Occult lore teaches us that magical powers are a by-product of spiritual advancement. When it comes to developing what might be called magical powers, H.P. Blavatsky has commented,
“The goal of the aspirant for spiritual wisdom is entrance upon a higher plane of existence.” (1)
We might ask ourselves, what drives someone to want to possess powers, spiritual wisdom and advance to a higher plane?
Paul Huson gives us a possible answer that is probably not far from the truth when he wrote Mastering Witchcraft and said, “Deep calleth unto deep; there is a natural affinity in all men’s souls for that which is half hidden in a twilight world.” (2)
Personally, I can’t imagine not continuing to penetrate and lift the veil of the mysteries further to and hopefully in the process, gain more spiritual wisdom and insight. I think most initiates of Wicca might tell you there seems to be a thirst that is never fully quenched and that until your dying day as a witch you will have the desire to continue exploring more of Dame Nature’s mysteries.
Our article, Why Initiation?, gives the seeker some food for thought when considering stepping foot on the path. Initiation gives you access to new knowledge, but it is not necessarily the new knowledge that makes a difference but what you will do with that knowledge.
So what would be the difference between the religion of Wicca compared to the practice of folk magic without the religion? For starters, Wicca is not just the practice of folk magic but it can potentially be a way of life and philosophy. It may be easy to miss this when analyzing the rituals and rites passed down in the tradition books since the emphasis is on the practice of the rituals themselves, but if you take the time to master the rituals you may find an underlying system that is beneath the ritual words, gestures and spells themselves and discover a fully-fledged religion that can assist the seeker in spiritual advancement.
I would describe the different traditions of witchcraft as the foundation stone of your life as a witch. For if you compare your occult studies to building a home, the foundation is installed first and the house built on top of it. Your tradition is the foundation from which your occult understanding and path can be built upon.
I think that some folks believe that if you join any particular coven or tradition that your creativity would be stifled and that you must do everything you do on your own according to the rituals in your passed down books. This is far from the truth.
While you should work hard to master and understand your tradition’s foundation rituals, you must remember that the tradition is the foundation from which you can build from. It is my own personal opinion that the purpose of a tradition is not to simply perpetuate the tradition – the purpose of a tradition is to give you a time-tested system or road map and a path that can lead you onward and upward. The shared rituals and mysteries are but ways and methods to grow and sometimes from and at the same time, gives you uniform methods when practicing rituals together or when handing down the foundation to new initiates that are brought in.
When working together, without a form of uniform ritual, you may compare this as driving on a motorway with no lines, speed limit or signs to guide you. There must be some form of structure or order so that folks can function as one-mind when working together. I believe Wicca deserves much more credit than just labeling it as a “system designed to perpetuate a system.”
I believe for me that it provides a pathway of progressive evolution when you utilize the simple tools that it provides and allow the rituals to work themselves out in your life. I have done certain ritual actions hundreds and hundreds of time, but each time I have come out with new knowledge and understanding. It is finding the meaning within, at that moment, rather than just mouthing some words while lighting a candle.
It is possible to perform magic itself without any religion or being an initiate. Many old-time occultists would caution that this may not be the best approach, and that some form of occult wisdom or religion should back up the practice of magic.
Charmaine Dey, a friend of Sybil Leek and a student of hers in the Craft wrote the Charge to the Craft to represent what the Craft could possibly strive for. In this, she stresses why she believes you should have a good and thorough understanding of occult philosophy and wisdom before attempting sorcery and low magics. She says that if you bypass the religion and go straight to the religion’s magic that:
“For these endeavors are truly not “wise” as they lead not to “wisdom,” but to an actual annihilation of a part of the Self, if not totally. True magic requires a finely developed vehicle tuned by training in the Craft discipline which is necessary for the individual to be in touch with the different kingdoms of nature and the total environment.” (3)
You might hear stories about this all the time when people first begin to explore the arts of witchcraft and sorcery – as they tell you of very strange experiments where spells went wonky and took on unforeseen consequences. This is because most spells do not work with the higher angelic/planetary intelligences, but instead with the lower spirits of the elemental realm – which are the formless forms of force of the astral realm which are shaped and directed by human thoughts. These semi-intelligent beings are neither good nor evil and take the shape of your will, whether clearly defined or not. (Most elementals are unintelligent beings – and chances are, most spells you have seen or used rely directly on the manipulation of these beings. That is why looking at some of the old school grimoires when dealing with beings less than angelic you will see potent and commanding words used to instruct them – sometimes even things like the “curse of chains” to command them very strongly!)
The strange thing is that most folks who come to witchcraft do first arrive at it through the casting of spells and then later may become interested in developing themselves more and more as, like Huson says, “Deep calleth to Deep….” and may eventually join a tradition and become an initiate.
Now it is important to note that not all covens will focus on occult study. That is okay, because each and every coven is their own autonomous unit and will have its own direction that is right for them. No two covens are exactly alike, or as a good friend of mine says, “Your authority extends no further than nine feet!” This is a jokey way to say that your authority extends no further in the outer witchcraft world other than your own magic circle – for the inner circle is traditionally 9 feet!
*Note: It may surprise you that some covens call upon the angelic beings during their rituals. This is not uncommon in some magical circles and even in ancient religions. In The Gnostic Religion, H. Jonas says:
“The spheres are the seats of the Archons, especially of the “Seven,” that is, of the planetary gods borrowed from the Babylonian pantheon…….” (4)
Our coven works with the “Seven” by specific name.
Bibliography & Quotes:
- Psaltis, Lina. Dynamics of the Psychic World, comments by H.P. Blavatsky on Magic – Mediumship – Psychism and the Powers of the Spirit. The Theosophical Publishing House. 1972. Print.
- Huson, Paul. Mastering Witchcraft. G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York. 1970. Print
- Tarostar. The Sacred Pentagraph. Left Hand Press. 2015. Print (Also in The Covenant, Book I)
- Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion – The message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity. Deacon Pres. 1958