by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
Witchcraft is the mystery of paradox, and one that we experience time and again is that “it’s all about you and it’s not about you at all.” People love the first part, but there is a growing danger of those devaluing any practice that does not immediately and continuously center on their specific experience and identity.
When you start, it is all about you—what you want, what you need, which leads to what is wounded and what you are called to heal. With Witchcraft’s spellcasting emphasis, some perceive it to be too selfish and leave it behind, seeking a more altruistic spirituality. I almost did. It’s easy to get selfish or power hungry here. Those who learn in a tradition with a priesthood, order, or a duty to keep the sacred have a better chance of reaching the next step. Those who learn only the technique of spells alone can lose the voice of wisdom to the voice of knowledge alone.
The mystery is in the realization of how the magick and psychism all work, how the manifesting and healing comes about through the interconnection and interdependence of all things. The individual and even human-centric focus gets shattered. Everything is in relationship with everything else. While you are important, you begin to understand that you are no more important than anyone or anything else in the greater scheme of things.
When it’s about us, we are at the center of the circle. But when it’s not about us, we are on the periphery, the edge, often leading us to be on the edge of society as a whole, openly or in secret.
Centering on ourselves and our experience is not only not always possible, it’s also not always desirable. You miss a lot when you don’t go to the edges and peek out further.
Someone was upset with me that Witchcraft had an emphasis on cycles of life. This anger rises often, be it ideas of maiden/mother/crone or heteronormative union in most animals and people and the fertilization of plants. This can upset people on the edges of society who are often looking for something in a Pagan religion that exclusively transcends that. Witchcraft can be a chance to reorient to the center, yet their journeys into almost-leaving Witchcraft for Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism are filled with sexuality, gender, battle, societal roles, and agricultural metaphors. Anything purely transcendent lacks “juice” to the art and practice for them. Perhaps Zen will catch their attention, but that calls to a different soul nature and doesn’t usually satisfy the soul of a magician or Witch. The search for something to fulfill the expectations becomes a major struggle, but it begins to reveal why there is a commonality to so many mythic themes from the human experience.
I get that. I really do. I struggled and looked Eastward too. I’m a queer man who isn’t having kids. Many of our elders of fairly traditional Witchcraft traditions were also not parents. Combining full-time priesthood and parenting is incredibly tough to do simultaneously. Those who do both well are amazing and uncommon, and many, when being deeply honest in the conversations I’ve had with such elders, will admit one or the other, Craft or kids, suffered. Because of that seeming disconnect from direct experience of biological fertility, our Witchcraft fertility is often emphasized as creative rather than personally biological, and there is some truth to that. It certainly can be, and can deepen with each turn of the wheel. Magickal people are often creative dynamos.
Yet if the seasons play into your Craft, if you engage in the turning with the Sun and Moon and Earth, a fairly big portion is not just light and temperature but animals and plants fucking and producing offspring of a sort—babies, eggs, seeds, fruit. Some are based in ancient animal mating times, lending themselves astrologically to the Zodiacal wheel of animals we used today, but they are now in the patterns of our esoteric traditions even when we are disconnected from rams, bulls, goats, and lions on a daily basis. There is the farm and forest. There is garden and granary, still to this modern day. Most of us have the supermarket as the intermediary between, the modern agora marketplace. And all of us are here through some previous union of sperm and egg. There is ingress, congress, and egress in the many senses of those words in these mysteries.
Having a priesthood less engaged directly leaves its members in the perfect position at the edge, turning with the cycles for the greater good of the community and the planet. I help facilitate and mediate, but it’s not centered around me. How can it be if I’m a facilitator of the process? Much like with healing work, I need to hold some space. A midwife is important, but the birthing process is not centered on the midwife. We all participate in the wheel, finding it corresponding and illuminating our lives, but the wheel is the process of life and death for the Earth, Moon, and Sun, the gods and goddesses. We are interdependent and interconnected, but we are of service to a larger process. Early on, it can seem all about us alone, but it’s not.
