On Seeing Witches in a Black Mirror…

I recently bought a black mirror from the extraordinary witch, writer and academic Levannah Morgan. Levannah, as visitors to many Pagan events in Britain will know, is also the creator of a wonderful array of home-made, beautifully crafted objects. These range from what are clearly ritual tools (like my mirror), through to charms, knitted hats and socks which, though ostensibly simple knitwear, are undoubtedly magickal objects in their own right. In this sense Levannah straddles the worlds of the Wicca (she’s a High Priestess of many years standing) and what some call ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ (which we might briefly define as being the use of folk magic).

the witches mirror

the witches mirror

The relationship between ‘The Craft’ (ie Wicca) and ‘The Craft’ (ie Traditional Witchcraft). Is one where I’ve observed a fair amount of contention. For instance one of the Traditional Witchcraft facebook groups I belong to (arguably the most venerable group in that social media forum) sets out its stall by stating (in one of those pinned post thingies) that it is emphatically not a group for people interested in Wicca. The whole vibe of Trad. Craft (aside of discussions about which is the most ancient of its facebook manifestations) is one of toads, skulls, horned spirits, circumambulations, spelling coven ‘cuveen’ etc etc. Now I’m down with all that; I love a bit of folksy style magick the same as the next wizard who happens to live in an 18th century west country cottage. However when I actually look at this style in relation to the work of the Wiccans I know (of which Levannah is one) I find it hard to see more than the narcissism of minor differences  between the assumed distinctions of Trad. Craft versus Wicca. Read, for instance the engaging book Traditional Witchcraft by Gemma Gary. A likeable vision of the Craft which feels like a more folksy (and of course west country orientated) version of the classic Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson  However if one were to compare say, Eight Sabbats for Witches by Janet and Stewart Farrar with Traditional Witchcraft certainly there are differences, but these are greatly outweighed by the similarities.

Now one of the criticisms of Wicca by Trad. Craft people is that Wicca can be ‘fluffy’, of course by that they mean that it can emerge as a ‘love and light’ focused gentle spiritual tradition which doesn’t have the earthy scent that Trad.Crafters imagine suffuses their preferred style. Various allegations are made against this ‘fluffy craft’; that it’s not much more than a superficial, product orientated life-style choice. You can get your Wicca off the shelf, mediated through the work of writers such as Silver Ravenwolf  et al. Thing is that for every example of vapid consumerism by ‘Wiccans’ I can find just as many examples of similar behaviour within Trad.Craft culture (a recent high point of this for me was this ‘stang’  formerly owned by Cultus Sabbati guru and asthma victim Andrew Chumberly, being offered for sale, admittedly along with a ‘talismanic’ edition of the Azoetia and a letter or two, for £3000). Incidentally the text of this uber spooky volume may be found HERE.  (There are certainly some enjoyably evocative bits of material in Cultus Sabbati literature, and it’s also true to say that sometimes the Emperor is completely skyclad…)

"I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you?"

“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you?”

So it seems obvious to me that a superficial engagement with any spiritual tradition says more about the person doing the engaging, and not necessarily much about the tradition in itself.

Another aspect of the Wicca/Trad.Craft dichotomy arises from that fascinating word ‘religion’. Wicca is, in some sense, a religion (though my preferred understanding would characterise it as a ‘mystery religion’, closer to the classical sense of ‘mystery’ described recently by Ronald Hutton in a lecture at the Pagan Federation Devon and Cornwall conference). Trad. Crafters, while generally being of an animist bent are, it seems, typically more concerned with operative magick (often of the type described by chaos magicians as ‘sorcery’). They frequently acknowledge (unless they have some really out-there fantasies about secret Sabbats being celebrated on hilltops in the middle ages) that the operative witchcraft of the past (or folk magic, to use what I feel is a more accurate term) was done by people who would probably have identified themselves as Christians.

Meanwhile Wicca, particularly in parts of the United States, has made the fully-fledged transition into a church or denomination of Paganism. This is perhaps (and I’d love to hear the thoughts of North American witches about this) because religion plays a different role in American society than it does in British culture. The question ‘which church do you go to?’ is an important component in getting to know someone in the USA, whereas in Britain it’s unlikely to be an item for discussion at all. American religion plays an critical role in social identity and so the creation of a neo-Pagan Wiccan ‘church’ (with all that means) makes total sense. However to the British Trad.Crafter this all looks very suspicious and a long way away from solitary rituals involving rhyming charms and black cat bones.

But in the reflection of the black mirror such divisions begin to blur. Here I am, an initiated Gardnarian/Alexandrian Wiccan and chaos magician making use of a tool fashioned by the skilled hand of my Sister. Is this Traditional Craft, Chaos Magick or Wicca in action – could it perhaps be all three?


2 thoughts on “On Seeing Witches in a Black Mirror…

  1. melissa says:

    Its magic, just magic, and it is what we make it, and how we perceive it to be, brilliant post Julian, as ever. M x

  2. Tim Holland says:

    When I was first exploring the different paths to magic in the 60’s I was drawn initially to the Traditional brach, there being a local group within easy reach; I was looking for that continuity with the indiginous traditions that was hinted at in folk music and stories but I’m afraid as with Wicca I found reconstruction under a thin covering. Many years later the neo shamans and druidy seemed to have a more honest approach that I felt happier with. All part of the same magic journey

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