Witchery 101: Ways and Means – an Introduction to Witchcraft Traditions

Traditions are like marriages – serious, committed relationships usually closed to outsiders. One of the most intimidating factors in becoming a witch is finding a tradition that fits – or finding a tradition at all. Things were a lot more complicated in the dark days before the internet. One had to rely on fate and personal networking to find practitioners willing to talk and covens open to new initiates. Now one need only search local Meet-ups or the vast resource that is the Witches’ Voice to find groups or like-minded solitaries.

One of the nice things about a religion that is not bound by historical dogma* is that it can adapt to the evolving needs of its followers. So while the Gardnerian tradition is considered the “oldest” path, and arguably the source of all others, there are many different ways to get your witch on. Here are a few, brought to you by the incomparable Judika Illes from her lovely little tome The Weiser Field Guide to Witches (I have added Wikipedia links for those who want more information, as well as recommended reading for each subject):

Alexandrian Wicca
This tradition’s name pays tribute to its founder, Alex Sanders, and also to the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt, once the largest  library in the world and a repository of sacred, mystical wisdom. Alexandrian Wicca was established in the United Kingdom in the  1960s.

Atheist Witches 
As atheists, these witches do not acknowledge a Supreme Creator or the Wiccan conception of a Lord and Lady; but work their magic using Earth’s natural powers and energies. Some may work with elemental spirits such as land spirits or fairies.

Cabot Tradition This tradition, based on the teachings of Salem witch Laurie Cabot, emphasizes that witchcraft is a science, art, and religion. The Cabot Tradition also emphasizes psychic development.

Chaos Magic 

There is no one specific school of Chaos Magic, also spelled Chaos Magick, nor do its practitioners adhere to one specific philosophy or spiritual tradition. Instead those who define themselves as chaos magicians share a certain attitude toward magic. Chaos Magic is defined as the primal creative force in the universe. Chaos magicians learn and experiment with various magical techniques in order to tap into this underlying, primal, creative force in whatever ways work best and most effectively for them. Chaos Magic is influenced by the work of visionary artist and magician Austin Osman Spare, who wrote, “What is there to believe, but in Self?”

The Clan of Tubal Cain
This tradition, founded by English witch Robert Cochrane, is based on practical traditional witchcraft, shamanism, Celtic mysticism, and Cochrane’s interpretation of Druidry. The American branch of the Clan of Tubal Cain is known as the 1734 Tradition.

Dianic Wicca 
Sometimes also called Wimmin’s Religion, Dianic Wicca is a feminist spiritual tradition and the only form of witchcraft that is exclusively female. Women’s rights and rites are combined in celebration of female divinity. The name of the tradition pays tribute to the Italian goddess, Diana. Among Dianic Wicca’s founding mothers is author Z. Budapest, who formed the Susan B. Anthony Coven in Los Angeles on the Winter Solstice of 1971. In 1975, Budapest self-published The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows, a collection of rituals and spells that became the basic text of Dianic Wicca. It has since been republished as The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts . . . . Dianic Wicca may be considered similar in essence to the women’s mystery traditions of ancient Rome. Most Dianic covens are exclusively female. Sybil Leek sometimes called her own tradition Dianic, but what she practiced was not the same as Dianic Wicca.

Faerie Witchcraft
This shamanic tradition involves actual interaction with fairies. Faerie witches, also spelled fairy witches, practice Earth-centered magic with emphasis on plant and animal familiars. Historically, many witches have worshipped and communed with fairies. In 1662, while being  interrogated, Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie described her visits to the Fairy Queen. Similar testimony was given in French, Italian, and Hungarian witch trials. Faerie Witchcraft is profoundly influenced by Scottish clergyman Reverend Robert Kirk’s mysterious account of Fairyland, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, written in 1691 but not published until the early 19th century. Influential modern practitioners of Faerie Witchcraft include authors R. J. Stewart and Aline DeWinter. Faerie Witchcraft is not the same as Feri Tradition, nor is it the same as the various Wiccan traditions identified as Fairy Wicca.