Being of the weird and the wyrd means we step out of the focus of many things in the larger story. While we might all be the heroes of our own story, the wise Witch or wizard, beloved, is often a facilitator in the greater story. When we surround ourselves with our fellows, as we often do via social media, it can be hard to realize that we are still on the edge of the greater body. At times the entire world we know can seem like a queer, geek, Pagan landscape, until it’s not. As they move closer at times to us, we keep moving outward, testing those bounds and expanding the possibilities. And when they chill back, we feel further out in a limb than ever before. I had a friend in the everyday world outside of most of my communities say, “You’re gay. You’re a Witch. And now you are polyamorous?!? With two husbands! Aren’t you ever going to be satisfied?”
I can be happy, and I am, but by my divine discontent, I’m never satisfied until we are all satisfied, and even then… I don’t seek to be different to be contrary. In truth, I’m a pretty reserved queer polyamorous Witch, but it is my nature to examine all things within me and push my growth to the edges, even when uncomfortable.
For the evolution of the next age, we will rarely be at the center as we continue to press onward and explore. That is part of the nature of the Witch. And at the same time, the Witch is the keeper of tradition and systems, lore and stories. Innovation and tradition form another paradox for those of us seeking resolution in our hearts.
Other times the initiatory revelation is truly centered on me, my life, and perspective. In service, it returns again to me. The magick creates an existential change in my being, furthering the evolution of consciousness. I am all things and no thing and have moments of mystery and transcendence that then need to be reintegrated into my daily experience. The processes I help facilitate are reflected in total within me as the microcosm of the universe. My biological reality isn’t the only factor to the process. I don’t need to be in a heterosexual relationship with kids to experience the union as parts of myself—which are parts of the universe—come together and generate new life and light within me, which is also the universe. They are operating on a multitude of octaves.
Simultaneously there are parts within me that are the same, coming together, coming apart, experiencing all gender, no gender, movement, stillness, voice, silence, and all points between and beyond as they are happening in the universe. A Witch doesn’t have to be any gender or orientation biologically, sexually or of any specific mental predisposition to experience the multitudes of mystery, the first and most visible of which is playing out in the wheels turning all around us. Our own life experience, gender, orientation, age, culture, and language give us our own unique perspective on each mystery and revelation. No matter where you fall on expression, you will have times when you will be in the edge.
A relatively new straight male student is struggling that the experience of magickal training isn’t centered more in his identity and experience, and he is taking some offense (welcome to the world the rest of us live in). At the same time, his non-binary peers feel that same training centers too much on traditional roles. Perspective and the ability to be fluid and shift perspective are key to magick. Calcification in perspective makes a poor magician. Two people will see the same lesson differently from their differing perspectives and both will be challenged to shift and go deeper. While I believe the work of the Witch is vocational in many ways, and rituals bring us into that collective “trade” of priestcraft in many diverse forms (despite the appearances to the contrary in social media in an effort to gain and retain likes/friends/followers), Witchcraft is not a service industry. It is service, and depending on the moment, it is oriented towards individuals and groups in need, but its purpose is not placation.
Spells to get what you want are also great, but if you do this long enough, they become more of a method of fine tuning life and not the focus of your entire practice. The “all about me” part moves from the external control to the internal control, then processing, and even simply witnessing.
The practice becomes one of service but also in service: service to self, service to others, and service to all. The greater paradoxes of individuality and oneness, transcendence and immanence and time and eternity, all arise from the paradox of “all me” and “not me at all.” The concept of tat tvam asi—“Thou art that”—of Hinduism occurs at the same time as neti, neti— “not this, not that”—in understanding the essential self and true reality. Both are true. Neither is true. In the diverse and coalescing modern occult traditions, these Vedic phrases can be compared to “Thou art God/dess” with God and Goddess being immanent divinity as popularized in Paganism with the Church of All Worlds, who were in turn inspired by Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein and Austin Osman Spare’s Neither-Neither principle of his Zos Kia Cultus work.
This is the paradox that gives rise to the nature of all things and no-thing. And it begins with the realization that “it’s all about you and it’s not about you at all.”