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My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Witchcraft Then And Now; An Observation

Let me start by saying by "Witchcraft then and now," I don't mean the witchcraft of 500 years ago versus the witchcraft of today. Indeed, I think it's become clear that we know very little of how Witches operated in centuries past, as so little was written down, and what WAS preserved was often the result of torture and probably reflects innocent people concocting stories to save themselves more than any genuine reality of Witchcraft. No, I mean the Witchcraft of the 20th century revival, versus the bulk of what is published today.

In general, it seems that current Witchcraft has become much more "materialistic" than what was being practiced even 40 years ago. For example, in Doreen Valiente's published "Book of Shadows" in "Witchcraft For Tomorrow" she lists a relatively simple set of tools that I'm sure are familiar to anyone reading this. The knife, the wand, the pentacle, the cord, the book, candles, incense, and the cauldron. Magic was performed by casting a circle using salt, water, and incense and then raising energy through mental effort and invoking the Gods. In her other books, as well as others of the time, one finds easy rituals for candle magic (involving nothing but an inscribed candle, some incense, and perhaps the knife used to direct energy) as well as spoken charms and knot magic. Even today, while perusing a website about Cornish Traditional Witchcraft, photographs demonstrate the Witch casting spells using little more than a knife, beeswax candles, and a fire. Simple items that one can purchase or make for one's self, and then use repeatedly for the rest of one's life.

Not so with most modern books on Witchcraft and magic. Many modern, published spells require sometimes dozens of ingredients and tools, many of them exotic and, if not expensive, at least an effort to obtain. One such book I own lists no more than 23 separate tools required for one rather basic ritual. Even worse, the author advises the reader to discard all candles and incense partially used, claiming that they can't ever be used again for magic. Perhaps the biggest change I can see between the time periods is the influx of herbal preparations and essential oils into magical practice. It's not that they aren't traditional, because they are, but not to the extent that they are used today. While older books contain a few simple incense recipes, or tell one how to make infuses oils to be used for certain magical aims, they do not require the dozens of herbal blends, tinctures, oils, and powders one typically finds today. But why is this?

Harkening back to a previous entry, I think that what's happened has been the influx of what one might call "sorcery" into Witchcraft. I define "sorcery" as the use of external objects to create a magical change, as opposed to "witchcraft" which involves exercising a power innate to the operator, along with the powers of spirits, Gods, and herbs. For example, American folk magic practices like Hoodoo and Pow Wow seem to have made inroads into Wicca and Witchcraft, altering all three in the process. In a less benign vein, Witchcraft has become big business: "Pagan" shops have popped up everywhere, willing to sell you herbs and tools of various freshness and quality, all for a pretty hefty price (it's not uncommon to see a cauldron that retails for 25 dollars one place, to be marked up to 40 or even 60 dollars elsewhere.) One wonders how much the ready availability of magical materials, which would have been unheard of even 40 years ago, has influenced the practice of magic itself.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having magical tools you find attractive and powerful, and I definitely don't deny that herbs, stones, woods, etc have inherent powers that the Witch can harness in order to work magic. However, I worry that sometimes people become so intent on buying more, having more, and stocking enough herbs to run a Witch store, that they forget to do the work! In addition, a lot of modern "Witchcraft" shops sell shoddy, tacky tools that carry but little of the natural energy required. What I cannot make myself, I buy from a few small, private artists (some of which I've shared) or come across in antique shops and thrift stores, where you can find amazing, high-quality objects that are perfect for Witchcraft. In the end, though, the important thing to remember is that YOU are the Witch, and if you cannot work magic using nothing but the power of your Will and experience, it's unlikely that even an entire Witch store full of merchandise can help you.


  1. Yes, some people think that if their magic is "off", all they need to do is buy the right tools. ^^

    (My tools include candles and an incense holder. The rest is done as we go along... some string from the sewing drawer, some herbs from the kitchen, stones found in the forest.)

  2. Entirely agree. A whole industry has sprung up supplying nice shiny "toys" for the masses. Me? I use a rag tag collection that I've acquired over the years from various sources or inherited/been given or simply picked up from the ground.

  3. I don't think there's anything wrong with purchasing tools you can't make yourself per se, but it's definitely gotten out of hand. As I mention in my blog entry, I have a few artisans who hand-craft things for me that I cannot find (my Hazel wand, for example...Hazel is very rare here) but I never use mass-produced stuff. It just seems there's this tendency for people to buy the biggest, most expensive thing they can get, when in reality the village Witch would probably have just used what s/he had laying around, with the exception of a few specialist tools.

    I can see I've hit upon something a lot of people think about; I've not ever gotten this many responses, so fast, to a blog post!

  4. Hear hear! If you can't make it yourself, what is the point, I say! Most of my tools are handcrafted or have been gifts. My cauldron was bought by me just because I've always wanted a cauldron.

    Much of the grandeur comes in the form of crystals, now a days, and a need for fancy jewelery and such. I see so many teens trying out the witch thing and they always buy loads of jewelry and expensive tarot decks and such. I say nothing but sometimes I just want to say: Go out into nature. If the spirits do not gift you with a crystal such as that, then you don't need it!

  5. Eric, I quite agree. Lately I've been finding loads of feathers, which I've been putting away for future use. My wands were made by a couple of people, from wood they harvested themselves, and were made by hand and not lathe-turned (we don't have Hazel or Blackthorn here, or I might have tried to do them myself.) I still need to buy a larger cauldron, and replace my old knife with a new one (and even that is being custom-made so I won't have to use some tacky "athame" from a Pagan store) but other than that, most of my new things are either found, or attained from antique shops or farmer's markets.

    I think the big change in me is moving away from the more Ceremonial-Magic based stuff, and towards a much simpler Trad Craft. You simply don't need as much stuff!