Disclaimer of a Traditional Witch

By December 1, 2010 Witchcraft & Magic 41 Comments

Deer goddess artifactMy beliefs and practices fall into the realm of Traditional Witchcraft.  It’s mostly because of my delving into Scoto-Scandinavian folk magic and witchcraft. I was drawn to and obsessed with Traditional Witchcraft from a young age before the plethora of books, forums, and websites came into existence. I was raised on the meat and bones of fairy tales, folklore, legends, and mythology. This means that, gasp, I was not influenced by Andrew Chumbley and the Cultus Sabbati nor was I influenced by Robin Artisson. I’m still not influenced by them or interested in them. I’m not attracted to the high ceremonialism and embellished language of Chumbley and Shulke (although I admit Chumbley’s poetry is gorgeous and Shulke’s illustrations can be witchy in a way that is orgasmic). Nor am I attracted to the pseudo Cornish slash Germanic craft of Artisson who borrows heavily from Cochrane and Cornish practitioners like JackDaw and Gemma Gary. I do, however, admit to having an early crush on Robert Cochrane’s brain and loving Doreen Valiente more than your average witch. But truly it is Baba Yaga, Habetrot, Holda, and the Queen of Elphame who hold my heart. Instead of joining a popular tradition I followed the Fairy-Faith and delved into spirit work.

I find it odd and amusing that, although I’m considered a Traditional Witch, I was not influenced by the same traditions and writings that most modern Traditional Witches commonly are. I didn’t read Jackson and Howard, I read Jones and wished I hadn’t (he needed a really good editor). I ignored Xoanon, Pendraig, and Fulgur and read Paul Huson, herbals, and dusty old books of folklore instead. I read the writings of Robert Cochrane and loved them, but followed the footsteps of Joe Wilson back to the earth with my drum instead. My heroes are female folklorists Dr. Hilda Ellis Davidson and F. Marian McNeill. In spite of not sharing the same influences with my fellow Witches, I still ended up one and not less of one.

What is my disclaimer to you other Traditional Witches new and old? That it is not what or who you read, but what you do that makes you what you are. An author or publisher does not define our path or make one more witchier than another. Don’t let anyone intimidate you by saying otherwise. Put away your books and grab your staff or stang and find yourself a crossroad and summon the oldest teacher of them all if you dare. Go out there and find your path.

Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

More posts by Sarah

Join the discussion 41 Comments

  • Eric says:

    Wassail!

    Well said, Sarah, well said indeed! The greatest of teachers are in the rocks and trees, rivers and wide ranging airs! Inspiration may be found within those dusty tomes and knowledge may be found in scrolls and from word of mouth, but truly it is from the spirits that our personal paths must be forged.

    Yours,
    Eric.

  • Pombagira says:

    i’m so glad i found and now *coughstalkcough* your blogg.. *grins*.. you help make sense of odd things for me..

    anyhoo.. do you have any recommended reading/books in english (cause i can’t read german) about Holda, please, as i want to learn more about this lady *ponders this*.. thank you *smiles*

    Polly

  • Tunrida says:

    How do you view the word “traditional” in this case?

  • Pixie says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for stating the obvious, and planting a seed in those to which it had not yet occurred… that we break our own path through the tangle.

  • Aelwyn says:

    Bravo!

  • Skayler says:

    I I started in books on Wicca, with authors like Scott Cunningham Dorty Buckand Morrison, Currott, Starhawk,
    Then with time I detached from them as the only Wicca tradition, while also exploring other paths .. different traditions ..
    Much as I owe to you, as you know, your post opened up new horizons. here in Italy, do not get all that information.

    Skayler

  • Helen says:

    Brilliant post, really helped me to open my eyes a little bit more and actually got me to listen to the messages that I was trying to ignore (thats just me being stubborn though :P). Thank you for posting this 🙂

  • Harold Roth says:

    Most of my reading has been from academic books on the history of magic, paganism, and folklore, but I have been inspired by Daniel Schulke’s work and have enjoyed the playful language. The emphasis on dreamwork has been particularly helpful to me. I was very attracted to traditional witchcraft until I started feeling like it should have a (TM) after it and that this trademark is owned by a particular ethnic group and particular religious perspective. The who’s-more-authentic bullshit and the constant bashing of Wicca or fluff bunnies which borders on misogyny really soured me on it. Such dick-sizing makes people afraid to say anything about their own experiences, and turns others into bullies and hypocrites. Like we don’t have enough of that crap already.

