about which are useful to explore in the right context. Most thinking people know that. 

The questions of what do we do with this? Or , is there a reason to explore this? Are fully valid questions though. It’s a topic most people aren’t familiar with so “what’s the point?” is a fair thing to wonder. 

There are three main reasons.

First, it’s part of my experience and so it’s interesting to me to explore. It’s also part of the experience of other people and so they may have interest in exploring it and understanding it more deeply. More importantly, it is helpful for people who have experiences with this and don’t understand it. As was mentioned on one thread, most people with knowledge of this subject or who have experience of it, or who come from traditions which incorporate it, avoid talking about it. A large part of this avoidance is because the reception to discussion of it is usually bad. That’s a problem that can only be overtaken by more openness. That openness can help enrich understanding across traditions and modalities. It can also provide comfort for people who have experiences related to this and don’t understand them. I have had multiple people at this point who felt helped by me talking about this because they felt odd, or they realized things about their own experiences that they hadn’t understood or contextualized before. Being a resource for that is meaningful, and while not everyone needs to be available as such a resource, having resources to make that understanding more common is important. 

Secondly, I believe exploring this can help us deepen how we discuss and understand witchcraft. These are modalities which can be pursued whether they’re things people have already or things people might want to pursue. More exploration of different peoples experiences, understandings, and how it plays out in different cultures, systems, and contexts will give us a deeper fuller picture. We can potentially learn more about different ways of engaging spirits and how power, agency, and authority work, and different ways of exploring how magic and spiritual power manifest within people. The more we understand these things the more we can explore how to use and improve them. 

Third, I don’t think there is a reason to suppress it if its true. That in and of itself is not a reason to explore it, but if its true and exploring that truth involves us expanding our worldview, then that can be useful. Framing this concept as one which is reasonable and comprehensible involves a relatively traditional mythopoetic worldview. That kind of worldview inherently looks at the world as alive, magical, and immanently active and present in a spiritual sense. It’s a deep counter to an overly materialistic worldview. I think that is part of the fear of it. It requires not just thinking of magic as something reasonable to do and explore as a mode of spirituality, but magic as a viscerally and meaningful real and present active element in the structure of ourselves and the worlds around us just as much as thinking, breathing, flesh, bone, water and dirt are. This apprehension of the world is something people are moving towards, but a lot of people still struggle to fully immerse themselves in that as a defining view of existence consistently. This idea confronts us by demanding we engage the world through that mythic lens.  

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