by Christopher Penczak
Recently I was asked by two former students who had graduated from the Temple’s program before there was a Temple to graduate from an important question. It echoed some of the themes and talks we had at Templefest 2015 and I’ve been thinking a lot about it and my initial response, and the reflections of my colleagues and elders. The question: Does a Witch have to practice Witchcraft?
I guess the easiest response would be asking how do you define Witch, and how do you define Witchcraft? But I answered, like I often do, with another set of questions. Does a musician have to play music? Does mathematician have to do math? Does a basketball player have to play basketball? I think for most of those questions, the answer would have to be yes. A musician who no longer plays, unless retired from a long and illustrious time of play, is really a former musician. Some people aspire to be musicians, and play a little, but if they have not really played with a capitol P, then they would not likely be recognized as musicians. As a former musician myself, with a degree in classical voice and a history of hard rock bands, I have empathy. While I resonate with the other former musicians who paths took us in different directions, and can empathize with life on the road, crazy drummers and bad contracts, as well as the absolute thrill of playing on stage, there would not be recognition and resonance among the true lifers, those who dedicated themselves completely to the music and were not pulled away from it. Though I’m not a mathematician or a basketball player, I must imagine there is similar recognition when encountering one of the same vocational “tribe.” Something within us recognizes it. And its either there or its not. The it might be something inherent enhanced by practice, or something intangible earned by experience, but its there regardless of where it came from. In parts of our Templefest teachings this year, things like “the blood remembers” and “we reach out and recognize our own” were said, describing this factor in the Craft of the Wise.
So my answer is yes, a Witch, seemingly by definition, must do Witchcraft. Yet the definition of Craft is where it is nebulous. These students were asking about someone who had previous training, but no longer had a regular practice of any kind – no formal meditation or journeying, no ritual or spellcraft, no celebration of the wheel in any regular way. She may think of you fondly as part of her healing or prayer work, but it is not ritualized in any way.
Is that enough? Who am I to say? I don’t know what is in this person’s heart and mind at these times. I do know there is a difference between thinking good thoughts about someone for a moment while going about your day and completely stilling yourself thereby connecting to the forces of the universe and creating effective change for yourself or another. While I think there are powerful reasons to work with tools and herbs, partnering with nature and engaging an animistic, less human-centric worldview, that is not always necessary to practice our Craft and make magick. But it is necessary to engage all levels of the self, to be aware and conscious of what you are doing, and not haphazard or lazy.
By practice Witchcraft, I don’t always mean work traditional spells. And elder recently said to me that she does very little spellcraft these days. I understand her sentiment, though I fear that some who overheard us would think she does not still practice a formal Craft. She is a priestess still tending to an altar and the gods of that altar. She is a spirited herbalist growing, harvesting and using her plants for herself and for others. While they might not be tied to specific spells, they are part of natural attuments to the earth and stars. The dirt under her finger nails is the testament to her craft, while maintaining her daily responsibilities of work and home. She keeps a formal practice of vision work and spirit contact, and brings mindfulness into everything she does as a priestess, consulting her cards and astrological chart.
Some will say that they no longer need to “practice” as they live it and they are beyond the practice. Again, who am I to judge? Perhaps they are further along than my own limited understanding. Yet all those in any craft or path, Witch or otherwise, whom I would say have a level of deep awareness and mastery, still have a practice. There is no going “beyond” as their love is found in these basics. My piano teachers still played and practiced, both for fun and to maintain skills. The same with singing teachers, art teachers, yogis, martial artists and other athletes. Breaks can be had, and routines changed up, but there was some sort of practice. The same has been for all the mystics and magicians I know. Those who have gone deep have a regular practice of some sort, though each is different. Those who talk about how they don’t need to practice because they are living a magickal life are often suspect to me. If you are really living a magickal life, it will either be apparent in everything you do, or you won’t care who knows it or not, so there is no need to advertise. Deep magick comes with a level of assuredness.
On the other side of the spectrum, I know people who are thoroughly Witches, though they would never use the word. For many of us Witchcraft is a specific religious path or tied to a tradition and culture, but in my heart of hearts, Witchcraft is an orientation to the world, and tied intimately to our soul’s vocation, regardless if it ever becomes our professional career. Without training or formal practice we would recognize as Craft, these people are truly wyrd, or fey-touched, and magickal things happen around them. They naturally exhibit the blessings and difficulties of the Witch, and the wise ones will have integrated their own ways of using, practicing and integrating them. In essence, they are creating their own daily practice, meditations and rituals without calling it that. It reminds me of what must happen when someone is called to be a Witch or Shaman in times past and there is no one to teach them. The spirits, ancestors and the power itself rises up to teach the new practitioner, and they pioneer new ways, often unconsciously rooted in the old ways, to go forward.
Even the best trained traditional Witch will explore, question and go into uncharted territories. That’s the whole point. We continue to question, to ask the unanswerable questions and not take other people’s answers for our own. The strong roots allow us to climb higher.
So in the end, when asked this question, I go back to the tried and true “It depends on how you define the word Witch. It depends on how you define the practice of Witchcraft.” But in my heart of hearts, the answer is “yes.”