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Various Names and Guises of Witchcraft

Dear Witchful Thinking

Greetings, I have been exploring Paganism and Wicca for a few years now and am still searching for the path that feels right. One of the reasons I was drawn to Wicca is that there are no hard and fast rules other than, of course, the Wiccan Rede which I follow carefully.  About Nocturnal Witchcraft. I have read about it a bit an it seems to be another form of Wicca, simply practiced at night, with night Gods and Goddesses. Am I right? I am most definitely a night person, always have been. I find the night to be more gentle, I feel a great sense of freedom at night, and also one cannot see all the “cracks in the pavement” if you will at night. The negativity in this world is all too visible in the light of day.  Anyway, what are your thoughts on this? I know that Wiccans do NOT worship Satan, do not even recognize his existence so I don’t believe that this type of Witchcraft has anything to do with Satanism.  I would very much like to explore Nocturnal Witchcraft and the only author that I seem to find is Konstantinos. I will understand if you aren’t comfortable recommending a particular author but any input would be most helpful. Also, thank you for your piece on Magickal names. I am searching for one that feels right to me, but don’t find having one necessary. I would use it for identity protection. I find that many folks who are new to Wicca and Paganism get caught up in the trappings.  Look forward to hearing from you.  Blessed Be

Emi M.

Dear Emi,

From "The Goddess Oracle" by Amy Marashinsky. Art by Hrana Janto. This is one of my favorite decks.

Welcome to Wicca! May the Gods bless your path and may you find what you seek.  The world of Witchcraft is a wild one, and it is very much like a landscape. There are many paths already made through lots of terrain, but one could easily create one’s own path. In the end, it’s a question of “where are you going” and your own choices that will dictate the direction you travel.

I dare say I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to some definitions. Please do not think I am chiding you, for I’m not, and respect what you’ve already come to know. I only want to be clear in our definitions. I know I am going to get flaming hate mail for saying this (please be aware that I’m coming from an academic background as much as a spiritual one)–but there are certain things you MINIMALLY ought to practice and believe if you are to call yourself Wiccan:

  • Work with a God (often horned) and Goddess (often triple).
  • See all of nature and the cosmos as alive.
  • Include the use of ritual magic or spellcasting.
  • Follow the Wiccan Rede.
  • Celebrate the eight Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year.
  • Celebrate the Esbat rituals which often includes Drawing Down the Moon.

There are, of course, many variations and manifestations of these beliefs. For example, many Dianic Wiccans only worship a Goddess, although they acknowledge the God, and are still considered Wiccan. I don’t think it is right for folks to cherry-pick the parts of the religion they like and call themselves Wiccan–they should call themselves something else, because there is already a definition of Wicca. It’d be like someone going to a Buddhist temple, but never meditating or following the Eight Fold Path and calling themselves Buddhist–it just isn’t accurate, and it is rude to those who actually follow the tenants of Buddhism. If you only like some aspects of Wicca, but don’t follow the others, and do not belong to an established tradition, then please label yourself accurately as a Pagan, or whatever is more accurate for you.

I think some folks feel their path won’t be taken seriously if they simply go by the term “Pagan”, so they use the safety of the word “Wicca” to validate their path to outsiders. “Pagan” is the catch-all word for what we believe, not “Wiccan”. Wiccans do not believe whatever they want and call it Wicca, rather, they worship in however way they want, based on the list mentioned above. The idea is to create your own unique and individual relationship with the Gods. No one can dictate that relationship to you. The ritual trappings, the tools, hierarchy and liturgy are designed to help you cultivate that relationship, grow as a person, and manifest the good from it in the real world. But Wiccans follow a similar path to do that, and end up with similar theology and ideas about the world and the Gods. Their beliefs are based out of experience which is based out of religious practices–not the other way around. Paganism requires no such beliefs short of being one who worships nature–with no dictation about how that should happen, nor does it require or nessicarily believe in a relationship with the Gods. Pagans may focus on nature spirits, the Fey, or work with specific pantheons, but if they aren’t following a Wiccan path they are not Wiccan. Many writers who are not in the community confuse the two terms, so start reading folks who are in the movement to help clear up any misconceptions.

Of course, no one should tell you what religion you are–that is your right to make that declaration. Soap box rant over. Let’s move on.

The author of "Nocturnal Witchcraft", Konstantinos. Cute, yes?

