Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10 Common Beginner Witchcraft Misconceptions

So you've decided to be a witch. Congratulations on starting your journey! It's going to be a long one. At this point, you've probably already bypassed many of the common stereotypes and problematic beliefs non-pagans and non-witches have about the pagan and witchcraft community. However, a myriad of misconceptions start to form as a beginner too.  Some of these you might begin to believe yourself as you try to decide where to start. Some of these you may run into in a book or on a website you trust.  Some of these you may even disagree with.  However, in my personal experience, here's a list of the don'ts and don't-have-tos I give to anyone I teach that may just help you on your own path!

1. Don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable or puts you or those around you in danger.
While you likely already know this, it's easy to lose track of when starting a spiritual path.  Be discerning of what you read or what you're told to do. Don't join a coven to learn if joining a coven or the coven's practices make you uncomfortable. Don't follow a spell that requires you to ingest herbs without first ensuring those herbs are not poisonous - even if you think you trust the source of the spell.  Use common sense and scientific research to back all of your studies, and never let someone make you feel out of control or uneasy.

2. Do not do anything that contradicts your own personal ethics.
Let me start by saying that Witchcraft itself has no inherent ethics. Magick is neither good nor bad, evil nor pure. There is no "white magick" or "black magick" unless you're referring to color magick and color alone. In terms of good or bad, magick itself is neutral.  The only restricting factors are the ones you give it, and these are called your ethics.  Don't let anyone tell you that you have to believe in the Threefold Law, which is Wiccan, or karma, which is stolen from Hinduism and Buddhism. You choose your own ethics.  That being said, don't let anyone talk you into cursing and hexing just because it's the popular belief or because magick is a neutral area.  This all goes back to the first rule: If you're uncomfortable with it, don't do it.

3. You will make mistakes. Always.  Don't fret over them.
Mistakes are part of the growing process. Try not to beat yourself up when a spell doesn't work or backfires. It happens to the best of us - still. You are always going to be a student and always going to be learning.  With learning comes successes, yes, but also mistakes. To this day, I make some amazingly simplistic errors from time to time.  Some of them are advanced study related. Some of them are simple 101 safety basics, like putting water on an oil fire in the spur-of-the-moment panic (speaking from experience). Learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself.  Learning to forgive yourself is going to go a long way in your journey as a witch.

4. Don't steal from closed cultures and religions.
New Age/Neo-Pagan/Neo-Wiccan/Witchcraft books are notorious for this.  How often have you heard of the term "smudging?"  Probably pretty often as you start your studies.  I'm going to let you know up front that smudging is an intricate Native American ceremony that is closed to you, and that waving a bundle of sage in the air is not smudging. The same goes for a variety of terms and items, including dream catchers, spirit animals, Voodoo trappings, karma, chakras, Santeria, so on and so forth.  Neo-paganism and modern witchcraft is notorious for picking up bits of closed cultures and religions that require birth or initiation.  It is up to you to research and discern these off-limit elements from what's acceptable.

5. You do not need a label or a path.
Just because your favorite author labels themselves as a hedge witch or an Alexandrian Wiccan witch doesn't mean you have to decide on a name for your path right now, or really ever.  Your religion, spirituality or practice should be uniquely you. It should aid your everyday life, meaning that your witchy practices should be in line with your interests, hobbies and routines.  Worry more about choosing subjects that you enjoy within the realm of Witchcraft rather than trying to find a path first and studying the finite number of subjects within it. Especially as a beginner, you are going to evolve as you study, meaning those subjects you enjoy now may not be part of your craft later. Choosing a path now will make you feel constricted to having to study one line of items that may not fit your life now, or may not change with you later.  Of course, if you want to take on a label to narrow your field of studies, you can. Just be open to changing it should you do so.

6. You do not have to worship a God or Goddess, or both, or a certain pantheon.
Your version of witchcraft does not have to be deity-centric up front or ever. If you haven't had a calling to a deity, don't worry about it.  No need to incorporate something into your practice that you feel no connection with.  And this goes with anything, from elements to spirits to the fae.  If you don't have a connection with it or don't believe in it, don't force it.

