Friday, September 10, 2010

An Essential Witchcraft Tradition

Often, when I have been pondering the materials that I was given after I had been elevated to the priesthood of the Wicca, I have wondered about it’s obvious incompleteness and paucity of lore. All that I have are the Book of Shadows and the various lineage documents, which represent everything that my elders taught me about the specific line of Alexandrian witchcraft that had been initiated into so many years ago. Over the years I have had to add quite a bit of additional material, either carefully researched, or in most cases, invented or created at the moment to fulfill a much needed liturgical or magickal task. At this time of my life and career as a witch, the amount of created or added lore far outweighs the original lore, which is to say that the role of that original lore was to define the boundaries rather than fulfill all of the needs. I have borrowed lore from many sources and invented new ways of doing things, but all along, I have wondered what a complete tradition would look like.

What would a tradition of witchcraft contain if it never required the invention or borrowing of lore from any other sources? I am pondering an essential tradition of witchcraft, one that is complete within in its culture matrix. I would suppose that such a tradition probably doesn’t exist, but still there is a need for knowing what it would look like. The reasons for this supposition is that identifying an essential tradition of witchcraft might aid me in determining what is missing in my own tradition. While I doubt that I would be able to fill in all of the holes (I am not that gifted), at least I might be able to determine the areas that witches today should focus on to help build a tradition that is complete.

In my opinion, a complete witchcraft tradition would contain three areas of knowledge, and these areas would be the Lore, Rituals and the Craft. I would define the Lore as the myths, songs and stories about the Gods, Goddesses, Heroes and Heroines, about the creation of the world, the mysteries of birth and death, light and darkness, and the secret history of the witches. It should also present the laws and guidelines of the witchcraft family or lineage.

Rituals and liturgy would represent the core of the tradition. These are the actual rituals, ceremonies and celebrations that witches would engage in while gathering together or practicing alone. Rituals and liturgy would unlock the doors to the mysteries, revealing the secret lore and knowledge that can’t be written down. The very spirit of witchcraft itself would consist of beliefs and insights that would remain unwritten, representing the powerful inner truths that would have to be rediscovered by each and every witch. Since witchcraft is not a religion of the book, these unwritten beliefs and insights would represent the true center of the witchcraft tradition. Each witch would have their own perspective unique to themselves. The rituals would point the way to acquiring this wisdom, perhaps even reveal the techniques, but the knowledge itself would never be printed or revealed.

Craft are various things that are done to fabricate all of the tools and materials needed to practice the rites and liturgies. These would include the recipes and directions for everything from food and drink to how to set up a temple or grove for worship and practicing magic. Since most of the tools and materials used are unique, there should be directions for producing them.

These three areas of knowledge represent the specific teachings of how one should live, ritualize and build up a continuous and periodic practice based on nature itself, which would be the ultimate source of all of the lore and practices. Nature provides the pattern of what would be called the natural mysteries - the cycle of light and darkness, Day/Night, Lunar and Solar Cycle, the Cycle of the Seasons, of birth and death, place and the mysteries of the deity itself.

Now that I have partitioned this knowledge into three areas, I would now like to make a list of what I believe should be contained in each. This is by no means an in-exhaustive list, yet it should suffice to give an idea of what might included under each area of knowledge in a complete tradition of witchcraft.

Lore -

Songs, dances, trance techniques and methods of inducing ecstasy
Myths and stories about the Goddesses, Gods, Demi-gods and Divine Humans
Adventures about heros and heroines (the sagas) and the mystery of life, death and love
Myths and stories about the Seasons and the Seasonal Full Moons
Cosmogonic Cycle - Creation, Golden Age, Age of Humanity and Final Dissolution
Origin of the Witches - a special and secret history
Stories of the Witch Families and Lineages
Rules, laws and guiding wisdom

Rituals -

Preparation for ritual - opening, cleansing (making sacred space), connecting, closing, grounding and the throwing of lots (dice)

Rituals and liturgy of Alignment:
devotions, service,
sacrifices, oblations, offerings,
invocations, orisens and paeans (talking to the gods)
communion, sacred feasts
oracles and divination (special godhead assumption)
great rite (sacred sexuality)

Lunar ceremonies (full moon gatherings) and lunar magic

Solar ceremonies (seasonal gatherings) and solar magic

Initiation and dedication (induction, dedication, installation as family head)

Rites of passage:
naming rite (occurs twice - after birth and entrance into adulthood),
hand fasting (marriage),
recognition of elder,
rite of passing (death)

Additional ritual workings (magic)

Rites and spells of the moon (eight phases of the moon for thirteen annual full moons)
Rites and spells of the sun (four seasons and vegetative life cycle)
Rites and spells of the stars (magic of the planets, constellations, decans, angels, etc.)
Rites of the underworld, necromancy and ancestor worship (demons, ghosts, lares, penates, genius)

Grand Sabbat (convocation of witch families)

Craft -

Special recipes for food and drink (for moon and sun gatherings),
Potions, incense, herbs, oils, soap
Spell craft - bags, poppets, various constructions
Use of blood and semen
Tools, sacred objects and fetishes
Clothes, costumes, masks, body painting
Instructions for building temple and grove architectures

As you can see, there is a lot of items in these lists. Only some of these items were included in the lore that I received from my elders and teachers. My hope is that someday, someone will come up with a complete and essential tradition of witchcraft. It will probably be the work of many people over a long period of time. Until that time, I will continue to gather or create the rites and lore that I need to use and add it to what I already have.

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. What would a tradition of witchcraft contain if it never required the invention or borrowing of lore from any other sources?

    While it's an interesting exercise to think about such a hypothetical tradition, I don't think there's a religious system in the world that doesn't rely to some degree on invention and borrowing from other sources. The Torah includes elements that are very similar to Babylonian mythology, Christianity includes elements from the cults of Dionysus and Mithras, and so forth.

    I think that the reason this is an issue with witchcraft in particular is that (A) a lot of people don't really understand how religions borrow from one another and change over time and (B) the borrowing that went on in witchcraft happened during the modern era and is thus well-documented. Any Christian who wants to accuse Wicca of being a "made-up religion" should keep in mind that the Pentateuch was only written down after the Babylonian Captivity and thus had to summarize over a thousand years of oral tradition. Anyone who thinks such a text could possibly be the inerrant literal word of God is fooling themselves.

    Especially in the area of ritual technologies borrowing isn't always a bad idea. The ritual technologies that endure over time tend to be the ones that work, so as I see it the challenge is more adapting those technologies into your ritual framework rather than reinventing the wheel just so that your tradition can be essentially different from everything else.