Feri Tradition 
This shamanic, ecstatic, initiatory, spiritual, and magical system, also sometimes spelled Fairy, Faery, or Faerie Tradition, began its modern incarnation in the 1940s when author, poet, and witch Victor Anderson (1917–2001) began initiations. Anderson is typically described as Feri’s “founder,” but he described himself as a transmitter of ancient information. Another branch of Feri Tradition is known as Vicia. Anderson taught that Feri Tradition derives originally from a primordial people who emerged from Africa thousands of years ago, the original fairies—although they are known by many other names in different cultures. Their teachings were transmitted orally over the generations. Feri is an experiential tradition and various distinct Feri lineages and teachers now exist. Different lineages are influenced to different extents by different spiritual traditions including Celtic, Hawaiian, and Vodou. What most Feri practitioners share in common is direct personal interaction with spirits or deities. They do not subscribe to the Wiccan Rede (Do what you will but harm none); instead, each practitioner must take personal responsibility for her or his own actions.

Gardnerian Wicca
Gardnerian Wicca is the oldest, most formal modern Wiccan tradition. Based on the teachings and practices of Gerald Gardner (1884–1964), it is named “Gardnerian” in order to honor him but also to distinguish this tradition from older, less formalized traditions. The term Gardnerian Wicca may originally have been coined by Robert Cochrane, who was not a fan of Gardner or of his tradition. Its standard text is The Gardnerian Book of Shadows, which Gardner co-authoredwith Diane Valiente. At the time of its writing, Valiente and Gardner believed that they were involved in the evolution of an old faith, not the creation of a new one.

Hedge Witchery 
No initiation is necessary to be a hedge witch. Hedge witches are unaffiliated, solitary practitioners. The term “hedge witch” derives from “hedge rider” and similar northern European synonyms for witch. A hedge is a dense wall of bushes and other shrubbery. Once upon a time, large, dense hedgerows separated a village from surrounding forests. The hedge is a liminal zone, simultaneously a barrier and a threshold between the civilized world and wild nature. Witches were the hedge-riders who navigated this zone. The modern term “hedge witch” is sometimes used as a synonym for “kitchen witch” or is intended to serve as an all-encompassing name for the large community of non-affiliated, non-initiated, non-Wiccan witches. The term “hedge witch,” however, possesses shamanic undertones. By definition, a hedge rider or hedge witch travels between at least two worlds: the world of conventional reality and a spirit or afterlife realm.

Hereditary Witchcraft
By definition, a hereditary witch comes from a family in which at least one other person is or was a witch. Most hereditary witches derive from a lineage of witches; the trait is often passed down from parent to child, although sometimes generations are skipped. The term is also sometimes used by someone with one long-ago ancestor who was a witch or believed to be one. “Hereditary witch” is not a definitive term, and different people may interpret it in different ways. Some hereditary witches share traditions that are unique to their own families, but others do not. Fictional witches are very frequently hereditary; for instance, the Halliwell Sisters from the television series Charmed, or the Pure Bloods of the Harry Potter universe. Most modern witches are not hereditary.

Hoodoo 
A high percentage of the enslaved Africans in the pre-Civil War United States were of Congolese origin. They brought a sophisticated system of magic with them to North America, where it merged with European folk magic, Native American, and other African traditions to form a whole new magical system now called Hoodoo. A practitioner of Hoodoo is traditionally known as a “worker.” Hoodoo is very closely related to New Orleans Voodoo; the names are sometimes used interchangeably. Hoodoo is a system of practical magic, not a specific spiritual tradition. Hoodoo practitioners may belong to any or no religion. There are Pagan, atheist, and Jewish Hoodoo workers, for instance. Some Hoodoo traditions are intensely Christian. Many Hoodooers incorporate sacred texts into their practice, especially the Book of Psalms or the Book of Job.

Independent Eclectic
Most modern witches are not affiliated with any one specific tradition. Most witches incorporate whatever works for them or complements their own spiritual beliefs. Urban witches, in particular, may have many influences that are then integrated and incorporated in independent and eclectic ways. No one category may be sufficient to identify their practice; hence they are independent and eclectic.

Jewitchery 
This informal and eclectic tradition incorporates witchcraft, magical practice, and often shamanism with Judaism or Jewish self-awareness. Emphasis is placed on individualism. A Jewitch may or may not be a religious Jew. Judaism may be understood as a tribal group rather than as religion, and so essentially a Jewitch is someone who identifies as both Jewish and as a witch. Some Jewitches incorporate traditional Jewish folk magic or Jewish angelology into their practice. Others identify with pre-exile or pre-Second Temple Jewish traditions that may have been less monotheistic than modern Judaism. Still others identify with Canaanite traditions. Jewitches may or may not also consider themselves Jewish Pagans. Some Jewitches are Wiccan; others are not.