7. You do not need every tool out there to practice.
At some point, I invested in a bunch of tumbled gemstones and they mostly just sit in a little chest.  Sure, I love them and they're gorgeous and they occasionally get use, but I find that I tend to gravitate towards the same 10 or so stones.  I didn't need everything I bought for my day-to-day practice.  With that in mind, please don't run out and buy a bunch of supplies. You'd be surprised how much you have around your own home and your backyard that you can use for your craft.  As you study, you may find you're compelled to want a certain tool or two.  If, after some study time, you find that your wine glass just doesn't suffice as a chalice anymore and you need something more... magickal, that's okay. What's harder than waiting to purchase a chalice is running out and buying a $100 chalice on your first day and finding out after a few years that you're never going to need it.

8. Do not believe everything you read or hear, even if you consider the source reliable.
I realize I say this as I'm writing a hopefully-reliable blog entry on this topic, but please, please, please study with a critical mind.  Just because someone is older than you doesn't mean they know more than you. Just because an author has been a reliable source in the past doesn't mean they won't make a mistake or draw from the wrong source for their own writings.  You have to be highly discerning in your studies.  Through studying regularly, you can develop and hone your ability to separate what is useful to you, what isn't useful to you, and what is utter nonsense.

9. You do not need a magickal or spiritual remedy for something that can be fixed by practical, real world application.
There's a reason you can't do a spell to turn a light switch off - it's because you could just get up and do it yourself.  The same goes for literally every other part of your life.  However, this becomes especially important when looking at your health and medical needs.  If you need to go to a doctor, go to a doctor; don't do a spell to make you healthier. It's not going to work unless you actually go to a doctor.  Think of it like doing a spell to get a job. You're not going to get a job unless you apply for one. Doing a spell and not putting any applications in means you're not going to get a job. The spell isn't going to work. The same goes for literally everything.

10. Your religion or practice should not overtake your life.
This one's a tough one to both explain and understand.  Many people desire something bigger than themselves.  That's why we're here right? That's what drew you to Witchcraft - the belief that there's more to the world than what you can see.  That being said, nothing in or outside of this world is more important than the life you are living right now. The direction you go with Witchcraft should help you with that life, not deviate you from it or create a fantasy world where you can hide from it. Think about certain elements of Witchcraft that you may or may not choose to incorporate as you study: Grounding and centering is used to cull chaos and anxiety so we can better focus. Most spells aid us with everyday things, like getting a job or raising money or protecting ourselves, our cars, our homes, etc. Divination looks towards the future so we can unburden ourselves and do a little planning. While parts of witchcraft can provide a nice distraction or break from the mundane, don't spend all of your time so wrapped up in the magickal that you begin to lose your friends, your job or your home.  I've seen this happen and it shouldn't be something to aspire to by any means.  Just be careful.

Have a don't or don't-have-to you didn't see here?  Leave it in the comments below!

Some related outside reading for your studies:
Witchvox's Witchcraft 101
Isobel's Tips for Extremely New Witches
Natural-Magics Welcome to Witchcraft
Cunning Celt's Beginner Guide: Harsh Truths
Breeland Walker's Advice for Beginner Witches
About.com's 10 Not-So-Good Reasons to be Pagan


  1. Marietta, I am aware of the concept of not incorporating spiritual practices from other cultures, as you describe in your list under Point #4. I have never really understood what harm this does, as long as I am not making money off of those practices and merely incorporating them in a meaningful way into my own practice. Point #5 says that my practice should be uniquely me, which I agree with. Why shouldn't I burn sage to purify a space, or meditate on chakras, or honor a spirit animal, if it is done privately and that symbolism resonates with me?

    1. You are welcome to burn sage. You are not welcome to call it smudging. Utilizing Native American (or other) practices in your work trivializes the violent historical oppression those groups have suffered. It shows that you feel entitled to take that practice and make it your own because you are privileged in a way that you feel allows you to do that. The people whom you're taking these practices from were and are often discriminated against for those same practices that you find interesting, quirky or cool. And while you may not be selling the practice, others are. Imagine all the New Age stores you've walked into that have Native American imagery everywhere. They are profiting off of the oppression of a culture. If you purchase your tools from those stores for your idealized appropriated beliefs, you are feeding that process. Not to mention, many of those practices aren't what you think they are. Smudging is an elaborate ritual passed down through Native generations. It's not something you have access to. When you call smoke cleansing smudging, you are bastardizing what smudging actually is.

