by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
Witches are known for making the pact, the contract, with otherworldly powers. It is described in both the Medieval Christian world and today’s popular horror and fiction as an infernal pact between the Witch and the Devil, where the soul is exchanged for a familiar spirit, magickal knowledge, and power. Today’s Witches, however, see it a distortion of traditional shamanic and magickal practices—agreement and relationship. Magickal workers across the world seek out otherworldly beings, develop relationships, and make partnerships, just as we do in the terrestrial world between people, groups, companies, and nations.
Establishing such relationships is the way of the world as far as we know it, from working solely through self-motivation to hopefully a greater sense of enlightened self-interest. From there, with sufficient agency and awareness, beings can act from a place of altruism. While we cannot always know the motivations of otherworldly beings, we see reflected in their actions some of our basic understandings of motivation.
Our mutual aid results in the creation of agreements on different levels. An agreement is simply harmony in opinion, position, or feeling, though such agreements can establish a foundation for further relationship. A contract can be written or spoken, and often establishes the parameters of what each party is giving and what is owed, the circumstances around the agreement. Often there is a power imbalance between the parties of a contract, such as an employer or landlord. Contracts are enforceable by the law of the society in which they are made. A pact, from the Latin pactum, is a formal agreement, usually between two on equal footing, such sovereign countries or organizations. They can bridge the gap between societies and systems. I think that is why the term “pact” is so popular for Witches and spirits, for it is mutually agreed upon between beings of two different worlds. While from the Christian perspective, there is a power imbalance, to the Witch, it is between sovereign beings, different but equal in respect.
Along with negotiated agreements we enter into consciously, we have a variety of agreements that we do not consciously agree to, but have implicitly agreed to nonetheless. We could consider reality an agreement. What we refer to as consensus reality is an unconscious agreement as to the perception and parameters of the world as we know it, conditioned through language, tradition, and culture. Toltec teacher Don Miguel Ruiz and his family have popularized the idea of agreements with yourself and your experience of reality, including his book The Four Agreements. Change your agreements and you change your experience.
We have an established, unconscious social contract, including freedoms, rights, authority, and government. We exchange absolute freedom for the mutual sharing of collective burdens and resources. Our social customs and expectations are all ways we have agreed to participate, even if we haven’t explicitly agreed. They entail the “way things are” for us. Their agreement is tacit. While explicitly discussed in the Age of Enlightenment, the roots of such ideas are found in ancient civilizations and tribal cultures.
In our overculture and society, where we have a social contract that is difficult to avoid if we wish to participate in society, we as Witches often seek to disrupt and redefine for ourselves that contract, challenging authority and even breaking down systems by our own actions. Yet we often choose a secondary form of agreement in relationship, that of our subculture and community. It comes in many forms. It is often tacit and never consciously examined, but it is there nonetheless.
How does this fit with the Witch as rebel and edge walker, untamed and bowing to none? For some, it might seem contradictory, but it’s in the paradox where the mystery is truly experienced. As folks around me know, I’m a big Terry Pratchett Discworld fan, particularly of Granny Weatherwax, and I’m fond of paraphrasing Granny Ogg in the book Witches Abroad, who said that “when Esme uses words like ‘everyone’ and ‘no one,’ she doesn’t include herself.”
Yet the beloved Witches in Discworld have their own form of community. There are traditions that govern their gatherings and the settling of disputes. Different regions, such as Lancre and the Chalk, have different traditions, but there are common threads to each. They have no overt leaders, but they recognize leaders. When, as a Witch, I feel exempt from things—w hen I’m not everyone and I’m not nobody—I stand between. While I think safety and acceptance is important in the overculture, I’ve often lacked it and have had to deal with the reality of what is, even when it’s not fair. I have often made my way working between, through the cracks of exceptions, with little regard for the many rules that I felt didn’t apply to me. Sometimes I got caught. Sometimes I had consequences. Most of the time I just did my own thing, often breaking from conventional groups and traditions after not particularly liking how they were operating, but finding little mechanism there for me to successfully effect change. After all, I didn’t think it was my place to make others change if they were happy, but I had to find my own way. While agreements and structure can and should be challenged, if your inherent nature has you challenging everything all the time, then perhaps it’s is a sign that the group is not for you, and you should go your own way. A group where the majority go their own way is self-regulating, as not all groups are meant to survive—are built to survive—indefinitely. Everything has its season, including whatever way you currently espouse. As you grow older, your ways will change too.
In sharing my own way, that sharing developed relationships and then agreements, boundaries, and in a large enough group, a subcultural contract. I understood the groups I left a little bit better. My choices came with consequences, even if they were to no longer deeply participate in former groups and traditions. If Witchcraft is about relationships in all levels, there are always boundaries to relationship. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional behavior. Violating a boundary—even when feeling justified or thinking the boundary is unfair—can result in consequence.
