Ok, Im on hols this week, and have finally started to revisit some of the pages upon my website (Silver Wolf's Lair), the following is an update I have just completed for the What is a Witch page, from a different perspective than the Wiccan viewpoint that I orginally wrote about 5 years ago now. Please let me know what you think!
WHAT IS A WITCH?
A Personal View from One who trained as a British Traditional Witch
*A Witch is born, and not made; or if one is to be made, then tears must be spilt before the moon can be drawn. For the Lady chooses whom she wills to be Her Lover, and those She loves the most, She rends apart before making them Wise.*
(attributed to Robert Cochrane/Roy Bowers).
Ask any individual Witch or practitioner for their own definition of what exactly is a Witch, and you will get as many different answers as there were individual Witches that you asked! Some will tell you it is a religion, others that it is an Arte or Craft, others that it is merely a label, others that it is in fact all three of those definitions and much more besides, in reality it is up to the individual to find and to justify their own definition of what the word Witch means, and what the state of being 'Witch' entails whether that is merely to themselves or to society in general.
Calling oneself a Witch does not make a Witch, but neither does heredity, or the collection of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within themselves (and without) that make life possible in order to live wisely and well, in full knowledge of what they seek to achieve and acknowledging any price that may be asked of them to do so, yet living in a manner that is in harmony with nature and their own inner self.
Many of those who follow the reconstructionalist religion of Wicca (Wicca is not ancient, but in fact a religion born of the views and beliefs of Gerald Gardener and his followers, started in the late 1940's / early1950's using many disparate sources of information that seeks to reconstruct Witchcraft into something that has value in a more modern world) truly believe themselves to be Witches, and if measured by their own definitions and beliefs, then they can validly claim the title of Witch for themselves. Yet, there are others who have a much different interpretation of what exactly defines 'Witchdom', others who posses other information, (perhaps have sources that can be traced back Pre-Gardinerian - yet are kept safe and closed within the individual 'Witches' family / cuveen / coven / group as such information is considered 'Oathbound' and could in the wrong hands be misconstrued and misrepresented, and thus used to cause harm to the individual or group), follow other beliefs and have other practices, have a different 'worldview' and an altogether different set of ethics and personal morality who would consider some (or all) of those who follow Wicca or are more 'New Age' in their worldview certainly not able to validly claim the individual title of 'Witch'. Whether anyone can validly claim the title of Witch truly depends upon the individuals own definition of the word!
So, knowing that the definition of 'Witch' varies from individual to individual, what is generally considered to be a generic description of exactly what is a Witch, a quick google of the word 'Witch' gives us :-
Definitions of witch (n) on the Web:
enchantress: a female sorcerer or magician
a being (usually female) imagined to have special powers derived from the devil
Wiccan: a believer in Wicca
hag: an ugly evil-looking old woman
hex: cast a spell over someone or something; put a hex on someone or something
The term witchcraft (and witch) is a controversial one with a complicated history. Used in entirely different contexts, and within entirely different cultural references, it can take on distinct and often contradictory meanings. Each culture has its own particular body of concepts dealing with magic, religion, benevolent and harmful spirits, and ritual; and these ideas do not find obvious equivalents in other cultures.
One who worships the Goddess, and sometimes also Her Consort, the God; practices magic; and considers her/himself to be following the spiritual path of Witchcraft.
A member of the Wicca religion. A practitioner of witchcraft. There are many types and traditions of witches. A witch is not necessarily a Wiccan, though if a Wiccan practices witchcraft they can be called a witch.
someone who practices witchcraft to help better the world and mankind. A witch is NOT someone who is ugly, worships the devil, or hurts people.
A general word for Pagans worldwide although traditionally those of Anglo-Celtic, Celtic or Teutonic traditions.
A women with supernatural powers.
The word 'witch' is a loaded word. In today's society it means different things to different people. For our uses, a witch is someone who is a follower of the nature based religion of 'Wicca'. Please read our section on "What is Witchcraft?" on our home page to understand the beliefs of such a person. The word 'witch' comes from the Middle English word 'wicche' which was basically a wise woman that practiced the Old Religion. ...
