by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
Magick is said to be best passed from mouth to ear, in the presence of a teacher or group. In ritual we are often hand to hand, but more importantly, heart to heart, not in a solely sentimental circle, but in a transmission of the core of the mystery, through breath and blood, voice and gaze. The Witch in me sees, feels, and knows the Witch in you. There are subtle transmissions that occur in physical presence. It’s difficult to replicate out of such intimate settings. And I say this as a teacher of Magick in both in-person and online formats.
Even more importantly, there is a transmission between us and the older powers, whatever we call them. Something happens under the light of the Moon. We gather a strength from walking in the woods. Secrets are spoken in an unwritten language when we sit to listen to the bubbling of a spring. Healing happens when we walk, dance, and sing in the rain. Gazing into a fire kindled before us opens a gate.
With the rising popularity of Witchcraft online, we can question the basis of looking at it as Earth-based or nature-based, for it seems very technological. People are connecting and learning through their phones and computers.
I would argue that it’s always been about the Earth and the starry heavens, terrestrial nature and the cosmos, the material and transcendent. But don’t lose touch with the world around you. Don’t get lost in the digital representation of things over the actual.
We cannot mistake the means of transmission with the essence. Each age, each generation, has its own means and methods. But the essence is the heart of things, and there is an eternal core to the heart of the Witch and their mysteries.
There are tides and seasons, ebb and flow in popularity, in all areas of esoterica. Witchcraft comes in waves with different flavors to each wave highlighting specific cultures or deities. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see a pattern. Social media has certainly sped the cycle, and it might be hard to see when we are in a peak. Those who join during a peak never expect it to ebb. I know I didn’t. Then something else rises, and the cycle renews. During the peaks there is the most fervor and potential conflict between the old and the new, but the heart stays true.
From truly secret societies and hidden groups to open secrets granting interviews, Witches change. Change has led to subtle books of life story giving way to full instruction manuals and the mysteries hidden in plain sight. Books, websites, audio, video, and social media are all a means of transmission, but they do not indicate the Craft is now focused on the electronic in lieu of nature any more than using a car to get to your coven, rather than hike, indicates a shift in focus to automobiles. Buddhists have made similar transitions with media, but the essence is still mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment. Modern media can simply help transmit the teaching and open the door. But one must take that information and practice it. Reading, listening, and watching Witchcraft does not make the Witch. Doing, practicing, and living it does. That may look different to each of us, but it is more than media consumption. Media can provide a safeguard. Those more interested in the look of something aesthetically or in wanting to be perceived in embodying the look get distracted, and in that distraction can become relatively harmless to themselves and distracting to others. While all can find the art of our Craft and revel in some aesthetics of our culture, as I love a beautiful altar or outfit, it’s only part of the process.
Do the changing methods of transmission shape the teachings? Certainly. And certain magickal practices rise and fall with the trends and tides, but the ocean, the core practices, remain. Some things are lost in the transitions of different methods of learning, but they can be found again by diligent diggers and new things are revealed, the gift of the current generation to both the past generation and the future.
There is a strange tension with social media transmission between participating in the overculture’s trends and conforming to them as an expression of “individuality” and the impetus of much of Witchcraft seeking to disconnect from the overculture and not be swayed by expectation and aesthetics of the mainstream. It’s strange to see large groups of Witches online all posting their stacks of aesthetically arranged books or jumping onto a video trend. Framing pithy quotes or simple inspirational advice with a beautiful picture to promote the image of influencer in an effort to gain more followers can often be detrimental to Magickal attainment if the motivations behind such actions are unconscious, blurry, egotistical, or driven by an unaddressed wound. Social media can invite comparisons to others in detrimental ways—body image, looks, clothes, lifestyle, popularity, status, income—rather than encouraging a desire to find your own unique purpose, comparing yourself to only your past self as the measure of progress.
Often the Witches are rebellious in their relationship to overculture, though the tension can become a story between the technically savvy young and an older generation not as versed in media. The cross tension is also between the new occult generation and the old. One seeks to break with the mainstream and embrace the Witch self, essentially joining the Witchcraft subculture, but many newly joining will simultaneously seek to break from the common points of the subculture’s traditions and norms, seeking to redefine it. While it can be disturbing to traditionalists, we see the same thing in queer culture, goth culture, hippie culture, and various other musical and cultural movements.
The new regenerates the old so it doesn’t calcify, and the old deepens the new, providing the matrix for the roots so new heights are reached.
But if you talk with lots of practitioners from many generations, at some point you will hit a wall. The consumption of information won’t have the answer, be it books or social media. The next step will often be transmitted between the lines, from mouth to ear with living wisdom, or from the subtle spaces of the old powers. It will be found between heartbeats. Community, mentorship, and guidance will light a way out, if not the only way out. And someday, if you remain in this world despite the ebb and flow, you’ll most likely offer that same subtle aid to another who comes to you. Perhaps it will be through some medium not yet dreamed of, but you’ll still be passing on something true to the heart of the Craft to the heart of another.