Kitchen Witchery
Kitchen witchery is a practice, rather than a specific spiritual or magical tradition. What distinguishes the kitchen witch from other witches is that the majority of her tools and ingredients are readily found in the home. A kitchen witch can cast a spell using ingredients found in her kitchen cupboards. Her magical tools may or may not be indistinguishable from ordinary household tools. The concept of kitchen witchery is ancient. For centuries, it was not safe to be an obvious witch. Low-key, discreet magical practice helped keep witchcraft—and witches—alive. Most kitchen witches are solitary practitioners who are well-versed (or learning to be well-versed) in herb lore and folk magic. Much kitchen witchery involves magical protection of the home and family. Associations with the kitchen are no accident; spells are often cast in the form of delicious meals. A kitchen witch might be conscious of stirring eggs in a clockwise (also known as sun-wise) direction, for instance, in order to draw in positive solar energy. A synonym for kitchen witch is hearth witch. A kitchen witch also refers to a kind of doll, a household amulet in the form of a flying witch that is traditionally hung up in the kitchen to bring good luck. These kitchen witches are of Scandinavian origin and recall Swedish Easter witches. (In Sweden, witches are associated with Easter, rather than Halloween. Children dress up as witches for parades and folkloric traditions similar to American trick-or-treating. Swedish Easter witches wear the guise of old peasant women, rather than black hats and dresses.)

Non-Wiccan Witches
This term was invented in response to the now-common assumption that all modern witches are Wiccan. Non-Wiccan witches may belong to any tradition other than modern Wicca. Non-Wiccan witches may belong to any spiritual or religious tradition or none—agnostic or atheist witches are typically considered non-Wiccan. Shamanic witches who perceive spirits as unique individual beings rather than as aspects of the Lord and Lady may also identify as non-Wiccan. Those who do not subscribe to the Wiccan Rede are, by definition, non-Wiccan.

Shamanic Witchcraft
By definition, shamanic witches blend elements of shamanism into their witchcraft. Some use the term “shamanic witch” to indicate a spirit worker, but a shamanic witch may incorporate trance and shamanic soul journeying into her practice, practices not necessarily done by a spirit worker.

Traditional Witchcraft
This is a loose definition; there are many schools and kinds of Traditional Witchcraft. Essentially, traditional witches are practitioners of forms of witchcraft that pre-date modern Wicca and New Age practices. Some people use this term to refer to hereditary traditions that are exclusive to specific families. Others use the term for specifically British traditions pre-dating Gardnerian Wicca. Others consider traditional witchcraft to be a worldwide phenomenon that refers to any practitioner of folk magic.

Wicca 
Although some people use the word “Wiccan” as a synonym for any kind of witch, in general, Wiccans perceive Wicca to be a specific religion or spiritual tradition, not just magical practice, which may or may not be encouraged. By definition, Wiccans subscribe to the Wiccan Rede, which states, Do what you will but harm none. (Rede is an archaic word for “rule.”) Those who do not subscribe to the rede are not Wiccan. Wiccans worship a male and a female deity, the Lord and the Lady. (Dianic Wicca is an exception, as most Dianic Wiccans only worship the feminine divine.) Wicca has a religious calendar, as does any other religion. Festivals, known as sabbats and esbats, honor the Wheel of the Year, the cyclical turning of nature’s seasons. The most famous Wiccan sabbat is Samhain, which falls on Halloween. Other Wiccan sabbats include Beltane, Imbolc, and Yule. Wicca tends to be an initiatory religion, but it is not  exclusively so. There are different denominations of Wicca, with different rules and  restrictions, in the same way as Protestant denominations. Modern Wicca is based on the teachings of Gerald Gardner, but the word is also sometimes used to refer to pre-Gardnerian British witchcraft traditions, as in Rhiannon Ryall’s 1989 book, West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion. To add to the confusion, there are also those, usually outsiders to witchcraft, who perceive the word “witch” to be derogatory, like a
racial slur. They may use the word “Wiccan,” perceived as less offensive, as a generic synonym for “witch” because they are trying their best to be polite.

