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The Llewellyn Journal
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Learning the Responsibilities of the Witch

This article was written by Kala Trobe
posted under Pagan

I have read Tarot for years and in many interesting circumstances, but one instance sticks in my mind because of its outcome and the philosophical questions raised by my position as seer. As I explained to my querent that the Death card in the position indicative of her home merely meant transformation, something told me that the transition was to be more serious in this instance. Sometimes symbolism isn’t symbolism, it’s fact. However, I did not wish to alarm her.

“A difficult change is pending,” I bowdlerized. “You will need to employ great inner strength to face it.”

A week later, her husband was dead.

Had I done the responsible thing in giving a euphemistic version of the truth? If I had said what I really thought, would it have made any difference at all except to alarm her and possibly the person due to be removed from the earthly plane? The husband died by his own hand. Could I have prevented this? What is the place of suicide in the scheme of things? Whose decision ought it to be anyway—especially when a person is suffering from inescapable physical or mental torment?

A plethora of lateral philosophical questions followed. What is the point of psychic arts if not to alter fate, or at least to craft it for the better? What, indeed, is “better” than our allotted destinies—if such a thing exists? And what is the role of the responsible occultist in such a scenario?

Swamped by questions, I began to write down my responses in order to clarify them; thus was The Witch’s Guide to Life created. I wanted to take into account every aspect of the Witch/magickian’s unique stance in these philosophical debates and the tools we have at our disposal. These tools are both practical and incorporeal—the metaphysical overviews that inform us, the history that built the plinth on which we now enact our art, the ancient systems from which we gather our clues—interpretive mythology, elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, Qabalah, Tarot, Enochia, medieval grimoires. What a wealth of knowledge is available to the modern occultist—and what towering responsibilities!

In ancient Egypt, the Initiate was taught Truth and Right-Thinking whilst he or she was being trained. A major part of Initiation was moral correctness, “to think Ma’at, to do Ma’at.” It was when one’s motives could be presented in the Hall of the Assessors and found incorrupt, one’s conscience as light as Ma’at’s feather, that the greatest initiation of all might take place—progress to the realms of Osiris and eventual rebirth.

Life is still a series of initiations, however magickal or non magickally-minded one might be, but as far as official occult training goes, where does that leave us? Most neophytes now learn from books or from self-appointed gurus/elders; many of these are necessarily flawed. With the exception of one or two Lodges and decent covens, there is no longer a Temple-based format in which the occultist or aspiring Witch might learn first what a wing is, then what it means to fly, then the dynamics and know-how of the act itself. Nowadays we must learn and relearn for ourselves, often doing Icarus impersonations along the way. We must be our own guides and have compassion for ourselves when we make the inevitable foolish mistakes that characterize the learning process. We must live with a foot in both worlds, for there is no point in being here if we cloister ourselves.

Our bodies, too, are systems of mystical import, containing powerful psychic tools and indicators—the chakras, the aura, the chi. We must maintain the physical vessel in order to forge our way ahead on this plane. We must interact with other spirits both carnate and discarnate. We must enjoy our modernity, but remember the spiritual wisdom of the ancients: Meden Agan—Know Thyself!

In other words, we must strive for excellence on all level—physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual. Compassion and a sense of fun are just as important as a knowledge of Qabalah. A healthy body, well-exercised and decently fed, will provide a stable foundation for the aspiring occultist. A wide knowledge will equip the magickian for intelligent action. And as the ancient Egyptians were well aware, within this action, motive is the most important factor of all. Indeed, in the Hall of the Assessors a person was not judged by his or her deeds, but by the motives that informed them. What better indicator of the state of the soul?

Reflecting on this, I know that the Tarot reading of Transformation could have been interpreted no other way. I am grateful that out of Death came so many questions and their ongoing conclusions. So has it always been, and so it ever shall be.

Kala Trobe
Kala Trobe (UK) is the main nom-de-plume of Kate La Trobe-Bateman. She is author of the award-winning work of fiction The Magick Bookshop and the new Magick in the West End, a dazzling collection of short stories that brim with imagination and come...  Read more

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