If You Want to be a Witch: A Practical Introduction to the Craft

If You Want to be a Witch: A Practical Introduction to the Craft

by Edain McCoy

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Choosing the right book to learn about the Old Religion can be quite challenging. If You Want to Be a Witch is dedicated to those who want an easy-to-read, yet thorough, introduction to the Craft and its practices.

Filling in the gaps often found in other Wiccan guides, this primer explains the basic tenets of Witchcraft, detailing Wiccan history,See more details below


Choosing the right book to learn about the Old Religion can be quite challenging. If You Want to Be a Witch is dedicated to those who want an easy-to-read, yet thorough, introduction to the Craft and its practices.

Filling in the gaps often found in other Wiccan guides, this primer explains the basic tenets of Witchcraft, detailing Wiccan history, philosophy, common traditions, and modern-day ethics. Learn about cyclical time, Wiccan magick and festivals, and how to keep a Book of Shadows. Soon, you'll discover if Witchcraft is the right spiritual path for you and the next steps you can take in the learning process.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to self-initiated witch McCoy (Witta; 16 other related titles), "some researchers and pollsters have dubbed the Craft and its many expressions to be the fastest growing religious movement in the western world." Whether it is indeed the fastest-growing religion or not, many people will find this straightforward, clearly written primer a useful tool in helping them decide if this is their spiritual calling. McCoy makes clear from the outset that witchcraft is a religion whose "primary purpose is the worship of and the seeking of reunion with the being or beings who created all life." The first three chapters delineate the history of Wicca and are embedded with unexpected etymological nuggets, e.g. "mantra" is Sanskrit for "instrument of thought." Never stuffy or academic, the tone is suitable for teenagers and adults. Five chapters address material found in many other books: the sabbats and esbats, divination techniques, the place of ritual, etc. Chapter seven stresses ethical standards within the Craft and also emphasizes the need for mature personal responsibility. While containing a fair amount of commonly found information, this work distinguishes itself by continuing to ask readers if they want to be witches, and then providing a variety of touchstones to guide them to an honest answer. One hundred questions in a final chapter probe psychological, intellectual and moral dimensions for adherents to ponder. A solid appendix contains information on herbs and gemstones, astrological connections, supply sources, publications, online contacts and a glossary of terms. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

in the beginning . . .

What do you already know about Witchcraft-or perhaps
I should I ask, what do you think you already know? Why are you interested? There are easier ways to live your life than to be a part of any minority. What do you expect to get out of Witchcraft that makes the quest worth the struggle, and what do you expect to give back to it? Will you wear your religion with pride for all to see? Will you be an in-your-face militant, a sort of Witchy fundamentalist?
Will you quietly walk your spiritual path alone with your deities or seek contacts for friendship, exchange of information, and perhaps group or coven worship?

chapter one
in the beginning . . .
What all Witches have in common is that we follow a nature- or earth-based religion. However, we each tread a slightly different path in our search for our creator, and each of our lives is filled with varying needs and desires,
but, with faith and effort, we all hope to end up in the same place.

Before we begin, I want to prepare you for the flood of names and terms that accompanies the Craft. Witchcraft,
sometimes referred to as Wicca or Eclectic Wicca, comprises the indigenous religions of western Europe, making it collectively one of the oldest religions on the planet. A
Witch and a Wiccan may or may not be the same thing.
Wicca began as a specific Anglo-Welsh tradition in England around the turn of the twentieth century, but today it is a tag often attached to other traditions (Celtic Wicca,
Russian Wicca, etc.). There are two possible origins of the word “Witch,” one being the Old English wyk meaning “to shape” or “to bend,” and the other being the Anglo-Saxon
wit meaning “to possess knowledge or wisdom.” From
“wyk” come the Craft words “wicce” and also the modern
English word “wicked.” From the Anglo-Saxon root word
“wit,” we get the Craft words “wita” and “witta.” Like
Wicca, the terms “Wicce” and “Witta” have ceased to be spiritual descriptions in their own right, and it's not uncommon to see “Wicce” or “Witta” combined with other cultural labels to create an entirely new Pagan tradition.

It may surprise you to know that both men and woman are called Witches. The term “warlock” is thought to be an old Scottish term meaning “oath breaker” or “sorcerer.”
The word “warlock” is rarely, if ever, used as a label for a
Pagan man. In fact, many men find it insulting.