  • Recommended Reading: too many to mention, but start with The Wicca Handbook, by Eileen Holland

There have been witches throughout history, documented in sources as “reliable” as the Bible (Witch of Endor anyone?), but details on their spell-work and magic-making are hard to come by. The reason for this, of course, is the secretive nature of witchcraft. Those witches who spell-worked for profit were not likely to share their knowledge freely, and the persecution, torture and execution of witches throughout history meant that record keeping was paramount to signing your own death warrant. So although the magical information that we have now is consistent and effective, we cannot prove unequivocally that it is of historic origins.  

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Witchery 101 : A Prelude & Introduction to Practical Magic

Here at Chez Ankh, I am surrounded by books on witchcraft. More magical tomes than I can hope to read in a lifetime are literally at my fingertips.

So when I am asked (as I often am) “How do I begin studying witchcraft?” one would think that I’d have a ready answer. But I don’t.  There are so many paths, so many traditions, so SO many books that this simple question cripples me with indecision. How should I advise the sincere seeker when my own education is ongoing?

So I don’t. Instead I direct them to the books that have, over the years, made their way from the groaning Weiser shelves onto my  (equally burdened) desk. These are the titles that I turn to again and again, whether I am looking for some simple solution to a common magical problem or an obscure and powerful correspondence. These books are what I would classify as essential reading for the would-be witch.

So back to that original question. “How do I begin studying magic?”

Let’s begin with the most basic and accessible form of  witchery – Practical Magic. The information here is based on two of those aforementioned essential titles – Pure Magic by Judika Illes and The Wicca Handbook by Eileen Holland:

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Practical Magic is Earth-Based and Utilizes All “Living” Things

I. Everything that breathes, grows, occurs naturally or is crafted with intent has spirit – and spiritual power.

Witchcraft, as it is understood by most practitioners, is an earth-based belief system. Its core tenet is that the Earth, and everything on it and in it, contain spiritual power. Things that are mass-produced, without variation or individualized intent, do not have spirit. A rock has spirit, but a factory-made paver does not. A hand-sewn and embroidered pillowcase has spirit. That thing on your bed that you bought at Marshall’s does not. And obviously, everything that grows and/or breathes has spirit – although a plant raised from seed in your own garden, or found in a forest meadow will have more spirit than one that you picked up at the Lumber Depot.

II. The spirit of a thing relates to its origin and how it functions. The degree of its power relates to where and how it was formed.

This is important, because a witch uses or borrows those powers to work magic.  The spirit of each thing differs in degree (see above comment on wild/home grown plants vs. factory farmed) and kind. The power of an onion is vastly different than that of a rose. The power of obsidian (volcanic glass) formed and forced out from the Earth’s own furnaces differs greatly from that of sea glass, created by man and reshaped by sand and sea. Both are magical, both have spirit – but whereas the sharp, lethal energy of obsidian makes for great arrowheads, sea-glass is much better suited to an amulet.  And you wouldn’t woo a lover with a dozen onions, now, would you?

Practical Magic Utilizes the Four Elements

Each element has its own unique power and energy, lending strength to its associated magic. Each witch has a preferred element. Even if you’ve never practiced the craft, you probably already know which element you favor and (as a result) what kind of magic will work best for you. The elements also have associated planets, seasons, directions, etc. There is a whole volume’s worth of discussion here, so let us suffice with a brief description of each and a few correspondences.

Earth –  Common to us all, this is the element of grounding and healing magic, as well as money and fertility spells. It is, logically enough, feminine in its energy. Plants, because they grow in earth, are saturated with earth magic. Salts, being of the earth, are excellent vehicles for earth magic.

  • Time: Midnight
  • Season: Winter
  • Direction: North
  • Zodiac: Taurus; Virgo; Capricorn

Air – The element of intellect, intuition and communication. A more mysterious element than the other three – it is felt less directly, although it is no less essential. It is, in fact, the element that we need most (and need constantly). It is a masculine energy that fuels fires and fills sails. It is forceful and forward moving. Incense and fragrances are powerful air magic.

  • Time: Dawn
  • Season: Spring
  • Direction: East
  • Zodiac: Gemini; Libra; Aquarius

Water – The origin of all life (both planetary and individual) it is the element of life, love, emotion and mystery. It is feminine in its energy, and best accessed with baths and washes. Didn’t your mama tell you that everything works better when it is clean?