      And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could continue, but I hope you see why this is problematic. I also want to add that, as someone who is 1/8th Blackfoot, I don't see my grandfather or great grandfather being so accepting of their culture being diluted down to what can be accessed without being part of a tribe and passed off as the same thing as what they did. Also, because I was raised to be white as requested by my great grandfather so that I could have more opportunities in life, I would never attempt to incorporate Native rituals despite my heritage. I was not given the proper education or tools to do it with. I don't know how to smudge, but I do know how to smoke cleanse. And I'm not going to rely on some author who claims to be 1/230597256th Native to tell me how to do it to take it from a culture that I, blood or not, was not intrinsically a part of. If my grandfather wanted me to learn it, he would have taught me. He didn't. So I don't do it. It would not only be disrespectful to my grandparents' wishes but disrespectful to the culture I come from because I wasn't passed the information directly from them.

    2. Also, in retrospect, it's important to note that there are plenty of open cultures you can practice from, including Norse, Greek or Roman, Celtic and so forth. The kind of cultures and religions that are closed are ones that have been highly discriminated against and suppressed. I would strongly suggest you do a Google search for open and closed cultures to see what's available to you.

    3. I have mixed feelings about this. I am a strong believer that magic is open to everyone as long as you recognize and respect the original source. Hanging a dream catcher in your home because you find it cool is not respectful. Hanging one in your home to honor those whose lives were lost and knowing and understanding its use is respectful. While I'm pretty sure there isn't an ounce of Native American blood in my family, my aunt is a self-taught shaman who is respected by many in the Native American community. She dedicated much of her life to her "craft" and brings nothing but honor and respect to the culture.

      To me, what it really boils down to is why are you doing what you are doing? Are you doing it because you think it's cool or quirky or "in" or are you doing it because you have a deep respect for the culture? To some, witchcraft is a closed culture where only those born into the craft should call themselves witches. Many Wiccans don't believe those who self initiate are "real" Wiccans, claiming only a coven can make you a "true" Wiccan. Some people are going to believe their culture and practices are closed, while others in the same community will embrace you with open arms, happy you wish to learn more and practice with them. There is a powwow held in Georgia every year by several Native American tribes, and they love to ask the local community to join them. Last year a friend of mine was asked to join their drumming circle. She said it was one of them most liberating things she has ever done. They welcomed her with open arm, but there are other communities that are not going to do that.

      I strongly believe you should use only those practices, rituals, and beliefs you are comfortable with and have well researched. If you are going to use something from Hinduism, Romanies, Native Americans, and the like, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, are thanking them for allowing you to use it, and know absolutely everything there is to know from a reputable source. Bring it nothing but honor and respect to it. I wish I could say many witches and pagans follow this rule, but many do not. I don't think it is done from a malicious stand point, but an ignorant one. Just be careful, tread lightly, make sure you are being respectful and you're good. At least that is how I feel about the subject.

    4. See, and I disagree with this entirely. Just because you feel like you're being respectful does not mean that you are entitled to all religions and beliefs. That's a very white-privilege way of looking at it. "Because this calls to me and I recognize its source, then it's okay for me to do it." And believe me, I've been guilty of it myself. When you tread into a closed religion or culture and say "Hey, this resonates with me so I'm going to take it," you are contributing to years of oppression. Even if you recognize the source, even if you feel you are being respectful, it is not yours to just have. Not everything is up for grabs for everyone, and recognizing that is true respect.

      The evolution of Wicca is certainly different. In fact, many recognize that Wicca as it was started by Gerald Gardner is still a closed religion often referred to as British Traditional Wicca while Neo-Wicca, as initiated by Valiente and Cunningham, is a separate ideology and is thus open. To compare a religion like Wicca to something like Native American tribal religions is like comparing apples to oranges. Apples held by white people to oranges held by an oppressed culture. It's not the same.

      Being invited by a closed religion to something open does not mean that you are welcome to take it for your own.

