Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Power of Secrets

After years of being an eclectic Witch and generic pagan, I am now an initiate of a Mystery tradition of Witchcraft that holds secrets, applies oaths, and has specific religious beliefs. It is a perfect match for me, but I am sure it is not perfect for others. I don't worry about that- my tradition was never meant for the masses (even the pagan masses), nor was it meant for those that do not follow what our idea of what a Witch is:

To me, a Witch is a Shaman (the terms are interchangable- they just come from different geographical regions-"Witch" simply means a western European shaman)- they are highly trained in specific skills. They have done years of rigorous self work to get to be as strong as possible (magically, energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally) to be a strong container for the Mysteries that will be revealed to them. This self work exists as preparation for the actual work of a Witch- affecting change in all the worlds. (This Great Work is not done for its own sake, or to become a "better person". Witches do it to become the best Witch possible.)

Witches can talk to and relay messages from the gods. They can act as a human vehicle to bring them here for others. They can divine people's possible futures and help weave destiny. They can do spellwork to manifest changes in the worlds. They are healers, artists, and activists. Witches are NOT dabblers- they are priests.
Yes, I know people who call themselves Witches but do not fit this definition. If they asked me to give a definition of what I thought they were, I would probably say "pagan" was more accurate*. Pagan is a commonly used term for a huge umbrella of people, including people who work magic- and is general enough to cover all kinds of non-Abrahamic thought and religion- be it polytheistic, pantheistic, Wiccan, heathen, or what have you. Pagans can be what Christians call "lay people" or "laity"- that is, not just clergy.

Since arriving in Ohio, I am reminded that many in the general pagan community do not understand or appreciate what it means to hold secrets and keep oaths. I have spoken to several folks (all of whom I like and respect) and found their attitudes towards secrets troubling and strange. In general, they believe that secrets are "bad" and lead to "power dynamics" (here's a news flash- humans lead to power dynamics, and not all power dynamics are bad). They say things like, "if something is good and beneficial it should be shared with everyone". They believe that in the pagan community, we should all be equal- and by equal they mean the same. I do not believe equality comes from uniformity.

My partner (who is also an initiate of my Witchcraft tradition) and I have talked about this phenomenon and have a couple different takes on it. We both agree that we disagree with this opinion. (I mean, we both keep secrets and have oaths, right?!). We just disagree for different reasons and I think that these differing reasons complement one another.

I personally believe that folks who say these things have not reconciled themselves to power and being powerful. They have lived, as we all have, in a culture that takes power from others and is hierarchical and puts people in opposition to one another. They have a hard time seeing a new way of being, within the shell of the old. They are afraid of inequity- and so they reason that no one should have something that others do not. They see it as a great equalizer- throwing out all secrets and oaths.

To these people I say, you have work to do. People can be powerful in and of themselves without diminishing others. One Witch can hold a Mystery that you have not been exposed to, and that does not make you less than. And further, not everyone is meant to be a Witch. I do not say that to be mean or elitist. I just say that as a statement of fact.

The whole "everyone can be a Witch" movement, to me, is a fallacy. It takes innate talent, the Gods claiming you as one of theirs, and lots of hard work to make a Witch. It takes sacrifice- willing sacrifice that most are unwilling to do**. Can everyone be an opera singer*? Nope, and not everyone can be a Witch. And you know what? That's really okay. I am friends with folks with many religions, faiths, and philosophies- I do not value my Witch friends more than the others.

My partner tried to explain his reasons for secrets to a man this past weekend this way: "You wouldn't go telling everyone and anyone what you do with your partner in the bedroom, would you? What you do with your lover is an intimate secret- for you two alone. It is the same way with us and our Gods. They are our lovers."

I tried to tell this same person that someone who is unable to keep secrets is a leaky vessel. The Mystery and a tradition would not remain intact in a leaky vessel, it would ooze everywhere and get mixed with all kinds of outside debris. Our job, as initiates is to protect, uphold, and pass on the tradition intact. To do so, we must be intact vessels.***

*Many thanks to Eldri for this analogy.

**Personally, I lost all financial stability, my marriage, half of my family, plenty of friends, and much more. These changes happened organically as I personally changed. Witchcraft changes you. In the end, you are not the person that starts study. And that is the point. I know a Witch that calls it "being cleft from the herd". It is like that- as a Witch, you are perpetually in-between. It can be an uncomfortable place to be, in a comfort-driven society. Many are unwilling to do this. That is a choice made by someone who is not called to be a Witch. I personally had no choice. At a certain point in my training, I realized I could only go forward, never back. There was no back. 

***We do have lots of interesting influences getting into the tradition gradually, through the initiates who live and breathe it daily. Some are Buddhist practitioners, are root doctors, or have other Witchcraft or cunning traditions that influence how they practice and pass on the tradition. For example, my oath mother was raised in an indigenous tradition and that flavors what she passes as well. So while we do not share with outsiders (who have not taken an oath to protect), the outside does get in.


  1. This is the second post in a month that has wrestled with 'what is a witch?' - a topic I've been wrestling with myself, but avoiding writing about. I'm not sure I *am* called. It doesn't mean that I won't benefit from trying.

    I agree with what you say about secrets and power. But I disagree with you in your addendum about having no choice. You did too have a choice. You could have gone back. Yes, you could have. Perhaps you saw that the damage that would cause you was not worth it, that the damages going forward were. Perhaps going forward was easier because that's where the Current was pushing you. I find moving with the current easier than rowing against it. But you always had a choice.

  2. Ah, we will have to agree to disagree. There was no "back" to return to- what had been was utterly destroyed in creating this new person, this new life.

    I find that many hang onto the idea of free will with all their being. Personally, I find the idea overrated.

    While I have my own Will, if it does not line up with Hers, it will be like stirring molasses in January, and I will lose much. Better to do the work to see what your Will is and see if it aligns with Hers. Why go against the All-There-Is anyway? What would be the point of that?


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