  • Time: Twilight
  • Season: Autumn
  • Direction: West
  • Zodiac: Cancer; Scorpio; Pisces

Fire – The most dangerous and unpredictable element – creator and destroyer – a thing that is not a thing – representing intelligence, purification, and sex.  Fire energy is powerfully masculine, and accessed though candle-magic and any number of spells that require burning and smoke.

  • Time: Noon
  • Season: Summer
  • Direction: South
  • Zodiac: Aries; Leo; Sagittarius

Practical Magic Utilizes Color

Colors have power. That why Priests (and witches) wear black and a certain famous golfer is know for winning when he wears his red shirt. Here are the most common color correspondences:

Black – the color of protection, authority,  and fertility (as in rich, black soil). Its element is Earth.

“Harness the power of the color black for fertility spells and for petitions to heal those who are chronically ill. Black candles are considered the most beneficial for repelling evil intentions while black crystals create psychic shields.” (Judika Illes, Pure Magic, p. 26)

Brown – the color of comfort, nurturing, and grounding. Its element is Earth.

“Surround yourself with brown energy to preserve and reinforce your personal power in the midst of long, draining projects. Brown is the color of justice. Brown candles are traditionally burned for assistance during legal proceedings.” (Ibid p.27)

Green – the color of growth and prosperity. Its elements are Earth and Water.

“Use green candles, baths and crystals in spells for employment, to get cash, in general, for anything that you wish to increase in your life.” (Ibid, p.27)

Yellow – the color of joy, harmony, and love. Its elements are Earth and Fire.

“Yellow is associated with romance as it’s the color most frequently associated with the most powerful spirits of love. Harness the power of yellow for romantic enchantments. A yellow candle will kindle new love. A yellow color bath can help you learn to love yourself.” (Ibid., p.29)

Red –  the color of passion, vitality, and good fortune. Its elements are Fire and Earth.

“Harness the power of red to enhance your personal power, your vitality and to protect as you transition over thresholds, particularly those having to do with marriage, birth and children. Pink demonstrates red’s gentler aspects. Pink is especially beneficial for spells involving children and a new romance.” (Ibid., p.28)

Purple – the color of royalty and psychic energy. Its element is Fire.

“Purple is also associated with sexual pleasure. If you can’t decide what color sheets to buy, you might consider purple. Purple candles are used in the most amorous of love spells.” (Ibid., p.27)

Blue – the color of tranquility, healing, and protection. Its elements are Air and Water.

“Blue is traditionally the most important protective color, particularly in regards to thresholds. A blue bead worn at your throat protects you from saying ‘the wrong thing.’…Paint your doors, window frames and/or ceilings blue for spiritual protection. Blue assists in breaking the chains of bad habits. Burn blue candles to reinforce your commitment to terminate a detrimental addiction.” (Ibid., p. 26)

White – the color of creativity and potential. It can be used, magically, as a substitute for any other color. Its elements are Air and Fire.

“White is especially beneficial for candles and spells to initiate new projects. Keep a healthy stock of white candles on hand for spontaneous spells…White is traditionally the color of the moon. Use white crystals, candles, and clothes when you wish to draw down some moon magic.” (Ibid., p.29)

Practical Magic Requires Only a Few Simple Tools

And probably ones that you already have on hand. Practical is the operative word here. No need to spend lots of money or search the far reaches of the internet. Just look in your cupboards or head down to the hardware store.

Candles – as we saw above, different colors have different associations, but simple white candles will serve all of your purposes.

Charcoal – for burning resins (such as Frankincense) or home-made incense (not pre-made in cone or stick form)

Incense Burner – an oven-proof dish, scooped out stone, or large seashell will do. Fill it with sand before setting in the charcoal and lighting up, to protect from heat and flame. Warning – if you use beach sand, you may ignite some briny odors you weren’t intending. Clean sand thoroughly!

Cauldron – oh yeah! Cast iron is nice, but really, any pot put aside for magical purposes will do.

Wooden spoons – for gently stirring potions and the like. Longer handles work best.

Mortar and Pestle – can be found cheaply almost anywhere these days. A coffee grinder works too, but is far less fun.

Containers – to keep your ingredients in and clearly marked – glass is best but anything airtight-ish works fine.

Knife – keep it small, keep it sharp, and (ideally) keep it exclusively for chopping magical ingredients and carving magical symbols.

Paper – for writing spells and intentions. The fewer chemicals the better, so unbleached is best, although again, whatever you have on hand will do.

