And now, all you witches settle in for a satisfying run-up to Halloween — 8 delightful days of unabashed and uncensored exploration of witchcraft, through the eyes of Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft.
To start us off, Sarah Lawless shares her thoughts on topics found in the Introduction.
Sarah Lawless, known to most of us as The Witch of Forest Grove, is a Pacific Northwest spaewife, author, artist and wort crafter. Her art has appeared in Hex Magazine and Hoofprints in the Wildwood, The Cauldron, and Witches & Pagans and her crafting is currently offered up at Stang and Cauldron.
For your reading ease, bits from Mastering Witchcraft are quoted below, with discussion points. The bolded bits are Sarah’s responses.
It was my witchcraft teacher who told me I must read Huson, he being of the older generation and I of the new, and I delighted in reading it; here was a book that finally matched my darkly witchy soul and was unashamed of speaking of power, darkness, spirits, and necromancy. I ate it up and thirsted for more as it differed so greatly from the goddess-power-do-no-harm books I was used to finding in bookstores. Instead of giving a message of not to do any real magic because you can’t be trusted to make the right decision, Mastering Witchcraft gives out the message that the responsibility of your actions lies with you alone and that guilt and shame have no place in spellwork if it is to be effective. Why fight our nature? We are what we are.
“The stake and the noose are things of the past, and we may once more choose our own gods, bright or dark.”
Are the stake and the noose things of the past? Are we coming out of, or going into repression?
Law or no law, I don’t think much has changed over the centuries as people are still people. We witches hang precariously in a balance between good and evil in the public mind. When they have need of us or for us to entertain them we are good, but when they need someone to blame for wrongdoings or tragic events it is our blood that is often spilled. Such tragedy is not behind us in the past. Cushioned Wiccans in N. America may have already forgotten the violence towards priests and priestesses of Vodou after the earthquakes in Haiti by the common people who believed it was their evil magics who had brought the wrath of God upon the island. Men and women are stilled killed in the world today for the accusation of witchcraft. It is foolish to think no one would ever harm us. Laws are nothing to fundy family members, angry mobs, and fearful prejudiced coworkers, bosses, and landlords. Even in “civilized” society people still lose their jobs, homes, and loved ones over witchcraft. As long as there is superstition in the hearts of men there will be witches and there will be witch hunters.
Do we choose our gods, do they choose us, or something in between?
I believe that, like Huson says, we can choose whether our gods are bright or dark, or to serve with both hands: “Witchcraft is witchcraft. The seeds of success or destruction lie within you and you alone.” Overall, I think it differs for each pagan, but I have noticed witches in particular follow specific deities, usually Mercurial or Saturnian in nature. Keepers of the ways between worlds and masters of magic and the first of our kind – the Witchmother and the Witchfather. I’ve watched many try to cherry-pick their gods only to be thwarted. I myself have been unsuccessful in putting the preferred cultural faces on my deities; they resist me at every turn and will have none of it as they are who they are.
It is my opinion that it is a bad habit of pagans and witches alike to try to choose their gods like a dog at a shelter –of course they will pick the most beautiful or unique or the one that matches their purse and not necessarily the one they need or who actually wants to work with them in return. It is often better in the long run to put away the ego and see who comes to you of their own will. This applies to spirits as well as deities.
It is also a naughty habit of us modern magicians to think we have to have gods to worship and in matching male-female pairs no less. It is okay to have only one god or to have twelve. It is okay to have no gods and worship nature, animals, and the dead instead as an animist. The male-female pair of witch-gods to me are the first ancestors, the first magicians, and the divine essence of the masculine and feminine – not necessarily gods in the definition we modern pagans use.
“… Great Azael and his cohorts had to assume tangible bodies in order to descend upon the earth. Because of their revolt against higher authority and the ties with this world which they had subsequently formed, they were unable to divest themselves of these material forms and re-ascend into the heavenly spaces again. It is from these exiled beings that all true magical knowledge and power is said to be derived.”
“…though most of the giants yielded up their lives in the flood, many of their spirits partaking as they did of the angelic nature of their fathers, proved indestructible, and lived on, invisible yet powerful even in their disembodied state.”
Do you believe there is such a thing as witch blood? Can you be a witch without it? Does everyone have it?
Many modern witches use the introduction of Mastering Witchcraft as proof of their claim to witch blood, but Huson does not mention blood – he mentions myths and legends found throughout the world all influencing and feeding off of one another. His introduction is rife with Luciferianism – pay careful heed to the specific deities, spirits, and heroes of legend he mentions.
I do not believe in witch blood in the popular modern literal view of it. It smacks of dangerous elitism and racism to me. Witches are not a separate race. We are not even special. We are common as dirt and found across the world under a thousand different names and titles. I rather like to believe that all of us humans contain that divine spark of magical potential, but some of us are asleep and never touch upon it, and others (witches, shamans, mystics…) are awake and use it to the fullest. We are all children of the gods and the universe, not just some of us. We all share the same blood and we all bleed red.
Which is more important to successful magical work, knowledge of magic or relationships with spirits?
No spirits, no magic. All the magical knowledge in the world is of no use unless you have power and can wield it. Power comes from mastering spirits, not becoming masters over them, but of learning their ways, how to work with them, and how to navigate their world.
