In the wonderful world of spirituality there are many valid expressions of this thing called Witchcraft. Every tradition and lineage has a different take on what the term Witchcraft means, perhaps this is why it has such broad appeal. Whereas I will not disparage the beliefs of others, I do firmly believe that at heart every Witch is a Solitary. What I mean by that is despite tradition or lineage, no advancement on the path of Witchcraft can be made except by the individual.
The last sentence seems on the surface to be a very obvious statement, but there is not agreement on this subject. Many coven traditions are suspicious of the Witch who has never worked with others, and some magickal traditions cannot even be worked as a solitary. These would be traditions that rely heavily on the conferring of degrees and grades. Amongst these Gardnerian Witchcraft and the OTO are probably the best known. I will not pretend to have either the expertise or the patience to cover all such traditions but rather, I will talk briefly about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, the tendency to use credentials instead of "actuals" and delve briefly into my very biased preference for my own solitary path.
According to Wikipedia Wicca is : a modern pagan, witchcraft religion. It was developed in England during the first half of the 20th century and it was introduced to the public in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant. It draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and ritual practice. The word witch derives from Middle English wicche, Old English wicce (/ˈwɪttʃe/) (feminine) "witch" and wicca (/ˈwɪttʃɑ/) (masculine) "wizzard".
Traditional Witchcraft vs. Wicca
And Traditional Witchcraft is defined thus: a term used to refer to a variety of contemporary forms of witchcraft. According to British Traditional Witch Michael Howard, the term refers to "any non-Gardnerian, non-Alexandrian, non-Wiccan or pre-modern form of the Craft, especially if it has been inspired by historical forms of witchcraft and folk magic". Another definition was offered by Daniel A. Schulke, the current Magister of the Cultus Sabbati, when he proclaimed that Traditional Witchcraft "refers to a coterie of initiatory lineages of ritual magic, spellcraft and devotional mysticism".
My Solitary WaysWhereas, both Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft have initiatory lineages, there is also room for the solitary practitioner, who either does not have or want access to covens. I personally began with Wicca as espoused in Raymond Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft . As time went by, I found myself drawn more and more to writings of Robert Cochrane, and Andrew Chumbley, and so my sojourn into Traditional Craft began. I believe this transition was facilitated by my studies of Celtic mythology and Anglo - Saxon Heathenism, and a budding interest in Chaos Magick. There simply were no Traditional Craft covens where I lived and definitely few to no Chaos Mages, so I worked alone.
After moving to Austin, Texas in the early 1990's I found a thriving Pagan community and began to associate with others of a like mind. Time after time I would be questioned about grades and degrees and eyed suspiciously when I confessed to solitary studies. This is when I also decided to stop declaring that I practiced Magick and instead began saying that I DID Magick, more raised eyebrows. Oddly enougt the folks that seemed most open to my independent spirit always belonged to either the OTO or the Temple of Set, this lead me to realize that I really was dubious of organizations that would have me as a member.
Over the years I have developed my own path out many varied and seemingly disparate schools of magick. My personal path consists of a combination of Anglo-Saxon Heathensim, Traditional Witchcraft, Chaos Magick, Medieval Germanic Santeria, Bon Shamanism, Tantra, Taoism, and Syncretic Philosophy. There is not a coven nor would I want one, that can support my diversity of spiritual exploration. I am a Mage and a Sage.
Hard Polytheism vs. Soft PolytheismAgain I will refer to Wikipedia for a succinct though not complete comparison of Hard and Soft polytheism.
"Hard" polytheism is the belief that gods are distinct, separate, real divine beings not psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one god." "Hard" polytheists do not necessarily consider the gods of all cultures as being equally real, a theological position formally known as integrational polytheism or omnitheism.
This is contrasted with "Soft" polytheism, which holds that gods may be aspects of only one god, psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces.
Soft Polytheism is prevalent in New Age and syncretic currents of Neopaganism, as are psychological interpretations of deities as archetypes of the human psyche. English occultist Dion Fortune was a major populiser of soft polytheism. In her novel, The Sea Priestess, she wrote, "All gods are one god, and all goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator." This phrase is very popular among some Neopagans (notably, Wiccans) and incorrectly often believed to be just a recent work of fiction. However, Fortune indeed quoted from an ancient source, the Latin novel The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Fortune's soft polytheist compromise between monotheism and polytheism has been described as "pantheism" (Greek: πάν pan 'all' and θεός theos 'god').[who?] However, "Pantheism" has a longer history of usage to refer to a view of an all-encompassing immanent divine.
I find myself more in line with soft polytheist and am definitely syncretic in my belief thanks to my study of Jungian Archetypes. Most, although not all of the Traditional Craft people I have met over the years tend to have more of a hard polytheist stance. This is more pronounced amongst revivalist traditions like Asatru.
I am not sure if this is always the case, but my experience has been one where those with degrees and grades, tend to be folks who can jump through the necessary hoops to attain their traditions acceptance but do not seem well versed in anything else. Let me clarify, magical and sorcerous technology covers a wide range of possibility, but often I have met individuals whose degrees and grades mean nothing more than blind obedience. This seems to me no different than mainstream religious thought.
Part of what drew me to Witchcraft was its "outlaw" nature. Much like tattoos, the intervening years have seen a softening in society's stance towards witchcraft in general. This is due in part to many Wiccans fighting for the right to be free from persecution and recognized as a legitimate religious expression that deserves the same protection under the law as any other religion. Fine, but to my thinking this has also lead to a less potent form of witchcraft, which I call pop craft. Everyone has their own path, mine just happens to be antinomian, anti-authoritarian, and anti-hierarchical.
Actual Witchcraft, whether coven or solitary in its basis has always been, ecstatic, wild, and shamanistic. We confront the tame world of man and society, and instead find solace in Nature. We commune with the dead, cross the hedge into the land of the Fey, and speak with plants and animals. The memorization of rituals and dances are not as important, as healing a rash with comfrey, or sending a fetch to find something that has been lost. Group healing rituals to restore balance and peace to our overtaxed planet are great, but without an ability to also be able to affect change on the fly, I am dubious of one's claims of power. In fact, I am dubious of anyone's claims to power, if you are after power rather than empowerment, witchcraft is not the path for you.
There you have my rather nuanced and biased view of Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft and the Solitary Path. I welcome questions, comments, and criticisms, but have some sympathy and as always show some respect.