Salt – for purifying, protection, making lovely scrubs and baths. Sea salt is always best.

Blank Book – because you will need to keep track of things, like what works, what doesn’t, etc.

Pop Quiz

What is more magically powerful?

  • a polished cowrie shell from a beloved beach-side shell shop
  • your grandmother’s needlepoint sampler
  • Mardi-Gras beads
  • poison ivy
  • it depends

You want to cast a love spell. Which magical combination would serve you best?

  • A black candle and a garlicky pasta dish.
  • A blue candle and a hot soak in epsom salts.
  • A purple candle, anointed with rose oil and incised with the planetary symbols for Mars and/or Venus (or any combination thereof)
  • A brown candle, soothing music, and a valium

Homework

  • Set aside some small space for your magical supplies and books. It needn’t be big, but it should be dedicated to witchy workings.
  • Gather the supplies mentioned above. If you don’t have something listed, be creative and make do with what you have. Magic is about intent, not purchase.
  • Keep your eyes, ears, etc. open for things that speak to you magically – a smooth stone that skips into your path, an iridescent crow feather, etc. – collect them if it is safe and ethical, or write about them in your witchy book.

Required Reading

**If you have suggestions or questions please post them in the comment field! I know that there are many, many of you out here who have wit and wisdom to share with Ankhie and the newbies, so post away!**

NEXT WEEK:  Witchy History and a Few Spells to Start You Off

June is LGBT Pride Month – “Gay Witchcraft”

It’s no secret that there are a lot of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer Witches and Pagans – most organized religions either condemn or aggressively quiet sexual non-conformity.  Earth and Occult traditions have been far more accepting.  There are exceptions of course – a few churches that embrace openly gay individuals and even allow them into clergy (hello Episcopalians!) – but for the most part, major religions (both Western and Eastern) are predominantly patriarchal in their hierarchy, silencing the women and LBGT members who remain for reasons of faith or tradition.

Christopher Penczak, a leading figure in contemporary Wicca for a number of years, is the author of one of the first guides written specifically for LGBT practitioners. The following, moving biographical excerpt is from his  introduction to Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe, followed by a coming-out ritual:

When I was a child, I never thought I would be writing a book on witchcraft, let alone dedicating my life to it. But life is filled with surprises, and I’ve grown to welcome them by now. I was raised Catholic.Yes, I’m a survivor of 13 years of Catholic school. Nuns didn’t slap my wrist with rulers, but the last four years were in an all-boys high school. While that might sound like a fun fantasy, the reality fell harshly short for a closeted boy desperately trying to figure out where his faith belonged.

Catholic school filled my childhood with ceremony and symbolism. Religion class and frequent liturgies were par for the course. I was surprised to learn that kids in public school didn’t have such things. I took them for granted. Mythic symbolism, statues, crosses, incense, and candles became a part of my life. I had a strong respect for the Catholic faith, but I later realized it was not so much the faith, but the ritual – a time for personal connection.

Not until high school did I consciously acknowledge being gay. I couldn’t understand it myself, but I knew I felt different about the boys in my class. When religion class turned into morality class – where we discussed such topics as suicide, abortion, and homosexuality – in a single moment, the world came crashing down around me, and I confirmed my feelings about not fitting into the whole. I intensely believed in something, but it no longer believed in me, or so I was told. The words “love the sinner, hate the sin” rang hollow for me, since I felt hated, yet had not done anything at all.

That class created a schism between me and the traditional Christian faiths. I went through a period of atheism, which in reality was more like a period of anger with Spirit, for some perceived betrayal from the emissaries of the Church. I later considered myself agnostic, believing in some form of Spirit, but felt that no one could define  or interact with. Spirituality was abstract, not anything personal. I drew close to science for answers to my questions, and to art for my personal expression.

Fortunately, science and art could not answer the questions I had about life. I experienced seeing a ghost and I had an out-of-body episode, though I didn’t know what these phenomena were at the time. I didn’t find any answers, so I kept looking, without much luck. I didn’t let go of much of my anger, though. I held on because I didn’t have anything else to take its place.

