What is Witchcraft?

Witchcraft is one of the world's oldest spiritual traditions, yet also one of the most misunderstood. Television, movies, and comic books abound with stereotypes and misconceptions about what it really means to be a witch. Many people decide they want to become a witch because they relate to the witches and wizards in fictional stories, such as Harry Potter or Narnia. However, the magic you see portrayed on-screen is usually significantly different from real magick practiced by devout witches, wizards, sorcerers, and ceremonial magickians every day.

Okay, so witchcraft is often misunderstood. But what is witchcraft? To put it simply, witchcraft is the practice of magick. That's it. Contrary to popular belief, witchcraft is not a religion; it is a spiritual practice that may or may not be part of a person's religious faith. Witchcraft is often conflated with Wicca, which is an actual religion. It is important to remember that not all witches are Wiccan, and not all Wiccans are witches. Many Wiccans practice witchcraft, but many do not. Many who practice witchcraft are Wiccan, but most are not.

What Is Magick?

What is magick? Magick is alive and well, although there is some considerable debate as to what it really is. Some believe magick to be purely spiritual power, while others believe that magick is just as much of a force in the natural universe as gravity or electricity. One popular notion is that magick does not actually violate the natural laws of the physical universe, but is simply a law unto itself that we do not yet have the scientific means to understand.

Similar beliefs are held about psychic powers and other paranormal phenomena. In this perspective, magick is very similar to dark matter. We know it exists, but we just can't quite tell what it is or what it looks like. Witchcraft is the use of magick to achieve an end that cannot easily be achieved through normal, or mundane means.

Types of Magick

There are many different types of magick; however, all of these types fall into two broad categories: Ceremonial magick, or natural magick. There is also magick that can use both categories in combination.

Many eclectic witches use techniques from both ceremonial and natural magick when casting a spell. I have used both types of magick, but I have found that for me, personally, I prefer natural magick.

Ceremonial magick, also known as “High magick,” is very structured and uses many different rituals and ritualistic tools in it’s performance. This is the magick most commonly associated with the Golden Dawn, and its practitioners Aliester Crowley, and Dion Fortune among others.

Natural Magick, also known as “low magick” or “kitchen witchery,” is essentially the opposite. To perform Natural magick, the only thing needed is one’s mind. Where Ceremonial magick uses tools, and specific rituals to manipulate the psychic energy needed to effect change, Natural magick uses only the mind.

Animism is central to natural magick, the belief that everything has a spirit. Rocks, mountains, rivers, trees, and so forth, all have an innate spirit and therefore can communicate at will. Everything is alive in animism. Therefore, everything can communicate. To a witch practicing natural magick, her tools are everything.

Both Ceremonial and Natural magick do have some things in common. The most important commonality is magickal intent. As I said earlier, magick is inherently pure. The practitioner’s intent is what may be perceived as “white” or “black” in nature, and in all types of magick there are consequences to the workings.

Magick can be used for just about any purpose. Healing, prosperity, love (although spells cannot be used to make someone fall in love with you without severe consequences), and creativity are just a few of the reasons to cast a spell, but spells can be cast for any reason.

Ritual Tools

Ceremonial and natural magick both use ritual tools, although in Natural magick, ritual tools are not a necessity. Both types of magick use specific tools such as:

  • Athame or ritual knife
  • Chalice
  • Wand
  • Pentacle
  • Book of Shadows

Other tools can include a cauldron, a boline or utility knife, incense, mortar and pestle, candles, and herbs.

Each tool has a corresponding element and direction:

  • Athame: corresponds to the element of Fire, and it’s direction is South.
  • Chalice: represents Water, it’s direction is West.
  • Wand: Air element and the direction East.
  • Pentacle: represents the Earth element and North.

These tools are usually placed in their respective positions on an altar, along with anything else the witch intends to use in the magickal working.

The Book of Shadows is the journal or diary in which all spells, magickal workings, meditations and dreams may be written. It is very private and should not be touched by anyone other than the witch herself or someone she deems worthy.

Altars should also be respected as well as any ritual tools on the altar. When used in magick, ritual tools become imbued with the witch’s own magickal energy and being touched by someone other than the owner can degrade that energy and may even imbue negative energy unintentionally.

Many witches work spells outside in nature skyclad (nude) or in ritual robes, or inside a specific room of their home they have cleansed for that purpose only. Sometimes a witch has to get creative and find other areas to work magick. If no tools or altars are used magick becomes quite portable. Witchcraft and magick is a very flexible spirituality.