    From what I have seen, mostl witchcraft is traditional, because the real tradition of witchcraft is contact with spirits, not being in some group. The spirits don’t seem to be stuck on letters of introduction from some group, either. I have been lucky enough to have been contacted by spirits, but even before that ever happened I soldiered on alone with my own studies and work for years and managed to do perfectly good magic in spite of that. Millions of others have done the same without ever having heard of the fricking British Isles.

    • Well-said Harold! Your trademark comment almost had me inhaling my tea! The constant bashing and posturing has soured me of specific traditions, forums, and elists – but, like you, it didn’t sour me from practicing witchcraft. Most posturers would probably shit themselves if they had an encounter with a real spirit. Spirits don’t care what or who you’re associated with or if you have degrees, they care about what you can do and what you are.

  • Ray says:

    “Put away your books and grab your staff or stang and find yourself a crossroad and summon the oldest teacher of them all if you dare.”

    I love the entire piece, but this particular sentence brought a huge smile to my face. Yes, do that!

  • Crystal says:

    Thank you.

  • Ben Gruagach says:

    You hit the nail square on the head, Sarah — and the comments for the post (especially Harold’s) have been heartening.

    Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s these same pissing matches were over who was a “real” witch and who was a faker. Gardnerians claimed Alexandrians were fakers, while Cochrane claimed the whole lot of them (except himself and his friends of course) were fools. Then in the 80s and 90s the Gardnerians and Alexandrians seem to have kissed and made up and the same tired arguments turned towards vilifying anyone else who dared to use the word Wicca (which was always used as a synonym for Witch until that point.) The Cochrane-inspired crowd appear to have latched on to the phrase “Traditional Witchcraft” and have been doing the same tired arguing about it.

    As far as I’m concerned every single magickal practitioner today is eclectic because they are practicing magick drawn from a variety of sources. And 99.9% of magickal practitioners today also have a valid claim to say they are traditional since at least some of what they are practicing is drawn from generations of magickal practitioners who have come before us. (Are there any magickal practitioner who are honestly working with exclusively their own invented practices with no influence from prior generations?)

    Those who would like to have copyrighted, trademarked, legally enforceable ownership over their own system’s name would be much wiser to invent a new label rather than try to appropriate existing terms or phrases — especially terms or phrases that are relatively generic like witchcraft or traditional.

    • “As far as I’m concerned every single magickal practitioner today is eclectic because they are practicing magick drawn from a variety of sources”

      Damn straight we do. We never have one teacher, there are a variety out there that you learn from, whether human, deity, spirit or book.

  • elizabeth says:

    So true-One can read, and there’s always one more book we think we need, until the cows come home, but the real work and magic comes with the “doing”. We all have to find our own way……

  • sara says:

    What a timely post 🙂 When I say my morning walking prayer, I certainly don’t give thanks to ‘Hekate, mother of traditional(tm) witches’, or ‘Mother of Sabbatic Witches’ or anything of the sort. I really doubt She is going to give a rat’s patootie, and I’d probably get my ears metaphysically boxed for it. ‘Mother of witches’, thankyouverymuch. And herbalists, and enthusiastic gardeners, et al.

    I’m a plant worker. Plants were here long before witches of any stripe came to realize they could commune with spirits, and we could stand to learn more from them. Actually, the plants and spirits probably have some wagers going on when the witches will figure it all out and knock it off with the damn labels 🙂

  • Kim says:

