Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers
Q. What is a Witch? What is Witchcraft?
"Witch" comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce (meaning wise), which in turn
derives from an Indo-European root word meaning to bend or change or do
magic/religion (making it related to "wicker," "wiggle," and even "vicar").
It is possibly also related to the Old Norse vitki (meaning wizard), derived
from root words meaning "wise one" or "seer." "Warlock" (rarely used, for
male Witches) is from the Old Norse var?lokkur, "spirit song" (not "oath-breaker").
Related words are "Pagan," meaning a country dweller, and "Heathen," a
dweller on the heath, both of which peoples were the European equivalent
of the Native Americans and other indigenous, nature-worshipping people.
Today, a Witch is a woman or man who practices a life-affirming, Earth-
and nature-oriented religion, honoring Divinity in female as well as (or
instead of) male aspects, and practicing Magic (which some Witches spell
"magick," to distinguish it from stage illusions). There are many different
traditions of Witches, encompassing many beliefs in addition to these.
Some traditions are practiced by women only, and recognize only the Divine
Feminine, the Goddess. Others include men and recognize a male god in addition
to the Goddess. Some traditions may date back to before the Spanish Inquisition,
others have been in existence for only a few years. The strength of the
Witches' religion (also called "the Craft" or "Wicca") lies in its diversity;
it is a living, growing religious tradition.
Witchcraft today may be seen as the sum total of all a Witch's practices,
including but not limited to: spell casting, divination ("fortune telling"),
meditation, herbalism, ritual and ritual drama, singing and dancing to
raise energy, healing, clairvoyance and other psychism, creative mythology,
As a religion, the Craft is a revival and/or reconstruction of the pre-Christian
religions of Europe, especially Northern Europe (giving us Celtic or Norse
traditions), sometimes elsewhere (giving us Greco-Roman, Egyptian, or
Levantine traditions). Many of us have turned for inspiration to the still-living
indigenous traditions of other lands, such as Australia, Asia, India, and
the Americas. Some of us , recognizing that we are American Witches, work
with deities and land-spirits of local Amerindian tribes, though we do
not claim to be members of any Amerindian tradition. As Margot Adler, a
Witchcraft authority, has written, "The real tradition of the Craft is
Q. Do you pray? Who do you pray to?
Some Witches pray (in the popular sense of the word), some don't. Some
Witches regularly meditate on the deities of their choice; some only invoke
deities to empower a ritual or work of Magic.
As to who or what our deities are, you will get nearly as many answers
as there are Witches. Consensus opinion seems to be that there is a transcendent
Divine, the sum of all that is and more, and that everything that is partakes
of that Divinity. However, that Divinity is more than the human mind can
encompass or experience. So the idea of Divinity is broken down into few
or many "mind-sized" pieces. One cannot look at the sun but through a filter;
one can only experience a piece of the Divine. These pieces are conceived
of in many forms. One of the primary forms Divinity takes for us is the
Goddess, the Divine Feminine. She can have many names and many aspects;
some Witches worship only the nameless single Goddess, and others worship
Her under all the names by which she has been known to the ancients: Ishtar,
Diana, Ceridwen, Athena, Amaterasu, Brigantia, Venus, Hecate, Isis, Demeter,
and more. In addition, the Goddess can be seen in three aspects: the Maiden
(youth, self-sufficiency, often love), the Mother (nurturing, fulfillment),
and the Crone/Wise Woman (wisdom, mystery, initiation, and death/rebirth).
The Moon, the Sea, and the Earth can all be personified as Goddesses.
Some Witches stop there. Other Witches include the Divine Male, the God.
Our God is not limited to the Father aspect, though there are Divine Fathers.
The Sun is often personified as a God, as is plant life; the dying and
reborn Grain God is common to nearly all agricultural myths. Some name
Him merely "the Horned One;" others call him by the names he had of old:
Apollo, Osiris, Dionysos, Odin Pan Freyr, Adonis, Tammuz, and many others.
