“The chief duties of the ancient Priesthood were first, to find out the points of contact or unity between man and higher existences than himself; next, to discover the laws of man’s being, and teach him to adjust his actions to the will of those higher existences; and finally, to invoke or solicit their aid for man in the performance of his earthly mission.”
-“Art Magic, or Mundane, Sub-Mundane and Super Mundane Spiritism,” William Britten & Emma Hardinge Britten; published by Progressive Thinker. Copy above printed 1898
In a coven setting, all Initiates are of the Priesthood and in the greater sense; the Priesthood of witchcraft attempts to carry out the above description in many different ways, depending on (and according to) the tradition they represent.
In the first duty listed, the Priesthood is said to find or unite with points of contact higher than themselves, and we do so through contact with higher forces and all the way up to the Supreme Being – which is the ineffable, the unknowable Self-Existing One. (Though I know that some witches are polytheists, most traditional witches I personally know are not polytheists and simply believe in a “Supreme Being” – and at the same time believe in other spiritual forces in the universe that come out of the Universal All- such as the divine principles of the God and the Goddess.)
Goddess (Great Mother Goddess) and God (Great Father God) are principles to our coven, or first expressions of the Supreme Being and from them, Celestial Fire continues to unfold as Astral Light begins to slow. (atmospheric air produces friction, becoming fire, then condensation (water) and solidification (earth) – Evaporation, Combustion, Condensation and Decomposition.)
From this point, we encounter what may be termed angelic hierarchies or other beings.
To work out and try to individually understand all these spiritual forces in the cosmos is not an easy thing to do. These forces, or key codes; can be (or not be) communicated with through the working out and understanding of the exploration of spiritual and occult phenomena.
It is also highly possible to have atheist /agnostic leanings and still be a witch if you personally can believe in some form of higher Supreme Being or thing above mankind and can look at the Goddess and God as “occult principles,” even if you don’t believe in humanized images of gods – or find that humanizing spiritual beings silly. This is possible through understanding various natural laws such as frequency, vibration; and understanding that to get result “C,” I must push buttons “A” and “B.”
This leads to the next point of what Art Magic says the Ancient Priesthood did, which is to discover the laws of man and attempt to adjust our actions to align with these divine or natural laws.
This is where some people who have a religious bent will bring in the mythologies of various pantheons of gods and goddesses. These mythological tales can teach lessons based on their story lines that can teach us how to adjust our actions. Christians throughout the world do this by reading the stories of Jesus and attempting to lead a life that would have the same universal love of Christ. Some Christian mystics might try to get in touch with “Christ Consciousness.”
For witches, some covens have long lists of tenets, redes or ardanes they attempt to follow which may be 13 in number or even 50, 60 or even in some cases; 161/162 that are made to sound like laws handed down from olden times. Many also combine this with the Wiccan Rede of, “An it harm none, do what thou will.”
Our coven keeps our tenets simple, because here in the Wolfa Coven, we work to align with what Sybil Leek called the “Eight Tenets of Witchcraft” that she published in her classic 1971 book called “The Complete Art of Witchcraft.” These eight tenets are simple words or statements like a “Balanced Life” or even “Humility” and it is then up to the Initiate or Seeker to ferret out what they mean in their own life so they can come up with their own meanings, with the understanding that this is a constant process that we continue to work on as it comes to harmonizing these aspirations in ourselves.
For those seeking more in-depth understanding, their is a list of spiritual precepts to also internalize and go through. This is done in order to potentially change our outlook and make changes for our lives for the better. For if we can change the way we think, we might change the frequency of our thoughts that leave the astral body when we think them before they enter the realm of Astral Light! It is our applied will combined with a personal philosophy we interpret.
Another way that occultists and those with Rosicrucian leanings did this (including many witches too!) was working to better understand and harmonize with a set of “Universal Laws” that were published in the amazing little book called “The Kybalion” by Three Initiates. (Though it was most likely written by William Walker Atkinson who passed on in the 1930s and was a major influence in the “New Thought” movement – which most Wiccans would not be out of step with. If you have ever uttered the idea that “like attracts like” or studied the “Law of Attraction,” then you familiar with some concepts that came out of the New Thought movement.)
As a side note, besides the movers and shakers in the New Thought movement; Gavin and Yvonne Frost spoke heavily about the “Law of Attraction” by name in most of their books before it was ready to become what seemed like a new idea to the world with the successful franchise that took pop-culture by storm in the early 2000s. It was the right time for it to be re-introduced, even though it was quite popular in occult circles and in the New Thought movement in the late 1800s.
Lastly, Art Magic states about invoking or soliciting the aid of higher existences. In witchcraft, we do this through the art of spellcasting and ritual.
I have previously written a blog about an awesome selection of spellbooks that you can find out about here – which should pop up in a new window.
In regards to ritual, each coven or tradition will have their own methods of conducting ritual, and we typically call this in witchcraft today the Sabbats, Seasonal Rituals and Esbats. (I have written about each of the Sabbat Festivals on the Sacred Pentagraph page and I have written about Seasonal Rites on the main page of this website.)
The spells or rituals of witchcraft are typically performed for the purpose of soliciting the help of the gods for both higher and lower reasons. Mundanely, centuries of spells abound with books that are filled with spells and recipes for obtaining love or defense against those that would mean you harm. Spells and rituals are also at times used for the purposes of assistance in carrying out what may be defined as the “Great Work” or the carrying forth of what is defined as the knowledge and discovery of our individual life’s purpose, and since most witches hold firmly to the tenet of Reincarnation; many typically believe that their is something they need to do or achieve in each incarnation which may continue our souls advancement which may one day lead back to the reuniting with the Supreme Being from which we have all originated.
However you form or make spells, or practice rituals, it seems the overall intention is the same no matter what the tradition: “To impose your will on something or someone which will create an effect for either higher or mundane purposes in order to change something in either the mental, physical or spiritual planes.”
If most of us are all honest with our own intentions when we first set foot on the path of the witch/occult, that is probably the reason that most of us decided to take up the magical arts and become a witch. This similar aim that most probably had which sparked our desire to become initiates ourselves makes other things that witches may debate with each other on in regards to our differences seem trivial.
We all came to witchcraft with the same end-goal, we have just all found different paths – some harder, some easier; in order to learn how to impose our will in the world in a purposeful, and hopefully beneficial way.
*Art Magic is one of my most favorite books on the occult and I find myself referring to it