This week I’ve had a rash of people telling me how my witchcraft “should” be or how witchcraft “has to work” and to be quite honest with you, I’m about over it. I see this kind of policing everywhere, it seems like everyone has this idea that their way of practicing the craft is the “right” way and everyone else should be converted to their way of thinking.
You get people who are otherwise preaching a philosophy of oneness and being in tune with yourself and valuing nature and peace becoming utterly irate because someone else is doing something different. Am I the only one who sees the huge contradiction here?
What Witchcraft Really Is
Here’s the thing, witchcraft isn’t a set of rituals. It isn’t the worship of a particular god, it’s not a religion, it’s not even the methods we use to cast spells. Witchcraft transcends all of these things because, at its core, witchcraft is about doing what works. And if the massive diversity in magical tradition speaks to anything it’s that there are a LOT of ways to do magic that work!
What witchcraft really is, at its core, is the manipulation of the energy that makes up everything from the tiniest microbe, to massive sequoias, this wonderful planet that we live on, every star, every breath we take, and every god we may or may not pray to. Magic is literally everywhere, it’s inescapable because it IS us. It’s everything!
Why So Many Things Are Optional
This base nature of magic and our universe is exactly what makes so many things in magic optional. Since magic is everywhere and everything there are basically infinite ways to take advantage of it. And the vast majority of these methods work given the right circumstances!
Think of it this way, if magic could only be accessed in one way we would see the exact same magical structure repeated over and over and over again in every culture and in every point in history. That is not the case though! All you have to do is look at the amazing diversity present in our current magical culture. You have ceremonial magicians summoning demons and performing long and intricate rites while housewives practice folk magic involving nothing more than a whispered incantation and some spices from their cupboard. Both methods work. How can we claim that there’s only one way to practice magic when Hoodoo, Santeria, Stregheria, Feri, Wicca, Appalachian granny magic, Druidry and so many more traditions exist simultaneously and all seem to work? The answer is that we can’t. They DO all work because they are all taking advantage of the exact same universal forces in a myriad of ways.
So What Is Optional In The Craft?
There are so many more optional elements than I could possibly list here but these are some of the most common elements of the craft that I see being touted as non-negotiable.
1. Gendered Energy
The use of gendered energy (i.e. masculine and feminine energy) is an incredibly prevalent part of modern witchcraft and this is largely due to the widespread nature of Wicca. Wicca teaches this gender dichotomy as a core part of its practices and because of this, such methods have filtered down into the collective consciousness of neo-Wicca and nondenominational witchcraft as a result. The widespread nature of this concept does not make it mandatory, however. There are plenty of forms of witchcraft that do not teach or use any form of gendered magical energy, and some (like Feri) that actively teach that one should strive for the freedom of energy that comes from releasing oneself from such limiting concepts in magic.
If the idea of gendered energy makes you uncomfortable, if you find it difficult to work with, or if it simply doesn’t resonate with you, you don’t have to use it! You can simply omit that part of the craft without suffering any ill consequences. Your magic will still work, it won’t be any less powerful and in fact, by removing an element that didn’t resonate with you personally your magic might become even more effective!
2. Specific Tools
You can find a list of “beginners tools” in pretty much every book and website about witchcraft out there. Everyone seems to have an idea of what tools are must-haves for practicing magic and often, these lists of tools don’t match up with each other! One source will tell you that you absolutely must have a wand while another doesn’t even mention wands but says that two knives rather than one are essential. Some sources use herbs, others essential oils, still others make no mention of such things. You’ll find everything from bells, to cubes, to mirrors, chalices, and candles on these lists. So what’s a witch supposed to think?! Which tools are really necessary?
The reality is, none of these tools are necessary. Sure, they all have uses and can help you in harnessing your inherent magical power but these tools don’t GIVE you magical power and you can certainly access that innate connection to your energy without them. The best thing to do is to only use the tools that speak to you and make you feel as though your magic is working. If you’re short on resources and can’t afford tools, makeshift tools, DIY altarpieces, or nothing at all can suffice as well. Magic can be done with nothing more than your will and intention, no tools, no words, and no outside trappings of any kinds if you so choose.
Divination methods like tarot, pendulum reading, and scrying are incredibly prevalent in modern witchcraft. They’re so prevalent, in fact, that many people feel as though without these elements they’re only practicing half the craft! This simply isn’t the case though. Divination is a wonderful form of magic and can add a lot to your daily workings but your witchcraft is still witchcraft even if you don’t use it. Some people really hate divination. Some people don’t want to know the future. Some people just find that they’re not very good at divination. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that divination just isn’t your thing if you don’t feel that it’s beneficial to you!
