Not to put too fine a point on it but Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead quite some time ago. It has been a bit a crow for the modern pagan movement to deal with since we like to boast of our vast reading experience, our familiarity with various philosophers and with this one right on the doorstep of when modern pagan witchcraft was borne [nope shan’t be dealing with that ol’ crap of the ‘Burning Times’ or the ‘Old Religion’ because so many rabbit holes!] Tonight I happened upon a Facebook post by Wade MacMorrighan in which he asked:
Say, does anyone else cast some seriously judgmental side-eye at fellow witches and pagans when they speak of communing or working with some amorphous and divine entity that they call “Spirit” as if they are some New Age hippie on the verge of being diagnosed with diabetes from all the sweetness-and-light they are spewing?
Well straight out to bat I am going to say yes, yes I do get fairly judgmental when I hear neopagans hide behind some vague concept such as “Spirit”, the reason isn’t because I have a particular issue with ‘Spirit’ in Native American traditions but because most neopagans or new-agers have no concept of what they might mean. Often it is a means to obfuscate the fact that they are insecure about their own processes and relationship to the world around them.
I recently had a very surreal experience with someone who claimed to be a shamanic practitioner here in Ireland but who used Chakras and basically blamed my epilepsy on my Chakras being misaligned or some shite like that. When I asked why “Oh Spirit told me”, as if that was a legit reason to try to claim my neurological condition as your truth. Of course same said individual went on to say ’Spirit’ had revealed to him that everything was an illusion… great so thousands of years of mystical and magical structures and teachings get ignored from a hundred odd traditions and spiritualities because you don’t like being told what do do… Bardo, Maya, etc!
If you want to offer sound healing advice for me then test your contacts out. Ask them for specifics and get them to check their own sources. Or better yet, if you don’t actually have any contacts or spiritual guides then don’t blame them for advice that comes from some inexplicable source an is only partially correct. Even in Traditional Reiki, Usuhi had diagnostics as an intricate part of the early studied for would-be healers in his system.
Moreover, it irks me when some witchlings say, “I don’t worship anything!” as if they are somehow greater than the spiritual powers that animate the Universe! Of course, some actually say, “I don’t believe in the gods!” and they insist that anyone who is pagan and calls themselves a “witch” is misusing the term. However, it is they who are misusing the term “witch” since “Witch” has always had strong magico-religious connotations. Instead, they ought to call themselves “sorcerers”, which yields (academically!) those atheistic denotations that best describe their practices. But, they still *want* the term “Witch” for some reason. They are trying to redefine it! In recent years I have seen MANY so-called “traditional witches” harshly criticize any anythor who dares to conflate witchcraft with paganism. They simply won’t have it and use the internet to bully anyone who might.
I disagree here. I think it is not only entirely possible to call oneself a witch and mean it when you don’t believe in gods or do but simply refuse to worship any. Personally, I fall somewhere into the spectrum of existentialist views on paganism. There is much of the g/Gods I can accept but worship seems to fly in the face of thousands of years of working with tutelary deities and spirits. Even when cultures or individuals in cultures have acted as emissaries to the g/Gods the depth by which they worshipped was varied.
In classical times witches and priests were not one-in-the-same. That innovation only really became accepted mainstream with the growth of the Traditional Wiccan movement. This is not to say that priests and priestesses were without charms or magical spells but that these were not for the day-to-day running of the household.
Cochrane, Gardner and Sanders amongst others all coopted the terms; witch, Wicca, Wica, Pagan, et al. for their own purposes to revive the idea of the ‘Old Religion’ echoing Margaret Murray but this has long been disproven. Gardner in particular wanted to see PAGAN witchcraft flourish in Britain. The “witches” who were more properly called cunning folk or healers were either Christian or non-plussed about doctrines of faith, they had cures and spells to enact those cures alright. The specifics are often muddled now but I daresay assuming that all so-called low-magic systems of witchcraft believed in worshipping deities is a bit far-flung.
I personally feel the problem in trying to guess the secularist attitudes of the cunning-folk witches lies at the heart of British culture at the time. It was just starting to establish a modernist identity following WW2 and we can see this in the power-structures of modern Traditional Wicca. I’m not suggesting everyone who joined Wicca or the Craft of the time did so because Nietzsche proclaimed God to be dead but it does mark the epistemological doubt surrounding society of the time which I do believe affected modern Paganism. Customs and traditions being what they are and cures often cheaper that medical advice people found a sense of control in keeping these alive.
From the period of 1800s-1900s magic as well as modern paganism enjoyed a revival. Because modern witchcraft became synonymous with modern paganism other forms of witchcraft either fell outside of the accepted vernacular for what defines a witch or succumbed to modernity and the development in technology. I know of only one confirmed family tradition of Witchcraft which was Christian but it died with the last practitioner because the children refused to carry it on viewing it as too archaic for a modern world. So what I suspect kept the familial customs of witchcraft alive in Britain until the popularity of Wicca could help to define it may have also killed off other forms.
I’m not a fan of most of the Traditional Witchcraft forums online – certainly not the Facebook groups because they often spend more time defining themselves as something other than Wiccan. They seem to ignore the fact that they have just as much magpie syndrome as any other witch out there. I know some really good people in the Appalachian region of the USA who work magic and help people in their communities but I don’t need the forums to remain friends with them. I’m always doing to remain open to learning from others as I go – I don’t need family lineages going back to before the Famine anymore than I think lineages in Wicca or the Golden Dawn have served to help end false groups.
Many of the posts in response to Wade’s question seemed to err on the side of least judgement. I don’t think the word sorcerer is well defined enough my anyone to accurately state that it is better for atheistic witches. Largely because many of the words we use: witch, sorcerer, magician, warlock, pagan, etc. have been used as both cultural and counter-cultural motifs when deemed necessary. In modern parlance I call myself a Witch amongst pagan friends as I am Gardnerian and Magician amongst my ceremonialist friends as I am a member of MOAA. And frankly I see both terms as meaning much the same.