When we invoke deities and/or manifest them in ourselves, where do they
come from? Are they somewhere "out there" and do they come in? Or are they
inside us, in our psyches, and do they come out? Do we "put on" a deity,
or do we remove our shell of humanity to let the divinity show through?
Nobody has the answer, nor do we pretend to. Deities may be archetypes
, they may be nature spirits, they may be forces outside our ken. Who or
whatever they are, they are. Our deities are both transcendent ("out there")
and immanent ("right here").
Q. Are you Satanists?
No. To be a Satanist, one must believe in Satan. Witches do not believe
in Satan, as such. The popular image of the goat-hoofed, pointy-horned
devil is a deliberate corruption by the early missionary church of the
European Pagan Horned God, who has been depicted in Greece as Pan, and
in ancient Gaul as Cernunnos (who is pictured having a stag's antlers).
Making indigenous gods into evil beings was the early church's most reliable
method of gaining converts. Some missionary Christian groups continue the
practice to this day, in areas that have retained their old religions.
Our Horned God is neither evil nor a source of evil; He is the energy of
nature, of plant and animal life, which energy manifests for people in
music and dance, intoxication and ecstasy, and all joyous activities, including
Q. What about evil? What are your ethics/morals?
We believe that life is essentially good, and creation and destruction
are part of natural cycles. Clearly, though, there is evil in the world.
We believe its source is not any kind of devil or demiurge, but human action
(note: not human nature). Evil is also subjective: what is good for one
may be evil for another and vice versa. For example, a tiger kills an antelope
- the antelope's death is bad to the antelope, but good to the tiger, who
does, after all, have to eat. The deities of the Craft, if they have any
inclination at all, incline towards the positive; most are neither "good"
nor "evil," they just are, in the same way any elemental force, like fire
or the weather, is. Our deities give us power; how we choose to use that
power is up to us.
That use is directed, first and foremost, by the Witches' Rede: "If it
harm none, do what you will." It is also directed in part by the Law of
Threefold Return: what you give out returns to you threefold. If you work
ill, threefold ill comes back to you. If you work good, threefold good
comes back to you.
Witches (and members of other indigenous religions) have known all along
what science is only beginning to acknowledge: that all systems on the
planet are interconnected, all life is one. When imbalance is caused in
one area, the whole system is thrown out of balance. Acts of evil cause
imbalance. The works of Witchcraft are toward balance and harmony. We are
healers, protectors; we will act swiftly and forcefully in defense against
aggression, but we do not ourselves attack.
Q. Do you do animal/human sacrifices?
No. Our own internal life-force is sufficient to whatever task we may require;
we have no need of stealing the life-force of another. As offerings to
our deities, Witches may burn incense or candles, pour out libations, place
sacred herbs or food in some outdoor spot, bury talismans or money. Some
female Witches use their own menstrual blood in spells; other Witches may
prick themselves (in these enlightened days, usually with sterile lancets)
and offer a drop or two of their own blood. But the only blood a Witch
has a right to offer is her/his own. The sacrifice of another's is against
Q. Do you have gurus, leaders, priests, masters?
Every Witch is her or his own priest/ess. That's part of the point of the
Craft. We need no intermediaries between us and Divinity; each of us can
have our own personal "revelation." Mostly, the Craft is too diverse and
anarchic to follow any one leader. We all partake of Divinity, and no one
person has exclusive knowledge of the Divine or sole power to decide the
directions of our lives. We have no infallible leader, no Grand High Exalted
Poobah, no dogma. Nobody can have all the answers. So many of us have our
own ideas about what the Craft should be and how it works, that we can
rarely agree on points of religion - the idea of all of us agreeing to
follow one person is manifestly absurd.
Each Circle or Coven may have a High Priestess or High Priest, or it may
be democratic and operate by consensus. There will always be people with
leadership tendencies; these are people who tend to do outreach work, networking
between Wiccan groups or outside the Craft, or even teaching.
