Friday, October 23, 2009

Which Witch Is Which?

Despite the ugly face that’s been put on witches, historically most have been concerned with helping individuals and communities. Of course, there are some “wicked witches” just as there are greedy evangelists and pedophile priests. It’s important, however, to remember that fear and misunderstanding underlie the misconceptions many people hold about witches. Once you get to know them, witches are pretty much like everyone else––the person who cuts your hair or repairs your car might even be a witch.

The word witch comes from the Anglo-Saxon term wicce meaning “to bend or shape.” The Old English word wiccacraeft meant witchcraft.

In the past, many witches learned their art as part of a family tradition in which they were carefully trained. Villages had their honored cunning folk to whom people turned for all kinds of help, from encouraging crops to grow to fixing a broken heart. Healing comprised a large part of the witch’s work, and many witches were herbalists and midwives.

Witches learned their skills as a craft, just as someone might learn carpentry or masonry. Religious constructs weren’t linked with the practice of witchcraft itself, though individual witches may have followed the beliefs of their families or culture. Witches do not need to believe in divine beings in order to use magick, although many do recognize higher powers and attempt to work with them. Nor do witches need to adhere to a particular dogma in order to perform their work, just as computer programmers and auto mechanics don’t have to be members of a particular faith to do their jobs.

For the record, witches are not necessarily Wiccan. Witchcraft implies a methodology (for example, the use of magick), whereas the word Wiccan refers to a person who has adopted a specific spiritual philosophy. Wicca is a religion, one that even the U.S. military recognizes. Wiccans practice specific rituals and moral codes just as people of Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths do. Witches can follow any religion, or none.

However, the lack of an ethical or religious construct does not mean witches are without ethics or religion. The use of magick is simply a means to an end and is, in itself, morally neutral. Ethics get involved only in how magick is wielded.

By the way, a male witch is not called a warlock. He is a witch, too. Warlock derived from an Old English word for oath breaker; later, during the mid-1400s, the word came to mean liar (whether the person was male or female). So to call a male witch a warlock is a nasty insult. The words wizard and sorcerer can be used for a man or a woman. Wizard derives from a term meaning “wise,” and sorcerer means “witch” or “diviner.”

The word magician is also appropriate for both sexes and refers to someone who practices magick, regardless of his/her religious beliefs. (The “k” at the end of the word magick differentiates it from stage magic or illusion). Many magicians are adept in astrology, sorcery, or other magickal arts. Magicians come from various cultures and ethic backgrounds, belief systems and schools of thought. Most witches and Wiccans practice some type of magick, but not all magicians are witches or Wiccans. Shamans, ceremonical magicians, feng shui masters, and many others engage in various forms of magick. According to Aleister Crowley, perhaps the most famous magician in modern times, “Every intentional act is a magickal act.”

If you choose to follow a magickal path, as a witch, Wiccan, wizard, sorcerer, or other practitioner of the magickal arts, you’ll notice that everyone you meet is your teacher. In turn, you’ll teach something to everyone you meet. You’ll also discover that magick exists everywhere, all the time, and that you are part of the magick.

(Excerpted from my book The Everything Wicca and Witchcraft Book, all material copyrighted.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Halloween Facts and Fallacies

As Halloween approaches, we are once again subjected to lots of misinformation and downright foolishness regarding witches, paganism, and the occult in general.  Unfortunately, this ancient holiday's true meaning has become lost in a muddle of macabre sensationalism. Each year we read stories of children eating tainted candy and teens using Halloween as an excuse for bad behavior. In some places, conservative Christian groups try to get the holiday banned, believing erroneously that it has something to do with satanism.

Also known as All Hallows Eve, Hallowmass, and Samhain (pronounced SOW-een), Halloween is a holy day for witches and many other pagans. It is the witches' New Year, a time for reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. Originally, the custom of wearing costumes on Halloween was a way to visually demonstrate what you wanted to be in the coming year and to project that image out into the world. (No one who knew this would choose to dress up as a ghost, skeleton, goblin, or hobo!)

Halloween is also a solemn time for remembering friends and relatives who have passed on––consequently its connection with death. However, the dead don't rise up out of their coffins and walk around as ghosts or zombies on this sacred holiday. Witches may enact rituals or light candles to honor departed loved ones. Some believe heaven and earth are close together on Samhain, and that this is the best time to make contact with entities on the other side.

No belief system has been so maligned as witchcraft and no group has been so persecuted for so many centuries as the followers of pagan traditions. It is important to remember that before the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Goddess religions predominated for millennia throughout Europe and many other parts of the world. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, a period known as the "Burning Times," millions of women and children (the most famous being Joan of Arc) were accused of being witches and massacred by Christian zealots. Although most of the violence was levied against females of all ages, astrologers, homosexuals, and other assorted dissidents were also put to death. And we all know what happened in Salem, Massachusetts, a city that now capitalizes on its darkest hour and enjoys a brisk tourist business during Halloween.