Two thousand years ago, Europeans did not define themselves as Witches or Wiccans. Even the word “Pagan,” derived from the Latin paganus, meaning “people of the earth,” wasn't one people applied to themselves. The labeling of various cultural Craft traditions as Wicca, Wicce,
Wita, Witta, or Wice is a twentieth-century addition to the
Craft. In the clan and tribal societies of old Europe, religion and spirituality were woven into the fabric of everyday life.

One might be said to possess wicca or have witta, meaning that he possessed a special skill or knowledge, but such a person would not label his religion that way. He would have been more likely to say he was a follower of a particular patron deity or was a priest of a deity within a specific cultural pantheon.

For the purposes of this book, I will be using the terms
“Witchcraft” and “Wicca” to refer to western European,
earth-based religions and those that came to North America with European immigrants. The word “Pagan” will be used to denote the follower of any earth- or nature-based spiritual system or religion. In other words, all Wiccans and Witches are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Witches or

Another word you might hear applied to a broad groups of Pagans is “Heathen.” Many Germanic traditions prefer this appellation instead of “Pagan.” The word simply means “of the heath” or “of the country.”

There are now hundreds of cultural traditions that have been revived, pieced together, and compiled by modern Pagans (sometimes called neo-Pagans). At some point, you will be exposed to many of them. They each have variations in their practices and beliefs, but they are all valid expressions of an ancient spirituality in the modern world. As long as the practitioners are harming no one, they deserve your respect and, in turn, they should give your spiritual path the same consideration.

what next?
Traditionally, it takes a year and a day of study before you can undergo an initiation and be called a Witch or Wiccan rather than a dedicant, apprentice, or student. At that time, you may do a self-initiation or be initiated by a coven or another Witch. If you display the proper knowledge one expects of someone who's put in a serious year and a day of work, no one will question your right to call yourself a Witch. However, if you come across followers of a specific tradition (such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian,
British Traditional, Seax-Wica, Steghería, Dianic, Faerie,
etc.) and you wish to be part of that tradition, you will have to learn its unique practices and be initiated into that sect. This extended study time is common in traditions ruled under a strict hierarchy (dedicant, first degree,
initiate, second degree, priest/ess, high priest or priestess,
third degree, elder, etc.). You will need to study with someone from within that tradition, learn its special rituals and tradition secrets, and then be initiated if you wish to be called a Witch of that tradition.

Many Witches, especially those who do not have or want ties to a coven or other group, tend to shun traditional labels. Instead, they will take their cultural heritage or their family's seasonal customs, and create their own private ways of ritual and worship. This is called solitary practice.

Eclectic Wicca, the most common type of Witchcraft practiced in North America, draws from the practices of many cultures and remains open to anyone who is interested in learning and working within its generous parameters.
Many eclectic Craft study circles are operating around the major cities of the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Canada. Look in alternative newspapers,
and on bulletin boards at health food stores, and always ask in an occult shop. Many times the shop will act as a go-between to help people link up with others who share a similar vision.

starting your own book of shadows
Before you begin to learn any more about Witchcraft, before you rush out to the occult shop, I encourage you to start compiling a Book of Shadows in a simple loose-leaf notebook. Witchcraft has no single holy book as many other religions do. Each coven or group of Witches who work together will have its own Book of Shadows, and each individual Witch within the coven and each solitary
Witch will have her own book.

As you read through this book, you should start recording in your Book of Shadows your impressions, your dreams,
what you like and don't like, and what you want and don't want. You can change your mind later about any aspect of the Craft, and you will-probably more than once-but for now this is your starting point.

After you're done with this book, your Book of Shadows will be your most useful and personal magick and ritual tool during your first years as a Witch. In it, you will record your thoughts, your spells, your potion recipes, festival recipes, ritual texts, dreams, divination results, and just about anything else you can think of as your integrate
Witchcraft into every aspect of your life. If you later join a coven or have one or more teachers, they may give you parts of their books to copy into yours. Or you may end up with two books, one for your personal use and another for use within your coven.

Your book doesn't have to be fancy, but if fancy appeals to you, there are beautiful journals and other attractive blank books available. I started out using them myself but found a loose-leaf notebook held more information, and it allowed me to reorganize pages as needed.

