Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guest Post-Peter Paddon: What is Traditional Witchcraft?

Defining Traditional Witchcraft is a tricky business. For starters, witches are notoriously individualistic, and asking any three witches to define a word will result in five definitions, so you can imagine the range of opinions on the word “Witchcraft” itself…
Many people certainly hold strong beliefs on what Witchcraft is, not least myself, so I’ll try to give an overview of the main ones, before explaining why my own definition is, of course, the correct one (just kidding, even a Brit of Welsh extraction such as myself can’t be quite that pompous!).

First of all, we have to look at whether Witchcraft is a religion or a practice. There are very vocal proponents on both sides of this particular conundrum, mostly intractably locked into their favored argument. But objective evidence is strongly in favor of Witchcraft being a practice, albeit one that is expressed through the religion of the practitioner. In the western world, that means that historically witches have frequently been Christian – perhaps the most famous historical sect of Witches are the Stregha, who are all practicing Catholics, even if their Catholicism is decidedly heretical by Vatican standards. In the modern era we have the luxury of being able to add Paganism to the religions that Witchcraft can be practiced with, and so I am able to say that my magical practice is Witchcraft, expressed through my Welsh Celtic Pagan spirituality. In this context, Wicca is an Earth-Based religion that includes – for most of its adherents – the practice of Witchcraft. Most Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccan. As you can probably guess by now, I’m not a fan of those who say that Wicca and Witchcraft are synonymous.

So what, then is Witchcraft? Some will say that it is a form of western shamanism, and in its classical form it does certainly share many of the attributes of shamanic spirituality. Technically, as the word “witch” derives from Anglo-Saxon,

purists might say that it is a specifically Germanic practice, and that is almost certainly how it began. But nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, and all things either grow and change, or wither and die. When the Angles and Saxons settled in Britain, they quickly merged with much of the Celtic culture that was already there, so by the time of William the Conqueror, the Normans identified the “locals” in England as Saxon. So Witchcraft came to incorporate aspects of Celtic Druidism, along with the earlier Pictish practices that the Druids had adopted when in turn they invaded the Blessed Isles. At the same time the predominantly Celtic nations of Wales and Ireland incorporated some of the Saxon techniques and lore into their own magical traditions.

People talk a lot about Witchcraft Traditions, and in modern times there are a lot of them. What we don’t have is any truly unbroken lineage – though there are some in the Balkans, where by a quirk of fate Witchcraft was never persecuted the way it was in the rest of Europe. What we do have are various traditions that became family traditions, broken and missing much, that were passed down through families, often hidden with a veneer of Christianity, that in most cases became a sincere incorporation of Christian mysticism as time went by. The result is a bunch of fragmented traditions that come down to us as a mixture of Welsh Wizardry, English Cunning Arts, and Scottish Sorcery. Gerald Gardner attempted a reconstruction from the fragments he was handed, and with additions from the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley and Freemasonry, created modern Wicca. Others, such as Cochrane and Pickingill used folklore to fill in the gaps, and yet others turned to other sources from the Occult Revival, such as Spiritualism or Mesmerism and Theosophy, and the Middle East (Crusaders brought back Sufi mysticism that was used to fill the gaps already existing in the 12th Century).

That brings us to the modern age, and what Traditional Witchcraft is today. For many of us, it is a recreation, a synthesis. Rather than try to reconstruct what our ancestors did, we try to take the fragments and recreate the Traditions

as they might have evolved if they had never become fragmented. Using academic research, experimentation, and “tapping the bone” or conversing with the Ancestors, we work to recover what was lost, and build a Craft that is current and relevant to the 21st Century Crafter. There are others who are strict reconstructionists, and yet others who eschew the archaeological and academic material, preferring to draw on what their hearts and ancestral memories tell them, but these are just different flavorings in the same basic recipe – to create a living, breathing, evolving tradition that will stand the test of time.

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Thank you Peter for taking the time and indulging me by contributing your opinion on the definition of Traditional Witchcraft.

Boidh se!

-Spanish Moss

"Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."

1 comment:

mermaidmorrigan said...

AWESOME blog from an AWESOME magick man and hosted by an AWESOME Witch. THANK YOU! OH, and did i mention that is is AWESOME!