Hereditary Witchcraft

Hereditary witchcraft is the transfer from an elder or ancestor, of practices, magic, ritual, belief systems, and culture from one family member to another. Also known as Family Traditionalism or “FamTrad”, hereditary witchcraft is the passing down of a specific witchcraft tradition through family members only. This does not necessarily mean that all practitioners of a FamTrad come from an unbroken line of witches because it only takes two family members to start a hereditary tradition. Practices, medicines and spells specific to each family tradition are closely guarded secrets within a family, much as the Native clans of North America had specific medicine recipes, that if shared with or used by another clan, would result in war. Such families actually existed, mainly as remnants of cultural folk religion and magic which was such an integral part of their daily lives, it was never completely wiped out upon Christianity’s presence over the centuries. The magic and practices found within hereditary witchcraft are more akin to folk magic and ancient shamanism than to today’s Neopaganism and witchcraft practices. The transfer of power and lore to a family member is an old shamanic practice of cultures worldwide who believed living or even deceased family members would teach one of the newer generations the old lore and pass on their familiar spirits to the ‘student’ family member as well.

“The calling of a shaman was generally hereditary in his family, the order being usually from maternal uncle to nephew. Before he died he revealed his spirit to his successor, who might start with a comparatively feeble spirit and acquire stronger and stronger ones.”

Shamanism and Witchcraft by John R. Swanton

Hereditary witchcraft is mainly associated with specific traditional witchcraft and cultural traditions, ranging from the cunning folk and fairy doctors of Celtic countries to the benedicaria and stegoneria of Italy — all of which are among many other family-based folk traditions found throughout the world. There are also some traditional witchcraft covens (in some cases hereditary ones) who will not accept members from outside of their cultural heritage. For example, a coven in Wales would not accept members who are not Welsh. This can be seen as another definition of hereditary witchcraft, where a person only practices a cultural witchcraft tradition from their heritage. However, in this day and age of mass immigration where people may come from two to six different cultural backgrounds, it is very difficult to practice a heritage-specific tradition.

“…in Britain, as far as I am aware – apart from clairvoyants, patent medicine mongers, palmists, and their like – only some fragments of what we may call operative witchcraft survive in certain families and coteries, like broken heirlooms from some fallen house.”

History of the Devil: The Horned God of the West, R. Lowe Thompson, 1929

The passing on of traditions through the family is a global concept, and is not restricted to culture or continent. There are many family traditions existing in the United States, of which some good examples would be the Hexerei and pow wow doctors of the Pennsylvania Dutch and the conjurers and witch doctors of the Appalachians and Ozarks — who all bear a striking resemblance to the fairy doctors and cunning folk of Northern Europe — many of whom were hereditary themselves. The traditions of the hexerei were strict and binding – they could only teach one student from the next generation of the family of the opposite sex. In many older witchcraft families in the UK, the traditions of transferring knowledge are thought to follow similar rules.

“In Brittany and in other regions, where we find hereditary ‘fairy’ families, the witches’ children were dedicated to the god as soon as they were born, and thirteen was the customary age at which they were initiated into the cult.”

History of the Devil: The Horned God of the West, R. Lowe Thompson, 1929

There is also the cross-cultural folkloric belief in the seventh son of a seventh son being blessed with magical powers such as healing and the sight, this person being a natural born witch or wise person in the eyes of many. In my local community there is an old Scottish witch who is the seventh son of a seventh son. Was he born a witch? You’d have to ask him…

Disambiguation

In general, hereditary witches are not found within Wicca, although now that Wicca is over 50 years old there are enough subsequent generations for some to be able to claim they are hereditary due to their parents’ passing on of their Wiccan faith. Hereditary witches are mostly found within traditional witchcraft and culture-based folk religions.

Hereditary witchcraft is not to be confused with Raven Grimassi’s book Hereditary Witchcraft which is focused on his tradition Strega, a Neopagan Italian-based witchcraft tradition.

Resources

I’m afraid the resources on hereditary witchcraft are few and far between, as the families still in existence keep to themselves and the rest of the witchcraft community unfortunately doesn’t even believe hereditary witchcraft exists, so I have included as many cultural resources as possible to compensate for this lack.

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  • Ace says:

    Hi
    My dad died when I was 8, my mom became an alcoholic and couldnt handle me and my sister any longer and sent us to live with an aunt and uncle. They were Witches and considered Witchcraft to be their religion while Magic is just that, the practice of Magic.

    They raised us in their religious beliefs which has a clear deity structure, rituals and holy days, practices and spellwork contained within so by definition is a religion unto itself and this is what I and my sister practice to this day as well as several cousins and my uncle (aunt died of cancer in 2001).

