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Care and Treatment of the "Instant Witch"

By Sunfell

You’ve seem them: They’re usually the ones with the most outrageous costumes and jewelry; the ones who at times are almost a Hollywood parody of a Pagan, who look like they’ve escaped a Tolkien novel. You’ve heard them: giggling clutches of teenage girls in the new-age section of the bookstore poring over ‘love spell’ books. You’ve probably read posts by them: they fill up the message boards with all sorts of questions, or go trolling for Christians on the boards. You probably try to avoid them when you can- their incessant pontification and magickal one-upmanship can drive a veteran Pagan crazy. (By ‘veteran’ I mean someone who has been practicing the Craft for at least a decade.)

All right, old timer- time to sit back and remember your early days. Remember when you had your "AH-Ha!" moment- perhaps while reading Margot Adler’s "Drawing Down the Moon"? Remember when you ran across her description of a particular practice and the light went on and you said, "That’s for me!"? Or maybe you rushed home from the bookstore with the first edition of Starhawk’s wonderful "The Spiral Dance" and stayed up all night poring over it? Remember those lonely BI (Before Internet) days when you sincerely believed that you were the Only Witch/Pagan/Druid/Your Path Here in the Whole World- and you despaired of ever running into a Kindred Soul? And do you remember how you felt when you finally DID run into someone with similar beliefs? I sure do.

In the 26 years since I realized that I was a Witch, and dedicated myself to the path of the Priestess, a lot has happened in our community. Much of it has been very positive. And some of it has not. One of the hotly debated things has been the emergence of the Instant Do It Yourself, Be a Witch in a Weekend sort of book. Are books of these sorts useful or are they dangerous? Should they be taken seriously? Should the people who use them to find our path be taken seriously? How should a Pagan Veteran handle an eager newbie? And what are the dangers to a newcomer? I shall try to address these things in this essay.

Perhaps my own story of my journey to the Craft can be used as an example. I was 12 when I realized that I could not follow the religious path of my family. I felt a calling beyond the bounds of their church and faith, and realized in my heart that mine was to be a different path. I sat down with a candle at a makeshift altar late one evening, and declared myself a Witch and Priestess. I was a little fearful of the implications of the word ‘witch’, but it seemed to fit me better than any other designation. I knew that I was a Priestess- not an evildoer. And even though I barely knew She existed, I felt myself embraced by the Goddess.

And so things remained until I joined the USAF in 1979. Away from Arkansas and the fundamentalist stranglehold on the libraries and bookstores, I found Starhawk and Adler’s books, along with many others, and my education began. True to the teaching that "when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear", I began ‘running into’ people who were instrumental in teaching me the principles and laws of Magick and the Craft. I began training in earnest for my Wiccan initiations while stationed in Germany. My teachers believed in a long-term commitment, and my path from Neophyte to Third Degree took 7 years to complete in the traditional manner. (One year for the Year of Inquiry, one to First Degree, two years to Second, and Three to Third.) I was stationed in England when I received my Third, and my studies continued there. I learned a lot from several wonderful groups of people, including a genuine "FamTrad" lady of the Old Ways.

My path is probably not typical, and I do not claim that my way is any better than anyone else’s. But I called myself Priestess and Witch long before I was brought into the Craft by initiation.

 We may have to accept that the teachings of these ‘instant Witch’ books may be the only Gateway available for seekers of our Ways. What we need to look out for, though is the quality of these books. They can be very useful to neophytes if they contain the right facts, and give the seeker a way to connect with kindred souls. A good Wiccan primer should teach the basic Laws of Magick, and emphasize the ethics of the Craft. They should outline our holidays, pantheons, and history. They should contain a self-blessing or a self-dedication rite that is simple and spiritually effective to perform. And they should have a list of further resources for the seeker to study. If used correctly, a Wiccan primer should permit the seeker to ‘try on’ our mindset and faith, and see if they ‘fit’ their own spiritual needs and feelings. Such books can bring forth that "Ah-Ha!" moment- that flash of recognition of community. But it must be emphasized that such books are only the beginning of training- they serve as gateways only.

