by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle
“Now that’s what I call magic—seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ‘em safely on their way…and then cleanin’ ‘em up, layin’ ‘em out, making ‘em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets—which is, let me tell you, no errand for the fainthearted—and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cuz his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again…We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft, that is. The soul and center!”—Granny Weatherwax in A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, for Witchcraft and for life. I refer to it often. We can easily forget about the most fundamental work of the Witch, but this is it. I was reminded of it as a friend and fellow Witch crossed the veil and the physical distance was between us, but still we overcame. Though I have had more firsthand experiences with death than with birth, I’ve been involved in a number of struggles for folks trying to get pregnant and start a family. I’ve been there for the hospital visits, the vigils awaiting news of life or death, and more than once, occasions when the police needed to be called. It’s not the glamorous life people hold in their mind of a successful Witchcraft author. The writing is really only a tiny part of it. People often are envious of what they perceive the life is like, and while I love my life for many reasons, there is a whole side of it most give no thought to.
Yes, much of my aid falls in the area is seeing clients for readings and formal consultations. Yet much of it is in pastoral care, the points in-between the formal and informal moments where uncontrollable crisis tends to happen. It’s the emergency call on your one day off when all the memes about self-care and boundaries would tell you not to take it, yet the Witch heart knows it simply is what is happening and where you need to be in that moment and show up.
While I do find beauty is a magickal virtue, we can get caught up in the aesthetic of magick. We can get caught up in the stuff. We can get caught up in the history and theories. I certainly do. And we can get caught up in the unnecessary politics. This is not true politics—which is “of the polis,” of the community and people in need—but the Witch wars and now flame wars and tweet storms of who is wrong or right in social media, which Witch is legit or not. Yet that is missing the “root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft.”
While we have quick answers for the general public (who can easily misunderstand us) to the question “What is Witchcraft?” I don’t think we can ever answer it to my satisfaction, or all our satisfactions. It’s a mystery of experience. But I do know it has something to do with stewardship, with care, and with the well-being of individuals, communities, and the relations of them with the land and spirits. It’s consciously participating in the interconnection and interdependence and aiding the greatest good. I say it’s a science, art, and religion, but it’s more than the sum of the three. It’s also about stewardship and responsibility. It’s about the Fate of Fate, Ananke, Greek for “Necessity,” both the goddess and the concept, for fate is doing what is necessary.
I struggle with the pastoral nature of my work, but have embraced the priestly nature and consider myself one of the priesthood in the great cosmic sense. The act of creating and supporting public Pagan and Witchcraft institutions is a struggle for me, as I’m chaotic in my relationship to authority—even my own—and prefer to work outside of imposed structures. Yet it would also be nice for those who embody many layers in their community, particularly as clergy, to have similar safety nets as other clergy. My work in establishing an order, a steward of resources as a nonprofit, is to help prevent my successors from starting from scratch and having the same struggles I have had (even though this goal might not happen in my lifetime). Their struggles should be different and not the struggle to offer pastoral and magickal support and still pay the mortgage. Otherwise I wouldn’t be caught organizing very often. If we can do it without losing the Magick, it will be a worthy goal to fulfill.
If you are a Witch—and we all have a little bit of Witch in us—engage with people, the land, and the mysteries. Get your hands dirty. Make yourself available for being present at death. Or at birth. Or at crisis. That doesn’t mean you should do it with no idea how. Someone will always do it “better’n” you, so appreciate, train, and learn from wise ones, but realize the practice of the Craft is in the engagement of life, the alleviating of suffering, and the simple pleasures. It’s not just the big rituals and fancy spells, though I love them too. We handle all the complexity of big rituals and esoteric philosophy so when we have to sit in a hospital room, we come with such skill to keep many different processes and patterns going within us—the person in the bed, the energy, the family, the staff. Because if we have ritually called a horde of goblins before, then the hospital staff should be less challenging. And in the Egyptian traditions, Heka, or Magick, is a gift from the gods to help ward the cruel blows of fate. For many, you’ll be their gateway to Magick, at least at first.
Put your hand to your heart and silently serve life, and death, all things in between. Truly embody by your action the process of being a small part of something greater. Get to know others in the community you serve. Get your hands dirty and do what is necessary. There you will find the root, heart, center and soul of Witchcraft.