Q&A With TRLT: Part 3, Sorcery

The Road Less Traveled gave me quite a compliment in recognizing the efforts I make to be evenhanded about my opinions. I am not God, not even a Bad God, therefore I can only speak to my human beliefs and my personal preferences. I’ve learned that, unfortunately, there are those who do not respect the convictions of others – surprisingly, even among Pagans. And I do make a real effort. Perhaps it is my legal background but I learned early on that it’s better to think things through before committing them to writing. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying well, no?

Thanks for the very real kudos.

Let me begin by saying that not all folks who consider themselves Witches adhere to ritual structures as found in Wicca – or any structures at all. As I pointed out in “Part I,” not all Witches are Wiccans. And as I pointed out in “Wannabethans,” there are plenty of Witches who unknowingly use Wiccan practices. However, there are plenty of Witches who fly by the seat of their broomsticks. No circle, no quarters, no nothin’. They are still Witches. Further, there are some Witches who do not “practice Magic” at all. They consider themselves spiritualists, philosophers, herbalists, healers, and folks who observe the cycles of the earth. Sometimes these people are sensitives, mystics, and prophets – but that’s not a “requirement.”

Like I said in my reply to your second set of questions:

My view [of nonWiccan Witches] is that there are potentially as many ways of practicing as there are practitioners. . . . I actually kinda hate it that the only amalgamated definition we have for non-Wiccan Witchcraft is a definition based in what it is not: non-Wiccan. From a Lacanian perspective, this is disempowering – “lack.” If you have another term, I’d love to hear it! I’d be a big fan of coming up with a new, holistic, empowering term. Sadly, Traditional Witchcraft and British Witchcraft connote Gardnerian Wicca.

So, given all that, I would say seiðr is not a European folk magic in that it is a sort of sorcery. . . .

But what is the difference between Sorcery and Witchcraft, you ask? So much that there is an ongoing discussion that ranges from A to Z and back again. There are volumes of books, article, and blogs dedicated to the subject(s). So, I know you will understand that I am just hitting the high-points here. The nuances are so varied that I can’t possibly include them all in one post, but will make some attempt to point them out in later posts if there’s an interest. Deal?

Before I throw my hat in the ring, here are a few outside sources for you. I wouldn’t want you to just take my word for it!

  • I disagree with about half of this WitchVox article – the connotations of half of it at least – but feel it’s worth looking at anyway.
  • Then there’s this forum repost of Silver Ravenwolf’s perception of High/Low Magic.
  • In this thread, SingingBear argues that, “The real names should be Ceremonial and Earth Magic not High and Low Magic.” I think that’s a better delineation; it avoids the misunderstanding that there is a value judgment involved. But, like I mentioned earlier – I don’t remember where, Sorcerers can be, admittedly, imperious. I tend to like that about us.
  • This post addresses the possible confusion between “Low Magic” and “Dark Magic” or “Black Magic,” a subject I may end up covering in a post sooner rather than later.

To me it seems to be a bit like this:

I’ll repeat some of what I said in “High Magic Versus Low Magic, What’s the Difference?” (Bear in mind that “High” and “Low” are not value judgments. You might say it has a little to do with “astrological” and “terrestrial,” respectively.) Low Magic is a pretty broad set of practices and philosophies which do not require specific ceremony and ritual. Low Magic does not require intensive study or understanding of ancient traditions. Low magic is what you might call “every day magic.” It’s “practical magic.” You do this kind of magic to practical, terrestrial ends. Low Magic frequently requires nothing more than the individual’s will and maybe a handful of materials. More importantly, Low Magic typically seeks to create “spells” that offer tangible/terrestrial/material benefit to the personal/earthly self. This includes protection spells, money drawing spells, spells to encourage good luck, and love spells. This is where Witchcraft typically corresponds.

High Magic, on the other hand, includes a set of very exacting practices which require specific tools, including  – often exotic – ingredients and astrological timing; language use, not always English – hell, not always terrestrial languages; and even “real estate.” Consider the requirements of the Abramelin Operation – no kidding Crowley bought a house in, no shite, Loch Ness, Scotland.[1] High Magic is far more formal and utterly saturated with ancient and esoteric traditions: the Hermetic Arts, Alchemy, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, and Angelic Evocation.[2] These require a great deal of ritual and ceremony. Often, operations take a very long time: days, months, up to a year, and longer. John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth – and the original 007, and his sidekick, Edward Kelley took many years to complete the “Angelic Reception” of what is now referred to as Enochian. If you don’t know about these characters and are interested in Sorcery, I advise you start here. Though Dee’s is one of the most complex systems, it is worth the time and effort spent in studying his process.

