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On the nature of witchcraft, evil, devils, and bla...

On the nature of witchcraft, evil, devils, and black and white magick.

catherine winther the house of twigs witchcraft black magick witch

Last week you said witchcraft wasn’t evil. I don’t understand then why there is black magick and white magick. I was told it was only safe to be a white witch because black magick is from Satan and you lose your soul if you use it. Isn’t the devil evil?

Madison, 17, USA.

Dear Madison,

Thank you for writing in and sharing your question with us. This column is usually for those 18 years old or above however, the question you pose is important. It is a subject that a lot of witches struggle with on and off, particularly younger witches like yourself.

Before I delve into answering your questions I need to put the terms ‘Satan’ and ‘Devil’ into a cultural context. Satan/Lucifer/the Devil is largely a concept/entity that is associated with Abrahamic religions. There are other religions and branches of magick e.g., Voodoo that have developed alongside the Abrahamic faiths in order to survive that do work with the Devil/Satan. However, these faiths don’t always see the Satan as evil or bad in the same way as say, Catholics or Christians might. Good examples of this are the Theistic Satanists and Luciferians, they don’t see Satan/Lucifer/the Devil as evil. They actively work to better themselves and their communities through magick. However, most people that write in to this column are referring to the modern day, sanitized neo-pagan version of witchcraft. The old ways were much darker before being sanitized and sexed up by people like Buckland. Most neo-pagan, western witches don’t believe in Satan and therefore don’t work with that energy. As such, I don’t tend to talk about Satan/the Devil in the column as it’s simply not applicable.

Second, in my opinion and experience, witchcraft is not inherently evil. Evil is another tricky concept to talk about because despite all of the theological and philosophical studies and discussions out there, the existence and nature of evil remains a complex and ultimately, unresolved area of study. While the confusion around evil can be challenging at times, our limited and vague understandings of evil keeps humanity’s moral discourse open, encouraging humans to consistently reflect on their morality and any evil contained therein. But this also means that the very nature of what constitutes evil is a personal construct. As such, I can only write about evil from my subjective understanding of it as a white woman of privilege who is embedded in the developed Western world.

The most rudimentary and basic definition of witchcraft is the practice of magick, more broadly it can relate to systems of belief and philosophy that incorporate magick. In my view, actions are not evil nor are systems of belief and philosophy. Indeed, some witches don’t even believe in evil, while others like myself, do.

My understanding of evil comes from a handful of experiences where I believe I encountered true evil. I understand evil to be a unique, independent, and rare energy. Once you have been touched by it you will never forget it. Every time I experienced evil, there was no question in my mind, heart, or soul that evil is what I was facing. I have experienced a wide array of paranormal and magickal events but my brushes with evil were probably the most ‘real’ of these experiences. I felt the ghastly reach of evil in every cell of my body. There simply was no way to dispute or deny the reality of evil as it was in front of me. This is a huge thing for me to admit because I excel at doubting and criticising everything, but I couldn’t doubt evil.

So, where some people say evil is simply a perception, others counter this by defining evil as being more of a human action. Some religions have a specific agent of evil, like Catholicism and Satan. In my view, evil is an energy or force that can wear any mask, but it is also an energy that you can train yourself to recognize. The only way I can explain what evil feels like is to liken it to a horribly wrong sense of absence, as though this force was not meant to exist but somehow it broke through into our reality. Evil also felt highly contagious, like a disease that if not handled correctly would quickly spread and then disturb, debase, and break reality in anyway it sees fit. But luckily, I also sensed it was a very rare energy.

Evil is its own rare breed of energy. I don’t class any human act or thought as intrinsically evil, they might be classified as bad or wrong actions and thoughts, but not evil. For an act or thought to be considered evil, evil would have to be invited in or infecting its agents. The agent of evil would have had to make either a conscious or subconscious decision to express evil.

I don’t invite evil into my witchcraft and therefore I don’t believe witchcraft is evil. Full stop.

As for losing your soul to the Devil through making deals with him, there are reports of this happening in neo-pagan witchcraft but it is rare. There are some other cultures, religions, and magick disciplines that work with devils and sometimes trade souls, but these practices and beliefs rarely cross into modern, sanitized witchcraft. Therefore, from this modern, neo-pagan perspective, black magick does not come from the Devil.

Finally, to address your questions about black and white witches and black and white magick, I will say this: from my point of view there is no such thing as black and white witches or magick, at least in terms of neo-pagan western witchcraft.

To clarify, it is important to understand that the words ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ are white peoples’ words. Other cultures have different terms for witches and some of these cultures do differentiate witches and healers in terms of good/white and bad/black. For instance, in Mexico it is good and well to be a ‘curandera’ or ‘curandero’, a healer who helps people with herbs and magick, but until recently, calling someone a bruja or brujo (a witch), would probably get you slapped at best.