Wicca is a Goddess-based religion––one of the few in a world where patriarchal belief systems prevail. Despite the fact that our male-dominated culture still denigrates witchcraft and paganism, many women (and some men, too) today are rediscovering these ancient traditions and finding a form of spirituality they can relate to, one that respects the feminine.

For the record:  Witches do not put hexes on people, fly around on broomsticks, snatch and/or eat children, or perform animal or human sacrifices. They do not believe in Satan (he's a Judeo-Christian conception). They do not deny the existence of God or the male principle. Most of them are not cackling hags (although the "hag" is one of the three manifestations of the Goddess: the older woman, representing wisdom). They do not hate men and have no desire to overthrow Christianity or any other religion. Not all pagans are witches; paganism is a general term for various spiritual belief systems that honor the earth, nature, and the cosmos. Many of the rituals, holidays, myths, and practices now connected with Christianity derived from the earlier Goddess-based traditions.

Fear and ignorance are dangerous forces. They are at the root of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, jingoism, and other forms of violence and hatred. This Halloween, let us put aside our prejudices and uphold one of the principles this country was founded on: religious freedom.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's in the Cards

Can you really see your future in the cards? I’ve used the tarot––and other oracles including the I Ching, runes, and astrology––for many years. Whenever I have an important decision to make, seek clarity or direction, or just need a different perspective, I turn to my trusty tarot deck for guidance. It never fails to amaze me. (Here's the 3 of Cups from the tarot deck I'm creating.)

Nobody knows how old the tarot (pronounced tar OH) is or where it came from. The earliest tarot deck that still exists today was created in the mid-nineteenth century. We do know the tarot became popular during the Renaissance, especially in Italy. But tarot scholars believe this beautiful and mysterious oracle is much older, perhaps dating back to ancient Egypt. Some sources say gypsies brought the first tarot decks to Europe hundreds of years ago and used the cards to tell fortunes.

I was thrilled when Ravenous Romance’s Holly Schmidt invited me to write TAROTICA, my just-released erotic novel based on the tarot. The book is one woman’s lively, lusty journey of self-discovery as she travels cross country, meeting a colorful cast of characters who teach her the secrets of the 22 cards in the tarot’s major arcana. Here's how it starts:

"Some people believe the ancient, mysterious, beautiful oracle called the tarot holds the secrets to life.

Miranda Malone isn’t sure.

But she’s about to find out... "

One of my favorite tarot artists, Lori Walls, creator of the fascinating Tarot Erotica deck, called TAROTICA “a ripping read which works surprisingly well on a number of levels. I love your characterizations of the trumps, the interpretation of the Path, and of course, the erotic element.” Coffee Time Romance and More reviewed TAROTICA as "one of the hottest books I have ever read....a journey not to be missed."

You tarot enthusiasts out there, I hope you’ll check out Lori’s card deck –– and my book! Go to and you'll find TAROTICA listed under my pseudonym Amber Austin. In a future post, I'll excerpt part of the second chapter "The Magician," which depicts a scene of sex magick in a secret pyramid. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Magick of Art and Writing

We live in a magickal universe––we’re all magicians, performing magick all the time. Science tells us that everything is energy, and things that appear solid are really collections of mobile molecules. Quantum physics has demonstrated that when you focus on those molecules, your attention influences how they behave. What this means is that through the power of your mind, you cause results––whether or not you realize you’re doing it.

Art and writing are some of the most potent forms of magic. To work magic successfully, you create a vivid image in your mind, then empower it with emotion. The more real you can make your vision––and the more feeling you can get into it––the better. That’s exactly what we writers and artists do. Which is why what we write or paint often transpires, metaphorically or literally. I know a writer who wrote about a house she later lived in, and another who wrote about blindness shortly before her retina detached. Twice I’ve drawn hot young guys by writing spicy love stories––they actually turned up on my doorstep.

A couple weeks ago, I made this collage––the image seemed so empowering to me. Then last week I attended a women’s retreat where, unbeknownst to me in advance, a class in the Polynesian art of fire spinning was being offered. I got to dance with fire, like the woman in my collage––I even performed before a crowd of people, and the experience was indeed empowering! 

I do believe we create our own realities, as all those inspirational speakers such as Wayne Dyer and Jack Canfield keep saying. The trick is to do it intentionally, so we make things come out the way we want them to. Through writing and art, I’m design my own destiny. Fellow writers and artists, have you ever done this? I’d love to hear about your experiences.