Updated: Jul 30
There's been a lot of talk of late spawned by John Becket's Patheos blog post from July 9th called "The Witch Stands In Opposition," in response to Ian Chamber's blog post "Remembering the Witch" and quickly followed by a flurry of comments from the Internet and rebuttals from authors such as Jason Miller and BJ Swain. One thing that really struck me here was that a Druid and two magicians were debating what a witch is, after a witch said something about us. Well, I am a fucking witch, so I'm here to to run my mouth, too. I needed to take a fortnight to consider these things. Ian's original sentiment was also followed up by an addendum to his very antinomian post. OK, so just what is Antinomianism and how does it relate to witchcraft? "Antinomian" comes from the Greek, anti-, "opposite, against," and nomos, "law." In this context it refers to those who reject the socially established morality of their culture. There is a heavy element of antinomianism in the traditional Houses because they exist by their very nature as oases in the desert of the overculture--though they may appear as deep dark forests or barren trackless wastes to those inside the Hedge. A healthy witch House (or coven, thread, stream, tradition, or whatever word is used to denote a living lineage) is wild on the inside, like the witch. The body of the witch is the body of the Land. This Body is the True Gramarye--the Wild, the Otherworld, showing us the truth of the Hedge as man-made, and it is crumbling as Civilization collapses. BJ Swain's blog response is the only one to give a nod to the "taxonomic" understanding of a witch, though he did not go into any discussion about that perspective. To summarize, the perspective within the major initiatory Houses of traditional witchcraft about the witch is that we are (in part) Otherworldly creatures who contain different components of soul and form than typical humans. We are the Other walking around in human skin, as diverse as the bestiaries of legend. Among our kind you will find skin-turners and were-animals, vampires and goblins, puckish imps and Faerie nobility, seraphim and Valkyries. This is supported by French historian Claude Lecouteux's work, showing that many of the spooks and haints of both ancient and early modern conceptions were one and the same with witches. Even the word in the romance languages refers to nightmare spirits of the Other--strix and striga. All of us have been born into human bodies, but our homeland, our origin, is the Other. We are like the weeds growing up through the cracks in the pavement. Lee Morgan also ties traditional witchery, as we see in the initiatory Houses, to the Faerie Faith, the religion of the Others Themselves, in his book Sounds of Infinity. Not just witchery as operational sorcery, but containing also mystical elements, of participation in that religion. In 1996, Andrew. D. Chumbley wrote, in his essay "What is Traditional Craft?": The Traditional Craft is the Nameless Way of the Arte Magical. It is the Path of Wytcha, the heart’s calling of avocation to Cunning Man and Wise Woman; it is the Hidden Circle of Initiates constituting the Living Body of the Elder Faith. Its Ritual is the Sabbat of Dream-made-Flesh. Its Mystery lies in the Land, below the feet of Those who tread the crooked track of Elphame. Its Scripture is the Way of Wort-cunning and Beast-charming, the treasury of lore re-membered by Those who revere the Spirits; it is the gramarye of ear-whispered knowledge, beloved of Those who hold sacred the secrets of the dead and entrusted to They who look ever onward…… If any ask about the Traditional Craft, their answers lie in its native land: the Circle of the Arte of Artes!
... In distinction to ‘Wicca’ the Old Craft is sometimes referred to by its adherents as ‘Weikka’ ; this is often pronounced in the parlance of Arte as ‘Wytcha’. The common root of these variants is held to be the Indo-european WEIK – said to signify ‘The religion of the sorcerers’. Other useful connections and derivations are as follows:- Anglo-saxon wicce/wicca ‘witch’; wiccian - ‘to cast a spell’, witte - ‘wise’, wittan ‘to be wise’; Old German Wikkerie - ‘Witchery’; Icelandic - vita - ‘To know’, vitki - ‘a wizard’; Swedish -wika - ‘to bend, to turn’; Norwegian -vikja - ‘to turn aside; to conjure away, to exorcize’; Anglo-saxon -wikken – ‘to make evil’, hence wicked – ‘to be evil’ and thus to be yfel - beyond the edge of the mortal consensus of perception.