      Also, shamanism does not refer to Native American traditions but rather an indigenous Siberian mystic tradition. Here's some information on that:

    5. In my opinion, the true meaning of respecting it is to leave it alone if they wish it to be left alone. There is a video called "White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men" which you can find a really poor audio copy of on youtube. Some of the comments get dicey, but there is a lot of good perspective in there as well about how First Nation groups feel about white people using their rituals. You have no *right* to those rituals, so if you respect it and feel called to it, then just appreciate it, and find something else that works for you in a similar way.

      Honestly, this was the first article I read on this website, and when I got to that point in the article it made me very happy to see. Thank you for caring about these things. I think we should find connection with our own deeper ancestors instead of taking the ancestral path of others that do not want us using their methods. Whether you can understand the validity or not, you should respect that they have asked not to be used in that way, and perhaps read and listen and learn so that you can understand *why* they do not appreciate this form of use by outsiders. That is true respect and appreciation.

    6. The appropriatuon vs appretiation argument is everywhere. Here is my take on the matter. Certain practices, beliefs and deities are going to call one, and they may be from Native American, or Hindu or other closed cultures. Know why it speaks or calls to you, and why you are drawn to it and not others.The best thing to do in the situation when those things speak to you and call to you are these steps:

      First, speak with an actual practitoner and spiritual leader of that religion and tradition. Discuss with them the practice and belief system of that culture that you are interested, ask how you could incorporate it into your practice respectfully, or if it is even respectful to do so.

      Secondly: Find reputable sources in the subject written by people of that tradition. Meaning don't read the white guy on Chakra, read the Hindu Indian man's book instead. If it is an item that you can create or grow, learn from a practioner how to grow it and make it.

      Thirdly: If you are purchasing items for your space or alter for your religious practice to honor, be sure to purchase them from their place of origin. To not but prayer beads from a store commercially selling them. If there is a Hindu temple often they sell them to support their work. Or purchase them from an Hindu Indian seller. To not purchase Native American items from a store commercially. Go to the reservation and purchase the item as it supports the tribe directly.

      Fourthly: a personal practice and understanding is personal, this is not something for you to teach as an expert, or write about, it is not yours to teach. You can answer questions as to why, and understand the religion, but you are an outsider to that religion and culture. It is for those who practice that religion fully to teach and share their beliefs with those they choose not you. Following these rules will help those who are called to Certain deities, rites, or practices do so without white-washing or disrespect.

      Americans are all immigrants to this continent except for Native Americans. Europeans were not here first. It is important in our practice to recognize the original stewards and traditions of this land. To say we cannot practice Native American religion is fair, but to be respectful of the native spirits and traditions it is important to know how they were first honored. To not learn seems to be continuing the cultural ignorance and disrespect.

    7. I think that's an excellent addition to the discussion, Samantha. I am, of course, not the be-all-end-all for cultural appropriation versus exchange. When in doubt, go to the source. The biggest issue, however, is that books tend to pick up watered-down and commercialized versions of these practices and hold them as a "part" of the Craft (eg smudging). Being aware of what could be appropriation in advance helps you do more research later when you come across it.

    8. Thanks. And I absolutely agree with you to watch out for watered down and commercialized appropriation when reading. When starting out on your reading if you are looking for something on a culture or practice it would be best to find books written by members of that religion as a place to start to help avoid appropriation and to better understand the subject. Starting with solid sources as a basis is better than starting with questionable ones. :)

  2. I'm sorry but I've never heard of closed religion.. How and who is the one/s that classes them as open or closed? Sorry if it sounds rude. Just trying to understand.

    1. The following link explains it perfectly: http://thepaganstudygrouppage.tumblr.com/post/90901509745/i-dont-understand-how-a-religion-can-be-closed

    2. I appreciate these discussions. I have to say I believe Marietta is correct. While there may be no intent to insult or cause harm, we should educate ourselves about any practice we consider utilizing. If I may, before the internet and mass media, one was initiated into customs of ones social network or family with little else added to those long held practices and beliefs and only those who "belonged" being initiated into the customs. There are many ways to cause harm besides physically doing so. We should always keep that in mind.

