Information and Advice for Novices
*Please note that this was found in my BOS and have no idea if I wrote it or someone else. I have provided it here for informational purposes only and do not claim ownership. It was such practical advice I decided to share it.
This article is for all the novices in witchcraft, young or old, who write to me almost daily seeking advice. Many of you are serious about becoming Witches or already have a little experience with witchcraft. Some ask questions that are straight out of the movies, though that alone doesn’t preclude the possibility of a serious interest in witchcraft. (I like witchcraft movies too, by the way.) Almost to the person, you are first drawn to magick rather than to the spiritual path of witchcraft. Nothing wrong with that either. Magick is such an appealing idea, especially to young people. Who wouldn’t want to become beautiful, rich, more loved, and more powerful? Your first questions often involve how to do spells and whether they work. In other words, you want to know if being a Witch will really transform you and make your life better than you had ever dreamed.
The answer to the last question is an unqualified “yes!” However, it is not an easy path and it isn’t for everyone. Whether you choose it is for you alone to decide. Below I’ve outlined some steps for getting started in witchcraft and magick. I’ve also included a short discussion of ethics in witchcraft, some of the do’s and don’ts, or at least things to ponder. This is only a beginning, not the final word, and it is based on my opinion, my experience. Because this is directed primarily to the people who write to me, my comments are largely for those of you who do not already have coven support or a strong pagan community to guide you.
Again, these guidelines are my own and would most likely not be the same guidelines another Witch would give you. In fact, your first lesson is to recognize that there are as many views of witchcraft as there are Witches. We tend to be a rather individualized bunch, which, in my opinion, is one of the great benefits of following such a path.
What is Witchcraft?
Witchcraft is a way of life that is based on reverence for the Earth and all its inhabitants and the ability and responsibility to harness the forces of the Universe for one’s own ends and for others. It is spiritual and magickal, but it is also a part of the mundane world in which we live. A true Witch follows the path of witchcraft every day, in every act and thought. This, of course, is my definition, my view of a magickal life, but then, I can give you no other.
I can, however, clarify some of the confusing information you may have come across. First, witchcraft and Wicca are not the same things. This common misconception may stem from the fact that both Wiccans and practitioners of witchcraft call themselves Witches. They also do some of the same things and even hold some of the same beliefs. However, there are some fundamental differences. One important difference is historical. Wicca is a fairly modern practice, which began with Gerald Gardner in the 1950s and combined Western European folk traditions with a variety of mystical traditions. Non-Wiccan witchcraft looks to tradition, science, history, the arts and similar sources for its foundation. Of course, many Wiccans are also interested in these sources of knowledge. It is their reliance on Gardnerian and post-Gardnerian ritual and belief that is the principle historical distinction.
A more important difference concerns the relationship to deities. Witches who are not Wiccan generally do not worship Gods and Goddesses. They revere them in the same way that they revere all creatures of nature, but they do not set them above themselves as superior beings. In some cases, they are not considered to be conscious beings at all, but rather archetypes of human potentials. Most Wiccans, however, practice some form of Goddess worship (or God and Goddess) as central to their religious system. This is a somewhat gray area since both kinds of Witches “call on” deities in spell work. It seems to be a matter of perspective as much as anything, and as I said, individualism is abundant in witchcraft.
Another distinction is the Wiccan belief in the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law. These are central to the practice of Wicca, but not to the practice of witchcraft more generally. I discuss these basic principles in detail below, but for now I have one comment. You don’t have to be Wiccan, adhering to all the practices and beliefs of a particular Wiccan tradition, to see these two central principles as good standards to follow.
Most of you who have written want to jump right into spell work. That’s not impossible so long as you start slowly, carefully and with some guidance. However, you do have to know something about what you’re doing if you want to be effective.
My advice, I’m afraid, sounds a lot like homework, not too welcome for those readers still young enough to be in school! Still, it is the best way to start. Read, read, read! Study, study, study! There are a lot of great books out there, and some of them are especially good for beginners. Perhaps the most important reason for doing all this study is to find out if witchcraft really is the path for you, and if it is, what tradition best suits you, if any. The latter means that you have to read more than one book. Get different authors’ perspectives, learn about the beliefs and rituals of different traditions, find out what steps one must take to be a part of a chosen tradition, discover how to work as a solitary practitioner or how to find a coven. Think about which direction would be best for you.
Of course, personal study is only one step. Many novices find teachers, take classes, or join groups to learn more. A lot of my readers have asked me how to find these resources. If you’re in a city, it shouldn’t be difficult at all. If you live in a rural area, you might have to travel to the city for classes and other group events. Here’s a good way to find these places. Get the phone book and look up “books.” Many of the places that sell pagan books and other supplies also offer classes, or at least have the fliers for places that do. Since no one advertises “witchcraft” or “paganism” you have to look for other clues to the right stores. Some will advertise “New Age” or “metaphysical” books, but there are clues even when no such advertising is included. Read the names of the stores and you’re almost sure to find something. For example, here in Oceanside, there’s a store called “The Crystal Cauldron,” and one down the road called “The Mystical Dragon.” Stores with such names are sure to be pagan-oriented.