So there can be a paradox between those seeking a Witchcraft that is wild, free and dangerous, without structure and leadership, while at the same time seeking it to be safe, inclusive, accepting, ethical, and clear. Those are two different subcultural social contracts, and while we do want both, our mystery and struggle are found in the paradox of these two perspectives on the Craft.
You can be transphobic, misogynistic, and sexist in today’s Craft, but there are consequences. Such behaviors violate the social contract among us. Some groups might spell them out in policies, rules, or “ardanes,” while others keep them implicit and social, such as a withdrawal or shunning from community. What was acceptable in ages past isn’t acceptable now. What is acceptable now can change as community grows and the agreements change. Some groups will change, and some will hold to other ways; both paths will have consequences in the larger scheme of things. You are free to come and go as you please, but people are not required to hold the door for you or keep it unlocked for you after you’ve left.
Some Witches refuse all form of convention and agreement, operating truly as a Witch alone, at least in flesh. Others find they can’t agree to any convention once they become conscious of it; they then have fractious relationships in community, appearing to only agree when it suits them. Even when not intended, this creates the perception of malcontent. For most of us, there are various levels of agreement, contract, and compact, unvoiced and unwritten, but apparent. In days not so long ago, there was a clearer sense of Witch culture and community, and certain observable conventions attended to by those who were otherwise rebels and outsiders. Yet many of these conventions and structures of respect and community are not apparent in today’s Paganism, while new structures and norms are being established. Some were archaic and needed change. Others have been mostly lost to all but a few groups and traditions.
There are general conventions and customs for participating in public Pagan events, such as open rituals, Pagan Pride Days, and festivals, though each region and group develops their own specifics. There are the agreements in informal practice circles, study groups, classes, and working covens. There is a covenant formed by those joining a formal tradition, a clan or order, and between elders and teacher of different traditions coming together in peership.
Today the secret society of occultists is more like a public conspiracy, not quite hidden and not quite open, with various levels of entry, responsibility, and blessing. There is burden and blessing to tradition. Some of the wisest words I’ve heard in years past are that as Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans, we all use many of the same terms and draw from similar sources, yet we are all defining these words differently. There will be confusion and misunderstanding when coming together in community around not only practices, but on social expectations.
So as a conscious magickal practitioner, take this time to reflect upon what agreements, contracts, and pacts you have made in your magickal practice, with entities, and within community.
With entities, many today lack the personal sovereignty found in our formal definition of the pact and instead act as supplicants or servants to what they perceive as a greater power. Depending on the attitude in which this is approached, this might conflict with Witchcraft tradition for many of us. While I may serve the greater good collectively, I am not a servant. I am in service. Many people become fascinated with the deity of the current moment, quickly entering into agreement and service without clarity of purpose. When working with an entity, what are you offering, and why? Is it a loving act, freely offered, or an exchange? What is your expectation? What is the expectation of the entity? Is there exclusivity? Or a specific time requirement? What do you get, if anything?
With community, what is your social contract at your level of participation? I think a lot about this in terms of the community I participate in and facilitate, including the Temple of Witchcraft. While not a servant, ours is a community working in mutual service as a magickal order extending outward.
In the Temple we are very agreement based, being founded upon a school based in a system of magickal training. There is enrollment, lessons, required work, feedback, tuition, and graduation. Lack of participation over an extended time breaks the contract. Each degree is a separate agreement, with a beginning, middle, and end. As much as we can hate bureaucracy, there are community policies and process. To move forward in community participation is a tacit agreement to the structure and policies. Those who participate deeply and volunteer within the community can enter into leadership and help change and set policies. Our magickal system is technique based, not religion based, open-ended in terms of relationships with spiritual entities. Function over form is stressed. Spiritually our community is a compact between people and entities working together mutually. Entities that can work within the functions of community are welcome, and sometimes people introduce us all to specific spiritual beings, or spiritual beings will draw their practitioners to us, once connected. We all receive from the whole, and we contribute to the whole through the virtue of our spiritual work, time, and energy, through volunteering, intention, ritual, and participation. There is a web of support and magickal work woven together.
It is more than acceptable for one to participate in education to their desire and then minimally participate in the rest of the terrestrial organization, while continuing to partake in the lessons and/or spiritual current of tradition in their personal practice. The community structure provides an opportunity to put into practice all that we learn, on every level. Ours is a multicultural and multi-expressional occultist vision of the Craft, ever evolving and facilitated by our magickal order of practitioners dedicated to the Great Work. This vision informs our ethos which is another tacit part of the magickal social contract of our order. This is often what attracts people to us, but is not always fully understood. We have a specialty, a specific focus, and realize we are not for everyone, and in fact, we are not for every Witch. We are one thread in a great tapestry of Witchcraft and the world.
No matter what your community and your spiritual relationships, reflect upon the implicit and explicit structures, expectations, and agreements you have. Bring them into consciousness. Understand. Work within the structures you have, leave them, or create new ones all together. Remember the interconnection and interdependence of all things as you weave a web of magick and community.