To understand the witch as a kind of being, as a spirit of the Other wearing human skin, is where the perspective of "a witch is born and not made" comes from. But let's not forget the whole quote from Robert Cochrane's letter: A witch is born and not made. Or if one is to be made then tears must be spilt before the Moon can be drawn. For Our Lady chooses whom She wills to be her lover. And those She loves most She rends apart before making them wise. Cochrane is telling us here that it is trauma and ordeal and heartbreak that make one a witch. That to snatch a soul away from its provenance within human civilization and re-root it in the Wildness--the Otherworld--dramatic events must occur that re-shape and re-orient the Self. But generally we are born as souls into this world that are already rooted and oriented toward the Otherworld. We have memories of other lifetimes as witches. And of other lifetimes as not human at all, for those of us who may frequently "switch positions" with our Fetch Mates.
In a written interview in August 2022 with Bad Witch of London, author Lee Morgan responded to a prompt to describe his magical practice:
Words have an off-kilter relationship with witchcraft, to my way of seeing things, it very much is a deed beyond names. I fall back when I must on the term Traditional Witchcraft because I follow a practice that has been passed from one person to another, which is not Wicca, and has a certain local focus making it unique in some ways, but recognisably similar to other forms of Traditional Witchcraft in other ways...If I had to define my path without those words I would say that it’s a form of sorcery only suitable for some people, those we describe as Marked. Those people have certain forms of perception already in place which can be developed further. It’s a life-way that involves stepping outside not just of the Hedge for flight, but also out of the standard viewpoints of society. It is Other. It is foreign to every culture. In some ways it is monstrous, and from that same place it derives its grace. While I am personally more attached to the term "witch", I am coming from much the same understanding that Lee is. I also come from a similar position as the late and great Jake Stratton-Kent; wherein he referred to goetia as named for the goes, likewise witchcraft is named for the witch. Anyone can be a sorcerer, a magician, a spirit worker. But a witch is one who is Marked in this way, and any way we choose to employ our magic is witchcraft. Witch has always been used as an accusation against an antagonistic element working against civilization, specifically the elites in power. To call oneself a witch is to stand in solidarity with all those outcasts and dispossessed who were murdered by the State by being branded with that word. Yet, the caricature Miller is drawing is of a wanna-be outsider who is ever-so-privileged but yearns to be seen a certain way by being antinomian. Witches as posers. Miller wrote, Forgive me getting a little political here, but right now, so many progressive causes are hurt because those who advocate for them have built up an identity as the perpetual outsider. Yelling for change from the streets, because to take up office and make the changes directly would mean being an insider and betraying the “outsider” identity.
I am immediately reminded of two things--
The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. (Audre Lorde) and
The union of the rooster and the cockroach happens in the belly of the chicken. (Cuban proverb)
I do not believe we can change systems of oppression from positions of power-over in those systems. Hierarchy works against us. We become a part of that system and can only enact its machinations. The means make the ends, to paraphrase Starhawk. I've never seen otherwise, and I believe it is a Capitalist fiction to mythologize this. It reeks of individualism, and the individual is an entirely powerless entity. We all exist in relationship to other beings, the land, and material things. We have to Dream outside the Hedge to think of novel ways forward through climate crisis and civilization collapse, to think outside of the marketplace world--the worldview of capitalism where everything is transactional.
