A Magician's Blog

A Magician's Blog

When "Tradytionael Wytcch" Role-Playing Goes Too Far

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     I have been aware, since the beginning of my journey in witchcraft, that there have always been people who like to make-believe that they are Dark, Spooky, Ancient Witches. Fueled by popular books and horror movies, this niche of people brag loudly: “I'm not afraid of death and darkness,” “I'm not afraid to make blood sacrifices,” and “I'm not afraid of cemeteries and bones.” As I roll my eyes, I also assume that they aren't afraid of decorating their homes with black candles. But alongside the more amusing of these role-players exists a number of people who take their hobby further into a realm I'm both annoyed and disturbed by. Countless times during the modern witchcraft revival there have emerged thrill-seekers and rebels who, typically accompanying acts of childlike defiance, eventually commit crimes and abuses time and time again, like a child who kills animals when young and grows to abuse humans in adulthood. This phenomenon is worrying, yet seemingly ever-present.

     There has been a recent controversy that has sparked me to type these words. When confusion arose from the general public, some experienced Priesthood in one of the oldest and most mature lines of modern Witchcraft said simply, “No, witches do not sacrifice animals.” I'm sure those asking the question were relived by this response which surely represents the majority opinion, but a light will always lure moths. In nearly every forum where a witch stated animal sacrifice has no part in witchcraft, there were half a dozen “Traditional Witches” demanding acceptance for their niche hobby. Those who capture and kill crows, surround them with spooky, store-bought candles, and snap pictures for Instagram passionately disagreed and demanded the statement be revoked. Those who once bought a tiny mouse from PetCo and then chopped its head off as a Grand Sacryfice to the Hornyd One bumbled their way across the keyboard in defiance. To my surprise one Praktytioner of the Arkane Arts even captured wasps and squashed them to make her magyck work. What insidiously grew from my annoyed amusement was a startled concern: the same people I assumed were harmless (except to small helpless animals) began to threaten my close friends and I over messages and posts. As the flames grew higher phone calls were directed to my friends' house threatening violence. The same people who were being defended as “just good people who commit earnest sacrifice, as people have always done in the past” showed their true colors simply because people dared to disagree. 

     A retrospectively amusing case of this same type of Wytcch was “The Highgate Vampire,” who was eventually arrested in the 1970s for vandalizing and desecrating Highgate cemetery and mailing threats and spells to people. He began his career as a Dark and Spooky Wytch with hijinks and petty crimes galore, which mostly consisted of distracting the police from more important work. What eventually happened to fulfill this man's yearning for the feeling that he was a True Witch was the destruction of sacred property and the instilling of fear in many innocent people. (He is now an earnest spiritual person and has left his crimes in the past.) In comparison to similar figures in the past, it is obvious that these people need to put down the dagger, pick up the phone, and make a call to a good psychologist's office.

      Many of my elders in witchcraft have written about the same sub-genre of witch from their personal experiences. They describe people so desperately attempting to possess some form of power over their lives and the lives of those around them that they inevitably turn to heinous and evil crimes. Animal abuse, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and even kidnapping soon followed these taboo-pushing “rebels.” Many people began as “witchcraft outsiders” who claimed to be genuine spiritual people and then very quickly began to lure, manipulate, and abuse those who joined them in their rites. I am not disturbed by the fact that there are people who kill animals; people have always killed animals for food, survival, or genuinely old religious traditions in reverent and community-based manners. What really disturbs me are the demands made by these modern wytcches seeking to bolster a hobby that is done for thrill or some form of questionable spiritual reassurance... a hobby which the majority of people are turned-off and concerned by... and the fact that the misbehavior and threats surrounding this hobby are highly reminiscent of what many abusers in the occult world have done in the past.

     One of the main grabs these rodent-squashers make is that “Witches all over the world have always sacrificed animals.” I really wish it was obvious enough why “Because someone in the past did it” is an entirely fallacious excuse for present behavior, but sadly I will have to make it more clear for those in the back. 

