Read an Excerpt
The Advanced Witch and the Craft
In the beginning of your journey into the many worlds of Witchcraft, you probably looked upon the Witches who were teaching you with some measure of awe.
You were just embarking on a journey they had enjoyed time and again, and everything they said or did fascinated you. Like a sponge in the Sahara, you just couldn't soak up enough water from the well of knowledge they had to offer. You may even have embarrassed a few of your teachers with your adoration because their vast experience made them seem so competent, so knowledgeable, and so holy that you almost confused them with your own spiritual goals.
Then, to your ultimate confusion, you discovered that even the most elder among them still considered himself to be a humble student of the Craft, a servant of his patron deities, and a friend to the elements rather than their master. He might have had more experience than you, but he never claimed to be better. If he was the right kind of teacher, he refused to be idolized and he never talked down to you. No question you wanted to ask was too silly or so simple that he wouldn't give it serious thought and an honest reply-even if that reply was "I don't know."
He may have surprised you even more by referring to you as his teacher.What a head rush! It was as if the world had just turned inside out and everyone was now upside down. There was so much information to be filed in your mind, so many myths to hear, so many related areas to explore, so many exciting ideas to dissect, and you wanted to do them all at once. Yet your teacher took you one step at a time, not only sharing and teaching but also listening and learning from you as well.
Chances are about 99.999 percent that not all your first efforts succeeded, at least not at the lightning-fast pace you would have liked. Like the title of one well-known metaphysical book, you may have categorized your initial studies as an experiment in Rick Field's Carry Water, Chop Wood (J. P. Tarcher Publishing, 1985). You wanted to know when the "real" magick would begin, still ignorant of the fact that it was already in motion around you and within you. You were learning the essential lessons of patience and self-discipline, enjoying and appreciating the process of the Craft rather than valuing only the end results.
This was maddening to you at first, but if you stuck it out-and you apparently did if you're reading this-you discovered Witchcraft was a religion that required self-discipline and hard work from the individual, a coordination of body, mind, and spirit that can't be taught or learned overnight. Before any lessons would stick in your head, your wise teachers knew two things had to happen. Number one, the swelling of said head had to be brought under your control, and number two, you had to learn the hard lesson that Witchcraft is a process, a verb rather than a noun. It might have had a markable beginning, but it has no end. Those who can't learn to carry water, chop wood, cast circles, call quarters, evoke deities, etc., with patience and a love for the process itself would never become or remain a Witch.
In some cases, even that first year and a day was not enough to learn all the basic tenets, concepts, and practices at the journeyman's level, and definitely not long enough to master more than one or-if you were really gifted in a special area-two.You also discovered that, unlike the religion into which you were probably born, no single leader was going to step forward and do all the ritual and magickal work for you, or even explain to you after showing him your ten blistered fingers from wood chopping,
and your thirty-third trip to the well, what all the water and wood were for. If you still didn't get it, you might even have been asked to move the water and wood back where you found them, either literally or metaphorically.
Screwy religion, eh?
At this point you might have questioned your commitment to the Craft.Whether you were aware of it or not, it was expected that you would question just what you were getting yourself into. You were the only one who knew the answers to the questions your teachers were trying to provoke you to probe:Would you have the courage to stick out your entire initial training, or would you decide you knew more than your teachers and the deities and strike out on your own? Or would you realize that you wouldn't be doing all this for no purpose and stick with it even if everything didn't make sense yet? Were you sensing anything spiritual happening in your life, or were all you could see those ten blistered fingers? You might have begun to feel like a lackey, not a student, and suddenly your teachers didn't seem so idyllic anymore.
Things may be starting to seem a little less screwy now. The aforementioned frustrations were signs that you were learning, testing, thinking, feeling, and growing, whether you knew it or not. You were starting to catch on, but there was still much work to be done.
You might also have been frustrated to madness that lessons in magick were not as forthcoming as you'd like. You were anxious to cast spells, light candles, chant, drum until dawn, call out the elementals, and evoke deities. All manner of witchy things were itching to pop like flames from your anxious fingertips (blistered or not). Yet your teachers held this knowledge back until much later in your studies
Even though you were starting to catch on, there was one important semantic distinction you had to understand: the difference between wisdom and knowledge. They are not, never have been, nor ever will be the same animal, even though they can appear asidentical twins. They are the beginning of our transformation from form into spirit, governed by the cerebral element of air.Within air we learn to connect all parts of our minds to expand our thinking, helping us transfer our thoughts into magickal actions.
Just like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz had to figure out the answer to her own problem, you also had to gain the wisdom, not just the knowledge, that your answers were within you all the time. Finding and recognizing it is the hard part, but the process you take to get there is as important as any end result. You had to attain the wisdom that your commitment to learn was ongoing, the eternal learning curve of an ancient mystery faith.
