What Happens When We Win?

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

What happens if and when we “win?” By winning, I mean that after years of saying the viewpoint of a polytheistic, esoteric, environmental, feminist, spiritual culture should have a stronger voice and more influence in the overculture and society, people start to listen. What do we have to offer? And how will that change how we define ourselves?

My primary concern is that once you define yourself in reaction to the dominant force, in rebellion only, what do you do when you win? Witches are notoriously rebellious and often contrary. Particularly today we are both reactionary and resistance based. In big and small ways, many of us are reacting and not responding. Even in our responses, we are often working against something. And that is a necessary aspect. It is the catabolic, the restrictive, and the hex that balances the anabolic, the expansive, and the healing. We need both dissolution and coagulation in the reimagining of the world. We need both separation and conjunction, withering and waxing for a dynamic response. But while we are tearing down what does not serve, what are we building? And how are we balancing?

The source of both our strengths and our weaknesses is the rebellious nature of our essential selves. We often describe ourselves as goats, not sheep. Many keys to initiation are through the adverse and the taboo, through disobedience to the mainstream. If we wanted to be well-behaved and “just like everyone else,” we might never have found our Craft. We don’t want to be normal, and we envision a world where it is okay for each individual to choose what is normal and not have it imposed. While many want Paganism to be accepted as just another religion and Pagans as just like everyone else (often going to great lengths to dismiss the “woo woo” of mysticism, trance, and spellcraft), most Witches know we didn’t seek this path out to be just like everyone else. These different ideas are creating conflict amid modern Pagans and Witches today and contributing to the growing divide between religionists and occultists at heart. This tension leads to amazing new art and ritual, drawing on the past to forge new traditions and ideas, but can also lead to Witch Wars, coven dissolution over petty differences, and the abandonment of long-term traditions and larger shared goals. A Witch is alone, and a Witch is never alone.

Sometimes I fear that our inability to navigate both sides of our crooked path will leave the Witch’s voice out of the conversation, the visionary plan, and the rebuild. When the edge is moved once again, we will most likely move to the next edge, the next boundary, but when all is embraced and accepted, when we approach the coagulation of the alchemist, what will we do? The magick and mystery must be woven as at least a thread in the greater societal tapestry as it has been in ancient and indigenous cultures. It is not necessary for the magick to be in opposition to the whole, but it must be in tension with a part of it. We collectively have simply forgotten what that looks like in the Western traditions, and we need to recreate it. Otherwise we will be sowing the seeds of a new world in astral dreams, which is deeply important work, but it will nonetheless be relying on others to do the real-world action of follow up, which doesn’t get our hands dirty. And all Witches learn, eventually, that we must get our hands dirty, or we will be ineffective. We must work for the change we desire.

For me, the key to moving forward is separating rebellion from revolution. While rebellion is rooted in opposition and resistance to a seemingly dominant power, revolution is a rotation, a turning of the wheel. While today we use it as a form of upheaval, particularly in the context of society, it means to roll back, often quickly and somewhat in opposition to the more archaic form of evolution, the gradual rolling forward of progress. Today we think of it primarily—and considering our current politics, strangely controversially—as a Darwinian, biological evolution. It’s in opposition to the anti-evolutionary, anti-science stance of the religious intelligent design theory. An occultist of any stripe wouldn’t deny intelligent design, but also wouldn’t include it as science. It is a philosophy and point of view, not a hard science.

In magick we are often envisioning the Golden Age, the time before and the greater cycles, rotations of time. Can the Witch’s spirit of revolution be the re-evolution, a return to the primordial self and another imagining of humanity and our relationship with the world? Then we explore, model, and share these new ways of being as possibilities for others in the revolution and turning of the world. Revolution can reimagine new paradigms and systems of groups, education, community, art, and religion.

The revolution is organic because anything that is forced and reactionary doesn’t have roots to survive. Things need to be rooted both in the patterns of the Earth and the consciousness of the heavens to thrive. For me, I’m less interested in resistance and more in withdrawing my energy from things that don’t work, building things that do work, and fulfilling my own vision of the world. But that is my part. Others will clear the way for new things to grow, dismantling the old. That is their part.

My hope is we won’t neglect the building while we are busy breaking failed systems down. Rather than convincing someone to not do something or not use a word, symbol, or idea, we should provide an alternative. The way things evolve organically is to provide new examples, words, symbols, ideas, paradigms, and ways of living. Model them. Adapt them as you learn better. And wait to see what catches on when you share them. Don’t push them as the one way, but as a way, and see what people choose. When you model things that work better, eventually people interested in living that way will find them. Edgewalkers are also the ones who need to model them in the world, so they can be found. Be yourself. Be your vision of the world, and allow yourself to be discovered as you are, building the world you wish to live in bit by bit.

Temple of Witchcraft