Belief & Witchcraft

Flammarion woodcut

Belief and blind faith are for sheep. Witches don’t need them. Instead, we have tangible experiences to back up our own practices and cosmology. We don’t need to believe in shapeshifting – we do it. We don’t need to believe in gods and spirits – we talk to them regularly. We don’t need to believe in an underworld and afterlife – we travel there. Magic is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can see what it touches and it is very powerful. A warm wind can melt away the snow and cold and bring in spring in just a few days or a harsh wind over the ocean can destroy hundreds of years of civilization with just one hurricane. Magic is the tangible unseen. You don’t harness it or control it, you are made from it, for magic is the very fibre of your being.

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  1. Hans says:

    I respectfully disagree. Faith and belief need not be “blind”, something that we hold onto because others tell us to, as they often spring from inner or transcendent experiences. Faith in its simplest form simply implies a sense of certainty which may be expressed in a subjective or imperative way. Faith can be both a prelude to magic happening, and it can be a result of magic happening.

    I don’t know your understanding of the word “religion”, (which you may or may not associate with witchcraft) but it’s from the Latin word. “religio” (hard ‘g’) which means, “to re-bind”, or “to reconnect”: to the Gods, to various universal energies, and to our ancestors . The rituals of magic and religion, and teachings in sacred books, are nothing more than codified forms which allow us to reconnect to the inner truths that they embody, and “faith” and “belief” are certainly involved. You have an apprentice who, I am sure, believes what you tell her or him, not because they have first hand experience, out of respect for you and traditions old and new that they are embracing. This to a degree, initially, constitutes “blind” faith.

    To say that your practices are backed up by tangible experiences means what? That anything not connected to a tangible experience means that it isn’t true or doesn’t exist? We can’t see all colors or hear all sounds, but they surely exist. Why should it not be the same for aspects of magic and connection to the divine, however perceived? “Faith” means to believe despite the limitations of our senses, and by believing, we can often surpass those, and therein lies the tangible “proof” of our labors. We “believe” in teachers, loved ones, ideologies, the Gods, magic, etc., because they are part of the interconnected dance that is this existence, and because a shared “faith” gives us common ground that binds us together in ways that a million subjective experiences, tangible or otherwise, can not.

  2. Hans says:

    Sorry! In the 2nd paragraph, the next to the last line should have read: ” ..not because they have first hand experience, BUT out of respect for you…” :)

  3. Edward says:

    I agree. I have long since abandoned faith, belief, and religion for a set of theories. Some of my theories have no proof whatsoever, but because they are theories I can pursue them as such and abandon them if they don’t pan out. Other theories do seem to work under certain conditions. Belief is one of those strange things that demands to be correct and true under all circumstances. Belief and faith demand our souls and our blood. Beliefs imprison our minds with the ideas of other men and women, or past experiences that are limited or are no longer valid. Theories, on the other hand, only demand our experience and an a questioning, open mind. There is no heresy in the realm of theory. Theories are not lessened by acquiring new theories. Theories that pan out never become my beliefs, but gain probability. In a quantum universe anything is possible. Calculating the probabilities is the real dilemma.

  4. Windwalker says:

    ” I don’t need belief, I have experience” -Joseph Campbell

  5. strixchick says:

    I agree with you, Sarah, 100%. Actually, not too long ago, I believe the lady who does SpiritsCast talked about blind faith versus experiences — we both agree that experiences make faith and believing a REAL thing.

  6. ruzu says:

    Hello!! I like this, specially when you said about the wind :)
    but I think faith its something powerfull too, is not necesarry believe in gods and goddess! ;) but for me its very normal to have faith, that all!! lovely blog

  7. Sarah, I completely agree, and have used a very similar argumentation to the one you have written many times. There is no need for blindness when you can see – if I believe, it is because I have seen and experienced.

  8. belief n. 1.The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing: faith. 2. Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something. 3. Something believed or accepted as true; especially, a particular tenet, or a body of tenets, accepted by a group of persons. –See Synonyms at opinion.

    Key word being mental. Since when should things like belief and faith be rational intellectual decisions? Beliefs come and go, constantly changing. Beliefs are the opinions of one person or one group. I was raised in the church from a babe to a teenager. At first it was mostly storytelling in Sunday school, but when I became a teenager I had a Sunday school teacher who made us question everything – all the beliefs we had been taught and everything we had read in the bible. He made us think and search for what our own opinions were. I left the church shortly after. Thanks to him, I realized I didn’t believe what the others in the church did and I didn’t have faith in their god. Those Christians I grew up with had belief and faith, but they didn’t have the knowing that what they believed in was truth. I needed that knowing more than anything. That same teacher once told me that knowledge is great and knowledge is good, but it is useless unless you have the wisdom to apply it properly. A belief is knowledge of an opinion – what does one DO with an opinion?

    I may not have belief and faith, but I have knowing and hope. And no, I’ve taught my apprentice not to believe everything I say. My main goal has been to get her to think for herself, make her own connections, and find her own knowing and tangible experiences of the unseen. Some things that ring true for me do not ring true for her – I encourage this. I have no desire to head a cult. I share my opinions here because it is my blog, but I don’t expect my dear readers to believe and agree with everything I say. I’m quite proud of Hans for disagreeing.

    I do agree that faith has its applications, especially in regards to truths, but blind faith is a very very dangerous thing. One only needs to look at the state of destruction around the world from opposing religious beliefs.

    Slainte,
    Sarah

    • I too was raised a Christian. I know that the Christian god exists, yet I am not a Christian. As my father (Church of Scotland minister) once said “even the devil believes in God”.

      And their God was not with me in the deepest, darkest times as my deities are. I could not and cannot connect with him as I do with my deities and this is why I am not a Christian.

