in the beginning . . .
What do you already know about Witchcraft-or perhaps
I should I ask, what do you think you already know? Why
are you interested? There are easier ways to live your life
than to be a part of any minority. What do you expect to
get out of Witchcraft that makes the quest worth the
struggle, and what do you expect to give back to it? Will
you wear your religion with pride for all to see? Will you
be an in-your-face militant, a sort of Witchy fundamentalist?
Will you quietly walk your spiritual path alone with
your deities or seek contacts for friendship, exchange of
information, and perhaps group or coven worship?
in the beginning . . .
What all Witches have in common is that we follow a
nature- or earth-based religion. However, we each tread a
slightly different path in our search for our creator, and
each of our lives is filled with varying needs and desires,
but, with faith and effort, we all hope to end up in the
Before we begin, I want to prepare you for the flood of
names and terms that accompanies the Craft. Witchcraft,
sometimes referred to as Wicca or Eclectic Wicca, comprises
the indigenous religions of western Europe, making
it collectively one of the oldest religions on the planet. A
Witch and a Wiccan may or may not be the same thing.
Wicca began as a specific Anglo-Welsh tradition in England
around the turn of the twentieth century, but today it
is a tag often attached to other traditions (Celtic Wicca,
Russian Wicca, etc.). There are two possible origins of the
word Witch, one being the Old English wyk meaning to
shape or to bend, and the other being the Anglo-Saxon
wit meaning to possess knowledge or wisdom. From
wyk come the Craft words wicce and also the modern
English word wicked. From the Anglo-Saxon root word
wit, we get the Craft words wita and witta. Like
Wicca, the terms Wicce and Witta have ceased to be
spiritual descriptions in their own right, and it's not uncommon
to see Wicce or Witta combined with other
cultural labels to create an entirely new Pagan tradition.
It may surprise you to know that both men and woman
are called Witches. The term warlock is thought to be
an old Scottish term meaning oath breaker or sorcerer.
The word warlock is rarely, if ever, used as a label for a
Pagan man. In fact, many men find it insulting.
Two thousand years ago, Europeans did not define themselves
as Witches or Wiccans. Even the word Pagan, derived
from the Latin paganus, meaning people of the
earth, wasn't one people applied to themselves. The labeling
of various cultural Craft traditions as Wicca, Wicce,
Wita, Witta, or Wice is a twentieth-century addition to the
Craft. In the clan and tribal societies of old Europe, religion
and spirituality were woven into the fabric of everyday life.
One might be said to possess wicca or have witta, meaning
that he possessed a special skill or knowledge, but such a
person would not label his religion that way. He would
have been more likely to say he was a follower of a particular
patron deity or was a priest of a deity within a specific
For the purposes of this book, I will be using the terms
Witchcraft and Wicca to refer to western European,
earth-based religions and those that came to North America
with European immigrants. The word Pagan will be
used to denote the follower of any earth- or nature-based
spiritual system or religion. In other words, all Wiccans
and Witches are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Witches or
Another word you might hear applied to a broad groups
of Pagans is Heathen. Many Germanic traditions prefer
this appellation instead of Pagan. The word simply
means of the heath or of the country.
There are now hundreds of cultural traditions that
have been revived, pieced together, and compiled by
modern Pagans (sometimes called neo-Pagans). At some
point, you will be exposed to many of them. They each
have variations in their practices and beliefs, but they are
all valid expressions of an ancient spirituality in the
modern world. As long as the practitioners are harming
no one, they deserve your respect and, in turn, they
should give your spiritual path the same consideration.
Traditionally, it takes a year and a day of study before you
can undergo an initiation and be called a Witch or Wiccan
rather than a dedicant, apprentice, or student. At that
time, you may do a self-initiation or be initiated by a
coven or another Witch. If you display the proper knowledge
one expects of someone who's put in a serious year
and a day of work, no one will question your right to call
yourself a Witch. However, if you come across followers of
a specific tradition (such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian,
British Traditional, Seax-Wica, Steghería, Dianic, Faerie,
etc.) and you wish to be part of that tradition, you will
have to learn its unique practices and be initiated into
that sect. This extended study time is common in traditions
ruled under a strict hierarchy (dedicant, first degree,
initiate, second degree, priest/ess, high priest or priestess,
third degree, elder, etc.). You will need to study with
someone from within that tradition, learn its special rituals
and tradition secrets, and then be initiated if you wish
to be called a Witch of that tradition.
Many Witches, especially those who do not have or
want ties to a coven or other group, tend to shun traditional
labels. Instead, they will take their cultural heritage
or their family's seasonal customs, and create their own
private ways of ritual and worship. This is called solitary
Eclectic Wicca, the most common type of Witchcraft
practiced in North America, draws from the practices of
many cultures and remains open to anyone who is interested
in learning and working within its generous parameters.
Many eclectic Craft study circles are operating
around the major cities of the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Canada. Look in alternative newspapers,
and on bulletin boards at health food stores, and always
ask in an occult shop. Many times the shop will act as a
go-between to help people link up with others who share
a similar vision.
starting your own book of shadows
Before you begin to learn any more about Witchcraft, before
you rush out to the occult shop, I encourage you to
start compiling a Book of Shadows in a simple loose-leaf
notebook. Witchcraft has no single holy book as many
other religions do. Each coven or group of Witches who
work together will have its own Book of Shadows, and
each individual Witch within the coven and each solitary
Witch will have her own book.