Knowing is easy, wisdom is hard.
So you kept carrying water and chopping wood as, one by one, bright rays of enlightenment began illuminating your mind and soul.
Baby Steps to the Next Level
As an intermediate student of Witchcraft, you began to appreciate all the hard work your teachers insisted on having you do; well, maybe not the ten blistered fingers, but the other stuff was okay. All your efforts-not theirs, but yours-disciplined not only your body but also your mind and spirit, and your hours of meditation and visualization practice was now paying off. Your broader view of how all these pieces fit together as a whole was making you a stronger Witch, both spiritually and in your magick and ritual practices.
As Nin-Si-Ana, a longtime priestess friend of mine, is fond of saying, "Well, whop me upside the head with the great frying pan of enlightenment."
"And, by the way, bring me another bucket of water."
As you continued upon your chosen path, wisdom was replacing knowledge. You began to progress more rapidly. You could see the results of much of your training and so you read, and listened, and spent lots of time contemplating cosmology and eschatology to form your own theories from the thousands of others already hypothesized. You did the same with concepts of reincarnation, the web of being, the deities, and magick.
You blessed the foresight of your teachers for withholding lessons of specific skills until you were ready to handle them responsibly. You understood now that they weren't being dictatorial for the fun of it, but that all life is one and that they, too, would bear the karma your magick created, being as responsible for your errors in judgment as would you because they were showing you the way.
Folk magick is owned by the common people, and it always will be, but when it becomes part of a larger religious practice you must first be well grounded in that faith's ethics and ideology before you can handle the magick with wisdom. Then it not only becomes more powerful, it centers you in the web of being from where you can draw great power. It takes experience to turn knowledge into wisdom, and there's not one of us who can claim not to have singed a fingertip or two in the beginning.
Overall, as an intermediate, you were satisfied with your progress and, as those who have climbed the tree to knowledge before you, you yearned for more. Terms such as mage, elder, adept, sage, crone, avatar, wise woman, cunning man, master, third degree, priest, and priestess danced in your head. You knew they were synonymous with advanced practitioners of the Craft, and you desired to sort them out in your mind and find the path you needed to forge your way ahead.
Which Brings Us to Mystery #1. . .
You have learned by now that advanced Witchcraft is not synonymous with greater complexity, but with becoming a greater person. To do that requires both bold daring and humility.
Where'd that frying pan go? At this point you may feel like giving yourself a few whacks just to enjoy the process.
All Are Students, All Are Teachers
No one's definition of advancement in the Craft is going to be the same as anyone else's, as we shall soon see, but our ideas of the many things that comprise advanced practice may change, expand, or contract over time. This is good. It shows we're still thinking, still questioning, and still growing as both Witches and human beings.When that process stops, life stops.
Take a moment to grab a pencil and write out your definition of an advanced Witch, or what you see as advanced Craft practice. If you need some time to think about it, close this book for a day or two and do just that.Meditate. Look inward.What are you and how did you get here? Where do you want to be and how will you get there? What is an advanced Witch, and why are you, or do you, want to be one?
date of entry: ____________________
The Power Within
It's impossible to discuss the art of advanced Witchcraft without first trying to define the advanced Witch, and it's hard to define the advanced Witch without first defining Witchcraft. For those of you standing at the doorway that opens to advanced practice, you already know the word Witch is derived from the Old English wyk, meaning "to bend or shape," and the Anglo-Saxon wit, meaning "to possess wisdom."
You also know Witchcraft is a religion. If you didn't accept and practice that, then you would never have come this far. You'd either have lost interest or found that your Craft practices weren't always working right for you, and you would have left to seek another path to your life's goals.
Being an advanced Witch is not much different than being an advanced person, a wise soul who picks battles with care and knows when the truest display of her wisdom may best be evidenced by her silence. Some battles cannot be won, and there's no point trying. This is why you don't often see real Witches on daytime talk shows arguing moot points with people who are gathering kindling and tying nooses. The producers of these shows don't want to know the truth about what we are and what we do any more than the audience. They want a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out war between what they hope their slack-jawed, glaze-eyed viewers will see as a holy war between good and evil.
One of the hallmarks of the advanced Witch is when he reaches a point where he loses the urge to argue minute points ad infinitum with both outsiders and with other Witches. Take a look in the letters to the editor in most Pagan periodicals or in online chat rooms. The childish bickering and name-calling will turn your stomach. Some of the writers may sign themselves as "The Great Poobah Grand Guru and Fifth Degree High Priest of the Coven of the One Universal Truth," but the real truth is that they haven't passed all the tests required of the first-year novice. They may display some knowledge but they are clearly lacking in wisdom. They certainly have never developed the inner qualities it takes to be an advanced human being. Perhaps they don't want to. Perhaps the personal power trip is enough for them, or perhaps they just don't know any better. In any case, if one of these gurus reaches out for you, run fast and far.