  9. Hans says:

    Hi Sarah – am enjoying this discussion and would like to address some of what you said:

    “Since when should things like belief and faith be rational intellectual decisions?”

    I’m not quite sure what you mean here. You seem to say that belief and faith have nothing to do with the intellectual or the rational, yet there are entire systems of religious thought, theology, debate, philosophy, etc. which are based on those very things. Many people have “faith” and they think about their faith. And many came to adopt this belief or that because of rational (however subjective) and intellectual points that moved them in that direction.

    “Beliefs come and go, constantly changing. ”

    For some, yes. But many live their entire lives holding onto spiritual beliefs (or social/ideological beliefs) which are constant and which make sense to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that those people don’t think or question.

    “Those Christians I grew up with had belief and faith, but they didn’t have the knowing that what they believed in was truth. ”

    How do you know this? How do you know what is in the hearts and minds of these people? The fact that they seem to conform outwardly doesn’t preclude the possibility of many of them do “know” in some intimate way, the truth of the essence of the path that they follow. To suggest that 50 million people must have 50 million different, “personal” approaches to their spiritual paths in order for all of that to be valid or real or rooted in logic, seems (in my humble opinion) to miss the mark, just as does believing that all people must be on the identical path. We are individuals, yes, and many of us walk outside the mainstream. But we are also creatures who share a common heart of sorts, and having common spiritual paths mirrors this.

    Whew! Talk about opinions and what people do with them! :)

    “I needed that knowing more than anything. That same teacher once told me that knowledge is great and knowledge is good, but it is useless unless you have the wisdom to apply it properly. A belief is knowledge of an opinion – what does one DO with an opinion?”

    You had a wise teacher, but I would say that beliefs are more than unfounded “opinions”. They can be born of experiences that transform us, and they can lead to experiences that do the same. Whether we speak of diet, dress, politics, music, etc., we all have opinions and beliefs regarding these things, and live our lives by them. This is where “wisdom” kicks in. We discern which beliefs or opinions are minor ones, and which ones are worth self sacrifice.

    “I may not have belief and faith, but I have knowing and hope.”

    Funny, but from my point of view, knowing and hope ARE belief and faith. :)

    “And no, I’ve taught my apprentice not to believe everything I say. My main goal has been to get her to think for herself, make her own connections, and find her own knowing and tangible experiences of the unseen. Some things that ring true for me do not ring true for her – I encourage this. I have no desire to head a cult. ”

    My point wasn’t that you try to get her to think your way, but that with any learning experience, we put some kind of faith and trust in our teacher. Once we begin to learn the object of our interest, we begin to have faith in ourselves, be the subject driving a car, cooking, or playing a musical instrument. We have “faith” that our elders, teachers, parents or friends, know of what they speak.

    “I do agree that faith has its applications, especially in regards to truths, but blind faith is a very very dangerous thing. One only needs to look at the state of destruction around the world from opposing religious beliefs.”

    I agree, but “blind faith” can have many meanings, and it’s what we DO with that faith that matters most. Buddhist nuns living in a convent in Tibet, praying for the well being of all sentient beings, are harming no one. Muslims who kill others in the name of God, are. Yet Buddhists and Muslims can be said to have in some way, “blind faith”. “Blind” needn’t imply “unthinking” or “ignorant”. It has a lot to do with unswerving devotion to ideals, which can be misplaced. And at the other end of the spectrum, non-religious Communists, National Socialists, dictators, anarchists, revolutionaries and the like, have loosed much suffering on the world due, not to blind faith, but to cold, calculated, rational, intellectual, humanistic reasoning.

  10. Hans says:

    NO matter how much I edit, I screw up. The line “Talk about opinions and what people do with them!” was intended to be at the END of my rant. I was speaking of myself, not you!

  11. Hans says:

    Sorry, one more post and then I’m done. I really have no issue with anyone not having “belief” or “faith”. I responded to your post mainly because you seemingly lumped belief and blind faith together in one sentence (they are not the same), you said that people who had these were “sheep”, (people who go against the grain can be as rigid and cliquey in their thinking as can “followers”) and you made statements about what “we witches” believe and do. I know neo-Pagans, witches (both Wiccan and non-Wiccan) ceremonial magicians and even Satanists who approach existence in some way, shape or form with elements of belief and faith in the mix, so not all witches would agree with you.

    Whether honoring the Gods or forces of nature, invoking or evoking deities, elementals, “angels”, or “demons” – people approach the veil of the mysteries with faith. How does someone invoke a being or honor a deity if they don’t believe it exists? How does someone work magic if they don’t believe that it’s real and efficacious? All of us have our “gifts” in this regard. If you and others had some kind of direct experience of the unseen, without having at first “believed” in something which you had no direct experience of, then that’s wonderful! But not all people are the same. Some sense the realness of truths or energies before they experience them. Their beliefs and faith get them to the point where they DO have the direct “proof” and experience that you speak of. I know one woman who has never (according to her) had a mystical experience that preceded her “faith” in the object of her devotions, yet she works magic. Faith can be a conduit to the Gods, and the Gods can smile upon us in light of it.

    I play harpsichord. I studied to do this, following the instructions and methods of others, and had “faith” in their ability to teach me. When I play, I give myself up to the music and I follow the notes that Bach or some other composer laid out for me. I don’t “question”, but rather, “submit” my will to the will of the composer. BY doing so, the music takes me to a place where I want to be! It becomes a vehicle that carries me outside of myself and unites me to a larger sphere. Faith can be a lot like music.

    • The point of the post is that witchcraft is experiencial and trust in an unproven belief is not necessary — but mostly just that people need to get out and experience and DO instead of just collecting beliefs.