ASK A WITCH: A GUIDE TO MODERN WITCHCRAFT BY GABRIELA HERSTIK
In ”Ask a Witch,” Gabriela Herstik answers your questions about channeling ancient wisdom in the modern age. From spellcraft to finding your path, explore what it means to be a millennial witch.
Question: How do you figure out which practice is the right one for you? I’ve been invited to a circle by a Wiccan witch, but I’m not sure if that’s the practice I’d want. I’ve been looking into Solitary Wicca and Green Witchcraft, but I’m stumped about what my path actually is. Do you have any suggestions on how to broaden my spectrum?
Answer: Welcome, welcome to the wonderful world of witchcraft. Can we just start out this conversation by being grateful that we live in a society where, for the most part, we can talk about and practice witchcraft without fear of serious repercussion? This isn’t to say that witch hunts aren’t still common worldwide, just that we should be grateful and aware of our own practices.
That said, it’s important to remember what the path of the witch holds. Witchcraft isn’t a trend. It’s not some cool way to wear your hair or a fun activity to check off the bucket list. Alexandra Roxo, writer, director, and witch, explains:
You are entering into a deep lineage by calling yourself a witch. It’s not to be taken lightly. Find something that resonates with you deeply. Forget about what’s cool. Practice it in private for years before preaching it on the mountaintops of Instagram. It’s not just a fun trend. It’s a reclaiming that thousands of women died for and you have to earn your place and honor all that has come before you. It’s using energy in powerful ways. Be careful and be responsible.
Roxo reminds us that the whole point of witchcraft is to find a connection to something that’s larger than you. It’s not a “me” practice. So if you’re ready for the challenge, keep that in mind.
Nowadays, witchcraft has seeped into our everyday lives, allowing us to live in a more holistic and in-tune way with the world around us. And with so many different ways to practice, the hardest part of the journey tends to be finding a place to start. But don’t worry—that’s why I’m here. Let’s begin!
Go back. Way back. Keep going.
Here’s the thing. Every single culture has some sort of witchcraft, even if that’s not necessarily what it’s called; think: folklore, superstitions, forms of indigenous magick like shamanism or the like. (If you’re not sure what exactly witchcraft is, I got you.) The best thing you can do to find your path and to be respectful of the different cultures around the world that have their own forms of witchcraft is to see what your own culture holds. Start at home: Ask your grandparents, parents, or that weird “crazy” aunt you have (who may very well actually just be a witch) what the traditions are from your place of origin.
The second step in finding your own path is to figure out what speaks to your magick, i.e. what makes you feel alive, like every cell of your body is connected to the universe. Magick is the strongest when you feel it, so figuring out what speaks to you is the most important step. Pay attention to what attracts you, whether it’s a certain form of divination, a specific pantheon of deities, or a certain sort of spell. Spend time in your local bookstore (I love secondhand bookshops’ occult sections) and see what you’re drawn to naturally. Spend an afternoon looking through books, writing down keywords and phrases that resonate with you, and then find their common connections. Whether you like crafting, cooking, herbs, tradition, or otherworldly entities, you can always incorporate your passions and love into your spellwork and magick.
Coven or Solitary?
The next question to ask yourself is whether you’re someone who thrives in your own space on your own terms, or if you relish a structured work environment. Deciding if you want to study in solitude or in tandem with others (if the option is available) is another helpful way to figure out your own path. If you’re looking to study in a group, you may want to see what options there are in your community. Research if there are any covens in your area. Check the group out, and make sure they’re what you want to be involved with ethically—you should never have to sacrifice your own morals in the process of finding your place. Reach out to the High Priest or High Priestess (or whoever else may be the head honcho) and talk to them about joining. Many covens allow newcomers and some may even have open circles for non-initiates. If you still want to learn more before you commit, metaphysical and occult stores are a good place to start; they often have classes or readings at their locations and communities that tend to center themselves around them.
If you’re thinking about practicing alone or narrowing down what kind of coven you’d like to align yourself with, but need more of an idea of what sort of path to follow, here are some different forms of witchcraft:
Hereditary witchcraft is witchcraft passed on from generation to generation. You’ll most likely already know if your family practices this tradition. Think family recipes with magickal ingredients, different healing techniques, niche forms of divinations, and family secrets.
If you’re someone who has always been extra in-tune with the earth, her phases, her plants, and all her medicine, then you may just be a Green witch. If you’re someone who has a green thumb and can grow anything they want, then you may just be a Green Witch. Green witchcraft is for the garden-loving, flower-smelling environmental activist who wants to work with nature as closely as possible to make her magick. Green witchcraft emphasizes the earth, plant, and flower medicine, and nature as the ultimate teacher and healer. This path means living in alignment with the earth, asking her before you take, and making sure to honor the gifts she’s giving you. Those who follow this path recognize that everything has a spirit. Just like witchcraft in general, Green witchcraft isn’t necessarily a religion. It’s a way of living closely to the earth, and all her children—her plants, crystals, trees, and all the energies that encompass them.
