This comes courtesy of an email question, from someone wondering what kind of witch they are. (They mentioned researching a wide number – kitchen witch, eclectic witches, green witches, etc.)
“What kind of witch am I?” is a question I’ve seen coming up more and more often.
Frequently, it’s followed a list of types, sea witches and water witches, celestial witches, or sun or moon, or fire or earth. You name it, there seems to be a kind of witchcraft. And people seem to think they have to pick one to focus on. Or that it’s not something they get to choose.
You do get to choose.
You get to choose what gets your time, attention, energy, and magic.
You don’t have to pick a single label if it’s not helpful (and below, you’ll see that I think there’s a lot of value in having multiple tools and approaches available.)
You don’t have to pick one immediately. You can take your time, see what attracts and holds your attention, what you keep coming back to.
And of course, many of those labels overlap each other – what’s the exact line between kitchen witchery, hearth witchery, and green witchery?
Take a step back. Think.
There are four things to think about when you’re talking about ‘what kind of witch am I’.
1) Method: the techniques and practices you use to do your witchcraft.
2) Focus: what you do with your witchcraft
3) Flavour: the style of your witchcraft, the evocative elements that go into it.
4) Other people and how they use words. If you’re doing things with other people (and to some extent, if you’re talking to other people about your witchy stuff in general), shared vocabulary is a big help.
Let’s take them one by one.
Sometimes it’s easy to think of witchcraft as one collection of definable practices. That’s not really true, though.
I think of witchcraft as a category sort of like ‘cooking’, which when you start thinking about it has a huge range of possible techniques – and an even larger range of possible outcomes or goals.
There are some things that most people (at least in a given food culture) agree are food and how you cook it, but there are also less common things.
In mainstream American food culture, for example, we mostly agree that there are things like stews and soups and casseroles. But there are also foods specific people don’t like or don’t eat, or ways of preparing food that aren’t common.
My Pagan ritual experiences including having lutefisk on the Samhain food table reliably when I lived in Minnesota, because it’s a common Scandinavian ancestral food. It’s a whitefish prepared a particular way – including being soaked in lye – and definitely not to everyone’s taste. I like it though!
The point is, we can all generally agree “Right, that’s cooking” even if we’re not going to cook that specific food, or cook using that particular technique.
Witchcraft is like that: we can recognise a bunch of reasonably common practices as part of witchcraft, while being aware there’s some fluidity around the edges. Some of those techniques might be witchcraft but not things we want to do or can do for all sorts of reasons.
Methods can have a huge range of possibilities.
The list below is just a starting example. There are people I know who do witchcraft including each of these. And I know witches who don’t use each of these. (And given that: I also know witches who use some of these in combination, but don’t include other items on the list.)
Some of them will be part of a religious witch’s practice, and those might not be part of witchcraft for someone who isn’t religious (or whose religion is something else.)
- Working in a cast circle (which creates a specific kind of magical and ritual space)
- Inviting or asking various beings or powers to help you (deities, ancestors, elementals, elemental rulers, nature spirits, etc.)
- Doing magic focusing on the cycles of the moon, sun, planetary days, or other ritual timing
- Using herbs, oils, crystals, or other material components as part of the witchcraft
- Meditating, visualising, pathworking, or other approaches (creating your goal and making it real inside your head.)
- Using or creating different tools (ritual tools like an athame, wand, etc. or magical items such as talismans, amulets, charms, etc.)
- Use of different method of raising and focusing power (dancing, breathing, ordeal work, etc.)
- Building ongoing relationships with various beings through offerings, prayer, or other approaches.
- Regular daily, weekly, or cyclical workings.
- Doing workings for specific needs (which could be instead of or as well as regular cyclical workings.)
- Managing your personal energy in varying ways (centering, grounding, shielding) as part of an ongoing practice.
You’ll notice that some things aren’t on this list.
For example, I consider divination a distinct set of practices from witchcraft. I think divination is often a helpful tool to help you get more information about something that’s happening (or what’s going on inside your head).
Now, there are lots of different kinds of methods out there. However, in my experience, it works better to treat methods a bit like learning a language or learning how to do a sport that has some risks (swimming, winter sports, etc.)