Quite possibly the greatest difference is purpose. The goal of High Magic in the Western tradition is to have knowledge and communication with the Magician/Sorcerer’s personal agathodemon or Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), the embodiment of one’s truest divine nature. High Magic also differentiates itself from Low Magic in that High Magic is generally has a more intangible goal. It is geared toward nothing more than self-enrichment and enlightenment. “Being closer to ‘God’.” It is intended to have the goal of communication with “higher” entities (Divinities, Spirits, Angels, etc.) in order to bring one’s self into accord with Divine Will.[3] But, of course, it’s even more complicated than that – I assure you.

Further, Sorcery or High Magic is not a religion. It is a set off praxes and can (like Hoodoo, I suppose) be practiced alongside a religion. There are Judeo-Christian Sorceries, Islamic Sorceries, Chinese Traditional Religious Sorceries, etc. It is from these arts that concepts such as casting a circle, invoking deities, and evoking spirits is adopted liberally by “New Age” practice.

This leads me back around to another aspect of Low Magic. Low Magic, aside from “Craft-Work,” also encompasses the highly ritualized communication with “lower” entities. Yes, I am talking about demons. But I am not talking about worshiping demons, I am talking about wrangling them into a cooperative state and putting them to work. Look up the legend of King Solomon. (Here’s one source.)

I don’t want to get into Goetia or demonic evocation too much in this post since I could go on for pages and pages. But, in a nutshell, my idea of a demon is a “disorganized” entity – not necessarily evil but certainly capable of deception and unwarranted destruction that could, to a human perception, be interpreted as evil. For those of you who have no experience with demonic evocation, the best metaphor I can use is this: imagine a demon as a feral three year old on a party-party-sugar high. Left to its own devices, it will be destructive and loud and bothersome. Calm it down and give it something constructive to do and you’ll have better luck. Further, for those of you who still have Christian remnants of “demons” hiding under your metaphorical beds, imagine this: If we believe in an omnipresent deity, and I do, then there is nowhere where God is not. So, guess what? If there is a hell, however you define it, God is there too. If we believe in an omnipotent deity, and I do, then there is nothing beyond God’s use. If there are demons, however you define them, they can be put to divine use.

Yes, it’s more complicated than that.

Because I would be remiss in this discussion if I were not to include a word or two from Lon Milo DuQuette, here is a page from Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. 10-11)[4]:

So what is the source of this power? For me, it seems that some of the power comes from the intercessory “spirit” or “entity,” some from the Sorcerer, some from the ritual itself. But given that all of those parties derive power from “The Almighty Creator,” that’s from where all of the power ultimately comes. But, alas, I am not divine and can only relay my perception. I believe in an all-God because that’s how I’ve experienced my life and how I’ve learned to articulate those experiences. I can imagine that there are others with entirely different perceptions and ways of formulating those perceptions.

Finally, you asked if, as Maman Lee stated would happen to a hoodoo, can power be divinely revoked from a Sorcerer or Magician?

I’m going with, “Yes.”

For three reasons.

If I believe that God is all-powerful, and I do, then it stands to reckon that God has the authority to revoke any and all talents given to a human.

Also, there are ways of granting a Magus or Witch precisely what s/he asks for but doing it in such a way that it utterly destroys his/her life. Whereas the “Witch’s Duh” is a shortfall in the spellwork itself, I believe that there are other kinds of divine retribution. Be careful what you want – it might want you back, sort of thing. Getting what we want instead of getting what’s “good” for us is often the best cosmic punishment.

Further, if the architect of the ritual believes that s/he has trespassed, s/he will place her/himself in a psychological state where no Magic is possible. i.e. We can “psych ourselves out.” In this case, I still see it as God revoking power from the practitioner. In my opinion, this is a case where The Creator has “built in” a default auto-destruct mechanism. This idea deserves a post of its own. Someday.

There is so much more to it all. I can’t hope to cover everything there is to cover in this meager blog, but I hope that I have pointed you in a direction to pursue your own truth.

Well, that was a fun foray into comparative practices!

Blessings, Quarks, and 93,

The Bad Witch


[1] He also bought an “Abbey” in Sicily – from which Benito Mussolini’s government eventually chucked him in 1923. I mean when Mussolini kicks you out of Sicily, you’re not doing a low-prep “spell” for personal gain.

