10th June 1988
This is the last letter I shall send for a while now. It is necessary that you put into practice some of these ideas in your own way. There is a tradition called ’voiding the coven’ whereby a new High Priestess is cut off from almost all contact with the parent coven, until her own coven and her own style have become well established. We are not involved with covens, being solitary hedge witches, but I’m going to apply a similar principle to you, nonetheless. Of course, this does not mean that I do not want you to visit. I hope that you will be able to come the day after the summer solstice, as we have now provisionally arranged. I am looking forward to it very much. We can talk about the Craft and exchange news and ideas. But there will be no more lessons, for the time being.
Meanwhile, I want to write one last letter, about what I think it means to be a witch in everyday life. What are the pitfalls, the responsibilities and the pleasures? I have also enclosed a poem for you. It is my very personal view of what it means to be a witch. It is, I hope, a distilled essence, like all poems. This letter rambles on a bit more, and in more detail. Please read it first.
The first thing that I want to talk about is self-image: yours, as a witch. One problem with this is the thin line between hubris and humiliation. You will have to tread that line your whole life. On the side of hubris, arrogance, is the danger of thinking yourself all-powerful, or above mistakes. Your spells work! You are a witch then. Goddess and God and all the Guardian Spirits watch over you all the time. Therefore, of course, you are invulnerable, not like the ordinary men and women. I do not think that you would ever fall for this rubbish. But some people do. They start believing that they are beyond all human failing, all human doubts and fears. Our culture fosters this illusion, for the line goes something like this: ’If you are truly spiritual, truly in contact with the Gods and nature spirits, the realms of Ether, psychic and Inner Realms, then you do not have to worry about human problems. For your needs will be met if, that is, you are truly in contact. And if your needs are not all being met, then you can’t be a real witch, or whatever you say you are.’
This is nonsense. No religion, no magical practice on Earth, ever can or even should take away all your human ’problems’, your challenges and your creaturely bonds with all flesh and blood. Instead, magic is one kind of tool, and in some situations it is called for. And worship is the right and the fulfilment of all Earth’s creatures, but not a universal panacea for all ills. Any witch knows that the loss of her or his magic would be impoverishment of the worst kind. To a witch, magic is life, just as music is life to a musician. Nevertheless, there is no magic in existence that can or should pre-empt the gift of your common humanity.
This brings me to the other side of that thin line, humiliation (the side I think that you could be likely to fall down on). People will sometimes imply or even directly say, ’What! A witch and yet you still have money worries/an unhappy love life/housing problems? Can’t you really do spells then?’
You can tell them that magic, like ice-skating, does involve a certain amount of falling down on the job but that you are getting there! This is probably easier than explaining that your magical priorities are with, say, the environment and not your own purse. (They will silently accuse you of pretension if you say that.) It is also a lot easier than trying to explain that some spells fail because you are not wholeheartedly there when you cast them. Perhaps you are too angry, or too afraid of what the spell might demand in your everyday life. This kind of thing is about your own personal development and is really no one’s business but your own.
People may also demand that you give your credentials as a ’white’ witch by proving that you have no human faults. ’What! A witch priestess and yet you still shout at your children/fail to get on with your sister/often neglect to visit your ill and aged auntie? Thought you said it was a path that brought inner strength and peace.’
This kind of thing is best treated with humour. Because of course you are not perfect or you wouldn’t be here on Earth, still learning. You can reply that you would have joined the Christian Church if you had had aspirations to saintliness. Meanwhile, you are doing your best to learn, to grow and to become integrated, and the path of the solitary witch is your chosen way. Humour combined with humility is the course recommended. It is better than trying to explain the truth to those who are not listening.
In fact, humility is a whole lot better than humiliation or hubris, any day. And it is probably the name of that thin line. I don’t have to say all this. You already know it. But I suppose I am just trying to prepare you for the cruel questioners.
Your responsibility to witchcraft lies in fulfilling your role, in living as witch and priestess from day to day, in keeping the flame of nature magic burning and your own sense of wonder intact. It also lies in not bringing discredit upon your path. This does not mean, for example, that you should never have too much to drink at a party. You are not, as I have said, supposed to be inhuman. Real discredit lies in the misuse of your magic, or in the misuse of your role, to threaten or boast. Or in leaving a large and hypocritical gap between what you preach (respect for nature) and what you practise in your own life.
The pleasures of witchcraft you will already know about. And as the years go by, they deepen. They inform all your life, so that the magical resonance is felt in everything. From time to time, your pleasure in the psychic sensitivity a witch has will reach heights that afterwards you can never quite forget. You will have seen all the seasons as though they were newly created, and yet very ancient. As though from the first days. The essence of spring, summer, autumn and winter in flowers, warm landscapes, bright leaves and pure frost and snow. You will have seen the world of faerie, seen that in the world. Personally, I do not know how anyone who has ever seen such beauty could ever want anything as much as to enter that realm again. Not to possess it, but just to be there. That, I think, is what distinguishes the witch and Pagan. They have known that. Ever after, they work to bring that beauty out of Etheric realms — or perhaps to help this Earth to remove all the veils that humanity has put upon her.
The pleasures of witchcraft are quite easy to know, but not easy to write about.
I hope that you will enjoy the poem. It is called ’Resolution of a Witch’ and is a kind of summer solstice present.
There is a task that I want you to do for me. Keep your own Book of Shadows well up to date for a whole year. Then answer me this question. ’What makes a Witch? As far as you are concerned, what makes a Witch?’
Myself, I think it is a kind of forest that the person has inside them. There are caves in it, wildflowers, and there are animals who are untamed. And there are birds, insects, grubs and worms, tangled roots, mosses, and also snakes. And there are streams, silver streams. Season follows season and there is wind in the trees, Sunlight, then darkness and starlight and the Moon. And there is always some kind of flame, like a candle flame inside a cave, and it shines everywhere that you go in that forest, shines out of the earth, and out of all the creatures. The witch has it too. It shines out of the forest within. It is called something like ’shadow-fire’. I can recognize it in another witch’s eyes. I have seen it in yours.
Wise, merry and blessed be,