    I have mentioned my beliefs, that I believe Witchcraft to be a religion, that I adhere strictly to the beliefs and practices, that I use lots in prayer instead of Tarot or runes, etc and have been met with downright hostility and disbelief from the community at large who either think I am making it all up or who think I am just confused about what I believe in.

    So, Giving all of this Ive learned to just keep to myself and practice my ways in private and not share them with anyone, usually when I tell someone I am a Shadak Witch (what they called it) they smile and say-oh so you are Wiccan, thats cool and I just smile and let them believe as they need to believe.

    I like your website. :) As one Witch online (site I cant recall) said-Magic is the Practice of Magic, Witchcraft is the religion. :o)

    Blessings!
    Ace

  • Clint says:

    Hello,

    I have a witchcraft tradition in my family, but it is within a christian environment, as contradictory as that might sound. Being within a protestant christian environment, I dunno if that would be considered hereditary witchcraft. Its mostly just a family tradition of fortune-telling and psychics.

    My family is mostly protestant christians… some are methodist and some are baptist, and some are presbyterian. we live in Texas. There is a tradition of fortune-telling with playing cards that has been passed down in my family, which goes back as far as my great grandmother that I know for certain.. it probably went farther back, but I cant know that for sure. Also, my grandmother and great grandmother were really psychic, but my mom and I are not as much, although my mom has dreams and sometimes I get vibes.. so…. divination with playing cards and psychic abilities… also grandmother use to “will away” illness.. like one time she had a cancer on her nose and she would will it away. She didn’t cast spells per se, but more or less put herself in a mind set to accomplish anything, while her mother did cast spells.

    Therefore, we do have a family witchcraft tradition in my family, although within a protestant christian environment. There is no concept of paganism, now… is that the same thing? I dont know. I am considering adding pagan elements. Although the paganism would not be a family thing, I think it might make it better… I dunno

    Basically.. I have christian occultism in my family.. want to make it pagan… and want advise and wondering if it could possibly mean something more about wicca.

  • Sarah says:

    Hi Clint,

    It doesn’t sound like hereditary witchcraft to me because the abilities and practices you spoke of lack operative witchcraft – as in taught as a specific family tradition with whole practices, beliefs, and rituals – an entire folk tradition shared within a family.

    Your story is not that unusual – there are many families within which psychic abilities are common and considered hereditary. However, they are usually not spoken of or encouraged, especially in Christian culture, but still sometimes used or practiced regardless. This does not mean you are from a family of witches, it means you are from a family with a history of psychic ability and some were possibly mediums or seers whether they knew it or not.

    Such abilities are certainly accepted and encouraged with Pagan religions if you chose to follow that path, if you do make sure you spend time finding the path within Paganism that fits you best, your personal beliefs, and your abilities.

    Blessings,
    Sarah

  • Hi! Thank you so much for including my art in your blog, I appreciate the fact you like it enough to include alongside your writing. As I earn a living by selling my art and licensing images, would you please include my name as the artist? If its easier Ill send you a file (tell me the size) and add my name and copyright symbol to the bottom. Tis way people know who the artist is and where to find me.

    Blessed Be…and nice writing!

  • Sarah says:

    Sorry my dear, I put the copyright info in the url subtitle, but it only shows up when the cursor is over the image! I’ve added the info to the bottom of the image as well. Thanks for the heads up!

    I think your artwork is simply divine and a very important contribution to the Pagan and other spiritual communities. I’ve never seen watercolours as complex and beautiful as yours before! I send my Pagan friends to your sites for cards and prints whenever I get the opportunity!

    Blessings to you and yours,
    Sarah

  • Becky says:

    Clint.. Thanl you so much for sharing your story. I have been searching for the same answer. I have always wondered if my famikly is passing down abilities. Some of my family denies they have abilities, (even though I have seen them use them) and some of them have none at all. Also, one of my children shows early signs of abilities, and the other one shows not one single drop. All of our abilites differ. Some are healers. some are clairvoyants. I am not sure exactlay what I am. I can read tarot. I have vivd dreams. I sometimes get vibes, and sometimes I just know things.

  • manuel says:

    Hello, how are you, years ago I started looking on witchcraft, I felt an inclination to do so, I found wicca but seemed to be what I wanted, I wanted something more traditional or old, I met someone but I lost contact with her She is from another country, she is from a family of traditional witches, finally felt that I had found but I lost contact with her, but still even want to know more, know more, of the ancient Gods and Goddess I hope the universe will help me, so I continue to seek what he sought in other lives, I’m glad I found this site, nice to meet you, greetings from Peru.