Okay, so you found a class and you’re reading lots of books. What next? Work on the exercises you find in the books or that are given to you in classes. These will most likely be meditation and visualization exercises. Some find these easy and relaxing. For others, they are tedious and boring. If that’s the case, look for different exercises. There are many ways of achieving a trance state and raising power, so don’t give up. Maybe you’ll be most successful dancing until you reach near exhaustion instead of sitting quietly contemplating a candle. It certainly works for the shamans of many societies. Of course, eventually, you’ll need to find a way to raise power without so much physical effort, but once you experience it, finding new ways to achieve it will be easier. Practice!
The Ethics of Witchcraft
I’ll leave the actual structure and design of spells to the books you are now reading. There are many types of spells, some simple, some quite complex. They may be done alone or in the context of a ritual. They may be performed with the aid of particular deities or with energy from Earth sources. The possibilities are almost endless. Some of the books you read (and classes, if you attend them) should teach you how to construct a ritual, as well as the skills you will need to perform them (casting circles, raising energy, etc.). You’ll have to work at it, but these are learned skills and anyone with dedication, intelligence and perseverance will succeed.
There are some important things you should consider in any spell work. These make up the ethics of witchcraft, that is, the moral consciousness that guides your decisions in the practice of witchcraft. Notice that I said YOUR decisions. Ultimately, whatever you do and whatever the consequences of your actions are your responsibility. Remember that witchcraft is a way of life, not just the ability to do magick. Ethical guidelines should apply to everything you do, to how you live your life.
If you’ve read anything about Wicca, you are sure to have come across the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law. As I said above, these are specific to Wiccan traditions, but can be good guidelines for anyone doing magick. These rules are often given in the form of a short poem:
Bide the Witch’s law we must,
In perfect love, in perfect trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An ye harm none, do what ye will.
What ye send forth comes back to thee,
So ever mind the rule of three.
Follow this with mind and heart,
Merry meet and merry part!
Doing Your “Will”
The first key phrase here is “An ye harm none, do what ye will.” There are volumes of discussion on the exact meaning of this rule, so I can only tell you what it means to me. I’ll start with the “what ye will” part. It’s easy to think of this as a license to do whatever you want, but “will” has a somewhat different meaning. It includes determination and decision, not merely a momentary choice to satisfy one’s immediate desires. To do your will is to do what is necessary for the path you’ve chosen in life, a path taken after reflection and thought for its meaning and consequences. In choosing to use witchcraft, as in all life’s decisions, think carefully about the possible results of your actions.
The first part of the Rede, “An ye harm none,” is also more than it seems at first reading. For me at least, it means to harm nothing at all – humans, animals, plants, the Earth, the Universe itself. This is obviously a goal none of us (or few) can achieve, but it should be at least a goal. I do a lot of harmful things every day. I drive a car (polluting the air); I use too many paper products (destroying plants); I don’t get enough exercise (harming myself)…. the list is endless. However, if each of us is aware of the need to harm none, we can limit our use of non-recyclable materials, take better care of ourselves, our friends, and our relatives; and so on. In short, we can at least try to do as little harm as possible as we go through life. We can attempt to leave the Earth, having harmed it no more than a gust of wind.
In the application of this rule to spell work, there are some exceptions in my opinion. For example, I can and will use witchcraft to protect my son, even if it means harming someone. I’ll try to find another way, but if that’s the only option open to me, you can be sure I’ll take it. No rule makes any sense to me that would prevent me from defending my family or myself. Others will disagree with this, as is their right.
You may have noticed that I did not mention killing and eating animals as harmful. Many people are vegetarians for a variety of reasons, and that’s fine. Witchcraft, however, is a religion of nature, of reverence for the laws of nature. Humans are part of the food chain, and have always eaten meat, even in the ancient societies perceived to be closest to nature. Reverence for nature does not mean we cannot participate in nature. We can be careful of how we participate, however. For example, I do not eat veal because of the cruel methods used to process it. All I am saying is to think about what you do instead of going through life blindly, doing whatever makes you happy without a thought for how your actions affect your fellow inhabitants of the Earth.
There are indirect ways of harming others as well as the more direct and obvious ones. Waste is always harmful. If you have food left over that you don’t think you’ll use the next day, make it into a sandwich or put it in a plastic container (thereby reusing the plastic too) and carry it to any street corner where you know there are homeless people and give it away. Think about what happens when you do this. You will have used all of the food given to you by the sacrificed animals and plants; you will have helped another person in need; you will have made the world a better place! This is so simple. Share what you have.
The Threefold Law
“What ye send forth comes back to thee, so ever mind the rule of three.” This is often called the Threefold Law, which says that whatever we do will come back to us three times or with three times the force. Some people even say it comes back tenfold! If a Witch breaks the Wiccan Rede by harming someone, I don’t believe that the Goddess or God comes crashing down on him or her to punish them, but I do think that people get back at least some of what they send out. I think it’s more like a natural law, perhaps one our scientists haven’t discovered yet, but it does seem to be true. We are always sending out energy, though most deliberately in spell work. Stated another way, this law says that whatever energy you send out will return to you threefold. I don’t know why it becomes threefold, or if it does, but since I do believe it comes back, I’ll accept the rest.