The Faery Faith
A belief in faeries, or entities that inhabit a plane parallel-yet-separate world to our own, is not specific to one culture. But the Celtic Nations have a very soft spot for the Fey in their own branches of magick. The Faery Faith is a path of witchcraft, and also Wicca, that works closely to these energetic beings and models their own practices after that of the Celts (or what we know about them.) The term “faery” refers to all magickal beings like sylphs, nymphs, undines, unicorns, and pixies that exist, but not in our everyday realm. Those who subscribe to the practice, believe that everything has a soul—even the mountains, trees, flowers, oceans, and rivers. Because of that, often, Green witches and those who work with the Fey (another term for faeries) have overlapping practices. That’s one of the beautiful things about witchcraft: Intuition is important, and customizing your own path is encouraged. Brian Froud is a very famous Faery artist, whose Faery Oracle started me on my path with both the Faery and witchcraft. Brian’s incredible art, alongside Edain McCoy’s A Witches Guide to Faery Folk, changed the course of my life, and I highly recommend both to anyone who’s interested in working with the Fey.
For those who are naturally adept in the kitchen, Kitchen witchcraft may be your calling. Spells and magick center around the kitchen and hearth, and the food you cook serves as a cone of power of sorts, whether it’s cooking a soup with spices and herbs for a desired outcome, using sigil magick with sauces or condiments, or simply blessing the food you’re going to eat. By consuming the food, you’re releasing the energy into your own being and the universe, forming intention within yourself. This is all about doing it yourself instead of using store-bought ingredients. Kitchen witchcraft is also utilized during seasonal celebrations such as the equinoxes, solstices, and sabats (or holidays.)
Wicca is a neo-pagan, nature-based religion that’s loosely based on the beliefs of the ancient Celts. Founded by Gerald Gardner in England in 1954 and brought to the states by his initiate Raymon Buckland in 1963, Wicca emphasizes the Divine Feminine, or Goddess, in its rituals. Wicca celebrates holidays called sabats, like the equinoxes and solstices, in what’s known as the Wheel of the Year. Wiccans don’t have a singular holy book, but they do follow two laws: the Wiccan Rede, “an ye harm none, do what ye will” and the Rule of Three, “three time what thou givest returns to thee.” There are many different sects of Wicca, such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and Dianic, which all have different traditions and ways of honoring God/dess. Progressive Wicca is a more modern and liberal take on “classical” Wicca. Courtney Weber, a High Priestess with Novices of the Old Ways, explains:
Progressive Wicca has a more fluid approach to ritual and view of the Divine. We build rituals to serve the needs of the people who attend them, which means some aspects of our rituals will be similar to previous rituals. Other aspects will be very new. We acknowledge and accept the Divine as multi-gendered and that all aspects of Divine gender exist in each person.
She also points out that Wicca isn’t even 100 years old; there’s plenty of room for growth from the classic model, and carving out space for Wicca alongside intersectionality and inclusivity is vital.
What would talk about witchcraft be without mention of Ceremonial Magick and Aleister Crowley? Ceremonial Magick is used in the context of Hermeticism and Western Esotericism, and is basically long, complex forms of rituals. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was a magical order dedicated to the study and practice of the occult and metaphysical, popularized ceremonial magick. Much like the Masonic Temple, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was based on both initiation and hierarchy and was one of the major influences on Western occultism. Crowley, who is perhaps the most famous, and infamous, occultist of all time, was also an initiate of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He wrote his own book on ceremonial magick, which is one of the foremost books on the topic. Crowley also founded Thelema, which combines his beliefs—of love and will being the law—with mystic teachings such as yoga, qabalah, and ceremonial magick. If you love to learn, study, and practice your craft, try researching Crowley, the Ordo Templi Orientis (his organization based around Thelema), and the A.:.A.
If you’re anything like me, your practice with witchcraft will be a little bit of everything. Eclectic witchcraft is for the independent witch who wants it all! This path is exactly what it sounds like: combining different forms of magick for something unique and special. As someone whose background is Jewish (my father is a Rabbi) but who’s also Mexican (my mother was born in Mexico City), I am influenced both by qabala and brujeria, or Mexican witchcraft. I also work closely with the faery, incorporate my writing and poetry into my ritual work, and use fashion as an extension of my magick. Eclectic witchcraft urges you to create your own path by using your own heritage, passions, and magick. That said, don’t forget to be mindful of where you draw your inspiration and information from. Be respectful of the different cultures from which you learn and what they teach. Honor how their experiences may be different from yours; be mindful and make sure you thank whoever is teaching you.
Just like many forms of witchcraft, Hoodoo, not to be confused with voodoo, is influenced by a mix of cultures and perspectives. Hoodoo, or conjure, was brought to the U.S. by African slaves. By combining the Christian rituals they found in America with their own spirituality, slaves formed their own way to fight back. According to the Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR), Hoodoo is not a religion, nor is it strictly African in its structure; many Hoodoo workers identify as Christian and combine their religious beliefs with their practice. Hoodoo combines divination, charms, and amulets and spellwork as well as uses specific kinds of magick like Mojo Bags, or bags that hold magickal items that are worn in a secret place for a desired outcome. Nowadays, you can even learn Hoodoo from your own home, thanks to women like Madame Pamita and the AIRR. And please remember that just because many western witches may stick to a code of harming none, that doesn’t mean that’s a universal rule. For many oppressed people, witchcraft is a way to fight back. But being firm in your own beliefs doesn’t mean you have to be disrespectful of others.
Witchcraft should feel right. There are many different paths, and what’s right for your friend may not be right for you. Listen to your intuition—figure out what you’re drawn to naturally and chase that. Find the occult community in your area if you have one, start a book club or a coven with your friends, or take a class. As Courtney Weber points out, “Magickal practice is not something we simply check off our to-do list. It’s something we must continually seek out. Stay in touch with the things that drew you to witchcraft in the first place.” There is no “right” way to do this. So just do it!