Q. What do you think happens after death? Do you
believe in heaven and hell?
As it has been said, Witches don't believe in life after death, we believe
in life after birth. The emphasis of the Craft is on working to make this
life good for as many people as possible, oneself included.
We do not believe in a hell, sin, or redemption. As mentioned above, evil
is imbalance. But we have no concept of original sin for which we must
be redeemed - indeed, that concept has been the source of oppression and
even killing of women for centuries, since medieval Christian philosophy
had it that woman was the source of all sin and evil. Witches are reclaiming
Eve as the one who gave us self-knowledge through her courage and curiosity.
Nor, for that matter, do we believe in a heavenly reward for good behavior.
Spiritual bribery is not the way of the Witch; the results of good or evil
acts are felt in this lifetime. No celestial carrot or infernal stick.
On the other hand, Witches have quite a few opinions about what does happen
after death. Most believe in reincarnation of some sort or other. Some
have it that between death and rebirth the soul undergoes some sort of
transformation (for which there are a number of metaphors) to prepare it
for rebirth. Others believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors, who
watch over, protect and advise their descendants. Still others have it
that the souls of those who chose pain or evil when they were alive may
be trapped after death in a state of suffering because that is all they
can understand. Most Witches are honest enough to say, "We don't really
know, and there isn't any way to know."
Q. What is your magick? Does it work? How?
There are a number of sayings about Magick. It is "the act of changing consciousness
by Will." It is "the science of coincidence." As the root word of "Witch"
indicates, we are shapers and changers; what we shape and change is our
own life force, our own consciousness, our health and that of the planet.
We believe that we can change our lives by spiritual as well as physical
means. Very little is preordained, except that we will die, some day. In
the meantime, many Witches do divination to find out the possible directions
their lives might take, and then act on the information accordingly.
It works. We can't turn people into frogs or levitate tables by mind-power;
we can work healing, change our lives for the better, and discover the
workings and balance of the whole system. Our Wills are our tools. "Faith
without works is meaningless," and we work in the world, too; we are active
in our communities and for the environment, but we back up our actions
with magical intent. It is a potent combination.
Q. Do you do Black Magic?
No. Some of us do not even recognize "black" or "white" Magic; Magic is
Magic, and what its nature is depends on how we use it. Remember that we
try to temper all our Magic by the Rede.
Q. Do you cast spells?
Yes. That's part of being a Witch. There are those who wish merely to worship
the Goddess (and God), observe the turning of the seasons with ritual,
and honor the Earth. These are what may be called "Neo-Pagans" (to distinguish
them from indigenous, aboriginal pagans). Nearly all Witches are Neo-Pagans
(believe it or not, a few Witches are Christian or Jewish); not all Neo-Pagans
For us, spells and rituals are a matter of arranging elements to encourage
a frame of mind conducive to working Magic. This may involve burning candles
and/or incense, making talismans of stone or wood or paper, chanting rhymed
formulae, using herbs or essential oils, turning down the lights and playing
some atmospheric music, or whatever the imagination of the Witch can devise.
The Threefold Return works powerfully here: if someone wishes to curse
someone else, the curser must first build up the curse within her/himself
- guess who gets to feel it first! Acts of healing, on the other hand,
are acts of profound love, and the healer often finds her/himself healthier
after healing someone else. It is always easier to cast a spell on oneself
than on another. Only in very limited circumstances, if at all, should
a spell be cast on another without that person's knowledge and consent.
Q. How do you worship? What are your holidays?
What do you do then?
There are as many ways of worship as there are traditions of the Craft.
Most rituals involve consecration of the ritual space in some way, invocation
of a Deity or Deities, and a communal meal. Rituals can include music and/or
dancing, poetry, masquing and drama (often in enactments of myth), and
even props and special effects. Again, creativity is the watchword here.
There are eight holidays.