The world is full of spirits: of plants, of trees, of animals, of earth and stone, of the dead, and of many a host of inhuman entities like Huson describes in the introduction:
“…many of their spirits partaking as they did of the angelic nature of their fathers, proved indestructible, and lived on, invisible yet powerful even in their disembodied state. On occasion, these shades are said to gain access to the world of men by reincarnating in human shape, and are referred to as intruders, ancient alien souls transmigrating from the past.”
What is a spell or rite without calling on the spirits of the plants in the incense or the charm, your animal allies, your ancestral spirits, your gods of magic? Usually, an unsuccessful one. Some of the most primally powerful witches I have known had never read a book or been trained; they were wild creatures of instinct and mysticism.
Is there one “stream” of magical knowledge, fractured by the passage of time, or many streams, existing separately?
I like to see the streams as many threads in a great tapestry; some touch and some do not, but they are all connected by the weave itself. There are cultural threads, experiencial threads, and tradition threads. We witches can pull gently on a thread to better see it in the weave and access the knowledge and wisdom from it far back into the reaches of ancestral memory. The cloth is a collective library of thoughts, practices, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of all who have come before us. The threads are always there, right at our fingertips, we need only see them and trace them back through the weave so our body of lore and ability is not forgotten.
“Scholars began to study the antiquities of the classical world and with them many of the old magical practices, always, however, relating it to a Christian framework, for safety’s sake if nothing else.”
Did the suppression of witch beliefs and practices strengthen or weaken them?
Documenting is still documenting, no matter if the scholar looks down his nose at the content or not. Without James Frazer’s obsession with proving Christians more enlightened and heathens as mere unintelligent savages who worshipped only the seasons and food we would not have The Golden Bough with its twelve volumes of documented rural practices, beliefs, and rites that would otherwise have been lost to time. Without such scholars entire native languages and spiritual belief systems would have been lost. It is a double-edged sword – on one edge the dominance of Christianity crushed indigenous beliefs, but on the other they documented them so they survived until present day to be taken up again.
As I see witchcraft as an experiential practice and spirituality, I do not think it can ever be weakened by suppression. Its abilities will always come unbidden to generation after generation.
When the witch laws were repealed, was that good or bad?
Good because it stopped senseless persecution and finger pointing at a singled-out group. But… we forget that the laws were originally created to protect people from being cursed or taken advantage of by frauds – not to arrest or execute people just for practicing magic in general. The laws still protect the public from frauds and swindlers taking advantage of the superstitious, but most now have the stipulation that, if the accused truly believes in their religion or spirituality and that magic is real, they are guilty of no more than exercising their religious freedom.
“Witch” didn’t used to mean innocent herbalists and healers, it once referred to workers of malevolent curses and bestowers of the evil eye. Now there is no legal protection from the darker sorcerers and such things would be laughed at today in court leaving the innocent unprotected. For those who need a mental smack to be reminded of who and what witches once were and are still thought of in the non-pagan public mind, they should read Witchcraft in Old and New England by George Lyman Kittredge.
Has magical knowledge been hopelessly muddled? Is it possible to pick out original threads?
It is only muddled to the armchair witch. The practicing experiential witch has no problem accessing the knowledge and arts of our kind, understanding them, and putting them to use. Books help to make connections, but they are only a small aid to what we can do and fathom.
Huson himself states that our remaining lore is
“a patchwork quilt of historical odds and ends, religious flotsam and jetsam, but containing in the midst of that welter of confusing symbolism enough of the old secrets to make the processes work if properly pursued”.
We need only to step back and see the pattern for the patchwork, the cloth out of the woven threads, and the forest for the trees.
How would you do so? Does it matter?
The spirits and deities are our teachers and guides. We are never alone on our magical journey, never without help. Summon them, work with them, and learn from them if they deem you worthy. Commune with them in otherworldly travels, in dreams, through possession… Learn directly from the plants, animals, ancestors, and fey creatures of the wilds. Learn from other practitioners to help fill in the gaps of lore and share with one another. One receives no gifts if one does not ask.
Can magic be studied as a science?
I do not believe so. Science tries to quantify and explain everything. How does one explain the unexplainable? Magic is full of paradoxes, symbolism, and metaphor. The otherworld is ever changing and different for everyone – it cannot be quantified. Science can help understand nature, the earth, and the universe, but it is only the tiniest littlest wee fraction of its true nature. I never understood why we try to craft metal vessels to reach the moon and stars and study them when we can just leave our bodies and go there and see them for ourselves and speak with their denizens. Much magic has been lost due to science and scepticism.
Does explaining magic in a scientific framework help or hinder its practice?
Some sciences can help people understand such as botany, genetics, and astronomy, but overall for me science is best left behind when diving into magic as it only serves to ruin the essence of magic. Some of my favourite quotes that reflect this opinion come from Emma Wilby and Paul Huson:
“Without an experiential dimension any set of magical beliefs, however sophisticated, becomes little different from a scientific procedure – a manufactured means through which to manipulate nature and the objects within it.”
Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits
“…if and when the firelight happens to dim, at those times when the unknown presses hard upon us, in the presence of death or insanity or insurmountable calamity, we again know instinctively that science is ultimately irrelevant, and we once again experience the old childhood terrors. […]Science still completely fails to come to grips with that outer darkness beyond the flickering ring of light.”
Paul Huson, Mastering Witchcraft
If science is the safe campfire of humankind, we witches are the dwellers in the night who can see in the dark – for we have the light of the moon and the spirits to guide us.