I haven’t read the book you mentioned by Konstantinos, so I couldn’t give it a hearty recommendation (but on your suggestion, it is now on my ever-expanding “to read” list!), but I did do some research about it. It looks like you are correct in your assessment that it is a Wiccan primer that focuses more on the “dark” aspects (literally, in the dark, not evil–which he makes a big deal about not being). In a sense, it gives a guide to those who are more attracted to the moon and stars and the cover of darkness. When you think about Wicca 101 books, they always talk about Lunar Esbats being at the Full Moon, but as you expand your practice, you might choose to do Dark or New Moon Esbats, and you may come across Deity that prefers to be underground or only comes out at night.

Although it is true that you can’t see the “cracks in the pavement” and the negativity that exists during the day, different dangers appear in the night which, to me, are much scarier. The darkness is where monsters live. Not only the literal crime and seedy underbelly of the city, but our own nightmares and fears. The challenge of working Witchcraft at night is to face those fears. I believe it is a much harder path, but one that well-rounded witches will come to at some time or another, whether they want to or not! So really, Nocturnal Witchcraft is….. (drum roll) Witchcraft!

Two things are happening here: 1) because we don’t have established rules or doctrines beyond the basics I mentioned above, our religious vocabulary lacks descriptions of specific kinds of paths. 2) because we do not have a class of those who are religiously trained in said non-existent doctrines, there are very few ways for those talented in the ways of the Craft to make money except for writing and selling books, which, as you know, are marketed by people who want to make money.

A gifted Craft teacher may have a path that they have well-traveled that is different from other peoples, and want to write about it and share it with others who might travel behind them. So they write a book, knowing the information will reach a great many people, and allow them a paycheck so that they might continue on with their service to the community (yay!). Then the editors look at the book and talk about how to sell it. They have to create a brand and protect the intellectual property of the author, whom they hope to make more money on in the future, so they give it a fancy name, without considering if there is already a path like it. Sometimes the name sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t.

But all religions have movements and denominations that come and go, or go by different names and actually believe the same thing. If you don’t believe me, check out the book Which Witch is Witch. I found a pattern when I plotted the regions the different denominations of Paganism did their work: in the Pacific Northwest, for example, there is a big Druid group, a hearty Heathen population, a Scottish family trad, reconstructionists, Dianic wyminns circles, Fairie trad, Wicca and Gardnerian covens, traditions started by solitaries, and a few off-branches of Gardnerians that go by various names–you will find this exact same list of types in each area of the country, but they go by different names and are run by different people. Of course, none of them would dream of conglomerating under one name! The groups have their own names, though they often have the same beliefs and similar paths–but they all have different histories and members, which vary by region.

Getting back to your question: Nocturnal Witchcraft is just one of many paths you can take. Personally, I don’t think you need to specify if you are practicing light/white or dark/black witchcraft, as it just confuses people, and a well-rounded witch works with both. If you like the phrase of it, you can choose to call your practice that. But I suspect the author has the name branded, so unless someone has read his book, they may not understand what you practice, so be ready to explain! I can definitely recommend the book The Dark Archetype for delving into ritual for “darker” gods. This book will guide you in where to get started for a handful of deities like Hekate, Anubis, the Grim Reaper, Baba Yaga and Lillith, among others. What I think you’ll find in your practice, however, is that most Godforms have a light and a dark side, but I suspect they start us out easy, and only show us their darker nature when we are ready to see it.

Hail, Diana!

Want an example? Pick any Greek God or Goddess and you’ll soon see their wrathful side. Zeus has more lovers than he can count, much to his wife’s chagrin, even solemn Athena once punished a girl who was raped in her temple. These Gods aren’t here for us to imitate–they absolutely do not model perfect behavior, especially not for mortals. But they do show us the whole spectrum of human relating, emotion and depth.

Most often, Wicca 101 books start with the easy light stuff, just like the Godforms do, to ease us into a new religion and not scare our parents. If you are already interested in finding out what goes on in the darkness, perhaps you are ready for the challenge of this kind of Craft. But remember to come into the light, too. Wicca is about balance, after all.

You are dead-on in your assessment about Satan’s place here–he has none! He is part of Christian (and a little bit Muslim) theology, of which we are outside. His terrain is not on our map, if you will. Satanism as a movement, too, belongs on the Christian map, and not lumped with us…no matter how hard some Christians try!

I think of all these names and traditions as places on a map. For those at home in one area might share a deep affinity with a place, even as they explore different locales, yet others might know it by a different name. Of course, there is night and day in all places. As Pagans and Wiccans, we are all sharing the same map, but we aren’t all going to the same place, and we definitely don’t take the same path to get there. That’s what makes it so different, so individual and wonderful.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(and then check out this interesting interpretation)

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  1. January 26, 2010 at 8:11 am

    As much as I can understand right now, I think you’re right!

  1. February 11, 2010 at 8:55 pm

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