Then witchcraft opened a new world for me. An old friend of the family slowly introduced me to Wicca, the modern religion of witchcraft. The foundations were in ritual, the cycles of nature, ancient Goddess reverence, psychic awareness, and personal development. Witchcraft embraced ancient philosophies and practices from all around the world. So many beliefs fit my own. I never believed in the Christian devil, the source of evil. Contrary to popular belief, witches do not worship the devil. They believe it to be a construct of various organizations to control other people, a target of blame, anda  scapegoat. Witches believe in self-responsibility, since all you do comes back to you. Many authors of the neo-witchcraft movement cite a greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people because of our ancient rites. Several ancient cultures honored such people – my people – for their unique energies and perspective. A few modern groups, or covens, are exclusively gay or lesbian, though parts of the Wiccan community are as homophobic as the mainstream is.

The more I read and studied about Wicca, the more I thought I had come home, but I was afraid. I was afraid to trust Spirit again.

As I studied the craft, with my friend and her teacher, I had some amazing personal experiences. My first spell – what others call intentions or prayers – produced remarkable results. Through training, I had experiences with psychic magical abilities. The point of such work is not for the sake of accumulating  power, but empowerment. Witchcraft gives a personal experience to what modern science, through quantum physics, is telling us; everything is connected. Everything is one. What one person does affects the whole. An experience with psychic healing opened my eyes to a completely new reality. We are connected.

As my studies deepened, I had to swallow a bitter pill. Magick (modern mystics often spell it with a “k” to differentiate their arts from a stage magician’s sleight of hand) and, in fact, any form of mysticism, requires an inner harmony and unity. An aspiring witch must work to shed fear, anger, guilt, and hate, while gathering the qualities of love, self-esteem, and acceptance. Though I had found witchcraft, I held on to my anger at the world because I was different. To continue, to learn the mysteries of magick, I had to let go of my safety blanket of anger. Through the practice of the craft, deep self-introspection, and some healing counsel, I did, and my life changed completely. I then knew I was in control of my life, and always had been. The anger was no one’s fault but my own – simply my reaction to others. When you honor the sacred within you, when you find the witch’s Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, what others do does not matter. Spirit is not a commodity that others can give or deny you. All things are Spirit. Spirituality is simply acknowledging Spirit in your daily, personal life. Witchcraft is one path of spirituality, the one that brought me home and continues to show me new paths to follow.

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Coming Out Ritual

If you gather your friends and “family” with you, or even have them participate in the ritual, so much the better. Or you can do it alone, reminiscent of the lone shaman’s initiation. The choice is up to you.

  • You’ll need a mirror that you have consecrated for this ritual.
  • Prepare for the ritual by cleansing yourself on all levels. Start with a magical bath or shower. Honor and accept your body. Let all stress and tension wash away. If possible, do some simple breathing exercises and meditation before you do the ritual, either prior to gathering with others, or doing it on your own.
  • Cast the circle and call the quarters in the traditional way.
  • Invite any particular gods, goddesses, spirit guides, and power animals into the circle.
  • LIght any incense or candles you have. Use protection potion (Optional).
  • Perform the Great Rite (Optional).
  • If you have something that symbolizes your time in the closet – an article of clothing, jewelry, book, magazine, or even an old nickname written on a piece of paper, hold it up. Think about what this symbolizes, and what you are leaving behind. Once you walk out, there really is no going back. You can ritually offer up the item. If it is something small and flammable, you can burn it. Or you can simply cast it on the floor now, and bury it after the ritual. If you don’t have a physical symbol, simply visualize a “shedding of your skin,” of your past identity and self-image, to enter a new freedom to redefine yourself in any way you choose.
  • Hold up your ritual mirror, or have a friend or family member hold it up to you. Gaze deeply into the mirror. gaze into your eyes. Look at who you are and love yourself wholly and unconditionally. While looking in the mirror, say this or something similar:  I thank the Goddess and God for my unique blessings. I thank them for all the gifts and talents they may have bestowed upon me. I accept my magical heritage fully and completely. I accept myself ad a [use whatever word you may identify with – gay man, lesbian, bisexual, or perhaps gayness  or queerness: use whatever you like]. I love myself unconditionally. Blessed Be.
  • If gathered with others, pass a pink,purple, or rainbow candle around the circle. Let each person say a blessing, words of encouragement, or anything else that spirit moves him or her to say while holding the candle. If you are alone, say a word of encouragement and blessing to yourself. When you start to pass it around, light it. Let its magical light shine on you.
  • Complete the circle, thanking all present, release the quarters, and release the circle.

For more information of Chistopher Penczak, visit his website.

For information on ways to support the LGBT people in your life visit PFLAG