As you read through this book, you should start recording
in your Book of Shadows your impressions, your dreams,
what you like and don't like, and what you want and don't
want. You can change your mind later about any aspect of
the Craft, and you will-probably more than once-but for
now this is your starting point.
After you're done with this book, your Book of Shadows
will be your most useful and personal magick and ritual
tool during your first years as a Witch. In it, you will
record your thoughts, your spells, your potion recipes, festival
recipes, ritual texts, dreams, divination results, and
just about anything else you can think of as your integrate
Witchcraft into every aspect of your life. If you later join a
coven or have one or more teachers, they may give you
parts of their books to copy into yours. Or you may end up
with two books, one for your personal use and another for
use within your coven.
Your book doesn't have to be fancy, but if fancy appeals
to you, there are beautiful journals and other attractive
blank books available. I started out using them myself but
found a loose-leaf notebook held more information, and it
allowed me to reorganize pages as needed.
No one knows for sure how old this practice of keeping a
Book of Shadows is, but it could be that it was borrowed
from ceremonial magick or other forms of wizardry that
were practiced by the literate and educated upper classes
during the Middle Ages. They called their spell books grimoires,
a word of uncertain etymology, but which is possibly
an Old French term to describe the changing of one substance
to another. Another theory is that it comes from an
Old Norman English word that may have been the origin
of the modern English words grammar and glamour.
The name Book of Shadows comes from the concept
that rituals and spells dwell in thoughtforms only, hiding
in the shadows of our minds, rituals not fully formed until
enacted by the Witch. Another theory states that, during
the Witchhunting hysteria, Witches met in the dark,
skulking through shadows of the moon to their meeting
places. The thoughtforms origin makes more sense because,
again, we're dealing with the lives and folk beliefs of
poor and illiterate people.
Write it out
To get the most out of your book you must write it yourself.
Words written by you stick in your head more securely
than words that are spoken by you or read to you. Writing
is a slow process, and by writing things down, you'll find
that concepts will clarify themselves and new questions
will arise to guide your spiritual growth. If you're not going
to get the most out of writing, then you'd better rethink
your interest in Witchcraft because most of it is just plain
old hard work and requires a substantial investment of
time and personal energy to master.
Many modern Witches keep their Books of Shadows on
computers, and this is fine as long as the Witch types the
information himself. All this means is that photocopying
and downloading information are not the ways to keep
your book. Do your own typing or writing to get the most
benefit from it.
challenging your mind
I picked up my first book on Witchcraft in 1972, but it was
almost another full decade before I knew I wanted to dedicate
myself to serious study. At that time covens, teachers,
and reliable books were scarce. Today, Wicca and
other forms of Paganism are among the fastest growing
spiritual movements in the world. Books, covens, teachers,
and other students are everywhere and Witches are present
in every level of society.
Whether you teach yourself, work with other beginners,
have a study group with access to a teacher or teachers,
or have a whole teaching coven to help you, you will
be challenged by the powers of the universe and by your
God and Goddess as you progress toward the end of your
year and a day. You will be expected to do much reading
-not just of Craft books, but of astronomy, astrology,
mythology, physics, and botany. You will learn to expand
your thinking to include multiple realities, omnipresent
time, and the fact that many paths and ideas can lead us
to reunion with our creator or creators, which is the ultimate
purpose of any religion.
You will run into lots of other Pagans along the way,
some of whom you will like and others you won't. This is
because we're not our religion; we're just people, and that
means we're not perfect. This is also the reason some
covens hum with high energy and other just lie around
doing nothing. Some Witches who've been through these
immature rumbles often leave for another coven or for
solitary practice. If you pick up Pagan magazines, you will
often hear all this nonspiritual teeth-gnashing called a
Witch War or, my favorite, Witchcrap. Unfortunately, no
religion has found a way to keep its zealots under control.
Those who practice with us but naysay every point create
a chasm within good covens by turning their focuses on
infighting and pointless arguments.
the student witch
A good Witch will always remember that, for the rest of
his life, long after that first year and a day is complete, he
will still be a student. We are all always students and all always
teachers. Even after more than twenty years in the
Craft, I learn new things all the time, often from newcomers.
This is another illustration of the wheel of existence
on which we ride through time and space. Nothing is linear,
everything is a circular, coming to us, going from us,
and returning to us again.
As you study Witchcraft, read with a critical eye for
things you like and things you don't like and for things
that don't strike you as accurate. This should be done
whenever you read a Craft book or when discussing a
book's merits with others. I've made many mistakes by accepting
things I was told early on without using my powers
of reasoning. Blind faith is disastrous in a religion called
the Craft of the Wise. I've found blatant mistakes in many
Craft books, even my own. Live and learn.
To be the best Witch you can be, resolve to purge your
mind of any and all images Hollywood has shown you,
then hop on your inner broomstick and ride with me into
the world of the moon, the sun, and magickal living. Only
by experiencing knowledge can it become wisdom and be
of any use to us spiritually. Witchcraft is a lifelong commitment
-not just to a religion but to a way of living in
harmony with all other beings. The learning and teaching
process is another one of our cycles that never ends. How
high you fly is up to you. Discover your needs, test your
personal powers, seek out your patron deities, and dig in
the dirt that is the Great Mother who gave you life, for
only then will you know for sure if you want to be a Witch.