Sometimes it amazes me the kind of thoughts that arrive while I'm reading. I've been thinking about this for a few days, while I read over the Tiffany Achings novels by Terry Pratchett.
There's a bit of a trend I've been noticing. This hasn't simply been a function of looking outside at the regular circles and covens, or walking down the street of Issaquah, or glancing in peoples cars to see what's on their rear-view mirror. I've been seeing it here on PS too. It's what I like to call a "Sparkle Witch". I've been seeing them everywhere. The world is all kinds of glittery with them. They have athame's like enter-deity-here demands their use and any lacking in the dulled-wooden-white-handled-blade department is unwitchy. They wear shiny jewelry, ranging in price from "not worth the plastic bubble it fell out of the machine in" to "good gods why did you next months gas allowance on THAT?!". Usually everywhere. And I mean everywhere. When they're skyclad, also demanded by aforementioned godlings, I'm fairly sure even Jesus would flinch at the reflected light. When they conduct a ritual, there's a lot of oo, ahh, giggle-but-this-is-serious, and a great deal of melodrama. Now, don't get me wrong. I know there are grey areas for this. I know this is a stereotype, but it serves my purposes nicely, so I'm going to use it. These people make me wonder.
Why did they pick witchcraft?
They learned the entirety of their craft from books that aren't worth the trees they tore down for the effort. Their craft has become an idealized religion, evoking very little thought, very little ingenuity, and very little craft. It's an outlet of self-empowerment, social indignation, pent-up attitude, and political maneuvering. I see a great many modern witches, or at least people that use that word, decry about the evils of a non-tribal society, curse the church for "what they've done (oh yes, you know what you've done, church, shame on you)", laugh and scorn those that don't know the "mysteries", then whine when someone tells them they're wrong about a given technique. They work with deity as though a failure to do so is not witchcraft. You can't be a witch if some god or another isn't directly involved. It's the craft of the divine. It's a way of touching the divine. See? Says so right here in this book.
In all of this, I don't see their reason for picking witchcraft. Witchcraft is a method. It's a series of skills and basic concepts. It's meant to be used, experimented, innovated. What's more, I question what they use it FOR. Self-empowerment. That's fine, it's good to know your own strength and find your center. But that's a means to an end. Unless you have some serious self-image issues, self-empowerment doesn't take your entire life. What will you do with the skills then? Worship? That's not utilizing the skills. That's utilizing a small part of the skills so you can.... Worship.
Not long ago, I asked a friend a question. When confronted by a woman in saffron-on-teal robes, many bits of jewelry, much glitter, and a false, slightly unsure smile on the one side, and a man in sober black, slacks, nice shoes, a simple silver necklace, a reassuring smile and intense eyes on the other, which would you consider to be the best option for solving occult problems?
He answered the man, of course. I asked him why. He said it was because the woman was frill, frippery, and falseness. She's very good for decoration and putting on a show at festivals, but he wouldn't trust someone like that to actually do anything. The man was professional, calm, and confident. You can tell he gets the job done. If the woman had that same kind of look and presence, damn straight he'd hire her.
This brings me around to my meandering point. What, as a witch, is your place? In the old days, the "witch" was the person that helped their community. They were apart from it, because they knew how to do things. From stories (probably entirely false, but we get an image from them), we see the classical witch as lonely, haggard, and weather-worn. They endured prejudice, distrust, and downright fear, and still they helped their community. They chose to help. People in the village would give them a wide berth, but the moment the shit hit the fan, they still asked for their help, and the witch would come without hesitation. A lot of the time, they wouldn't use the kind of witchcraft the Sparkle Witches pass off today. There was no chanting for the goddess of light to deliver this baby gently into the world. There was grunting, screaming, blood, and healing herbs. There was no waving of the arms to make the snow go away. There was knowledge of weather patterns and paying attention. Sure, there was a bit of the pocus involved. The witch would dab her eyes and brow with a formula, and use that to see into the spirit world, where she'd do her work. The witch could lay curses and blessings in equal measure. The witch did all the muck jobs, taking care of the old, sitting the death watch, helping new mothers give birth, making sure the village maintained itself and was protected. All day and all night, the witch was a witch. They were witches to their bones. Their land, their village, their people, it all belonged to them, because they took responsibility for it. They owned that responsibility. It wasn't a matter of choice: When you're a witch, you're a witch. You did what you did because that's what you did, it was your place in the scheme of things.
We idealise this concept. We idealise the witch as a necessary element in their given society, we idealise them as people whom endured hell and still gave all they could with their skill and their knowledge. But we don't reflect this. Some do, don't get me wrong. Some do wonderful things for their community. There are some witches, and I'm trying to be like them, whom bring back this idealisation of the witch. My place as a witch is working for the community. I help people with my skills, whether it's dealing with spirits, or sitting the death watch, or chopping firewood, or making a tea to help with their "troubles", or standing up to the drunken idiot that likes fighting far too much, particularly with his wife. I'm not loud about it. I do things quietly, in the background, without complaint. When someone wants something a little more "witchy", I know how to put flash into what I do. When someone genuinely needs those skills, I know how to get the job done. As I work, and as I strive, I find that witches do still have a necessary place in communities. This is what my skills are for. This is my calling. I walk the hedge because nobody else will. I can do it. I can't help but do it. So I do.
So I wonder. Why did the Sparkle Witches choose witchcraft? When you take away all of the ornamentation, all of the tools, and yes, the religion, what do you have left? What are you doing as a witch? What skills are you using? What is your place in this scheme of things? It baffles me.
I can't fully articulate my thoughts on this, but I can't help but feel that the people whom treat witchcraft like it's a way of self-empowerment only, or a way of worship only, are hollow inside. They want to practice the craft, but they're afraid of where it could go, and what it can do. They're afraid that, in a modern context, it's a useless skill. So they wrap themselves in this bubble of trend and light and glitter, and the world is a brighter place. But it's hollow. When I work my magic, I'm centered, and I can feel the depth of meaning in what I do. It's like diving until there's nothing but midnight around.