[2] This is just to speak to Western systems. There are Middle Eastern (aside from Jewish) and Far Eastern systems of which I know very, very little.

[3] Yes, of course, there are secondary and tertiary benefits to this aspiration.

[4] I used to set my clock by DuQuette. I don’t anymore. But this section – this I still like.

Q&A With The Road Less Traveled: Part I

This one is for The Road Less Traveled who posed some questions after my “Interview With Maman Lee.” I’m going to have to break this down a bit since no one really wants to read an article length blog post! Plus, I rekon having this in my scholarly voice instead of the Badness you’ve all grown to know and love, will make the ride a little different road.

Let me take a minute up front to thank you for the intricately detailed and elegant set of questions you’ve posed for me. I have been modestly berating myself for working more on “fun” projects then getting to the framework of my research (I have over 27,000 words of the “innards” but none of the (sometimes tedious to develop) super-structure. Thanks to your prod in the right direction, I have churned out these posts and about 30 more pages of a much-needed exoskeleton, thereby freeing me up to dedicate the weekend to research. Being encouraged by this headway has renewed my attentiveness to the project. So, thanks.

Bear in mind that I am not Haitian, nor am I descended from Haitians; I am not a Voodooist (initiated or otherwise). I make no claims to proficiency, expertise, or secret knowledge. But I will do my best to make a response based in logic and research. Also bear in mind that in our fields there are varying opinions, to say the least. The only reason I venture to address these topics is because I was asked to, not because I feel a need to create some sort of standardization among those opinions. What follows is simply my scholarly “take” on the questions at hand.

For instance, some folks lump Witchcraft and Wicca together and have good reasons for doing so. Ethan Doyle White, for one, argues that because of “common use,” we should not differentiate between initiates of Traditional Wicca and eclectic practitioners who refer to their practices as “Wiccan” (“The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History and Pagan Politics”. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 12 (2): Feb. 2011, 185–207). I happen to disagree. This does not diminish White’s claims or his argument. It simply means that, as a scholar, I can accept his argument as valuable while still holding to my own rationale.

Like my daddy says, “Just ‘cuz them beans give me gas don’t mean no one should eat’em.”

OK, maybe it’s not just like that but still.

This segues well into the first set of questions.

The first half of the first question TRLT asks is:

What exactly is the main difference between European Witchcraft, sorcery, and Hoodoo? Aren’t they all different forms of magic? Is there difference simply the way people who practice these different systems do things?

This is laden with many questions so let me parse them out as best I can. (I’ll address the second half of that question and questions 2-3 as we go along this week. Maybe even ending on a PBP post – what is it this week? Still R?)

As for the difference between European Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Hoodoo, there is a basic difference in cultural development. First, I must address the multifold differences in European Witchcraft alone. Not only are there differences in folk-ways across the continent, there is a distinct difference between folk magics and Wiccan-based crafts. European Witchcraft is not a homogenous model. In itself, the multifaceted set of traditions contains a number of divergent cultures. Both Norway and Italy are in Europe, yet the Vǫlur’s practice of seiðr, in the form or galdr and other shamanic practices is very different from the folk magics of, say, Sardinia. Further, today’s vala and gyda will have very different practices (based on access, technology, laws, and cultural necessity) than their ancient ancestors. What’s more, practices in Italy itself can vary greatly from the mainland to the islands.

As for the variances of traditions based on Wicca, consider Stregheria (Italy). While I have not studied Grimassi’s tradition[1] (1970s) in detail, I know that it is founded on Gardnarian paradigms. Though  Leo Martello was the first recognized author to claim an Italian “family tradition” of Witchcraft (Witchcraft: The Old Religion. 1970), Grimassi popularized the “Aradian Tradition,” inspired by English author, Charles Leland’s,  Aradia, Gospel of the Witches (1899), a literary translation of Italian folklore combined with Leland’s characteristic narrative style. Here, Leland blends Roman mythoi with Middle-Eastern apologues to create a foundation for Mediterranean system – which was then adopted as a Celtic underpinning.

Likewise Buckland’s reimagination of Pictish Craft.[2] Because we have little or nothing left of the insulated Pictish people, subjects of cultural absorption and genocide and without an extensive written culture, we have no way of authenticating the recovery of their craft. However, I am of the mind that there is no historical evidence to believe that PectiWita and Gardnerian Wicca (considering the relentless Roman invasions and ensuing cultural changes) would have anything in common at all.