I’m not very fond of math and you know what, despite the warnings of every grade school teacher, my life has suffered very little for my avoidance of math. I simply choose to focus my efforts on those things that I’m actually good at! In the few instances where I might need some math, there are always people in this world who have the skills that I do not. I can seek out people whose strengths compliment my weaknesses. You should take this same approach to witchcraft (and possibly the rest of your life too). You have developed a set of skills, talents, and strengths that are unique to you. Why would you go out of your way to average yourself by becoming mediocre at those things that you have no natural aptitude for when you can spend that same energy becoming truly great at those things that you’re naturally good at?
4. Spirit Work
In much the same way as divination, spirit work is everywhere and is often seen as a completely necessary part of witchcraft. One of the most common questions I get from beginners is about whether or not they have to work with spirits. Many of these beginner witches are considering giving up the craft entirely because spirits scare them and they’ve been led to believe that they won’t be able to practice the craft without spirit work! How terrible to think that someone might give up their own power simply because they’re afraid of something that they never have to deal with unless they want to.
It’s true that spirits are everywhere and that becoming a witch will get you in tune with your own capabilities to see and interact with these spirits. That doesn’t mean that you have to work with them though! If you feel unsafe around someone, you don’t force yourself to spend time with them simply because it’s expected of you. You do something about it! You get away from them, you choose not to live your life in their presence, you can even take out a restraining order if you need to. Spirit work is the same way. If you don’t like spirits, you can just avoid them! Put up wards to keep them away from you and your home, tell spirits that ask for your help that you’re not the right person to help, give stubborn spirits the boot with a solid banishing spell. If you don’t want to work with spirits then DON’T, there are plenty of people out there who will do the spirit work that you don’t want to do. let them deal with the spirits. Protect your space and your peace of mind if that’s what feels good for you.
5. Gods & Religion
Has anyone else here noticed how hard it is to find non-religious witchcraft? Because I have. The thing is, gods and religion are not mandatory in the craft. No matter how many spells you see invoking a deity or how many witchy sources you find that involve the horned god and triple goddess you do not have to work with any god that you don’t want to. That includes gods that show up and want to work with you. You have every right to say no to them and not work with them if you don’t want to. Personally, I’ve told Odin to get lost more times than I can count. Do I have something against Odin? No, not necessarily, I just don’t think that working with him will further the path that I’ve chosen for myself. I respect him, but I don’t want him all up in my life and my witchcraft. You have every right to do the same, pick and choose those beings that you allow into your life carefully. Remember, witchcraft is about claiming your power. Do not give your power of choice up just because the being contacting you is a god.
You also do not have to believe in gods at all. If you find yourself in the atheist or agnostic crowd, you’re still a totally valid witch. Your power is still real, your magic still works. Don’t let overzealous people force their beliefs on you or make you feel that your personal path is wrong. There are many paths that lead to many places in this life and no two people will walk the same path. We are all here to learn and experience something different, it’s only natural that we will each need to choose our own path to fulfill that.
6. Being a nature-y person
I know, I know. We should all care about the planet and love mother nature and blah blah blah. And that’s all great but you know what, even if someone DOES care about not harming the planet, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be outdoorsy, tree hugging, garden planting kinds of people. Or even if they ARE into being outdoorsy, that doesn’t mean they’re actually going to be able to. Real talk: I have a pretty serious intolerance to the sun. Like… I can’t go out for more than 10 minutes without the beginnings of a sunburn creeping up on me. And I live in Texas, the sun here is decidedly intense. As much as I love camping and hiking and just generally being outside, I can’t do a lot of that stuff most of the time without risking some major pain and suffering (not to mention skin cancer). Nine months out of the year, I can’t go out walking in nature, I can’t work in a garden, and I can’t sit and meditate under a tree to get my witchy juices flowing. That doesn’t make me any less of a witch.
Plenty of people have limitations that prevent them from being able to go outside a lot. Sun sensitivity, physical disability, anxiety, introversion, and just plain old not wanting to can keep people inside year round and you know what, that’s fine. A witch who never works a single spell or ritual outdoors is still a witch.
If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Stop worrying about whether or not you’re doing witchcraft “right” by other people standards. The only yardstick you should measure your craft by is whether or not what you’re doing works. Do what works. Forget about the rest.