If you combine a lot of different approaches to these methods (i.e. drawing from distinct different sources that aren’t in the same general family of origin), then you may be leaving out some key safety information, or other things that can make your working more reliable, flexible, or just plain better.
Don’t start experimenting with forms from lots of different origins until you’ve got a solid grounding and understand one way to do what you want to do well.
My witchcraft includes both ongoing practices and more structured ritual work. I cast circle for coven work or some more involved ritual or magical workings. Most of my witchcraft is about building ongoing relationships and working in repeating cycles (weeks, lunar months, solar years…) as well as regular personal energy work.
I rarely do things that look like obviously spellcrafting – preparing a candle and burning it, making a talisman or sigil, etc. I might do that a couple of times a year, for a specific need (sometimes more often if I’m teaching people in the coven how to do something.)
Much more of my practice is small regular things – adding herbs to something I’m cooking, wearing a piece of jewellery that makes me mindful of a particular goal.
I do a lot aligning myself to the cycles and world around me, and then using that connection to shift things in my life or my immediate setting.
Focus is about what you choose to do magic about.
Sometimes this goal is personal – a common goal for many witches is to make our own lives go better. This could include prosperity, love, health, opportunities to learn or do things we care about.
Sometimes it’s a larger goal – some need in our community (however we define that), or the larger world. This can be political, but it could also include things like easing damage from an oncoming storm, shining light to help catch someone who is hurting or terrorising the community, etc.
Most of my witchcraft is personal: it’s about helping give myself a stable ground so I can do things to help people in other ways. I rarely do magic for other people (or on their behalf).
I’m much more likely to do it to help me figure out how to arrange my life so I can offer greater help and extend myself further. Basically, I need a specific reason to go beyond that, and one where putting the energy and time in to the magical work makes sense.
(I’ve got chronic health issues that mean exerting myself significantly magically often wipes me out of being functional in other parts of my life for at least a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
Given that my day job involves helping people with complex information needs that may change their lives, I’m pretty cautious about messing that up to do magic. I need to be clear that magic’s the best choice for what’s needed – and that I can structure it well.)
Some of my magic is also focused on making the wheel of the year turn. My personal wheel, moving from point to point in an ongoing spiral of growth and learning, of service to my gods and values I hold. But also the larger year.
I believe in – and value – science, but some part of me also believes that the seasons are better when we pay attention to their turning in the steady small ways of folk customs and Sabbat keeping, whatever forms that takes.
This is the part where we talk about ‘sea witch’ or ‘kitchen witch’ or whatever. It’s about flavour, but also about what gets you to that flavour – what your preferred tools or approaches are.
What are the ‘spices’ of magic you reach for to season your cooking? Now, they might change, seasonally throughout your year, or through longer periods of your life.
I know it’s spring again when I want to put dill in approximately all my food. A lot of people love pumpkin spice season in the autumn. And yet, some of those pleasures are seasonal, and some are present day in and day out for at least long periods of time.
Or alternately, it might be about time and energy.
When I’m hungry and need something fast, or something I don’t have to think about, I’m pulling out something that can be microwaved easily, or perhaps stuck in the oven on a baking sheet for forty minutes, with nothing else I need to do with it. Other times, I may really want to spend an afternoon puttering around in the kitchen doing a recipe that has two dozen fussy little steps.
Magically, it’s just the same for me.
When I’m pressed for time, or short on energy, I have some go-to methods that work well for me, that I’m comfortable with, I’ve done them often enough to feel like I know what I’m doing. I’m not having to spend a lot of extra time and energy figuring out how to make it work.
Some of that relies on things I know, things I’ve learned (skills and techniques). But some of it is just ‘this thing is easier for me than some other things’.
Music is pretty much always an easy entry point to magic for me, whether it’s having a playlist with a particular focus going, using a chant to focus energy, losing myself in endless repeats of one particular song until it’s playing endlessly in my head.
Colour often helps me, and I’ll do things with yarn or embroidery floss or coloured pencils (I particularly like the Inktense watercolour pencils that look like ink when water’s been brushed over them, with a deep vibrant colour.)