Also, sir, I am a faggot. That may make some bristle, but I don't give a shit--I can't in a culture that will marginalize me out of existence if it can. Besides, I have personally witnessed this same author debating the validity of my existence as a non-binary person and the validity of my pronouns (they/them/theirs) in online forums and on social media. If he can't accept those facts, how could he possibly understand an "outsider" position of someone who does not fit the mold of society? To blame disabled folks, trans and queer folks, black and brown folks, poor folks, and women for aping an "outsider" identity because they are systemically oppressed and forced into a position of opposition to that oppression sounds to me like victim blaming. It's a very whiny (usually white) cis-male position to hold. As a faggot, I know that the personal is political, and vice-versa. I do not have the luxury of believing any different in a world that is openly hostile to me, where holding the hand of a lover could get me killed or violently attacked, where existence as a trans person is being debated by those who have authoritarian power over me--there are forces in the government intent on making me and people like me and our history invisible and forgotten. Yet, I am not interested in assimilation. I want all the Wild parts of me to be free. A diversity of kinds of people working together make communities (and covens) stronger. We are to greater and lesser degrees the Other occupying human skin. We have an affinity with those Othered by culture--queers, the poor, the disabled, Black and Indigenous People of Color, whores, prisoners, enslaved people, the neurodivergent, the dispossessed and outcasts. Maybe these occultists don't believe in a very real, tangible Other outside of the human mind? Maybe they do not occupy an Othered identity besides being sorcerers and magicians, and therefore have no empathy for occupying an oppressed position in society? Unlike some, I believe in the Night-Flying witches. I am one. I understand witches as participating in the activities of the spiritworld, of the Fate-beings; marked, weird, phantastic. Witches don't just do magic, we are magic. The spiritual forces within and about our body and our ability to unite our three souls into one tool to generate magical happenings is perhaps a unique way of working sorcery. We employ whatever works. Often for me, in a way, the magic is "in me" and I just have to find the way to "let it out." An intensification of the powers that move up and through me from the Underworld: especially the dense Black Fire bolstered by my Redness, or sometimes the eerie blue Witchfire generated by my spiritual power writhing against the Green-&-White powers of my Fetch Mate. There is always greater and greater scales of wholeness, as well as smaller and more internal.
So, who are these witches both Miller and Swain argue as being part of the ruling class that move and shake the overculture? Who are so big they exist "outside" of it? Neither share any names nor point to specific examples. Show me these witches. I would like to understand just who in the hell they are referring to. Even with all the Other woven through me, I am still a human being acculturated here and now, and my mind is shaped by this culture, via my cultural "position," understanding, and framework. But let me tell you, all of the most powerful witches I've had the luck to meet in this lifetime have had an experience of themselves, a Story, as containing powerful elements of the mythic. Our lives are not merely lived out within the waking daylight world, but equally as real and vital to us is the Night-time, and the land of dreams. Some of us experience whole other lives within serial dreams and hyper-real nocturnal visions, whether we are dreaming or we are experiencing the Witches' Flight, an experience much more than a Dream.
I knew a witch who had hyper-vivid dreams his whole life where he met with this three-fold Faerie Maiden, a spirit who appeared as both three maidens and one, who had access to a starbright current of power but also a stream within the deep dark wood--a fountain that flowed up from a cleft in dark stone. He experienced himself as a dense, heavy dark force that pursued her in desire and longing. I know a witch who has vast seraphic "wings" that need to be tended to and "fed" magically for the healthful flow of their life energy and luckforce. I know a witch who has dreams at the Dark of the Moon where they are a dark terrifying hunger that haunts other sleeping humans, hunts them to finality, and feeds their lifeforce to the Land. I know a witch who turns into a crow when she dreams. Another who turns into a Wolf, sometimes even when he's awake and stimulated by magical happenings. It's clear if we allow ourselves to have a truly magical worldview, to believe the spirits are real and act accordingly, that the magic that we are cannot be helped but to pour forth into the world from the inside of Reality. Witchcraft is a deed, a verb, ultimately "Nameless" because that Happening can shift its shape, appear with the appropriate skin, depending on context and intention. In accordance to Need. The witch is on the side of the workers, those who DO, not those who hoard. We understand power must flow, be shared, radiated. And in that vein, Aradia isn't a fiction for us. She is a Story of Power, Power-with, Power-from-Within. Power in the face of dominion. If you look at all the art about witches from the early modern period, we see a litany of images about the State/Church's anxieties about the body, about bodies they can't control. Hag bodies, rebellious women, weirdos, queer behavior. This continues today. I mean, have you ever met us? A witch radiates the Other. It is tangible. Often an apparent difference that marks us as cleft from the herd. A wise wound or disability. An atypical perception. A witch has a deviant gaze. We understand the world very differently from that of the overculture. We are intentionally counter-cultural. We understand this Civilization to be ill, sick, oppressive. And we work against that, like Our Lady the liberating Witchmother who rides the many-headed Red Serpent, we work toward absolute inclusion and wholeness. I am reminded of another quote:
[Traditional] witchcraft is an Art that combines elements of what some call 'high' and 'low' magic (though I dislike those terms) into a fusion where mystical attainment is achieved through sorcerous means, and where sorcery is enabled through mystical realisation. The two cannot be divided or considered outside of this relationship. Witchcraft is both a calling to perform an Otherworldly duty and a path to Mastery; that is the full realisation of the All within Self and Self within the All.