Initiated male or female member of the Old Religion; a practitioner of Witchcraft.
A name given to someone who works with magic(k)al powers and natural substances and uses them to help and heal. Magic(k) can be used for both good and evil, but is generally used solely for the good.
Perhaps useful information to the general public, but to those of us who seek a deeper definition, those of us whose very soul craves knowledge of Witchdom, the kiss of the Dark Mother (and her Consort) it soon becomes clear that information is not only sparse, but also guarded, the Gates to Witchdom are not so easily breached!
Looking outside of dictionary definitions for information, trawling through many of the websites written by those who claim the title of 'Witch' (do a search for Witch, it will give you a choice of over 64,100,000 pages to view, or perhaps try Witchcraft, which will give you a result of over 11,300,000) may well lead the individual seeker to begin to question whether there is in reality any such thing as 'Witchdom', whether any 'real' evidence exists to prove that Witches ever really existed at all (except perhaps within the minds of those of the christian church who used a belief in Witches and the transfiguration of the Older Gods into today's christian 'Devil' to gain converts and control - both political and economic- over the folk of the times and to subjugate women into an inferior role), or whether it is all an attempt by modern people to justify their return to the beliefs of our long past Ancestors who certainly practiced Pagan religions of some sort before being 'converted' to christianity. Indeed, many of the 'Traditional Witchcraft' sites that abound (a quick search returns in excess of 1,670,000 pages!) are actually Traditional Wicca sites, as are many of the Hereditary Witchcraft sites (in fact, with Wicca now being over 50 years old it is possible to find hereditary Wiccan covens and families, and also Traditional being used as a label for Wicca, as anything of 50 years age can quite possibly be termed Traditional if it has indeed been passed down through the tradition itself!).
As to whether there is in fact any 'real' evidence for historic 'Witches' many academics have in fact taken the lack of information that is available / verifiable to be proof that there can be no surviving Witch Traditions that have come down to us from pre-modern days, whereas in fact the lack of something cannot be said to prove a conclusive negative! Indeed, the very lack of generally available information and verification I would take to be a good sign, as if you belonged to a group that was largely misunderstood, persecuted and viewed with suspicion by any not of your group then it would only be logical to keep your heads down, your information safe and secure within the group! There are those that point to the many people persecuted / tortured / put to death as Witches during the period that has now become known as the 'Burning Times', and in the eyes of those who persecuted / tortured / put to death these individuals, they were indeed Witches (in their own individual beliefs if not in fact), yet there is not one shred of verifiable evidence that says any of them were actually Witch. Let's face it, if you were accused during those times, tortured and knew what Fate awaited you, then you would confess to anything after enough pressure had been brought to bear upon you! Even this though cannot be used as conclusive proof one way or the other. There are those who point to folklore and the folk history that says Witches existed, and if one looks at the common perception of most of the general public then it is easy to self justify that Witches existed because they are believed to have existed by many people, whereas a belief in something also does not conclusively prove it to have ever existed in reality! There are also those who point back to folklore and some of the work done by many anthropologists and folklorists that point to the verifiable existence of the village wise person / cunning man or woman / herbalist, I do not dispute that these folk existed, nor that some of them were probably indeed Witches, but to stretch this information out and claim that it is conclusive proof indeed that Witches existed and still do so puts the individual onto unsafe ground, leaving them open to possible attack and ridicule from those who have a more academic bent to their nature. So, does this lack of verifiable information conclusively prove that Witches did not and do not exist? I have to admit that based upon the evidence that is available to most that this is indeed a possibility, yet is it indeed probable? To my mind the answer has to be no, it is not at all probable, Witches have too strong a position within folklore, history and the common perception of the general populace to not have some historical basis in fact, afterall, there's no smoke without fire! For the figure of the Witch to have gained such a position there must be something more, something behind the myth and legends that gave rise to them. As to whether most of those who are looking for definitive proof of historic Witches would in fact recognise that proof if it were to jump up and slap them in their face is another thing entirely! In fact, widen your search further, start looking elsewhere with eyes that are more aware and some scant evidence does begin to filter through, though whether it is verifiable or even pertinent can only be discerned by those who are able to look for it with what they believe is a truly awakened awareness.
