Why religious witchcraft?

Building : tree with many leaves on deep green background

I have a lot of pages here about how to do things, or why you might want to learn something, but not so many about why you might choose either doing or learning in the first place. This article is about some reasons to consider religious witchcraft as a religious and spiritual path. It also talks about some possible consequences of those reasons.

I think of witchcraft as an art (a creative process that engages with emotion and desire), a craft (a practical making and manipulating of things in the world) and a skill (something that I can learn to do, or improve my ability with) in about equal parts. But besides those three parts, there are other things that go into witchcraft.

You may disagree with my list –  that’s just fine. Consider this a starting place for thinking about why you want to do religious witchcraft or not. Most people won’t find all of these reasons equally interesting (which is normal!) but if a number of them seem appealing or interesting, then it may be worth exploring religious witchcraft.

Do these things intrigue you?

Self-awareness:

One common thread through religious witchcraft (and a lot of other magical practice) is the importance of knowing yourself and understanding what’s going on in your head. It makes it much easier to do more effective magic, more meaningful ritual, and have better relationships with people, deities, and other beings.

Unfortunately, this an idea our culture often gives lip service to, while telling us to listen to other voices – like advertising, societal assumptions about how we’re supposed to behave, or outside feedback from people who don’t always have our best interests in mind.

Learning to break away from those voices, to find something that resonates more deeply with us, is something we can choose to do – but it’s hard work, especially in the beginning. If this idea appeals, religious witchcraft is one place where you can learn how to do more of it.

Related to this point, one of the things I find really appealing about witchcraft is that the focus of control is me: I decide what I’m willing to do or not do, and I deal with the consequences of that. Over time, I learn how to do more of the things I want, but I get to make the choices about how a lot of that happens, at least my part in it.

Alignment with cycles and seasons:

One thing a lot of people enjoy when they start exploring religious witchcraft is the chance to have seasonal festivals.

Sometimes it can take a bit of poking at, since modern religious witchcraft has a strong influence in cultural customs from Western Europe, if you live somewhere with a different climate, you’ll need to make some adjustments. And for some people, if they live in cities, connecting with a natural or agricultural cycle of seasons can feel very forced. But once you find points in the year that do make sense for you, many people really enjoy the combination of seasonal foods, decorations, particular customs.

Other people find looking at the shorter cycles of the moon very helpful to them, finding a lunar month or moon phase a good way to organise things in their lives. I’ve personally found being able to look at cycles in a more holistic year-round cycle great for a life that has basically always run on the academic calendar.

Religious witchcraft gives a lot of scope for those things, both that connect to what other people do, and that are things you can do individually on your own, with options that are both small and can be much larger, with chances to connect to other people in your community in some cases.

A productive amount of discomfort:

This one takes a little explaining, but I think it’s important. I’ve been known to say that I think one of the essential signs that you might want to explore witchcraft as opposed to something else is your reaction to discomfort.

None of us likes to be uncomfortable, of course, but there’s a degree of discomfort that is very productive for change, growth, and learning. (If we’re too comfortable, we tend not to do much!)

I’ve found that the witches I respect most have been people whose reaction to discomfort is to want to learn from it.

It’s natural to want to move away from something uncomfortable. But the witches I respect then eventually work back to looking at the thing, poke at it a bit, and go “Hey, why is that like that?” They want to know what the thing is, because not knowing gets in the way of being better people. (Another way to put this is that what we fear or avoid has power over us.)

We often have to use the talents of self-awareness and understanding of how things ebb and flow (for us, as well as for the world around us) and we may not be able to poke at discomfort quickly or even often. (Our lives are complicated, we have limited energy and time, of course).

But if your reaction to an issue is “Hey, why is it doing that?” rather than trying to ignore it or avoid it, religious witchcraft has a lot to offer you.

Variety of ritual methods and approaches:

One thing I really like about a broader approach to religious witchcraft is that it’s a very practical religion. Some ritual styles really only work with a small close group (like a coven) and some things really only work well with a bunch of people, and some things work best on our own – but my practice can theoretically include all those things at different times. I can pick and adjust rituals to my particular circumstances at the moment, and still doing meaningful ritual things.

Of course, many other religions have a variety of forms of practice, but very few of them are quite as flexible as religious witchcraft.

On the down side, this flexibility can make it hard to find information that works together, or to adapt for your specific situation, and it can be particularly frustrating when you’re just starting out, because there’s no one single right answer for most questions.

