Monday, October 26, 2009

Which Witch Is Which?

Despite the ugly face that’s been put on witches, historically most have been concerned with helping individuals and communities. Of course, there are some “wicked witches” just as there are greedy evangelists and pedophile priests. It’s important, however, to remember that fear and misunderstanding underlie the misconceptions many people hold about witches. Once you get to know them, witches are pretty much like everyone else––the person who cuts your hair or repairs your car might even be a witch.

The word witch comes from the Anglo-Saxon term wicce meaning “to bend or shape.” The Old English word wiccacraeft meant witchcraft.
In the past, many witches learned their art as part of a family tradition in which they were carefully trained. Villages had their honored cunning folk to whom people turned for all kinds of help, from encouraging crops to grow to fixing a broken heart. Healing comprised a large part of the witch’s work, and many witches were herbalists and midwives. In exchange for services, the witch might have received a chicken, a measure of grain, or other necessities.
Witches learned their skills as a craft, just as someone might learn carpentry or masonry. Religious constructs weren’t linked with the practice of witchcraft itself, though individual witches may have followed the beliefs of their families or culture. Witches do not need to believe in divine beings in order to use magick, although many do recognize higher powers and attempt to work with them. Nor do witches need to adhere to a particular dogma in order to perform their work, just as computer programmers and auto mechanics don’t have to be members of a particular faith to do their jobs.

For the record, witches are not necessarily Wiccan. Witchcraft implies a methodology (for example, the use of magick), whereas the word Wiccan refers to a person who has adopted a specific spiritual philosophy. Wicca is a religion, one that even the U.S. military recognizes. Wiccans practice specific rituals and moral codes just as people of Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths do. Witches can follow any religion, or none.
However, the lack of an ethical or religious construct does not mean witches are without ethics or religion. The use of magick is simply a means to an end and is, in itself, morally neutral. Ethics get involved only in how magick is wielded.
By the way, a male witch is not called a warlock. He is a witch, too. Warlock derived from an Old English word for oath breaker; later, during the mid-1400s, the word came to mean liar (whether the person was male or female). To call a male witch a warlock is a nasty insult. The words wizard and sorcerer can be used for a man or a woman. Wizard derives from a term meaning “wise,” and sorcerer means “witch” or “diviner.”
The word magician is also appropriate for both sexes and refers to someone who practices magick, regardless of his/her religious beliefs. (The “k” at the end of the word magick differentiates it from stage magic or illusion). Many magicians are adept in astrology, sorcery, or other magickal arts. Magicians come from various cultures and ethic backgrounds, belief systems and schools of thought. Most witches and Wiccans practice some type of magick, but not all magicians are witches or Wiccans. Shamans, ceremonical magicians, feng shui masters, and many others engage in various forms of magick. According to Aleister Crowly, perhaps the most famous magician in modern times, “Every intentional act is a magickal act.”

If you choose to follow a magickal path, as a witch, Wiccan, wizard, sorcerer, or other practitioner of the magickal arts, you’ll notice that everyone you meet is your teacher. In turn, you’ll teach something to everyone you meet. You’ll also discover that magick exists everywhere, all the time, and that you are part of the magick.

(Excerpted from my book The Everything Wicca & Witchcraft Book. Magickal artwork comes from my deck of "I Am" vision cards. All material copyrighted.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween Facts and Fallacies

As Halloween approaches, we are once again subjected to lots of misinformation and downright foolishness regarding witches, paganism, and the occult in general.  Unfortunately, this ancient holiday's true meaning has become lost in a muddle of macabre sensationalism. Each year we read stories of children eating tainted candy and teens using Halloween as an excuse for bad behavior. In some places, conservative Christian groups try to get the holiday banned, believing erroneously that it has something to do with satanism.
Also known as All Hallows Eve, Hallowmass, and Samhain, Halloween is a holy day for witches and many other pagans. It is the witches' New Year, a time for reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. Originally, the custom of wearing costumes on Halloween was a way to visually demonstrate what you wanted to be in the coming year and to project that image out into the world. (No one who knew this would choose to dress up as a ghost, skeleton, goblin, or hobo!)
Samhain (what Wiccans, many pagans and witches call Halloween) is also a solemn time for remembering friends and relatives who have passed on––consequently its connection with death. However, the dead don't rise up out of their coffins and walk around as ghosts or zombies on this sacred holiday. Witches may enact rituals or light candles to honor departed loved ones. Some believe heaven and earth are close together on Samhain, and that this is the best time to make contact with spirits on the other side.

No belief system has been so maligned as witchcraft. It is important to remember that before the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Goddess religions predominated for millennia throughout Europe and many other parts of the world. Between the 14th and 18th centuries––a period known as the "Burning Times"––tens of thousands, perhaps millions of women and children (the most famous being Joan of Arc) were accused of being witches and massacred by Christian zealots. Although most of the violence was levied against females of all ages, the Church also put astrologers, homosexuals, and other assorted dissidents to death. And we all know what happened in Salem, Massachusetts, a city that now capitalizes on its darkest hour and enjoys a brisk tourist business during Halloween.
Wicca is a Goddess-based religion––one of the few in a world where patriarchal belief systems prevail. Despite the fact that our male-dominated culture still denigrates witchcraft and paganism, many women (and some men, too) today are rediscovering these ancient traditions and finding a form of spirituality they can relate to, one that respects the feminine.
For the record:  Witches do not put hexes on people, fly around on broomsticks, snatch and eat children, or perform animal or human sacrifices. They do not believe in Satan (he's a Judeo-Christian conception). They do not deny the existence of God or the male principle. Most of them are not cackling hags (although the "hag" is one of the three manifestations of the Goddess: the older woman, representing wisdom). They do not hate men and have no desire to overthrow Christianity or any other religion. Not all pagans are witches; paganism is a general term for various spiritual belief systems that honor the earth, nature, and the cosmos. Many of the rituals, holidays, myths, and practices now connected with Christianity derived from the earlier Goddess-based traditions.
Fear and ignorance are dangerous forces. They are at the root of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, jingoism, and other forms of violence and hatred. This Halloween, let us put aside our prejudices and uphold one of the principles this country was founded on: religious freedom.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sharing the Limelight

Today, I'm grateful to fellow writer Raine Delight for inviting me to guest post on her blog. (Visit us at One of the best things about genre writing (mystery, romance, etc.) is the people you meet––writers, readers, publishers, and booksellers. In my experience, most of them eagerly help writers succeed by sharing information, contacts, expertise, and promotional opportunities. 

Instead of viewing other authors as competitors, genre writers usually consider one another as colleagues and believe that a rising tide floats all boats. Guest blogging is a great way to meet new readers and introduce them to your work. Different voices also keep a blog fresh and varied. By cross-pollinating in this way and combining our resources, we can all benefit. I hope to soon feature some of my fellow authors on this site––stay tuned.