Can such books be dangerous? Not in themselves. The dangers lie in the mindset of the seeker. Why are they interested in becoming a Witch? Do they seek and alternative way to acknowledge God/Dess, or are they looking to have ‘power over’ others? Are they on a manipulative ego trip? Do they want to use our Way to shock and frighten their parents and peers? Or do they crave a return to a less dogmatic path than the other popular religions offer?

Should a book-blessed neo-Witch be taken seriously? Yes!! Were you, when you were a newbie? How were you treated when you finally found your community? Newcomers should always be treated with kindness and courtesy. Yes, they are Witches- or "baby Pagans" as my group called them. Sure, they can be annoying- but all ‘babies’ are, to a certain extent. And because they are ‘babies’, they need to be carefully guided and closely watched, lest they fall victim to the ‘measles and mumps’ that every spiritual ‘baby’ in the Magickal Traditions undergoes.

What are these spiritual ‘childhood diseases’? Here, courtesy of Starhawk and Z. Budapest, are a list of them, and their cures. Without guidance, any or all of these can destroy an Instant Witch. The following is excerpted from "The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries" by Z. Budapest, First Printing 1980. Susan B Anthony Coven No.1, Publisher.

"…It is a necessary part of everyone’s magical education to fall victim to one’s character traits occasionally. We all find ourselves ego-tripping, do-gooding, showing off and all the rest from time to time, but how else can we learn compassion and tolerance for others who go off on the same tangents? Falling victim to ones own illusions eventually confers a sort of immunity, much like the result of childhood disease, and with luck, recovery is rapid and complete. Here, then, are the ‘mumps’ and ‘measles’ of magic.

"Omnipotence. This is quite common when first discovering that your Will can effect events. You may feel a tremendous rush of power and believe that you can do anything and everything.

"Guilt. You may believe you can do everything, but sooner or later you will fail. …Unless you realize that magic has its limitations and works within the framework of laws (just as standard medical science does) you run the risk of feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong in the universe. Relax. You are not that powerful, nor are you that important.

"Paranoia. As your awareness grows and you become more conscious of negative energy and impulses in others, you may become oversensitive and begin jumping at shadows …(and) ascribing every negative thing that happens to you as a ‘psychic attack’. A healthy streak of cynicism is a good defense against this one. Remember that magic that is ‘real’ rarely conflicts with common sense.

"Saintliness. It is hard to resist the temptation to be ‘more spiritual than thou’, to offer unasked for advice to your acquaintances, and to look down on others who have not ‘seen the Light’- all while trying to appear humble. With any luck at all, you’ll come back to earth before you lose all your friends.

"Showing off. This, like Saintliness is hard to resist. When the fanatic Jehovah’s Witness in your chem class spouts off about religion, how can you NOT tell her you see a hypocritical green spot in her aura? With painful experience, however, you will discover that no one will listen to your advice or commentary unless they have asked for it, and that magic only works when it is for real, not show.

"Going Half-Astral. When you get so caught up in magic and psychic work that you neglect the earthly plane and your physical body, you will become drained and weakened. In extreme cases, people who lose touch too completely with earth can have what amounts to a psychotic ‘break’. This is easily avoided, however, by making sure you stay grounded and centered when you do any magical work or meditations. Also, it is vital to have a satisfying and rewarding earth-plane life, including a good sex life and a love of good food.

"…Your very best protection, against all these ills and any others you might meet physically or psychically, is to maintain your sense of humor. As long as you can laugh at yourself, you cannot head too far down the wrong path, and you always have an immediate ticket back to truth. …Remember, laughter is the key to sanity!"

So, you see, the act of becoming an ‘Instant Witch" is only the first step along a long, but rewarding path. Instead of dismissing the "Instant Witch" books, we should see them as a sign of how far we as a community and faith have come in the past 25 years. It is the veterans, and soon-to-be Elders in the Craft who have done the hard work of clearing the brambles from the Gateway to our faith. Instead of frowning upon them, look at our young self-starters as a sign of our success. Welcome them warmly, take them in hand, and train and initiate them properly.

Blessings Be

1999, 2001 Lorie A. Johnson

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