by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
The past winter holiday season I saw a lot of folkloric customs (that I love) passed around with a lot of dogmatic decrees.
“You must not take your tree down before Epiphany, January 6th.”
“You have to have all decorations down by Candlemas/Imbolc or suffer a year of bad luck.”
“You must have coins in your pocket for New Year’s Eve or you will be poor in the coming year.”
And I was surprised that Witches were saying these things to other Witches!
While we are the keepers of customs and old lore, agreements and courtesy with the old powers, we are in an unusual place, equally tending the flame of tradition while also being rebels, rule-breakers, and outliers of society.
There is nothing we “must” do or “must not” do other than what we determine for ourselves. While it’s a concept out of favor with the new generation, we “do as we will” and are guided like those healers old and new to do “no harm” to ourselves and others.
Easier said than done for both the doctor and the Witch, and we all have to abide by the consequences of our actions. There is little consequence, however, to breaking with a dogmatic custom, unless we invoke consequence upon ourselves by directing belief and energy into that consequence. The greater consequence by far is to become mindlessly and slavishly devoted to something you didn’t want to do in the first place.
On one level, the role of the Witch is an example of breaking with dominant dogma—shaking things up and challenging the rules—all while holding to the customs we feel are important. Even then, we reimagine those traditions, expressing them uniquely to each unique place and time. No two rituals are ever the same, for they stand in different moments, under different stars, no matter what some may want you to believe.
I think of the popular Pagan story from elder Oberon Zell called “We Are the Other People” in which he speaks to Christian proselytizers about original sin and how we Pagans (Witches, Wiccans, Heathens and the like, as well as Hindu, Buddhists, and all manner of indigenous people, all non-Jews, Christians, or Muslims) are exempt: “But none of that applies to us. We have no need for salvation because we don’t have original sin. We are the Other People.”
The Bible refers to us as other people, perhaps the people of Cain’s wife, Seth’s wife, or any other people not a part of Adam and Eve’s lineage. While this specifically refers to original sin and Biblical law, in a modern society so permeated with Christian dominance, our exemption aligns us in a lot of ways, particularly for Witches, who were still often on the outside of Pagan community.
Coming into the “Witch Cult” on any level, in recognition of your own Witch Self or Witch Soul, makes a break with mainstream overculture. We are in it, but apart. I can choose to participate to the level I want, but on my terms, exempt from dogma. I like secular New Year’s Eve, but my New Year begins on Samhain or Winter Solstice of even the Spring Equinox. I can do whatever I want for December 31st or January 1st. I can put up and take down decorations whenever I want. I weave my own fortune. I can align with these traditions to help my magickal weaving, but I’m bound only by my own decisions and the consequences of my actions.
Witchcraft today is often talked about as transgressive. Yes, but many Witches simply do what they want. I find the transgressions much like queer community. A fun social media slogan really born out of anti-fascism, anarchy, and activism is “Be gay! Do crime!” It’s not a call for violence or murder, but a statement from a people whose very existence was—and in some places still is—criminalized, not unlike the Witch. We challenge needless authority and break unjust laws, and even more so, needless and unjust societal norms and taboos. Things forbidden in ages past are legal norms now because of just dissent. Witches embody that spirit, while still remembering and tending to our roots. Activists must be well-versed in who came before, what they did and said, and upon whose shoulders they stand. Witches should do the same, and choosing to keep certain customs is a part of that.
I think of our spiritual ancestor and elder, Lady Circe, who, commenting upon moon signs and astrology, said:
“Witch Time is now….”
I think as a Witch, the proper time is when I feel deeply it is. It has taken me long to align to my rhythms and the rhythms of the earth and stars. The proper thing to do is what I feel called to do now. Likewise as a Witch, it took me a while to know myself better, a continual process.
And while one might think this selfishly applies only to those who consider themselves Witches or who are initiated into a tradition, I (for one) think of witchcraft as an orientation transcending culture and appearing among all peoples. And I also believe in the words of the controversial Florinda Donner: “All of us have a bit of Witch in us.”