Even if you don’t accept the Threefold Law as fundamental to your religious beliefs, if you have any notion that what you do will come back to you, this is powerful message. If you are mean or hateful to someone, your future will include someone being mean and hateful to you. If you steal, physically harm someone, lie to someone, break someone’s heart, take away their dignity, whatever, you can expect these things in your own future. If you choose to create misery, you can look forward to a life of misery. I think this is one of the most important differences between a nature-based religion and Christianity. For us, retribution comes in this life; for them, it is in the afterlife. I don’t know about you, but I’m more concerned with how to live this life than with what may happen after I’m dead. Again, this is just my opinion.
Ethics in Spell work
Okay, now I’ll get back to the subject you’re most interested in – casting spells. I’ve given you some good reasons for not harming anyone or anything and for considering your will carefully. I’ve also suggested that you consider the possible consequences of your actions for your future. While these are good rules to live by, they are essential in casting spells. In your day-to-day life, you may briefly put out some negative energy or momentarily wish harm to someone. This is not good, of course, but it is unlikely to cause any significant effect. However, when you cast a spell you are directing energy or power to a specific goal with much more intensity than in such fleeting thoughts. Since there is a very good chance that you will achieve your goal, you’d better be sure it’s what you want!
Assuming you more or less agree with the ethical guidelines above, you don’t want to harm anyone. Many spells are worked to affect some relationship with another person. Here’s the problem. Manipulating another person to act against his will is harmful. Even if your intentions are good and you believe you are doing what is best for that person, he or she still has the right to act according to his or her own will. The best way to see this is to turn it around. Would you want someone to take away your will, to control your actions or thoughts, in short, to take away your power? I doubt it. We all want our independence, including our right to make mistakes.
The most common spell requests are for love spells. Everyone wants love. However, manipulating another person into loving you (if that’s even possible) is a huge mistake. That person has the right to make his own choices. Even if you were successful in such a spell, would you really want someone to care about you only because he was coerced by magick? In the end, he’d probably hate you for it.
Now this doesn’t mean we can’t do love spells, even those in which we have a particular person in mind. Do a spell to make yourself more attractive to that person or do one to create more situations in which you would be together, thereby giving the other person a better chance to get to know you. If you really feel like you have to be more direct, do a spell to get him to notice you, so long as the choice to “love” you remains his own.
The best love spells are those that are done to bring the right lover to you for the present time. That is, you use magick and whatever forces you call on to help you to bring love into your life, but without being specific about who the other person will be. Other love spells that are ethical (again, in my opinion) are those that are meant to strengthen or protect an existing relationship, especially a marriage or other long-term partnership.
In any spell, try to see all the possible consequences of a successful spell. For example, in money spells, you should be careful to say how you want to receive the money. Both of my parents are alive and well, so I am careful to say that I do not want money to come from an inheritance. If I want money to come from increased business, I say that I do not want the increased business to significantly increase the stress in my life and that I want to still have leisure time for friends and family. Always think of the consequences.
Some Witches say that you should never do spells for other people unless they request it. In general, that’s a good rule to have, but there are exceptions. Healing spells in particular come to mind. You may not be able to ask a seriously ill person if they want a healing spell, though you may want to do something to help the person. Even in these cases, there are a lot of potential variables, most of which are not for you to decide. I am more inclined to do a healing spell for someone who is relatively young, has an illness or injury from which complete recovery is possible, and who would not be offended by witchcraft.
Protection spells also are done on other people at times. Again, be sure you aren’t trying to manipulate that person. I have a friend who loves motorcycles and mountain bikes and seems to have a lot of accidents. I wouldn’t want to do anything to prevent him from participating in these risky sports, but I have used protection spells on him. He knows I do this and approves. Witches often cast protection spells for their own children, just as they would use any other means to protect them. However, children must be allowed to make their own decisions eventually and protection should not include taking away their will, even when we think their choices are somewhat dangerous. This doesn’t mean you won’t try to talk your son or daughter out of doing something, just don’t put spells on them to prevent them from doing it!
While you will probably do many spells for yourself and those closest to you, do a few for the Earth and its inhabitants as well. Go to your local Humane Society and cast protection spells on the dogs and cats there. (Talk to them too…they get lonely.) Go to a landfill and cast a spell to protect the Earth. Ask the gods (forces of nature, the Universe, etc.) to help homeless people or hungry children. If you can’t go to these places, you can still do the spells. Put some energy and power into making the world a better place. Many Witches believe that in any ritual in which magick is performed, there should be three spells: one for the Earth, one for another person, and one for yourself.
I could go on about all the different kinds of spells, but really it’s simple. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. Think about the consequences of your actions. Take a little responsibility for all the Earth and its inhabitants. And most of all, live a magickal life!