Where Does It Fit?

Photo by Nathan J Hilton via Pexels

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

Is everything Witchcraft? Most would say no, because if everything is Witchcraft, then really nothing is Witchcraft. Yet contemporary Witchcraft appears to be one of the most inclusive spiritual paradigms of people, of philosophies, and of practices. Many consider Witchcraft to be an orientation to the world, or a way of life. We talk about it in terms of mysticism, practice, art, science, and even religion, but much like the “religions” of indigenous people, nothing is truly secular, so the entire way of life is religious. There is no separation between secular and sacred. All things are spiritual.

I do, however, think there is a distinct spirit to Witchcraft, a consciousness or Witch Soul if you will, a term that has grown more and more popular in my own Temple of Witchcraft community. Just as mystical Christians talk about Christ Consciousness, and the mindfulness of Buddha is known as Buddha Nature, and we all have the potential to manifest these things, they are not quite the same. The quality, character, and focus of the Witch Soul is quite different from Christ Consciousness, though a Witch might see the historic figure of Christ or Buddha as a type of magician in their own right.

I think one of the modern community errors is that in our identity as Witch, we believe the assumption that anything that interests us is Witchcraft. I am a Witch; therefore whatever I’m talking about as a spiritual practice is Witchcraft. I am not sure if that is true, and the embracing of the idea has given rise to the loss of some classic Witch lore and teachings, from traditional Wicca and even the early stages of solitary eclectic Wicca to the realms of Trad Craft and classic occultism. It calls to mind the classic line from Potter Stewart (1915–1985), an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1958 to 1981, attempting to define obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” While Witches do argue over what is or isn’t Witchcraft, I know that I know it when I experience it. Like calls to like, and at this stage of my experience, I can encounter what is or isn’t Witch to me, even if the expression is radically different from my own expression of the Witch Soul. This brings me peace and has allowed me friendships across many lines that would be hard for others to cross.

Yet my own definition of Witch and Witchcraft is pretty broad. Witch has become a vessel to help me contain all my magickal experiences. What? Didn’t I just say that it was a modern error to assume anything we are interested in is automatically Witchcraft because we are Witches? I did. The secret is digestion.

When we digest an experience, live a philosophy, or create with an artistic influence, we integrate it into our own selves, and therefore the Witch Soul. When we don’t digest it, we are simply adding things on top without any understanding. Worst yet is when we try to completely redefine it for others. My Witchcraft is an expression of the perennial tradition, but not “the” expression of it for all. Many of my expressions of Craft are drawn from other traditions of wisdom, as we all do. Modern Witchcraft is, as Maxine Sanders so eloquently told me once, a “scavenger religion.” From my perspective anything non-dogmatic has a potential place through the experience of digestion. But this digestion takes time to assimilate and then to be shared to create strands of new traditions. I try to distinguish my experience—and our community—from the greater body of Witchcraft and avoid declaring anything we do specifically is Witchcraft for all.

I had a teacher in the Temple who studies a lot of Vedanta (a Hindu or Vedic philosophy) recently ask me if there was any place for non-dualism in the Temple of Witchcraft. Does it fit with what we are doing, or not? If so, where does it fit?

I suggested not thinking of us as having a particularly rigid theology, but instead an occult philosophy where everything non-dogmatic has a potential place through experience. If he has an interest in the paradigm of non-dualism and has experienced it, then it becomes his task, if desired, to digest and integrate it into his Witchcraft, and if helpful, share it with others. It becomes non-dualism not from a strict Vedanta, or Hindu, perspective, but from the Witch’s perspective.

Things that are non-dogmatic can be digested, but are usually fundamentally changed in the process. For an expression of the perennial tradition, someone looking at Sufi dance, mantra, and medicine could have a place in what we do. Someone looking at the dogmatic edict that there is no god but Allah and all other gods are false would not, as it doesn’t fit the perennial mindset of the timeless universal tradition. Someone exploring how Allah is a form of YHVH, which is a form of many other creative source entities, and looking into Middle Eastern myths of Djinn, magick, and healing commanded in Allah’s name might fit. It can take time, experimentation, and mistakes to see what will integrate and what won’t integrate. A Sufi, or Muslim, can identify with the perennial tradition as a Muslim, as long as their dedication and belief in the form of the divine under the name Allah doesn’t prevent them from seeing that others will find the same divine in others forms and names.

Likewise, someone asked, “What is your policy on Mary Magdalene?” I replied that I don’t have a policy on Mary Magdalene. To which they countered, “No, what is your official stance? Or the Temple of Witchcraft’s official stance?”

We don’t have one on Mary Magdalene, or for that matter, an official policy on most things, leaving the act of having an opinion on things to our individual members, who can then take action as they see fit.

While we are a community, we are primarily a school for the soul and not a social action committee. This potential student was invested in Mary Magdalene’s story and image, and our answer would determine if she could or couldn’t study with us. Likewise, my unofficial answer is if she studies, integrates as a Witch, and has experiences with Mary Magdalene and can digest and integrate them into her Witchcraft, then that becomes her task. As a community we don’t particularly venerate or malign Mary Magdalene, or any other Mary, but her practice as a Witch is up to her. If a new tradition grows over time, then it grows over time, but I would also urge the awareness that who you are attracted to and attached to before training in magick might not be who you are drawn to during the process. Magick changes you, even in ways you think are fundamental and unchangeable. Are you open to the presence of the divine feminine showing up in a form other than Mary Magdalene? If not, we are probably not a good match for you as a school, as the teaching often comes from sources unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to us, but when we pursue them, the result can be deeply magickal.

Though I have created a lot of the community foundation in the Temple of Witchcraft, I am not the arbiter of theology, philosophy, or culture. If an initiate finds a place of non-dualism in their practice, then it’s a part of the Temple. If an initiate finds a place for Mary Magdalene in their practice, then it’s a part of the Temple. How that fits in the perennial tradition and is expressed is up to them. Whether or not that gets shared with others and becomes something beyond them depends on what and how they share and how others receive it. My work has been sharing things important to me, synthesizing it in the framework of my practice as a Witch, and making art and classes that transmit those ideas to others. What they then do with it is up to them. Rather than wonder if something has a place here, consider if something has a place in your work, and if it does, can you express it to yourself, others, and the world? How does it fit for you, and when you share it, how does it fit for others?

Things that don’t fit, that can’t be digested, will fall away eventually. When elders and experienced Witches get upset with the changes new generations make without an understanding of the old—something I often feel myself—we have to embrace this. What gets integrated will stay after the current wave of popularity ebbs. What doesn’t fit falls away. Keep true to what is important to you. Keep growing and experiencing, and the Witch Soul will take care of itself and you, as you take care of the Witch Soul.

Temple of Witchcraft