Another thread to weave in for consideration for those that seek evidence of whether Witches exist(ed) is that of human nature itself. We are remarkable beings, all of us is self aware (to one extent or another), and all of us have our own individual worldview, our own take on reality, indeed reality itself is something that can be proven to be subjective, to really exist only to the individual, as ones individual experiences and beliefs create the framework of our own personal reality. So, with this in mind we have to acknowledge that for some Witches exist(ed), whether or not the evidence they cite as their proof can be verified by others or not. Indeed, throughout history there have always been those who posses a different worldview, mystics and those who seek to learn more of the human state of existence, some of whom have been accepted as enlightened by many and considered heretics or mad by others. Look at the astronomer and mathematician Galileo, considered a heretic and persecuted by the catholic church for suggesting that the Earth orbited the Sun rather than the Earth being the centre of the universe? His theories have now been proven and are generally accepted to be truth by most of those alive today, but during his life things were very different indeed! Is it not then reasonable to assume them that perhaps some of those who posses a different worldview, who march to a different beat may in fact have also been correct in their individual worldview? That those who hear the calling of the older Gods do indeed hear them? That there are those whose awareness allows them to perceive things around them that others do not? That there are in fact those who can truly claim that they have achieved the state of Witchdom and are indeed worthy of the title of Witch? It seems perfectly reasonable to me that this is indeed the case, and as such it is also reasonable for me to believe that there are indeed Witches out there who have access to information and lineages that go back far before the resurgence of interest in Paganism that followed Gerald Gardeners creation of Wicca! Some of us can cite many experiences that we have had that have brought us to this conclusion, experiences that have had major impacts upon our own worldview yet are not things that we may willingly share or that others would accept as any sort of proof at all (as they are at best unverifiable and definitely subjective in their interpretation).
So, for the seeker of information are there any resources that they may find upon their journey? In general you will not find much online, many Old Craft Groups / Family Traditions /Cuveens believe that their information is too sensitive and too valuable to be bandied around for anyone to find (some of the information I have learnt myself is Oathbound), though there are a few sites that do make the distinction between Traditional Witchcraft and the more modern neopagan Wicca, but you have to search hard to find them, and even then much of the information the owners have is kept secure within the family or cuveen (it is widely thought and believed by many within the Pagan community that if you were of a Family Trad or other Old Traditional Craft Group that you would wish to safeguard your information and thus keep your members safe and also to protect others not of your Trad / group from receiving information that could possibly be misconstrued or have psychological effects that they are not yet ready for!) This in my own view is as it should be! The true state of Witchdom is one that many (if not most) are not yet ready to experience, it is something that cannot be entirely book learnt, cannot be taught by rote, but must be approached and discovered through hard work and persistence by the individual! It is a journey that will include paradigm shifts in the beliefs and awareness of the individual and be something that no two people will experience in exactly the same manner! I say and mean EXPERIENCE, as knowledge book learnt is not of true value to the individual until it has been experienced and put into practice first hand by the individual! You may know the theory behind how a particular author(ess) describes a working to be completed, and have some preconceived ideas of the results, yet until you actually undertake the workings, and allow ones' self to be open to what is unseen around us, to test yourself against the dark and learn what lurks deep within your frail and all too human heart, then you will not yet unlock the true understanding that sits deep within your bones, a knowledge that is felt rather than known! There is a chasm of difference between the almost ceremonial classic Wiccan Rites (including those featured here upon this site) and the sheer power and raw connection with nature and the Dark Mother and her Consort that comes from performing your Rites simply, deep in the wilds at the dead of night!