The opinion one has about “European Witchcraft,” it seems to me, hinges upon one’s opinion of Gardnerian British Traditional Witchcraft and the ensuing conglomeration of neo-Pagan Reconstruction movements. Those who agree that Gardnerian Wicca, and those that emulated it, are derived from uninterrupted (or even authentically recovered) customs, methods, and mythologies reaching back to antiquity will be of a mind that is very different from the opinion of those who believe that Gardner borrowed  heavily from Crowley and The Golden Dawn to recreate a manufactured tradition (perhaps driven by his desire to have extramarital sex). Of course, I don’t want to represent a falsehood here – there are opinions in between.[3]

Like mine.

I’ve mentioned a few in these posts: (“It Must Be. . .Wikipedia,” “ Dead Horses . . .,” and “Wannabethans” – likely others as well).

And then again, there is a sizable difference between Wicca as an initiatory system and Wicca as an eclectic set of practices. Initiatory Wicca, limited to a select number of vetted lineages, is not even the same as Wicca which does not have its foundation in one of these lines. Also see here.

It’s a lot like apostolic succession for the Papacy.

Of course, we should recognize solitaries and eclectics who choose to refer to their practice as “Wiccan” as legitimate. Some do not. It’s a matter of personal politics. The Bad Witch doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

Of course, there’s the possibility that there is a tradition surviving in Europe that has nothing to do with mainstream “Traditional Witchcraft.” If they exist aside from Teutonic Shamanism, I don’t know anything about them and cannot give you any information.

Being The Bad Gydia, I can tell you that the rituals of seiðr have little or nothing in common with Wicca when it comes to ritual. What is common among them is repetition (of musical chanting of a sort and drumming) to achieve the states of altered consciousness wherein Magic is performed. Other than that, most of the things practiced in contemporary Heathenism are derived from Wicca in effort to be “friendly,” not because they are authentic to Germanic practices.

My opinions regarding these concessions is beside the point.

So to answer whether the “difference [is] simply [in] the way people who practice these different systems do things,” I would say, “yes” and “no.”

The way things are done is certainly different; but nothing I would call simple. The way things are done speaks not just to a practical difference, but to a difference in philosophy.

For instance, in Wicca (and Western European Sorcery) the wand and the athame are decidedly phallic. In many Western Esoteric traditions, the phallus is venerated as the source of creative power.[4] The “wand-carrier” or völva is, by definition, a woman. As a matter of fact, it was expressly forbidden for Norsemen to “assume” female magical powers. This is not to say that they could not practice magic at all, which eventually became the case after the influx of Christianity (it’s very complicated), but that men were forbidden to perform magic. For this reason, I have to believe that the “imagination” of the “source of power for their workings” is different.

In my panentheistic belief system, all power comes from “God” or “The Almighty” or “The Creator” or whatever one calls the supreme and eternal animating force of the cosmos. The issue remains that, even if we all believe this tenet, we may all define this divine presence differently. Exactly where the source of power is derived is above my pay grade.

Alas, I am only qualified to speak to my own belief.

There’s so much more to come.

B, Q, 93 for now – TBW


[1] Grimassi, Raven. The Book of the Holy Strega (1981) and Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, previously titled Ways of the Strega (1994). Consider also Stregheria.com – “The Home of Authentic Italian Witchcraft.”

[2] Buckland, Raymond. Scottish Witchcraft: The History & Magick of the Picts. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1991.

[3] If you are interested in more information, you might look at this one that argues that all of Gardner’s credentials are fabricated. Or this one that offers around 80 (I quit counting) other articles that criticize Wicca, Gardner, and Wiccan Witches – accompanied by  the claim that too many Wiccan initiates censor any and all criticism of their movement. And then there’s this guy (who, I openly admit, I did not watch yet but plan to) who has a four part YouTube criticism of Wicca. While most of the reviewers use unnecessarily crude language, I do not suggest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[4] It happens to be one of my main projects to use Norse traditions to recover a system of female power not based in phallic influence (or the “lack” thereof).

Morning Dream Journals are a Drag

Though there are a plethora of magickal books that my students accumulate, I recommend two to begin: the dream journal and the study journal.

