Last week, we discussed how labels are meant to be used in our craft and why trying to pick a type of magic to practice can be tricky. There’s a lot that goes into finding the right kind of magic for you and most witches just aren’t capable of doing so for years. Now that I’ve dashed your dreams of finding and choosing your perfect type of witchcraft, what the heck are you supposed to do?
The answer to that question depends on how long you have been practicing magic. The time frames that I discuss below are approximate. Some witches take a lot longer to go from one level to the next, some move through them very quickly. These are approximate time frames. I would also caution you not to try to move into the next “level” of learning before you’re ready.
1. If you’re brand new (1 year or less)
Brand new witches are in the “you don’t know what you don’t know” phase. There’s so much out there to learn and you have been exposed to just a tiny, tiny portion of it and have no idea how much more there is to learn. When I said there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of different types of magic, did that seem like a lot to you? I promise you, it’s not! I could probably list more than a hundred types of magic practiced just in North America off the top of my head. and that’s not even getting into what’s happening in the rest of the world!
For people at this level, the most important thing to focus on is breadth. You want to expose yourself to as many new types of magic, theories of magic, traditions, practices, and tools as you can possibly get your hands on. It’s time to treat magic like a giant buffet, and you want to taste a little of everything. At this level, it’s very common for witches to buy tons of books and only read half of most of them. This often makes these witches feel bad about themselves, but they shouldn’t!
If we think about this phase of witchcraft as the “buffet phase”, then you don’t necessarily want to fill your plate up with only one type of food. You want to have a little bite of everything so that you have enough room to explore and experiment and figure out what you like. Well, reading a third of a book is kind of like taking just a bite or two of a new food to figure out if you like it. Yeah, you read that right. It’s totally fine to pick up and put down books without finishing them when you’re still trying to get a taste of everything that’s out there. Take note of which books you finish or nearly finish, but don’t worry about all the ones you don’t finish, it’s no big deal!
Honestly, I love this phase. It is such an exciting part of the learning process. You’re essentially high on the excitement of discovery. I even return to this phase after two decades of witchcraft simply because I enjoy it sometimes. And if you’ve never had a “buffet phase”, I highly encourage you to give it a shot. Setting aside even 6 months to just go crazy and read about things you’ve never considered just for the hell of it is so much fun!
When I’m learning this way, my favorite thing to do is to go to a magical bookstore or the metaphysical/witchcraft section of my local library and just pull down whatever catches my attention. I’m not looking for anything specific, in fact, I’m usually avoiding topics that I’m already familiar with. All I’m doing is looking for books on subjects that pique my interest and that I know very little about. There are times when I’ll come home from the library with a dozen or more books after doing this! Typically, I’ll read maybe two of the books all the way through, another five books about halfway through, and the rest I have skimmed or tried one or two spells from but decided they didn’t interest me very much. This is also a great time to try new witchy podcasts, blogs, websites, and meetup groups. You never know what you’ll stumble on to when you’re learning this way!
2. If you’re new-ish (1-3 years)
This phase of learning is the “you know what you don’t know” phase. At this point, you’ve exposed yourself to enough things that you kind of have an idea of how much you actually don’t know. This is the point where you can start filling in a lot of the blanks in your knowledge and narrowing down your focus a bit. Just a little bit though! People at this phase should still be going out of their way to expose themselves to new ideas. We are very rarely all in one phase, more often we’re partially in one phase of learning and partially in another. You may know that you don’t know much about plant magic but you know a basic definition of plant magic and kind of how you might go about learning it, but at the same time you might have no idea that geomancy even exists.
People in this phase should take a 50/50 approach. 50% of your learning should be buffet style like we do in the first year. Taking in a little of everything and sampling types of magic that you are otherwise unfamiliar with. The other 50% of your learning should be focused on the things you’ve found that catch your interest. Remember how I had you take note of which books you read all the way through from the previous phase of learning? Those are the subjects that you want to focus on! Those are the subjects that caught your attention enough to keep you reading to the end of the book.