I'm afraid I find that I have to agree with some of those who have laboured long and hard upon their Paths, gaining knowledge, wisdom and experience, who are able to feel that perhaps some of those claiming the title of Witch are not yet truly aware of what the state of Witchdom entails! By that statement I do not mean to demean others views or viewpoints, nor to trivialise those who practice what they believe to be Witchcraft (or their practices, for as long as they find something of value in their own individual practices, then that truly is what matters to the individual themselves), but rather to ignite the spark of interest in those who truly seek entry into Witchdom! I have to say that when I first began my journey into Paganism, admittedly through the study and practice of Wicca, I thought the terms Witch and Wicca to be synonymous, but as I have grown in knowledge (and I hope somewhat in wisdom) my understanding has changed, and I have seen things from many many perspectives along the way! I wish those who come here to seek Witchdom the same enlightening journey that I myself have experienced upon my own Path to where I now find myself, as the old curse / blessing says, 'May you live in interesting times'!
So, what do I take the word 'Witch' to mean for myself, just what is my current understanding of what it means to be 'Witch'?
For myself the state of being Witch is one that allows me to walk my Path with one foot in the mundane world, and another in the unseen world around us (akin to standing upon the backs of two racing horses, with one foot upon the back of each), it is a state that allows me to use all of my senses, perceiving things that others who are mundane focussed will not perceive! It is a liberating state of being, one where I do not cleave to the morality of society, but listen instead to my own heart, allow myself to follow my own (and the Gods) counsel, making my own decisions as to what is right or ethical, not pandering to another's rules but living by my own ethics and taking charge of my decisions and the responsibility that comes from them! In my view our actions are akin to dropping a stone into a still pool, they cause ripples, some of which may come back and swamp you! Being Witch means I acknowledge the immediate presence of my Gods (whether you believe them to be individual beings, a manifestation of a single divine consciousness, your own higher self interacting with you in a way that you can understand or merely psychological aspects of your own psyche that have become known to you because you need to work on those aspects matters not to me, I have my own viewpoint that works for me personally) and interact with them intimately in many ways and at many times! Being Witch means I have been through a growth cycle that has allowed me to understand that in the vast scheme of things I know very little, that I have transcended the needs of the ego to seek self gratification and external justification and that I am free now to just 'be'. Being Witch means I have faith in my own powers and abilities and do not need to seek to beseech another to act upon my behalf, yes there are times when I need to ask for help, but in the main I am able to deal with most things (magical or mundane) without recourse to asking my Gods for help! Being Witch means I acknowledge the Red Thread that binds me to my kith, kin, forebears and ancestors, and also acknowledge the Silver Thread that binds me to those who claim me as Their own! Being Witch means I have a certain amount of knowledge that has true meaning for myself, having walked a difficult Path to ensure that this knowledge is indeed of value through individual experience, yet it also means I acknowledge just how little I do know and how much more there is that I am able to learn, and that as long as I am able that I will always strive to learn, grow and mature further upon my own Path. Being Witch means I acknowledge a balance for myself, that I am not all 'white' or 'good' nor am I all 'black' or negative focussed, but in fact I am somewhere in the middle, perhaps grey in nature, and that I am not afraid of using powers or focus from either side of my nature and may do so as long as I realise that there may be a price asked for anything I do and that I am willing to pay the price! Being Witch means I am aware of the polarities inherent in everything around me, that I can see the masculine in the feminine and vice versa, and also that I can see the life in death and the death that exists in life and the needs for both! Being Witch means I acknowledge the presence of information that I can gleam as true, yet has no visible source that can be verified by others who do not perceive as I do! Being Witch means I have to be personally honest with myself, acknowledging that there are aspects of my inner self that still require further work and growth, and also that there are some 'talents' that I will never posses, no matter how much I desire to have them or how much effort I put into trying to learn or achieve them! Being Witch is all this and much more besides, it is an inner feeling that the world is indeed a more magical, mysterious and incomprehensible place than most know or are prepared to accept, yet this information holds no fear for those who are Witch in their deepest self, those who know the power and beauty of the Older Gods and know the kiss of the Dark Mother!
© Suzanne Read 15th September 2006
Further Traditional Witchcraft informational Sites and pages with views and comparisons between Trad Craft and Wicca
The Lonely Crannog
Meadows of Elfhame
Traditional Cornish Witchcraft
The Crooked Hearth
Definitions of Witches by Isaac Bonewitz
Hecate's Cauldron (looks a bit
'pink', but excellent sentiments!)