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     I am talking about witchcraft, not magic, and as such these issues of sacrifice become much more pronounced, especially when popular movies and TV shows are still inspired by the witchcraft lore of Early Modern Europe. It's quite obvious that witches in the past are said to have sacrificed not only animals, but humans and infants. Around a blazing fire in a dark forest wail haggard old women, and beneath their shouting cries a terrified baby moments before its murder. A witch is seen holding a knife to the flesh of a newborn, moments later pummeling the corpse to a pulp, and then smearing the gory remains on her body. These folkloric sacrifices were terrifying to people hundreds of years ago, and still are when portrayed in film. As no stranger to horror stories and cinema, let alone the folktales of fictional witches of the past, I have no objection to these portrayals. They are inspired by historical folklore and portray fascinating archetypes of the ante-mother, the fear of infertility, women's sexual power, and the anxieties of parents in the protection of their offspring. These are primal ideas which must be explored, and fine by me if they are explored through the Witch. But when Tradytionael Wytcches make a lifestyle out of looking back at old folklores and pretending that they are true portrayals of an ancient witchcraft, I am worried. Not worried that they will sacrifice babies, but that they will eventually do anything to satisfy their desire for something “real” in their life.

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     On the bookshelf of many a Traedytionael Wyytch can be found stories from the times of the witch persecutions, and even modern books by people pretending to be a part of that historic folklore. These older books (in rare instances) call for the sacrifice of frogs, birds, goats, dogs, and black cats. The idea is, spurred by reductive, white anthropologists in the 20th century, that all folk magic is equal to witchcraft (a proposition that is still denounced by many a historian) and thus any old spell that was recorded is somehow witchcraft. A well-known spell to bring rain required a black cat and the sea. The witch would take the cat, toss it out into the sea, and when the cat swam back, would repeat the process over and over again until, stricken by exhaustion and cold, the cat would give up and drown. An animal sacrifice for a magical outcome. Yet this practice, especially because of its prolonged cruelty toward the animal, would get anyone fined, arrested, and jailed today. These are the types of outdated practices Tradytional Wytches are defending simply because they are old. Similar sacrifices are made by modern Dark Scary True Wytches, frequently utilizing helpless small animals, and are often photographed afterwards, overlaid with spooky filters, and the trophy posted online. The bones of the slaughtered animal are often then amassed and laid out on altars, which are further photographed, filtered, and posted online. There is an unpleasant pathology here that stems partially from the unwarranted glamorization of past, and eventually extends to actual physical abuse and/or bloodshed by those who claim to be living the life of a witch. This is not simply hunting or farming, this is disturbing. The fact that it is being normalized and made on-trend by "Traditional Witches" on the internet is disgraceful and disillusions me greatly as to the creative merit of non-lineaged, non-traditional witchcraft branches (however “Traditional” they nevertheless claim to be).

     The sensational animal killing by troubled and disturbed teenagers in the 90s is now being actively justified by people claiming to be witches... because they read it in a book. What kind of behavior is subsequently accepted when people justify violent acts because they feel it is “just spiritually right?” What kind of sacrifice is permitted in the name of “Old Fashioned Witchcraft” when customs are built from the ground up out of antiquated folklore, and then where are the lines drawn? I think it goes without saying that whoever aligns themselves to these silly, abusive, and pathological practices are not on my side and do not have my support. Animal sacrifice is not a “traditional” aspect of witchcraft, no matter how many people make-believe it is.

     These types of dedicated role-players are jokes, until they are not. I don't intend to embrace these people as Priesthood or Witches for the same reason I don't embrace the Westboro Baptist Church as Christian. When you invent your own spirituality and the invention becomes distasteful to hundreds or more people, don't be surprised when you aren't invited to the party, and when your demands for acceptance are not met. Unfortunately for all of us, these people tend not to be good people. Fortunately for me and the rest of Witchcraft, they are also not real Witches.

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by Austin Shippey