    I also grew up totally in love with faery tales, folk tales, and world mythology. I did extensive research on faery tales for an independent study in college and I did find a lot of tie-ins with witchcraft lore and practices, vampires, werewolves, and even aliens in my research that I never would have come up with in a million years. The most fascinating aspects were a lot of tie-ins with Gnostic Christian practices/Gnostic Pagan practices such as the Essene community that Jesus was a part of possibly, the Knights Templar, and the Rossy Cross. Go further back and they have a lot of Greek myth tied into them-go further yet and Persian, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Egyptian myths and magic all tie-in. My views on religions and magic have never been the same since all due to studying faery tales seriously. I have also been more likely to study herbs and plants than to cast circles and have rituals. Part of this is personal I’m sensitive in more than one way. I couldn’t use regular toothpaste without my mouth peeling and bleeding, couldn’t use regular face care products without developing a rash, same thing with shampo, etc-I could use the stuff at the health stores but really couldn’t afford it-so I made my own. The same thing for medicines-I can use herbal teas, homeopathy, bach remedies etc with no side effects and it works well for me. The rare times I’m on Rx’s I’m usually on the lowest dose possible and being monitored closely by very nervous Dr.s. If its a very rare and dangerous side-effect I’m probably at least 50% likely to develop it. Herbs and plants were for me as natural as it is for most people to have Tylenol in their medicine cabinets at all times. I’ve seen aura’s, sensed energy and other peoples emotions my entire life, I have had more than my fair share of situtions with spirits, ghosts, and imprints. Animals that don’t like other people but their owners seek me out and I’ve had wild animals come within touching distance often. Light bulbs go out often around me, alarms will go off for no reason other than i am around smoke detectors, store alarms, etc. My watches die and the problem is not fixed by battery replacements sometimes within a month of a brand-new watch. I have friends that claim I make it snow or rain if I have strong emotions, and swear cupboards or doors have opened slightly when i am around. Children and crazy people love to single me out and have these odd conversations with me that actually makes perfect sense to me but freak other people out. It was something that actually seemed to make me very different from other people and it mostly frightened my family and friends. I sought out Wicca and the occult to both understand it all better and to try and make it all go away so i could be normal. I have indeed learned better control of things but as for making it go away so I can be normal-I don’t think it will ever happen and the older I get the more okay I become with it. The traditional part for me is incidental-I will dream about something or be compelled to do something a certain way and think nothing of it at all and then I’ll be reading an article somewhere often on something as far away from witchcraft, paganism , etc. and the author will add a comment about how a friend, relative, or culture did or does the exact same thing as I do and mention it’s a part of traditional witchcraft. This has happened to me so many times that it has ceased to seem like a fluke or coincidence at all. So I find that my belief systems and practices that have seemed so unique to me aren’t solely just personal that they are labeled by other people as trad witchcraft. I don’t consider myself a witch and i don’t call myself a witch.

  • Lady says:

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to read/hear that. I was thinking the same thing to today.

  • Kim says:

    I have read some of the info websites of other Trads and found some valuable information. I have even read some books by other Trads. I’ve never found the desire to join and yes a lot of the reason why is the attitudes involved put me off. Also I really in some ways resent initiations. I understand about certain things being dangerous, or certain things needing commitment. I also understand from personal experience that a good many times it boils down to someone elses idea of my way or the highway, or my covens way or the highway, or even my God’s have to be your Gods too or you don’t belong in this group therefor its my God’s way or the highway-well okay, I like the highway much better then. The most obnoxious thing in the world to me is when one group gets the idea that only their way of doing things is the right way or the safe way-and that if you do something similiar you must be either stealing it, or it can’t ever work at all because it’s not their way, or if it does then you’ll go mad because you didn’t listen to them. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to groups or others that call themselves a witch. It’s just I’m more likely to regret not listening to my own dreams, my own guts, or my own ideas of spirits, entities, or Gods/Goddesses in communion with them than a book or a group. When I work with other entities or Gods/Goddesses I am just as likely to ignore them or not listen to them if they are full of themselves as other humans. It’s not because I have no humility but because I have respect for myself and my knowledge too-if my guts are screaming no I respect it. I work in relationships of mutality-and respect and that goes for All beings. I may end up not liking the consequences at times but at least I’ve honored what was right for me.

  • Pwyll says:

    Well said, Sarah! Similar views have been swilling around in my mind the last while, but as usual, you have pinned them down eloquently. If practitioners of the past could see us bickering about what practices are “real”, they would get a good laugh. The idea that everyone has to practice witchcraft or Paganism the same way is very contemporary and not historically accurate. Witches and Pagans have always been influenced by our environment, our community, and our times- as we should. It is the nature of our beliefs and practices. One way being the only true way is a rather Judeo-Christian concept, not a “traditional” Pagan or witch concept.