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  4. I have a question. I read through some of the comments and found I still felt like I needed to ask. My family is very, very German. I don't necessarily feel entitled to anything. I feel it honors my ancestors and my family by studying germanic or gothic traditions and 'paganism'. I have always felt very strongly that honoring your ancestors and such is extremely important to me. If nothing else, I would want to make sure what I have is correct and such. My question needs a little background. My family didn't exactly pass down the traditions and beliefs, but it was my study of my family and any information I could find that did. Like the belief/tradition if the men eat well, the weather will be fair on the morrow.

    You mentioned closed religions and even though being born Native American Blackfoot, you feel it's closed to you? I'm not sure if mine would be closed to me because my family seemed to feel embarrassed or ashamed of what happened with the world wars. We have great nationality pride but that didn't inspire pride in ones kinsmen. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense. But I still feel a strong connection to the non-diluted form of gothic/germanic traditions and religion before Christianity destroyed a lot of it. Does that mean it's open to me because of heritage, general draw, and such? Or is it closed because my grandparents didn't exactly 'pass it on'? What are your thoughts?

    1. The best person to ask about this would probably be your family. However, in my opinion, German culture has never really been a "closed" culture. Appropriation occurs when you attempt to take traditions from a culture that has been marginalized. Cultures become "closed" when their beliefs are ignored, looked down upon, stereotyped, taken, watered-down and mass marketed. I don't think you have to worry about cultural appropriation from Germanic heritage. I see Germanic traditions as generally open. That being said, again, I'm probably not the best person to ask and, again I'd approach your family about this sort of thing.

  5. These are indeed great guidelines for someone who just beginning their journey in the witchcraft world. Contrary to what is being portrayed on films, witchcraft can actually be fin and devotional at the same time. Students via PrimeWritings who experiments and believes in witchcraft will find these very useful.

  6. I have to say that this is the first I've heard of the idea of closed religion. I'm hoping that anything I've done in the past isn't considered disrespectful because I wasn't aware. Although I understand Voodoo, Santeria, and even dream catchers. Karma? Chakras? I guess I could understand spirit animals. But, is it only the terms that have been mislabeled, like smudging, or is the idea inherently off limits?

    1. Don't worry about what you've done in the past. The fact that you're aware of it now and willing to change is far more important!

      It depends on which term you're talking about. Karma is far different from what we think it is. I would avoid using the term. The Threefold Law is Wiccan but it's certainly not off limits and offers a moral "rebound" code similar to what most people think Karma is. I would avoid Chakras entirely. They're much more complicated than seven fixated points on the body. Smudging has been bastardized, so I would call it something to the term of smoke cleansing or recaning. My best suggestion is to do an immense amount of research into the pieces of your practice that may be considered appropriation to find out if it's something that can be renamed so that you're not using an appropriative term or if you need to drop the practice entirely.

    2. Thanks for responding! Having been studying for about 10 years (I'm 27, been on my path since I was around 17) I have done a plethora of research, but have never read this at all! I'm really glad that I found it, I want to do my best to spread knowledge, and not the misappropriation of it. It just goes to show that you can always learn more! I think you're right about Karma and smudging. I've never taken a moment to stop and consider if I'm calling an apple an orange, so to speak. The chakras, though, I'm not sure I could give that up. However, going back to your post about the different between witches and pagans, I think that's just the kind of pagan I am. I am studying those things in depth, though, not just taking what I read online at face value.

  7. You write that `The same goes for a variety of terms and items, including dream catchers, spirit animals, Voodoo trappings, karma, chakras, Santeria, so on and so forth.`
    Interestingly though on this very site you five instructions on how to make a poppet, which I believe is Voodoo?

    1. Poppets aren't specific to Voodoo. In fact, poppets are actually historically from Europe - not Africa or the US. Popular culture linked voodoo and poppets in a negative light in the early 20th century.

    2. I didn`t know that; I stand corrected! Have a great day.

  8. I just want to say that I appreciate the wisdom of one so young! You are obviously well-studied and are offering insight I have found no place else. I have read the "Big Blue Book" (Buckland), Gardner, Cunningham, and etc. But you have insights not offered in resources I've read. Very practical and wise. Keep up the good work!

  9. Don't have to frolic with others in the woods at night (skyclad) naked. You can if you want and in ways I have, but not en mass.