Those of us who keep a dream journal know that when we begin tapping into our subconscious, we activate our dream-states. I see recording our dreams as a validation of our subconscious. If our subconscious is *trying* to communicate with our conscious mind, this is a great way of saying, “I’m listening.”

In those first few minutes when we return to consciousness, it’s important to jot down as much as we can remember. Often in the recording, more memories and details come to the surface.

But that’s such a drag first thing in the morning.

I am not a morning witch, I like a little coffee before I acknowledge the sun – or my husband. I have premature arthritis, so this means that trying to hold a pen first thing in the morning is torture. Not to mention, trying to read the resulting penmanship is added torment.

Technology is lovely here. I keep my phone next to my bed as an alarm – many people do. As many phones also have voice recorders, it is handy to grab the phone and fumble with the recorder and make a voice record of my dreams. Then, once a month, I dedicate a day to writing up my dream records. This way, I force myself to revisit the dreams, find connections between them, and find connections between my waking life and my dreaming life.

Secondly, the working journal. A lot of people call these grimories or books of shadows. I don’t. And I don’t encourage newbies to think of this journal the same way they will come to think of those books later. A grimore is an instruction book – this is where, later in studies, scholars will write out the construction of rituals (moon phase, planetary confluences and times, and the ritual itself). For me, a book of shadows is a work of art – a collection of spells that have proven effective and rituals that have been completed are recorded and saved for posterity.

This note if for those students early in their studies:

Right now, you are just “keeping notes.” What you are recording now are not the finished products that you will want to record in a Book of Shadows. And they are not the kind of magickal workings you will want to record in a grimore. Think of it as “class notes.” I recommend a plain, blank book that appeals to you. A spiral notebook, a legal pad, whatever. I think it’s important not to use something that looks too special. Somehow when we write in a “fancy” book, we feel the need for our thoughts and words to be “worthy” of it’s fanciness. This is tantamount to self-sabotage. Often our gut feelings are not fancy, but they are our best source of information. We should write them down, no matter how plain they seem. So, a plain book is better.

I use a moleskin journal – only because I am gifted these so often by both magickal and secular students. It’s funny. I received my first one from a secular graduate student. I used it. My secular undergraduate students saw me write in it and at the end of that semester, I was gifted three more. Now, I have one for each of my secular courses, one for my secular research, one for Pagan teaching, and one for Occult studies. Inevitably, at the end of a particularly good semester, students (secular and religious alike) who are particularly moved by course content will give me a new moleskin journal, because they see I like them. I seems right to me – to record the information to be disseminated to my next batch of students in a book given me by their predecessors.

Also (and I steal this piece of advice, unabashedly, from a fellow Pagan teacher), do not erase from your journal. You may single-line cross-out but do not blacken-out your thoughts. You may need to go back and read that thing which you felt the need to censor.

One of my “rules,” if you will, is not to erase the ink from a learning journal, as in doing so one erases the learning that comes from investigation. Rather, we all work to accept our past, however scarred or haunted, in order to move forward. Denial doesn’t work for me. It smacks of self-hatred and stagnation. . . .  We cannot erase these moments. We must give them the nod. After all, they brought us here. 

My “day job” requires my students to expect three hours of homework for each hour in the classroom. How many of us would pursue occult studies if our first mentor required so much as six hours a week? Certainly, I spend that much time and more now – but I never would have then.

In the beginning, I ask that students spend a “regular” amount of time with their journals. As long as it’s part of a routine, getting in the habit of a few minutes a day beats waiting until you have a block of time, in my opinion. As we busy people know, those blocks never come. If all a beginner can afford is 15-30 minutes, as long as those few minutes occur at a regular interval, the time can be beneficial. Eventually, students want to increase that block of time. It’s easier to increase 20 minutes to 40 minutes than it is to come up with 40 minutes, right?

I also recommend a particular time for ritual.[1] Whether it’s the simple observance of  sabbats (holidays) and esbats (moon phases), or whether you set aside a particular time of each solar week (Monday seems best for angelic work). Ritual can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how organized you are and how elaborate you want to get. A pragmatic earth-work can take as little as 20 minutes whereas the Armageddon inducing Abremelin takes six months!

Happy journaling.

Blessings, Quarks, and 93!

TBW

[1] Just a note, ritual is not necessarily “casting.” Sure you are raising energy, but I see ritual as more “articulation” where I see casting as “working” with that energy to manifest change rather than just acknowledging and appreciating it (as in ritual). I instruct that my students do not cast until they have a little more information under their belts.