    I believe deeply that if you practice your craft with integrity, the Gods, ancestors and spirits of the land will respond. They know who’s putting in the leg work. As other witches have said, we are magpies, gathering what works, discarding what does not, and continuing the search for more. We are all guilty of anachronisms, and we are all to various extents syncretic, no matter how ‘traditional’ our tradition. Does that mean we can make up shit about how the pre-Christian peoples practiced or spout “fakelore”? No, because it has no integrity. What we can do is be honest about our practice, honest about our sources, and be proud of how it integrates into our tradition.

    “That it is not what or who you read, but what you do that makes you what you are.”

    Thank you for this excellent post and sharing your thoughts.

  • Marilyn says:

    Been there, done that, as Practice is always certainly better than books, but at the age of 45 it is nice to have found kindred souls after spending most of this time alone on the Path since before the age of 10, as well as priceless wisdom from some of the authors I love, treasure and hold so dear.

    It isn’t to appear ‘witchier than thou’ by mentioning books, ‘namedropping’ authors, etc, but more like the Hermit holding out the lantern light for others on the Path…

  • Grundy says:

    Wonderful! Just what needed to be said! Thank you for your honesty and teaching.

  • Nikkie says:

    In my native language I would say “Mooi so Sarah! Bakgat en welgedaan!” That means “YOU ROCK!” 😀 Awesome piece….I do not know what brought this on but it is high time it is said! Not ALL Trad Witches have read themselves into a state of ‘witchery’…….I for one NEVER had the opportunity to read Witchy books simply because it was not available. It only became available in recent years and what are on the shelves are more Wiccan that Witchcraft. In fact, my very first book I read was by Scott Cunningham. I read it, chewed on it, spat it out and moved on! Most of what I know came from deep inside. Asking questions in my head and getting answers in the weirdest ways. I have walked this Path for the past 30 years and it served me well. Does that make me less of a Witch? I don’t think so, I think being a Witch is in the heart.

    Anyway, I’ve already said more than I intended. I just wanted to acknowledge you Sarah. We are many miles apart and somehow we have very much the same ideas and walk a very similar Path……I am glad to know you!

  • maureen says:

    Sarah you have said this beautifully, and Harold, kudos to you!
    The first book on witchcraft that I read in the early 70’s was Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft. I snuck it off my sisteer’s shelf while I was babysitting and it had a huge impact on me. I consider myself pretty traditional but by my own standards.

    I only started exploring the internet in the past few years as I was too busy working and raising my son to have much time for it. I have been blown away at the attitudes and infighting among many. Your blog has been a breath of very informative fresh air! At just a hair shy of 50 I’m not interested in being lectured to about what and how I should be practicing, what I have to read, or how to spell certain words. or what needs to be kept secret. I’m hoping this attitude will change as my eldest grand daughter is learning her own path, and that maybe by the time my youngest grad daughter starts to explore the raking of people over the coals for having their own ideas will be a thing of the past. In the meantime I’ll keep reading your blog and sharing it with the girls!
    Maureen

  • Angelwitch says:

    Actually I follow the path of Hedgewitch because of it’s traditional meaning. I didn’t know that there was an actual term called “traditional” witch.

  • Pam says:

    Very Well said to you Sarah and all that have chimmed in!

  • Seillean says:

    I’m not sure I can add anything that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by the commenters above so I’ll just say this: This post makes me happy and want to stand up and clap! 😉

  • Witches or not, I think your last paragraph is one that everyone should abide by, no matter what their magical path.

  • Desiree says:

    “Put away your books and grab your staff or stang and find yourself a crossroad and summon the oldest teacher of them all if you dare. Go out there and find your path.” Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’m just now returning to being actively interested in Pagan religion after a lull of a few years. The lull was caused largely by a disenchantment with Witchcraft resulting from dwelling too long in a particular internet forum which specifically declared itself as “non-fluffy.” I was sick of the name-calling, the constant bashing, and the ironic attitude that if one disagreed with the views held by certain highly vocal members that you were automatically wrong, stupid, and uneducated (I recall one instance where such a member blatantly stated that anyone who considered Witchcraft to be a religion, in any way, shape, or form, was an idiot. Period.). I never ceased to be Pagan, of course, but where I once was out in nature often, reading, writing, creating artwork and was otherwise highly involved with religion in my personal life, I ceased much of it.