My reasons for claiming there is no black or white witchcraft are informed by both psychology and philosophy. The human mind relies heavily on contrast to understand the world. This leads to dualistic thinking and perception that is, classifying things based on their contrast with their perceived opposite e.g., good versus bad, black versus white, night verses day, dog versus cat etc. Therefore, humans are predisposed to categorizing and classifying things in dual tones. So, it is no real surprise that some people perceive witchcraft as either black or white, Humans are just predisposed to seeing the world this way, that doesn’t mean it’s real but it can lead to some very real problems when dealing with concepts such as evil and witchcraft that don’t fall into the simplistic dualistic structure.In my view, most witches and magicks are neutral. There is no black and white, just magick and just humans. I am incredibly wary of people who use terms like white witch to describe themselves because if I did believe in black and white witchcraft, I would still want to be sure that I am addressing and understanding both shades of existence: black and white, good and back, light and shadow. A central tenet of witchcraft is ‘know thy self’, you can’t achieve that without acknowledging the capacity for good and bad within yourself. As such, I don’t trust witches that only work in the light because they have no understanding of the dark within themselves and universe, and therefore remain unaware of how the dark is effecting them.

You can’t avoid the black or the bad by just ignoring it. Ignoring the shadows of this world is an action of gross negligence that severely limits self-growth and personal actualization. Discounting the shadows is just an immature and faulty defense mechanism that is used by people governed by fear. When people avoid the shadows it is usually because they are not strong enough to face the truth of who they are and what it means to be human. And I don’t blame them, being human and living a human life is a huge existential challenge. We all need to grow at our own pace if we don’t want to risk breaking our psyche.

This is my understanding of white and black witchcraft. I understand there are people out there that call themselves white witches, only working benevolent magicks who still address the shadows. This is a noble and beautiful approach to magick but it is still an approach that I am not comfortable with, filling my mind with questions and concerns. The white witches I refer to and have met, actively avoid anything ‘bad’ and thus limiting their growth and magicks.

In conclusion, modern, western, neo-pagan magicks and witchcraft are not evil. Satan has nothing to do with this branch of witchcraft and as such, black magick doesn’t come from making a deal with the devil. There are no black and white witches: just witches or not witches. Evil is a force that is separate to humans but it can definitely influence and infect people, but luckily it’s rare.

My opinion and experiences are all I have to offer. I hope you gained something helpful through reading this, but at the end of the day the questions you posed to me about evil and witchcraft are questions that you need to answer. You need to decide for yourself what the true nature of evil is to you—and this may change over time.  The same with what witchcraft means to you. You may even find that you like working with the terms ‘black magick’ and ‘white magick’. It all comes down to you and what feels right for you. I can talk about my ideas and beliefs about witchcraft but at the end of the day, your journey and relationship with witchcraft has to be your own.

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Dr. Catherine ‘West’ Winther is a retired psychologist and passionate LGBTQIA feminist who comes from a long family line of of creatrixes, witches, and wolves. Through her online coven at WeaverTarot.com she offers readings, spell-craft, curios, and counseling. Her passion is holding sacred shadow spaces and fostering alchemy through conversation. She aids healing and growth through encouraging big play, big magick, big nature, cackling, sensuality, and creativity. Freedom is our right and our responsibility. Let us slip these human skins and find our feral selves. Come roll and run through the dirt and the bones and the blood and howl at the ghosts under the Goddess Bone Moon as we listen for the star-songs. Let us remember what and why we are here, and most importantly let us remember how and why and what we love so we can bring that passion back to the everyday and reclaim our magickal birthright as witches. Get dirty. Get wild. Get horny. Get magick. Get witch.
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Dr. Catherine ‘West’ Winther is a retired psychologist and passionate LGBTQIA feminist who comes from a long family line of of creatrixes, witches, and wolves. Through her online coven at WeaverTarot.com she offers readings, spell-craft, curios, and counseling. Her passion is holding sacred shadow spaces and fostering alchemy through conversation. She aids healing and growth through encouraging big play, big magick, big nature, cackling, sensuality, and creativity. Freedom is our right and our responsibility. Let us slip these human skins and find our feral selves. Come roll and run through the dirt and the bones and the blood and howl at the ghosts under the Goddess Bone Moon as we listen for the star-songs. Let us remember what and why we are here, and most importantly let us remember how and why and what we love so we can bring that passion back to the everyday and reclaim our magickal birthright as witches. Get dirty. Get wild. Get horny. Get magick. Get witch.

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