Navigating religious subcultures is a strange experience. Last weekend, on a road trip to Fort Worth, I was asked about my childhood and All That Happened. Memories and pieces of memories tumbled out from my childhood and young adulthood. There were several stories that had to do with the strangeness of participating and working with different forms of Evangelicalism. “I get it,” I kept insisting. “It is my nature to question things and turn over traditions and theology and all those sacred cows in an attempt to get at the root of a belief, but gosh. I’m not the iconoclast they make me out to be.”
More than anything else, my young adulthood is filled with stories about adults who insisted I was going to Hell. My grandmother – who I’m not even sure believed Hell was a real place – continually told me that if I wasn’t good “the Devil is gonna get you.” Teachers, especially from 5th through 9th grade, insisted I was “demonic” and, yes, was going to Hell, for what felt like non-biblical reasons but instead minor offenses.
There was the time a teacher told me I was “going to Hell” because I liked the Power Rangers.* Or the time I went to church as a kid and heard the pastor say “Bugs Bunny is of the devil. Think about it. He’s always dressing up in women’s clothes. That’s the devil right there. Think about it, now.”* In grade school, a teacher “caught” me with (re: heard that I had) a cassette tape of M.C. Hammer. She pulled me out of class to tell this that was “the devil’s music.” When I politely objected that M.C. Hammer was a Christian and even had a song on that cassette (the one she refused to give back to me) about the necessity of prayer in daily life, she retorted “That’s just what the Devil does! He makes you think you’re a Christian! Oh yes, he wants you to pray! That’s how he deceives you.”* Much later, there was the time that I was working with a Pentecostal church and refused money. Eloise and her husband were a sweet grandparent-like couple who felt like “God laid it on our heart” to give someone money every Sunday. When – through process of elimination or divine mandate, I’m still not sure – they approached me and handed me $20, I handed it back and said I didn’t “feel like God has laid it on my heart to accept.” Insulted, they asked the pastor if I was “really a believer.”* Even today, a woman in overalls spat at me that I “needed Jesus” when I wouldn’t take her floppy tract.*
* Yep, those things happened. And I haven’t even mentioned that one time when I was called a “mystic” because I said I thought prayer was “more like a conversation than a deposit slip at a local bank” or the “strange fire” I was accused of stirring when I challenged a room full of Evangelicals, “If you have more allegiance to the flag or the Bible than you do to the people of God, you might want to question your priorities.”
But then there is the big one.
“You’re a witch.”
I was once accused of being a witch.
This one has always struck me as odd. Okay, so you think I’m a hellchild because I read comic books, laugh at Bugs Bunny, and felt like your money should be helping someone homeless, hungry, or sick. I get it. Those are definitely reasons for someone to bullet train down to the lake of fire and damnation. But I am about as far as you can get from a witch. The principles of witchcraft interest me for historical and religious purposes, but I do not practice and – to the best of my knowledge – do not know anyone who does or ever has. While I have to admit that, with the publication of Harry Potter, the fantasy of being approached by a giant and told, “Yer a wizard, Randall” sounds quite enjoyable, the accusation was terribly confusing to me. When it registered what was said to me, I wanted to immediately have a session with my accuser where I could explain the history of witchery, the folk tales of witchcraft, the beliefs and practices of the craft, and detail how I was ineligible for such an accusation. I wanted to explain how truly diverse witchcraft is and how it came to be this way, the role that globalization has played in the spread of the craft, and how many forms of witchery have nothing to do with the devil.
Blessed be, we never had that chance to work out the intent of that insult but the desire to work through what witchcraft is together with the many concepts and practices of the belief systems – plural – that provide the stage for what follows.
The Most Common Schools of Witchcraft
- Alexandrian (Wicca) – This tradition was begun in the 1960s by Alex Sanders. Alex Sanders lived in England. He used what are known to be slightly changed Gardnarian traditions and calls himself the “King” of Witches. Covens involve both men and women.
- British Traditional (Wicca) – This is, according to Silver RavenWolf a “mix of Celtic and Gardnarian beliefs.” Covens involve both men and women. One can study a course and receive a degree in British Traditional Witchcraft.
- Celtic (Wicca) – Celtic Wicca focuses mainly on Celtic and Druidic gods and goddesses (along with a few other Anglo-Saxon pantheon). The rituals are formed after Gardnerian traditions with a stronger emphasis on nature. Celtic Wicca also puts much emphasis on working with elementals and nature spirits such as fairies and gnomes. Gods and Goddesses are usually called “The Ancient Ones.”
- Caledonii – This was once know as the Hecatine Tradition. Traditional Scottish Witchcraft.
- Ceremonial Witchcraft – This tradition is very exacting in its ritual. All rituals are usually followed by the book, to the letter and with much ceremony. Little emphasis is put on nature. This tradition may incorporate some Egyptian magic. Quabbalistic/Kabbalistic magic is often used in ceremonial witchcraft.