    Now I’m experiencing a sort of reawakening, and while it’s tempting to just delve into reading X’s books and practicing in X’s fashion (insert author or publisher of choice), that’s not what I want. Research is valuable and I’m certainly reading more, including many of the authors mentioned, but like you I’m a follower of the Faery Faith and the most important things I’ve gathered in my journey so far were from folklore, nature, or gnosis through art-making.

  • Thank you so much everyone for your wonderful and heartfelt replies. I wish I could respond to you all individually! I wrote this on the fly. It’s something I’ve always wanted to say out loud but for some reason was afraid I’d get in trouble. I guess that’s what blogs are for – to be a safe place to put your foot in your mouth …or turn your pen into a sword.

    For Desiree,

    I’ve had the same trouble with forums; being the outcast because you believe witchcraft is a deep and full-bodied spirituality and not just a craft or trade to be picked up by anyone. In picking at such naysayers I always seem to find that they are animists or work with spirits in some way even if they won’t touch gods with a 10-foot pole… still pretty religious methinks.

    Slainte mhor!
    Sarah

    • Marilyn says:

      So, what sort of reading list would you recommend for someone beginning on a traditional path if none of the usual authors, such as Chumbley, Jackson, Howard, etc, would suffice? What do you say when someone comes to you and asks for the best books on the subject? Sometimes I’ll simply direct them to my blog profile page for my personal favorites that I have found most helpful, my little bibles if you will, but they of course are the usual ones.

      Just wondering, since the Traditional_Witchcraft Yahoo list receives that question on a regular basis from newer members and one can only recommend what one has found to be most helpful, besides actual Practice and interacting with the Spirits themselves.

      Marilyn

      • Are you asking for my apprenticeship booklist? It’s long! I’d have to make a separate post for it… maybe I will. I’m sure others, like my own apprentice, have never read many of the books on my list or know of their value to modern witchcraft.

      • Marilyn says:

        A post on that would be great! Then I can link to it when someone asks for recommendations as I value your wisdom.
        🙂

      • M. says:

        I would love to see your personal reading list :-).

  • Sarah..I’ve been reading your blog for a long time..a “follower”..this is the first time I’ve commented and I just want to say thank you! and to Harold as well. Everyone’s comments are so refreshing. While I love books and read all witchcraft books I can get my hands on…our true practice comes from inside of us. I have never labeled myself..as anything but pagan and witch. I veered away from the word traditional for the very reasons mentioned here…too many times I’ve seen on forums…the TW’s attacking others for their beliefs..I didnt’ want to be a part of that. I draw from many traditions because they all come from the same place for me…inside myself! Thank you again..Love your blog!

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing such wisdoms, Sarah. It’s hard not to let the doubt and fear creep in, especially when inner voices go silent for a time, as they have for me right now. This was a very timely, and immensely appreciated, post 🙂

  • Dawn says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you Sarah!

  • Violet Sunflower says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. It came just when I needed it. I am returning and have been overwhelmed by it all feeling that I need to study study study. This is my nature, to hit the books. But really what I need to be doing is walking the path not reading about it. I already know my path is very different so why do I keep thinking I am going to find a “how-to” or some illuminating work in book form that will spell it all out for me?

    Thanks for the wakeup call!

  • HexanSeekR says:

    I Agree with your post Sarah and some others also, I’m still young and have a lot to learn but I have my wise sides to and I’ve been observing this site and blog and find it enlightening, peaceful, and interesting. The people here seem to be cool also. I myself am new to this path, and still finding my way. I’ve felt there was some way to help show steps, but since I was young I’ve always learned through trial and error and practice and learning from nature trusting my own nature, and listening to my heart and it’s never failed me.

    I appreciate your words,

    My regards

  • Douglas says:

    This is most excellent. It gives me the vision of the Alchemist burning his books and taking the hand of Nature. Connection is our key, lock and door. You can have all the intellect in the world, but if you are not connected then it is pointless to call yourself a witch, traditional or otherwise.

  • Michael says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I remember reading of the Norse Alfheimr and wondering a connection with Elphame from the Scottish witch trials. So reading of Scoto-Scandanavian folk magic and Witchcraft is interesting. Can you recommend any sources on this?