1 November, Samhain
Popularly known as Hallowe'en. The Feast of the Ancestors and Witches'
New Year. Trick-or-Treating evolved from Pagan "Souling," when children
representing ancestors collected food and blessed the houses they visited.
22 December, Yule/Midwinter
The Winter Solstice. Longest night of the year, Feast of the Rebirth of
the Sun, after which the days begin to grow longer again. Many Christmas
customs have a Pagan origin: the Yule Log, Christmas Tree, Evergreen Decorations,
1 February, Imbolc/Brigid
Feast of Returning Light. Also called Candlemas. In honor of the Irish
Brigid, Goddess of holy wells, fire, healing, smithcraft, and poetry. Brigid's
Fire warms the Earth after Winter.
22 March, Eostre
Named after the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Dawn; origin of the word "Easter."
The Vernal Equinox, Feast of Planting and Rebirth.
1 May, Beltaine
Also called May Day. The first day of Summer, the beginning of the light
half of the year. A feast of fertility and burgeoning life.
22 June, Litha/Midsummer
The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Feast of the Sun on High
or the Solar Hero; activities are mostly those to do with civilization/culture.
"Feast of Lugh," or "Loaf-mass." Feast of the Hero-God Lugh, who undergoes
a shamanic death-rebirth initiation, and/or the Barley God, who dies and
is transformed into beer. Festival of the First Fruits, the first harvest.
22 Sept., Harvest Home/Mabon
Celebration of the Harvest. Has its analog in the American Thanksgiving,
which was indeed originally a harvest festival.
Q. How many of you are there? Do you raise your children
Conservative reckonings estimate 200,000 Witches and/or Neo-Pagans in the
US alone. There could be many more, who are simply more private about their
religion, for the very real fear of persecution. Witches are still working
hard for our First Amendment rights.
Most Wiccan parents allow their children to become involved in the Craft
or learn about Paganism if the child wishes; few, if any, require of their
children adherence to any particular path. There are indeed Pagan/Wiccan
children and young adults. They're just like other kids. They go through
adolescent rebellion and life crises just like other kids; they may even
be slightly more well-adjusted than non-Pagan kids, if only because the
Craft provides rituals and/or recognitions of Life Passages.
Q. How do you become a Witch?
The Craft does not actively seek converts. We do not proselytize. We are
willing to inform when asked, and training is available in varying degrees
of formality. Some Witches believe that one must be born with the talent
to become a Witch. Others believe that all people have the ability, and
that becoming a Witch is simply a matter of training. Some people know
from an early age that they are Witches; others come to the Craft as adults
- most of us grew up in a tradition other than the Craft. And there are
many out there who do what we would call Witchcraft who have no idea what
to call it, or even that there are others like them in the country or the
world. Being a Witch, like doing Magic itself, is "a matter of symbolism
Q. Can you teach me to be a witch?
In Simple . Yes I could, But I wont, as a High Priestess and Church Elder I have the knowledge
and the ability , but not the time. Hard work, study and practice can do it, I had to so it
, so can you. If you cannot face doing it alone then find a local coven,
but be assured there are no shortcuts or easy routes.
Q. Where can I find out more?
There are a number of good books available on the Craft. Here are a few
Adler, Margot, Drawing Down the Moon.
Farrar, Janet and Stewart, What Witches Do.
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance.
Matthews, Caitlin and John, The Western Way, Vol. I: The Native Tradition.
Valiente, Doreen, Witchcraft for Tomorrow.
Weinstein, Marion, Positive Magic.
Cunningham, Scott, The Solitary Practioner
- Green, Marian, A Witch Alone
- Moura, Anne, Witchcraft, an Alternative Path (my favourite beginner to intermediate book)
- Moura, Anne, Green Witchcraft, 1,2,3
- Curott, Phyliss, Witchcrafting
Can I cast a spell on someone without their knowledge?
The Answer is yes you can. But what you have to think of is Why am I doing this
? And is it the correct thing to be doing ? Probably not .