My coven has a little framed bit of calligraphy hanging by the entrance door to our temple, hung there back in the 1970s I believe, that says “The Lyf so short, the Craft so long to lerne.” It’s Hippocrates by way of Chaucer, but of course it applies beautifully to witchcraft. I found myself thinking about this all week after this article came out, wherein a journalist claims she spent a week learning witchcraft and then made a whole bunch of insulting claims and assumptions about it. I took to Twitter and posted a long rant and this was the result, so I gathered those tweets together (with a few comments added here and there for clarity) to share here.
I just spoke with a filmmaker (from Paris) who’s making a documentary on witches. I mentioned a witch I saw on Twitter who recently admitted to having a crisis of faith, that she didn’t really “believe” in witchcraft anymore, that she deleted all her tweets and no longer wanted to be known as a witchcraft influencer, and it’s been haunting me.
The current explosion of witchcraft on social media paints a rather misleading picture of the depth, complexity and knowledge underpinning a spiritual movement that’s been reinventing itself since the 1960s.
And there’s nothing wrong with that: outsiders and rebels and outlaws are figures that can inspire us with their courage and confidence. But the notion of persecution is the flip-side of this, and it’s a tricky one.
On the one hand, yes, women are still oppressed in many ways. Certainly we’re seeing sexism flourish these days in ways it hasn’t for decades and I think we can all point to some pretty obvious reasons why. Also, that’s not to exclude my brother witches from the movement: but the current zeitgeist has seized upon witchcraft as a feminine mode of expression, and, many of us are hoping, one that may yet allow us to smash the patriarchy once and for all. And maybe take our stewardship of this planet we call home more seriously, before it’s too late. For witches and pagans have generally failed as torch bearers for the environmental movement (more on that another time perhaps)
What I see as the most vexing aspect of the current movement is its general lack of seriousness, and almost utter failure to consider its own rather fascinating history. The seekers and renegades who embraced witchcraft and paganism in the 1950s and 1960s relied largely upon BOOKS to learn about things like folklore, archaeology, comparative religion, the occult and any number of other topics from herbal healing to tarot to sex magic to ecology.
Of course, many people realize it’s a response to misogyny and fascism and environmental degradation (as it was in 1968 when W.I.T.C.H. came on the scene), at least in part, but plenty of people don’t make these connections. And many of the people who are expressing witchcraft as an identity, alas, also don’t offer much depth or context to what they’re doing. The shallow frippery promulgated by the very people claiming or aspiring to be at the forefront of this movement reduces this rich, life-affirming, culturally-evocative, potentially game-changing movement to trendy baubles of clickbait, and makes witches YET AGAIN the subject of widespread mockery, ridicule, disrespect and, yes, probably persecution.
Now, I don’t dispute this journalist did some research to prepare this article. Heck, she even throws in some context here and there. But her foregone conclusion does indeed seem to be that witchcraft, because trendy, must automatically be nonsense. And you know, fair enough. I get it. It’s weird to call yourself a witch. It’s weird to try and use magic or divination to effect change in your life. But millions, heck, billions, of people use prayer or art or manipulation or the mechanics of capitalism to try and do that, too, and, well, here we are.
It’s déja vu all over again. The current crop of books aimed at newly-converted witches is remarkably similar to the explosion of pagan books in the 1980s and 1990s, with a handful of publishers printing books madly to keep up with the demand. Some of them were very good books. Many were derivative drivel, or poorly-written claptrap. The same can be said of the current situation.
At first, being able to order books at the click of a mouse was amazing; magical even! But, then more and more websites began to appear, and multiply, and resources popped up everywhere, like wildflower seeds, or religious tracts, or porn (choose your metaphor). The pagan-curious stopped turning to books or even study as a method to learn witchcraft.
Why, when one could learn spells from a colorful website, would someone put the effort into reading a book? Why spend time memorizing correspondences when you could enter a chatroom with a bunch of other witches and argue about the right or wrong way to do things? (Yes, the internet also brought us a new and exciting way to engage in Witch Wars.) Why go to the trouble and spend the time to become knowledgeable when it was possible to simply declare yourself a powerful witch or warlock, or someone descended from occult royalty, or a reincarnation of, I dunno, Isobel Gowdie or Merlin or Morgan le Fay or Marie Laveau? I mean, why bother?
And that’s a thing we need to talk about. And I think we will indeed be talking about this much more in the days and weeks to come.
Thanks for reading. More anon.