This means that if you devoured an entire book on herbal magic, find more books on herbal magic or even herbal medicine or foraging. If you finished a book or two on spirit work or ancestors, it’s time to find more resources focusing on those things. This is also when you start focusing your practice a bit more. You’re still trying lots of new things but, at the same time, a bigger percentage of your practice is focusing on those topics that interest you the most. For most people, this happens very naturally. Obviously, we want to read more about the things that interest us! And as we read more about the things that interest us, we’re going to find more practices that we want to try from those resources.
This is also the point when a lot of witches start finding what works for them and what doesn’t. For example, while I enjoy reading about ceremonial magic quite a bit, I am not a ceremonial magician. When I try to work ceremonial magic, it falls completely flat. During this phase of learning, people generally start figuring out where their talents lie and what kinds of magic work for them.
3. If you’re intermediate (3-5 years)
Intermediate witches typically have a really good grasp on what they do and don’t like, what they are and are not good at, and have sampled enough to have a solid direction in their craft. This is the point when doing rigorous, focused study into one or two areas of the craft is recommended. In the previous phase, you will probably have found between one and five subjects that really do it for you. These are things that you are interested in, that you enjoy learning about, and that work well for you in practice. You can now throw 100% of your energy into learning about this handful of topics. Go nuts, read every book you can get your hands on, listen to all the podcasts, find groups that focus on your chosen subjects, find a mentor to help you dig deeper. It’s time to just let yourself get obsessed.
Now, it’s important to recognize that not everyone goes through this phase, and this phase doesn’t always look the same from person to person. While one witch may find a single subject and delve into it and stay focused on it for a year or more, another witch may find that they have multiple subjects that they rotate through as their interests dictate. I’m the second kind, some combination of ADHD and the fact that I am fascinated by magical theory leads me to do deep-dive research for 1 to 3 months at a time. I will pick a subject and snatch up every resource I can find on it, I’ll practice almost exclusively that style of magic, I’ll find other people who are focusing on that kind of magic. I’ll experiment with my own spells and theories in that subject. Eventually, the research fervor kind of slows down and I know that it’s time for me to switch to a new subject for a while. There are a few subjects that I will come back to over and over again, year after year in this way, because everything I learn from other styles of magic and other sources enhances those few subjects that I’m truly engrossed in.
Again, keep in mind that this is not necessarily a one-way process. It’s very common for a witch who has been in the intermediate stage for a while to decide that they want to go back to learning buffet style. There’s nothing wrong with this! Everybody’s learning process is different, and everybody is trying to accomplish something different with their witchcraft.
This is also the stage where labels become useful. Using a label or trying to confine yourself to a type of witchcraft before this stage will only come back to bite you in the ass. Once you reach the intermediate level though, you’ve got a pretty good grasp on your interests and your focus and you’re able to start using labels in a way that can encompass the reality of your practice. Notice how we have taken the time to define the practice at the hands-on level before we use a label to explain it. This is how labels are meant to be used. The practice is defined first and the label is applied to explain what that practice is. You do not use labels as a way to define your practice.
4. If you’re advanced (6+ years)
Ahh, the fabled experienced witch. This is the witch everyone dreams of becoming! Witches at this level have their shit together. They have a really solid idea of who they are, what they want out of their magic, what they’re good at, and what their practice actually entails. Witches at this level often have multiple labels that they use interchangeably depending on the situation. When you reach this point, it becomes pretty obvious that labels are extraneous. We throw them on them when they’re useful, but it’s clear that they aren’t all-encompassing, capable of fully expressing the reality of our practice, and that they’re more of a shortcut in conversation than a serious part of our identity.
It’s very common for witches at this level to reply with “I’m just a witch” when asked what kind of which they are. Most of our practices end up being fairly eclectic. They are a collection of ideas, beliefs, practices, and tools that we have picked up as we’ve discovered what works best for us and there’s usually no single label that truly encompasses all of that.
Labeling your witchcraft or trying to figure out what kind of witch you are should never be your focus in your witchcraft. Those definitions are something that comes naturally as a result of following your interests and learning everything you can learn to become a better witch. Witchcraft is not about crafting an identity for yourself. Witchcraft is not about an aesthetic. Witchcraft is not about trying to fit yourself into a group. Witchcraft is about one thing and one thing only, and that is using magic to make your life better in real, tangible ways. If you focus on getting results from your magic above all else, you will progress in your magical learning far faster than you ever could by trying to pick a label to limit your craft.