Variety of options for deity and other interactions:

There are many different ways that religious witches interact with deity and other beings. (Some people don’t work with deities at all, too). One of the things that many witches I know like is that those interactions can be flexible and different.

Some interactions are long-lasting or deep and meaningful, the way we may have long-term friends or relationships. Others may be briefer: focused on a particular stage in someone’s life, or a current need, much like we might see a specialist to help with a specific problem. Some may be for specific projects, over a longer period of time.

I like a lot that there are all those options. Sure, it can make balancing things a little more complicated, or figuring out the best option in some cases, but I really like the idea of there being beings and entities in the universe who have a wide range of interests, perspectives, and approaches to what they do and how they do it.

Community resources:

One final reason to consider religious witchcraft as compared to other Pagan religions is that it’s the collection of paths with the greatest amount of community support.

This can be both good and bad. It’s utterly frustrating if the stuff near you is not the kind of thing you want to do. And many people start out feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there, and how to make sense of it.

However, it does also mean that there are decent chances you can try out some group rituals if you want to, or find people in many areas who might be willing to talk (or maybe do ritual). There are plenty of books that talk about the path, and even more individual people online, sharing ideas, resources, specific material, general discussion. Compared to some paths, that can be huge.

Some consequences:

There are, of course, also some potential consequences to pursuing religious witchcraft if you take it seriously. They are maybe not the ones you first think of, but they’re worth considering

Family:

Some people deal much better with being a different religion than their family members. (I’m guessing that if your family are Pagan, you probably aren’t on this part of the site other than for curiousity.) I’ve heard over the years from people who want to be witches, but who struggle with whether or how to tell their family, with the impact of family disappointment, sometimes keeping things secret from older relatives, etc.

No one can answer this one for you except you. There are all sorts of different approaches people take, and you’ll need to find the one that’s right for you, your family, and the various interrelationships. Some people keep the witchcraft private. Some people share it with family who understand, but not with distant family they rarely see. Some people continue to attend Christian or other religious services with family.

Holidays:

Some people find it difficult and frustrating to be slightly off-sync with family holidays.

The celebrations for Hallowe’en and Samhain can be very different (the former is usually much more of a party, and the latter more serious or somber). Our Winter Solstice or Yule is a few days before Christmas. Easter and Ostara may be close together or far apart. (And of course, some families, these holidays have lots of religious expectations and obligations, while in other families it’s more a cultural celebration, sometimes also with a lot of expectation and obligation.)

Mainstream holidays in the United States mean people can get frantic with preparations and parties and gatherings from the middle of November through the beginning of January – exactly the time when many witchcraft practices talk about quiet rest and peace and not taking on new things.

Again, there are a variety of possible solutions to this, depending on what your priorities are, what your family’s customs are (if you have anything specific), and what other scheduling you have to work around.

Different priorities (finding yourself out of step)

One of my teachers talked about witches ‘smelling different’ once we had gotten to a certain point in training and commitment to the path. He wasn’t talking about an actual smell, but that our reactions to situations changed, and people will eventually start to notice that, subconsciously.

If you seriously pursue witchcraft, for more than a few months, you may find things changing on you. Some relationships may change – you may find yourself closer to some people, but drawing apart from others. A job that was satisfactory for you may start to feel restrictive (especially if it deals with something that’s out of sync with your long-term goals or ethics.) If there are problems in a relationship or part of your life, they’re probably going to bubble up more until they’re dealt with.

Uncomfortable choices

The biggest outgrowth of the above point is that you may find yourself in situations where you end up having to make uncomfortable choices. Discernment about what is good for us, and what isn’t, is really threatening to parts of the larger overculture.

Some people find they become much less tolerant of injustice, discrimination, unethical behaviour, etc. as they get deeper into their witchcraft. On one hand, that’s great – those are bad things! On the other hand, it can make it tricky to find a job that will support you if you’re working, limit some other kinds of housing and life choices, have an impact on any kids you have, and much more.

One final category is that some people find themselves in relationships with deities that lead to commitments, vows, oaths, etc. that limit some of their options (sometimes that’s avoiding certain things, or doing certain things. Sometimes it leads them to make major moves or job changes

Conclusion

All choices have consequences, and in many ways, choosing a religion should have a lot of weight in our life. I hope that by laying out some of the reasons you might want to choose religious witchcraft and some of the possible consequences of that choice, you can make more self-aware choices, ask better questions as you start learning, and think through both the immediate parts of your exploration and longer-term ones.

Last edited November 3, 2016

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