Of course, we live in an age where we don't just need to work on our survival, where we are graced to have the privilege to work on wholeness. Yet, this is also not to say that things aren't as bad for most of us than they ever have been. The divide between the ruling class and the rest of us is a huge gap, bigger than in feudal Europe. The ruling class does not think of themselves as "part of a whole." They think of themselves as divided from the rest of us, a head without a body (such is the philosophical bane of our times). They have stories they've woven to justify this egregious inequality, whether they believe it or not. Having hoarded most of the resources, or access thereto, to themselves, and used the laws of the land to give them permission and the "right" to do so, they influence, directly and indirectly, the laws--the rules--to prop themselves up into their position and keep others from assailing it. And they always get there through exploitation of those who DO, who make, which is the labor of Bodies. It is bonkers! This is important because material conditions and access to resources shape our lives. We live in a "Civilization" based on individuality and competition. But the individual is a completely powerless unit. Nothing is ever done alone. Power, the ability to do, requires cooperation. I'm also highly suspicious about some of these authors talking about Power. Without a coherent deconstruction of the system where "power" (the ability to act or do) plays out, without a true discourse about Power that's more than macho chest-thumping, we are only going to get reiterations of the dominant paradigm which is power-over; power that relies on exploitation to be effective. This also brings us to conversations around "success" when it comes to the use of magic -- I often see online discussions about "how can so-and-so be successful if they are poor/fat/unemployed/unhealthy/have any kind of human problem?" When we use dominant/overculture paradigms of success we leave the oppressed behind and we are limiting our imaginations. To seek success, acceptance by those enraptured in mainstream values (which to a degree is all of us humans), or comfort is to remain idle, to be fooled by fools. My Magister, Gabriel Carrillo, once told me, "a witchcraft that doesn't directly challenge and subvert mainstream values and mores is no witchcraft." I also consider such wisdom as: Social systems are most vulnerable at their margins; so sayeth Judith Butler. To be fat is to experience the freedom that marginality -- failure--gives me: the freedom from the tyranny of straight life, freedom from the suffocation of externally determined success, freedom to push the envelope, the conversation, to hike up my skirt, to see the futility of apology, to sweat and love and fuck the way that rebels do. (Virgie Tovar) Robert Cochrane, the late former Magister of the Clan of Tubal Cain and traditional witch, said that the witch must be a part of this living world, not apart from it. I take this to mean that we must have our hands in this human mess. To live as Other within the cultures we occupy, like weeds through pavement. We can invoke the friction of our suffering to make us greater than we were, to forge the Mighty Self that is stronger and more resilient and flexible as well as more potent. Reclaiming our power from those who would or have taken it forcibly from us through systems of domination and exploitation, or those to whom we have given it away. This very process is how a pearl is created. The view of the Self from this same tradition isn't as a discrete entity, but rather a knot on a tangle of long knotted threads in the tapestry that is the world. Many traditional witches do not identify as pagan, or Neopagan, even. Personally, I am not bent on the reverencing of ancient gods from past human cultures, but rather the emergent expression of the Other in this current human culture. To manifest, to immanentize the witch gods into this waking world. The spirits to whom I am pledged are not the gods of human civilization, though they are wont to wear the faces of some of those gods when it suits them. Sometimes the easiest way for our witch-gods to claw their way up into civilization is through works of fiction, because the human imagination is a doorway into the Other. If witchcraft is foreign to every human culture, then it must be from the Otherworld, the culture of the spirits themselves, from the religion of the Fae Themselves, rather than human origin. That's why it doesn't need human-to-human passage to survive, it can emerge from the Underworld/Otherworld when it is necessary, though the Red Thread helps to establish it more vividly within the Here-Now, strengthening it in Wholeness, anchoring it with the blood-potency of the living world. It is my hope we continue to bring the wild Other through into this collapsing civilization, that we may manifest, together, a livable future.