For longer ongoing workings, I want something that has a sense of time to it – longer cooking, or maybe mixing infused oils in combination. I find myself wanting to reach for those sensory moments.
Those things don’t have a tidy phrase or label, exactly, but knowing these things about myself helps me when I need to do something quickly, or be more sure of the outcome. But I can use them when talking with other people, if we’re doing magic together. Or if we’re just talking about magic and ritual.
The thing is, though, I don’t believe in limiting myself.
In my tradition, we don’t talk about being strongly associated with a single element. We recognise that there will be one or two we find easier to work with, more easily drawn to. And one or two that are harder for us. But part of our work as witches to explore those connections – the ones that come easily to our hands, and the ones that are more work.
Fundamentally, I’m a poly-many-things. I’m polytheist, building relationships with a variety of deities. I love many genres and types of books (and a fair range of music genres, or any other category of content you might want to name.) I also have a range of types of magic, flavours of magic, that I’m intrigued by.
Time is, alas, limited. And so are my skills – both the tendencies I started with and the skills I’ve learned and practiced over the years. I’m not equally good at them.
I’m a bit of a mix. I’m am initiated witch who can draw on the practices and training of my tradition. But I also have plenty of practices that aren’t a part of that tradition.
I’m a kitchen witch, a hearthwitch, a touch of bardic magic, some practice with more ceremonial and ritual magic forms, a fondness for fibre magic.
I can pull out a candle and charge it, or a piece of jewellery, or make up something I can carry with me. I know how to make magical oils for my own use – and how to tell if oils I’ve gotten from other people are potent for the work I want to do.
For me, being a good witch is about finding that mix, finding the combination of that-I-know with that-I-need. Some needs answer better to long slow work in the kitchen or household. Others need something faster or easier to put together. Neither’s good or bad or right or wrong, but they’re definitely different.
Pinning myself down to one flavour, one approach, one way of doing magic seems like a problem to me, in that context. (Focusing on a particular aspect for a while may make sense for part of the learning process, staying with just one thing for a long period of time may limit your options.)
It’s possible to have more than one flavour to your magic. Just like it’s possible to have lots of flavours you explore in your food.
“Eclectic” is usually the term used for this – it means drawing from a bunch of different sources, not just one single witchcraft tradition or form of practice.
The last part is if you’re interacting with other people. When you’re working on your own, it doesn’t matter what you call your practice.
You may well want to know what other people use to describe theirs (it will help you find more resources, if you know the terms other people use to describe things like what you do).
That’s especially true online, where words are often the main thing we have to go on, to get a sense of what someone’s talking about (and often a fairly small number of words – someone on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok just doesn’t have a ton of space for definitions and explaining how they’re using a word…)
This is when it gets useful to understand how other people in the spaces you’re in use terms, figure out which ones apply most closely to you (and if there are terms you don’t want to use.)
This isn’t a one-and-done choice. Your practices will change, your understanding of your practices will change.
You may choose to use terms differently in different spaces, or for different degrees of specificity. That’s fine (though it’s helpful to flag changes for people if you’re making a bigger identity change, like “I used to describe my practice as X, these days it’s Y.”)
Other people may also have definitions that you think are missing something.
For example: a lot of people use the term ‘coven’ for any group of people talking Pagan or witchy stuff. I consider it to be a term for a small group of people who’ve made some agreements about shared practice – what they do together, how, maybe other decisions – and who have some commitments to each other (not just deciding to be on the same Discord or other online space.) Those spaces are great when they work well – but they’re something different than a coven to me.
However, I do not wander into conversations where people are using the term more broadly and complain about it. If I’m talking about my coven, I’ll be specific about what I mean (and with potential students, I’ve been learning that I need to be a lot more explicit about what we mean by that, what the expectations and commitments are, because the broader use of the term is better known.)
You might also find the article on different ways people use the term Wicca helpful.
Putting it all together
Once you’ve looked at these four things – method, focus, flavour, and how you connect to other people and their practices – you’ll have a better sense of how to describe what your practice is, what you want to explore.
Use that to help you connect to people doing similar things, find more resources, and figure things out. You’re so much more than one single approach to witchcraft, magic, or spirituality.
Published January 3rd, 2021.