A Witch's greatest strength can often be found in her silence. Remember that one of our "rules" for successful magick is the admonition to keep silent and not lessen the power by talking about it or risking someone else working to counter our desire. A Witch exudes a quiet power that commands respect because it does not stand out and scream, "Look at me, I am right."He feels no need to argue every point someone brings up, such as what attributes the color blue possesses.
An advanced Witch also refrains from making value judgments about the spiritual path others choose to take.We are all in our religions to reunite with our creator regardless of how we see him/her/them/it.We have no trouble stepping out of the limelight and retreating to a quiet corner all alone to commune with our deities while the rest of the world battles over the valid uses of a cinnamon stick or who is more powerful, Yahweh or Allah-two deities who are the same. We know both religions have validity, meaning they succeed in keeping in mind their higher purpose. Even worse, we all know no one wins these marathon arguments. All it does is distract us from the greater work we have chosen to do and places us further from, not nearer to, our creator(s).
It has often been said of Witchcraft that "The secret is that there is no secret," or that "The one universal truth is that there is no one universal truth." This mutability of "truth" is impossible for many people to grasp because it topples the foundation upon which their faith is built. If you crack that foundation, the whole building comes crumbling down, like those fabled walls of Jericho. The thought of being cut loose from a group mindset has frightened all of us at one time or another. Standing alone with your faith requires the deep courage of conviction.
What is the only advantage these mainstreamers have over you? No ten blistered fingers.
Witchcraft is the path of the self-responsible. That sounds simple enough but, as many of you already know, it can be a rough road to travel. Our rede of "As it harms none, do what you will" is terrifying to the Powers That Be, whether they are religious institutions, governments, or even that hyper-panicky soccer mom down the street who just knows that you're out to recruit her precious offspring as an agent of Satan. These people's condescending view of the world is born of ignorance, and people fear what they don't understand. Sometimes they are so set in their ways that just the thought of a new idea scares them witless. So they run to others for their marching orders-a way of life that does not allow for individuals to be responsible to themselves without a higher power forcing them to conform.
A Witch knows she doesn't need rules to behave in a way that is ethical and faithful to all beings. The rede to "harm none" and the threefold law that tells us everything we do comes back to us three times over are not threats hung over our heads as a minister holds out the abyss of eternal damnation to sinners.We simply know and accept as fact that we create our own destinies.
All things come in cycles-time, seasons, birth and death, spring and autumn. As a nature religion, we recognize that wheel of existence is with us at all times, ever turning. What we send out on that great wheel makes its way full circle back to us with not only our own energies magnified three times over but those of every other sentient creature in the universe as well. It may come quick or it may not return until another lifetime, but it will return, bringing with it not only all the energy we put onto it but all that it's collected from others along the way.
Humbling, isn't it, to realize how much power there is in just accepting personal responsibility? Sometimes I'm still afraid of making a wrong turn when I come to a fork in the road. Some Witches prefer to think of this wheel as a web woven by the original spinning Goddess, often personified as a spider woman.We are all joined in some way by the delicate threads she weaves.When one is broken or damaged, the entire web is weakened.
This delicate balance of karma is why many covens stay secret and why many advanced Witches leave covens and return to the solitary practice of their early years in the Craft.We know what we seek and we often realize we won't find it among others not at our level who look only for power or for a reason to drag us back down the evolutionary ladder.
Being a Witch means taking care of yourself. A priestess friend of mine once got so fed up with two years of playing nursemaid to her immature covenmates that she disbanded the group and told them not to come back until they grew opposable thumbs and learned to walk erect like the rest of us.
Facts, Truths, Realities, and 360-Degree Thinking
Being an advanced Witch requires more than knowing advanced magick-
that's the least of our worries. Advanced Witchcraft is a lifestyle, the way we look at the universe and how we see ourselves within it. In basic Witchcraft we are thought to perform our rites while standing between all worlds. As an advanced Witch we are expected to live in all of these worlds at once while still retaining some awareness of each, regardless of where our major focus might be at any given time.
These conundrums of time and space cause much debate in the Craft community, not because anyone is wholly right or wholly wrong about them but because they are often saying the same things in words that are inadequate to the task. As advanced Witches, we don't let ourselves be trampled on like doormats, and we know when it's time to walk away from a pointless confrontation.We pick our battles with care. We do not feel everyone has to know our individual opinions about what someone else thinks or does. We have learned to see all points of view, including the ones we want to dismiss outright, and see all possible harm which could arise from an action. You must view yourself as a vacuum that can be filled with the energies around you at will, with the ability to send out those energies to do whatever task you require of them.
