by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
“I did start out in witchcraft to get boys, to tell you the truth.”
“Think I don’t know that?”
“What did you start out to get, Esme?”
Granny stopped, and looked up at the frosty sky and then down at the ground.
“Dunno,” she said at last. “Even, I suppose.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction
We all come to the Craft for different reasons. I’d like to say all of them are noble and good—spiritual evolution, service to the world, and devotion to the divine. But I’d be lying. Most of us first flirt with magick for the perception of power or control that we feel are lacking in our day-to-day life. While not my initial motivation, it certainly played a part. Once you have an understanding of how much your intention and energy influence things and the ritual technology to set things in motion, it’s easy to get a little drunk on that power and enter into illusions of superiority or invincibility. I know my first motives were skepticism. I got into it to prove a friend was acting crazy and had joined a cult, little realizing that someday later I’d be considered a cult leader myself. But of course I then used it for success at school and work, romance and sex, and generally getting what I wanted when I wanted it, sometimes to great success, other times to almost comical failure.
The spiritual evolution, the service and the devotion, were natural outgrowths of the world. Thankfully I learned from those who instilled in me both a strong sense of magickal technique and theory and a sense of belonging to something greater, a timeless esoteric order of which all Witches were a part and an understanding that we were a link in that greater chain. That order included the ancient temple priest/esses, as well as the village wise women, the mystical Christian ‘saints,’ the court magicians, the tribal shamans, the mountain top ascetics, and the hidden healers. Amid the love and money spells, we were also bearers of a secret lineage, bearers of a light. Ultimately our job was to alleviate suffering, our own and others, and bring awareness of the hidden to those who seek. I think in the modern so-called “de-bunking” of Wicca as an ancient religion and the accompanying renunciation of the Wiccan Rede, the spiritual transmission of this concept is lost. Perhaps because many older Witches poorly demonstrated it, the underlying ethos was not valued by those coming into it. Many new seekers pursue the power and the spells, but get neither the sense of mytho-historic connection to the past nor a responsibility to the present and future. The natural evolution to service and devotion is not entirely gone, but it is much less likely on the path of many new Witches today.
With only a linear interpretation of a crooked magickal path, we rob ourselves of mythopoetic truths. The heart of the mysteries is paradox. The Tibetan Buddhists can hold a mythic truth that Avalokiteśvara was here at the start of creation and the founding of Tibet as a nation while the academic Buddhist scholar can trace the influx of Buddhism from India and the first appearances of Avalokiteśvara. It is only in the Christian mythopoeia that story is held as absolute truth for the world, with current followers confusing the Bible with a history and science book. Not wishing to emulate that Christian model, Witches rob themselves of the magick of the two truths and the mystery of paradox. Witchcraft has an ancient lineage you are connected to, and Wicca is just one expression of that. All oak trees are connected, but they are not directly connected in a straight line. Acorns scatter and sprout when they are ready, often years later. New soils and environments bring new varieties and eventually new species. But they are all oaks.
A year ago, I wrote a piece called Right Motive and Mystic Will, where I argued that one cannot truly judge another’s motivation. Often poor initial motivations lead to great results or trigger a transformation in the individual. It is magick! And while I still agree, I still struggle. I am constantly challenged by those with seemingly wrong motivation, and I await, but cannot force, any transformation. People want power, prestige, and endorsement by those they feel have power and prestige. There have been times in the past where criminals (who later went to jail) used a photo opportunity with me to imply endorsement. I recently found out that another devious “leader” signed my name to a document of “elders” banishing someone from their tradition, someone I knew in passing for a cup of coffee or a meal, but not on any council together. Another former student dismissed from our organization continues to coyly imply my endorsement to her new students who are later stunned to find out she is not connected. While these are extreme examples for me over the years, smaller examples, known and unknown, happen to those of us doing the work on a daily basis.
I think back to some of the Eastern training in yoga. The idea of a corrupt intent leading to a bad result was far more emphasized, which might be why I didn’t fully commit to being a yogi and instead went with Witchcraft. But there is truth to the idea. We see it today in the legal sentencing of crimes—intent, while not everything, matters.
As magicians we know that how things start, the astrological moment chosen to initiate a project, influences the whole project. Western magick talks less about corrupt intent, though occult mythologies of the early 1900s persistently mention “dark lodges” seeking to sow evil. Read any Nazi occultism book and you’ll find the concept pretty easily, leading to the conspiracy theories of today.
In Witchcraft we talk about it less. The ideas of oath breakers and corruptions and betrayers of the coven are often personal and subjective, leading to Witch Wars that eventually spin out into ridiculous scenarios. They have all the drama of any other community dispute plus the extra fuel that comes from a grand sense of magickal power and purpose. In the beloved work of Terry Pratchett (quoted above), the Witches of Discworld speak of Witches who have “gone cackling” or in essence, gone “wrong.” From the novel Wintersmith:
“It wasn’t wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week….To a witch, ‘cackling’ didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable.”
The check for cackling was visiting with each other, sharing tea and news. Perhaps for not the same reasons yet with the same result, Witches do this today in our world outside of the storybook fantasy. It is far easier to go wrong when you start with wrong motivation. Wrong motivation can be fixed, but it takes a sense of history, community, and responsibility to the whole. Support and connection help foster that, but if you have the wrong motivation, you have to reach out as much or more than you expect others to reach to you, if you truly hope to change.
So I struggle about where to draw the line with wrong motivation. I’ve made mistakes and misjudgments. I’ve had strange things happen behind my back, not to be revealed until years later. Yet I don’t lose hope that the wrong can be transformed. We simply have to find out for ourselves where that line is when helping others.