- Dianic – Dianic can incorporate nearly any magical traditions, but emphasis is placed on the Goddess only with little or no mention of the God. Known as the “feminist” types of witchcraft.
- Druidic – Neo-Druids are polytheistic worshipers of Mother Earth. Very little is known today about ancient Druidism and there are many gaps in the writings that have been found. Modern Druids practice their religion in areas where nature has been preserved – usually wooded areas. Druidic ritual often employs sacrifices to the Mother Goddess. These sacrifices often include grain, sometimes meat. These ritual sacrifices are often accompanied by a verse not unlike the following: “Earth Mother, giver of life we return to you a measure of the bounty you have provided may you be enriched and your wild things be preserved.”
- Eclectic (Natural) – An eclectic witch mixes many different traditions together to suit their tastes and will not follow any one particular tradition. Whatever seems to work best for them is what is used, regardless of which magical practice it comes from. This is one of the most popular types of witches found today.
- Gardnerian (Wicca) – Gardnerian witchcraft was begun in England and is Wiccan in nature. It was formed by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. Gerald Gardner was the first to publicize witchcraft in an effort to preserve the “old ways.”
- Hereditary Witch (Natural or Wiccan) – A hereditary witch is a witch who is born into a witch family and brought up learning about witchcraft. Many witches claim to be hereditary witches when in fact, they are not. You must be brought up in a family of witches to be a hereditary witch.
- Kitchen Witch (Natural) – A kitchen witch is one who practices magic having to deal with the home and practical life. Kitchen witches use many spells involving cooking, herbs, and creating magic through crafts. A kitchen witch is very much like a hedge witch. Kitchen Witches practice by home and hearth, mainly dealing with practical sides of the religion, magic, the elements and the earth.
- Pictish – Pictish witchcraft is nature-based with little emphasis on religion, Gods, or Goddesses. It is much like Celtic witchcraft, only the traditions are Scottish. Pictish witches perform solitary and rarely, if ever work in groups or covens.
- Pow-Wow – A tradition based on old German magic. Today, it is considered a system of faith healing and can be applied to almost any religion.
- Santeria – Santería is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba religion brought to the New World by enslaved Yoruba people along with Christianity and the religions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Yoruba people carried with them various religious customs, including a trance and divination system for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice, and sacred drumming and dance. The need to preserve their traditions and belief systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted those enslaved in Cuba, starting from as early as 1515, to merge their customs with aspects of Roman Catholicism where it continues.
- Satanic Witch – Satanism can refer to a number of belief systems, from the worship of the Christian Devil, to occult/ritual magic and the “Left Hand Path” or the modern Satanism belief system of Anton LaVey. It is often associated in the public mind with demonology (the systematic study of, or belief in, demons and other malevolent beings), with black magic (a form of sorcery that draws on malevolent powers, or used for dark purposes or malevolent acts that deliberately cause harm in some way) and with the Black Mass (a parody of the religious service of the Catholic Church, with its ritual profanation of the Host and lurid sexual practices, sometimes used in the past as a symbolic opposition of the Christian, but not used in the current day by Satanists).
- Seax-Wicca – This tradition was begun in 1973 by Raymond Buckland. Buckland and works on Saxon principles of religion and magic.
- Shaman (Natural) – It is arguable as to whether shamanism is or is not witchcraft. I include this here because shamanism is a form of Paganism. Shamanism puts no emphasis on religion or on pantheon. Shamans work completely with nature: rocks, trees, animals, rivers, etc. Shamans know the Earth and their bodies and minds well and train many long years to become adept at astral travel and healing.
- Solitary (Natural or Wiccan) – Solitary witches can be practitioners of nearly any magical system. A solitary works alone and does not join a group or coven. Often, solitaries choose to mix different systems, much like an eclectic witch. Solitaries can also form their own religious beliefs as they are not bound by the rules of a coven.
- Strega – This type of witchcraft is said to have been started by a woman named Aradia in Italy in 1353. Aradia is known in some traditions as the “Goddess of Witches.”
- Teutonic – A Nordic tradition of witchcraft that includes beliefs and practices from many cultures including Swedish, Dutch, and Icelandic.
- Theistic Satanism (or Traditional Satanism) is the belief that Satan is an actual deity or force worthy of reverence or worship. Theistic Satanists may consider their forebears to include figures such as La Voisin and Eliphas Lévi. Some view Satan as a human-like entity, some accept the ancient Roman image of Lucifer, and some imagine him as the image of the Greek god Pan.
- Wicca – Probably the most popular form of witchcraft. Wicca is highly religious in nature and has a good balance between religion/ceremonial magic and nature. Wiccans believe in a God and Goddess who are equal in all things, although some may lean more toward the Dianic form of Wicca, worshiping only the Goddess or lowering the God to an “assistant” status. Wiccans commonly form covens and rarely work alone.