A student recently emailed me some questions to help her with a school project she is currently doing. I am always happy to answer questions about witchcraft if I have the time, but I thought they might also be interesting for a blog post. Here are three of the questions and my answers:
Q: Do you practice witchcraft and how would you say this impacts your daily routine?
A: Yes, I am a Wiccan. Wicca is a modern pagan witchcraft religion and most Wiccans call themselves witches. Personally, I write a blog about the day-to-day experiences of a witch living in London, so from that point of view I set aside time each day to write my blog and that does affect my daily routine. It takes a *lot* of time. Most Wiccans aren’t bloggers, however, so that’s just my personal answer to the question.
Wicca doesn’t have any specific rules that impact on daily routines and daily practices vary from individual to individual. Some Wiccans spend a little time each day meditating or have a personal altar or shrine where they put seasonal flowers or light votive candles. Some just like to get outside and spend time in nature. Plenty of modern pagan witches are also very environmentally concerned, so will make an effort to do recycling or grow their own veg, for example.
Q: What kind of practices does witchcraft involve, and do you think there are physical health benefits to any of them?
A: The practice of Wicca involves celebrating nature. We normally meet up about once a month for ceremonies that honour the changing seasons, the yearly cycle of the sun and the monthly cycle of the moon. We recognise eight festivals that mark the Wheel of the Year. Imbolc is at the start of February and marks the first stirrings of spring. The following festivals are Spring Equinox, Beltaine (May Day), Summer Solstice, Lammas (harvest), Autumn Equinox, Samhain (Halloween) and Winter Solstice (Yule).
Our celebrations of these festivals often involve singing and dancing, which obviously have physical health benefits. As we are part of a nature religion, we like to get outside in nature when possible for our celebrations. This can often involve country walks to get to beautiful and secluded spots – so that has health benefits too.
Mind you, our celebrations also usually include feasting, especially sharing cake and wine, which isn't really that healthy.
Q: What are the religious aspects of witchcraft, if you believe there are any?
A: Wicca is a nature religion, as are similar forms of modern pagan witchcraft. This differentiates Wicca from historic witchcraft. In bygone centuries witchcraft was viewed more as a job or a description for certain activities including divination, spellcasting, herb lore and contacting the spirits of the dead. Witches in medieval times in the UK were almost certainly all Christians, not pagans. Modern pagan witches might also do divination (tarot readings, for example), cast spells (particularly healing spells) and try to contact the spirits of dearly departed relatives, but for Wiccans that is secondary to the religious aspects of our spiritual path, which is honouring nature.
Here are details of three books I would recommend for those who want to learn more about Wicca and modern pagan witchcraft:
The Real Witches' Handbook, by Kate West.
Wicca: A comprehensive guide to the Old Religion in the modern world by Vivianne Crowley
Teen Spirit Wicca by David Salisbury
Here are details of two history books about witchcraft that I would recommend:
The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton.
Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill
The student also asked me if the media represents witchcraft as evil. I think that is a question that requires a long answer all of its own, and I'll be blogging about that tomorrow.