No one knows for sure how old this practice of keeping a
Book of Shadows is, but it could be that it was borrowed from ceremonial magick or other forms of wizardry that were practiced by the literate and educated upper classes during the Middle Ages. They called their spell books grimoires,
a word of uncertain etymology, but which is possibly an Old French term to describe the changing of one substance to another. Another theory is that it comes from an
Old Norman English word that may have been the origin of the modern English words “grammar” and “glamour.”
The name “Book of Shadows” comes from the concept that rituals and spells dwell in thoughtforms only, hiding in the shadows of our minds, rituals not fully formed until enacted by the Witch. Another theory states that, during the Witchhunting hysteria, Witches met in the dark,
skulking through shadows of the moon to their meeting places. The thoughtforms origin makes more sense because,
again, we're dealing with the lives and folk beliefs of poor and illiterate people.

Write it out
To get the most out of your book you must write it yourself.
Words written by you stick in your head more securely than words that are spoken by you or read to you. Writing is a slow process, and by writing things down, you'll find that concepts will clarify themselves and new questions will arise to guide your spiritual growth. If you're not going to get the most out of writing, then you'd better rethink your interest in Witchcraft because most of it is just plain old hard work and requires a substantial investment of time and personal energy to master.

Many modern Witches keep their Books of Shadows on computers, and this is fine as long as the Witch types the information himself. All this means is that photocopying and downloading information are not the ways to keep your book. Do your own typing or writing to get the most benefit from it.

challenging your mind
I picked up my first book on Witchcraft in 1972, but it was almost another full decade before I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to serious study. At that time covens, teachers,
and reliable books were scarce. Today, Wicca and other forms of Paganism are among the fastest growing spiritual movements in the world. Books, covens, teachers,
and other students are everywhere and Witches are present in every level of society.

Whether you teach yourself, work with other beginners,
have a study group with access to a teacher or teachers,
or have a whole teaching coven to help you, you will be challenged by the powers of the universe and by your
God and Goddess as you progress toward the end of your year and a day. You will be expected to do much reading
-not just of Craft books, but of astronomy, astrology,
mythology, physics, and botany. You will learn to expand your thinking to include multiple realities, omnipresent time, and the fact that many paths and ideas can lead us to reunion with our creator or creators, which is the ultimate purpose of any religion.

You will run into lots of other Pagans along the way,
some of whom you will like and others you won't. This is because we're not our religion; we're just people, and that means we're not perfect. This is also the reason some covens hum with high energy and other just lie around doing nothing. Some Witches who've been through these immature rumbles often leave for another coven or for solitary practice. If you pick up Pagan magazines, you will often hear all this nonspiritual teeth-gnashing called a
Witch War or, my favorite, Witchcrap. Unfortunately, no religion has found a way to keep its zealots under control.
Those who practice with us but naysay every point create a chasm within good covens by turning their focuses on infighting and pointless arguments.

the student witch
A good Witch will always remember that, for the rest of his life, long after that first year and a day is complete, he will still be a student. We are all always students and all always teachers. Even after more than twenty years in the
Craft, I learn new things all the time, often from newcomers.
This is another illustration of the wheel of existence on which we ride through time and space. Nothing is linear,
everything is a circular, coming to us, going from us,
and returning to us again.

As you study Witchcraft, read with a critical eye for things you like and things you don't like and for things that don't strike you as accurate. This should be done whenever you read a Craft book or when discussing a book's merits with others. I've made many mistakes by accepting things I was told early on without using my powers of reasoning. Blind faith is disastrous in a religion called the Craft of the Wise. I've found blatant mistakes in many
Craft books, even my own. Live and learn.

To be the best Witch you can be, resolve to purge your mind of any and all images Hollywood has shown you,
then hop on your inner broomstick and ride with me into the world of the moon, the sun, and magickal living. Only by experiencing knowledge can it become wisdom and be of any use to us spiritually. Witchcraft is a lifelong commitment
-not just to a religion but to a way of living in harmony with all other beings. The learning and teaching process is another one of our cycles that never ends. How high you fly is up to you. Discover your needs, test your personal powers, seek out your patron deities, and dig in the dirt that is the Great Mother who gave you life, for only then will you know for sure if you want to be a Witch.

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