by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” says both the new seeker and the more experienced Witch who thinks they have it all figured out.
Good! It’s Witchcraft. It’s not supposed to be comfortable all the time. That doesn’t mean you have to do anything you do not want to do, nor accept any form of abuse, but beyond that, if all the choices were easy, all the concepts instantly digestible, and all the tasks without effort, what would it be? It wouldn’t be Witchcraft.
Witchcraft opens the door to the uncomfortable. There is a reason why the archetypal Witch is not welcome in most stories. Today we embrace this idea, but many turn it outward only.
“I’m speaking truth to power.”
“I’m holding up a mirror to society.”
“I’m an untamed rebel, a wild and free spirit that can’t be caged.”
But to do any of that, you must continuously turn that attitude upon yourself and be ruthless in your own truth, mirrors, and freedoms. Otherwise you are simply unconscious, and those who are looking deeply inside can see it a mile away. Otherwise it’s all aesthetics and little soul.
We have to face what is uncomfortable, dissonant, and dark within us. If your magickal practice, whatever it is, constantly affirms your decisions, beliefs, and ideas with no deeper evaluations, no doubts, no discomfort, you have a big problem even as you have convinced yourself you have no problems at all.
Witchcraft is change. Witchcraft is growth. While some growth can be blissful, usually there is discomfort somewhere in the process. A seed is buried in darkness like it’s dead before sprouting new life. Some seeds require fire to germinate. Affirmation of “what is” never brings transformation on its own. Acceptance might, but joyful and unconscious affirmation does not. Witchcraft is at the edges where things are nebulous and lack definition. If everything fits neatly, no ambiguity, and all of it is already figured out, you are not at any edge, crossroads, or liminal space. We must maintain our own center, but we are also constantly pushed to our own edge. That is the paradox of it, centers and edges simultaneously. That is our squaring the circle. Only pushing others’ boundaries without asking the same of yourself —no matter what good intentions or reasons you might have—is disingenuous.
Witchcraft can involve, in no particular order: sex, death, power, body fluids, illness, faeries, gender, poison, history, myth, love, darkness, story, gods, language, water, foreign cultures, angels, writing, empathy, light, ethics, sacrifice, flowers, reading, temples, blindfolds, medicine, childhood, curses, patterns, snakes, thorns, intuition, the forest, devotion, understanding evil, listening, the future, gardens, knives, psychology, getting old, mystery, fire, music, injustice, the weather, conflict, theology, the past, family, and actually doing Witchcraft. Something somewhere in all that will catalyze a reaction and require a response. While we live in a world where we now often want to minimize our internal responses to uncomfortable things, for a Witch, that response is good.
Magick is dangerous, for magick is change. When you claim the identity of a magickal practitioner—be it Witch, magician, shaman, healer, or priest/ess—you initiate a process, even if you are not undergoing formal initiation or training. You catalyze things within you and things all around you. You step onto a crooked path of mystery. Even claiming acts of functional magick—simple spells and blessings—triggers internal processes. The buried burdens and treasures of the ancestors activate. The gods and spirits start to take notice. The adversaries and guardians of opposition stand by to test and make you stronger with challenge. It all unfolds uniquely to each of us, but the act of claiming magick requires one to live a more magickal, conscious life. Many people have a deep intellectual understanding of all these things, but confuse the intellect with the experience. I once had a student who, upon the completion of a psychology degree, declared he had all the spiritual experiences and was “done.” He understood the psychological patterns of self-realization, but he hadn’t done the work yet, and soon life showed him otherwise and he then more humbly understood.
I know a practitioner who avoids using the word “trigger” so as not to trigger anyone. If the word “trigger” is triggering, the remedy is to face that first and then get a greater understanding of other sensitive points, discover why, and move through them, with professional help and mentorship whenever needed. Only you can determine when you are ready to face something and if you want to do that, but one of the clear ideals of the Witch is to not be bound and controlled, and that includes the forces of our past and the forces within us. We can choose how, where, and when we can tackle difficult reactions—and by all means have a support structure in place—but we should be giving deep thought to the value of facing it. The only way out is through.
“Not yet” is an acceptable viewpoint, but we must keep the realization that it is there. We all have our different ways and our different capacities, but must learn more about our own uniqueness, including our unique challenges, and move through to the change that is correct for us. The way I navigate something will naturally be different from how you navigate something similar. But navigating is different than being oblivious or willfully ignorant. Otherwise all that we unconsciously carry will have as much access to our magick as our conscious self. This is the true secret to the beloved and hated “shadow work” of modern craft, often disregarded as not really Witchcraft by those who are, well, pretty unconscious of their own shadow. In truth, all the ancient mysteries have an aspect of what we would today call psychology.
Traditional structures that are often abandoned today, when held well, provide the container and support for this kind of deep work. Magickal groups grounded in a tradition and practice became catalysts for growth. Those of us on our own have to find other structures and support, but we can’t avoid our dark places and pretend they are not there. Worse yet, we cannot do so and then pretend mastery or feel well versed enough to offer advice and critique to others. Modern teachings often stress the permission to not face things when you are not ready, but provide no plan to get you ready or explain how to deal with these shadows looming in the background of your psyche.
What is true on one level can become false at a different point on the path. Experiences might cause you to question assumptions and where those assumptions first came to you. Know thyself, but be open to surprising yourself too. Every day you are growing and evolving, and you can’t possibly know where that path will lead if you are following it open-heartedly, no matter how accurate your psychic predictions are.
Learn to not only face, but to befriend discomfort, to invite it in, as you’ll be hosting it many times whether you want to or not, so embrace it when you can. By embracing discomfort, you are embracing yourself, your world, and your craft, loving it as is, and in that acceptance in the moment, evoking the change that is necessary without specific attachments. That acceptance and letting go while holding vision and seeking clarity is the heart of our magick. Consciously witnessing, even without taking direct action, is an act of high and deep magick. Growth takes us in new and strange directions. For a while we are comfortable, until we find discomfort and new growth again.