Control of this energy is essential or you risk two unpleasant side effects:
1) You cannot control your intake of energy and you find yourself grounding- therefore wasting-much of it, or
2) It leaves you when it chooses, often in moments of anger, and then it goes toward goals that are not thought out or well chosen, and these will always come back to haunt you.
As you move into the advanced practices, you will realize that power can never be taken from others or given by others. Power comes from within or from the energies surrounding us in the four elements. It has often been described as having "power with" rather than "power over." A Witch enjoys her power, but it also humbles her.
Once this stage of self-concept is reached, there is no turning back. Once the mind expands to see all things at once, you can never return to your boxed-in thinking. You start to look at "truths" and "facts" and suddenly see the lies you've lived with since birth. The Powers That Be indoctrinate us at an early age, and few people at any time in their lives seek to question these.
We learn early on that power is just power, and that it can be drawn upon for good or evil. We do divinations and hope we are on the right path and that our thoughts and actions cause no harm, but we can never be sure. This is the precarious tightrope we walk: wanting to do good for ourselves and others, yet knowing we've sent a great deal of energy onto the wheel of being that will touch everyone and everything until it returns to us.
Another old magical adage that goes hand in hand with this is "The Witch who cannot kill cannot cure." This is not a commandment meant to give us free reign to practice what the seventeenth-century Witchhunters referred to as malificarum, or witching someone to death. It only refers to those energies around us. If we truly have the power to draw them into ourselves, then we have also taken on the awesome responsibility to use them wisely and ethically. By the time you reach the advanced stages of the Craft you should be long past the urge to do harm. In fact, finding creative ways to handle your anger, with or without magick, can be a spiritual challenge.
As you pass through this threshold into the advanced Craft, you will discover that your worldview can be disconcerting if you're one of those people who likes their theology tied up in a cute little box to be taken out only to reassure you that everything is as it should be.The safest assumption to keep in mind from here on is that
everything you know is wrong.
When a writer is asked to make changes it's termed a revision, literally meaning "to see again." This is what you have to do if you want to experience growth from knowledge to wisdom. Set aside your prior assumptions about everything and then take another look at everything from that 360-degree perspective and reexamine it. Don't take anything for granted: not gravity, not air, not your magickal tools, not where you stand, not your best friend, not who your parents are, not what you think you want or need, not your favorite piece of jewelry, not your job or school work, not your favorite pastime. Think about the deeper meanings of all these things and more, their place in your life and in your magick and your spirituality. Continuously question.Why do you keep the mementos you keep? Why is a certain rock given a place of honor on your altar? Why can't you get along with your best friend's boyfriend? When you astral project do you see yourself going to inner worlds or outer worlds? How do you feel about reincarnation? Just who are you and why?
These are not comfortable areas to examine.We humans tend to like things tied up in an orderly fashion, but once the threshold into the advanced Craft is crossed you can never return to mundane thinking again. Once you free your conscious, subconscious, and superconscious minds to work in harmony at a higher level, they will not sever their association and they may even seem to gang up on you when they think you're taking a wrong turn. Three against one can be maddening odds at times.
What happens if you decide there are two or more valid and true realities for something you either see or have or do?
(Flash the APPLAUSE sign, please.)
You've now arrived at the mindset needed to practice and live advanced Witchery. Acceptance of multiple realities is hard, especially if one of them is uncomfortable for you, but all realities are part of the web of existence and cannot be forever ignored.
Facing Facts in a Universe of Multiple Realities
Some of you will find this book disappointing in that it will not impart secrets to you to which some others are not privy. As advanced Witches have said for decades, "The secret is that there is no secret, and the only universal truth is that there is no universal truth."
So what about facts? Facts are facts, right? We can rely on those. True?
Some facts are immutable, but most are not. For example, we are taught that William the Conquer took over England in 1066. True to the English, yes, but only by their calendar, and even it underwent eleven years of changes in the eighteenth century. The calendars of China and the Middle East would differ with these accountings of time.
Always keep in mind that facts are simply a series of events or ideas upon which themajority of people have agreed to accept-no more and no less. This is why they can be so easily manipulated during political campaigns in which two opponents use the same "facts" to "prove" different conclusions. And when one faction digs a trench for its facts, defending them becomes an exercise in violence, even war, all performed for the pleasure of a supposed god of peace.
I can hear the battle cry of those who are fighting the expansion of their thinking already: "There must be some truth upon which I can rely!"
Maybe and maybe not.