Written by: Henry Yong (Grade 12)
Would you like to learn some magic?
The word “Halloween” conjures up images of pumpkins, ghosts, and little kids dressed in werewolf costumes with a penchant for candy hunting. But what most people may not be aware of are the origins of Halloween: our favourite spooky holiday dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-wen”). More recently since the later 20th century, Samhain is still celebrated to reflect on the passing of the year and make plans for the new one. It’s also considered a time when the “veil between the worlds” is thinnest, making it ideal for divination, fortune telling, and all things spiritual.
Samhain is also known as the Witches’ New Year, and is celebrated in particular by Wiccans and witches (and other neo-pagans). Many people use the terms “Wiccan” and “witch” interchangeably, which isn’t accurate. Wiccans practice the religion Wicca, a modern, nature-based faith. Specific beliefs vary tremendously. Basic Wiccan tenants actually accept the lack of a centralized doctrine and encourage aspiring Wiccans to follow their own spiritual path: the Wiccan Rede is one of the few statements that all Wiccans tend to follow, and it reads: “An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.” As long as the Wiccan does not harm themselves or others, they may do whatever they wish. Though it may seem counterintuitive for a religion, this emphasis on freedom has deep-seated roots in the history of witches, which often included heavy persecution. This persecution has led to modern day stereotypes of Wiccans that are painfully inaccurate: Wiccans don’t worship the Christian Devil (most Wiccans today don’t believe in the Devil) and Wiccans aren’t evil (Wiccans have beliefs similar to karma that ensure they have good morals when practicing their faith).
A witch is anyone who practices witchcraft through magick, including Wiccans (the “k” in magick is traditionally used to differentiate real magick from stage magic). You may be wondering what magick actually means. Although magick is subjective to each witch, The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock offers an explanation that I think sums it up generally well (despite its focus on Green Witches): “Spellcraft is seen as a perfectly natural occurrence among the green path. Is brewing a cup of rosemary tea for a headache a spell? Or is it natural medicine? To the green witch, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the conscious use of the energies of the rosemary to help heal a temporary imbalance.” What magick isn’t is magic from the Harry Potter universe, where wands, for instance, are depicted as objects that can be waved around to fire missiles at will or unlock doors. In reality, a witch would use wand simply as another tool for focusing or directing their own conscious energy.
There are lots of ways to perform magick. Some witches stick to spellcasting. Spells are a procedure: they require preparation, a calm state of mind, and direction one’s energy in order to get closer to a goal. Some witches may prefer down-to-earth tasks like gardening or cooking. Gardening and herbal magick are specialties of Green Witches, while cooking, cleaning, and maintaining harmony within one’s home are specialities of Kitchen Witches (not as ridiculous as it sounds). Some witches may even identify their personalities with certain traditional elements, and focus on magicks associated with those elements (such as fire witches, who may emphasize candle magick). An important note to keep in mind is that no two witches will likely follow the exact same magickal path: magick is deeply individual.
My personal favourite is divination, or fortune telling. I use Tarot card decks, decks of 78 cards dating back to ancient times. I see Tarot as a library of human existence, complete with human archetypes, images of scenes from everyday life, and connections to countless other belief systems, like numerology, astrology, and even the Jewish Kabbalah. While I can’t personally say I believe in an innate divinatory nature of the cards (and not all Tarot readers believe in “magick”), I find the culture and secrets of the Tarot enchanting, and I know that the positive mindset I adopt each time I read Tarot for myself (each card can be taken as positive or negative) and the new perspectives I gain with each drawn card have always helped me.
If you’re hooked, you might be wondering how to become a witch. Traditionally, you’d join a coven and study the craft for a year and a day before being officially initiated as a witch. Nowadays, witches are becoming flexible with their studies and choosing to self-initiate instead. You don’t need to buy any materials right away, but you’ll eventually need some. First, a Book of Shadows, a notebook where you’ll record everything you learn along the way. It can take any form: simple notepad, an online document, etc. as long as you keep all the information in one place. It’ll likely never be finished, because you can always learn more. Common things to record are basic information regarding your individual spiritual path, moon phases, sabbats/esbats, and your spells and rituals, with materials and steps listed out. Second, an altar, a space that you have access to and that you deem as sacred. It’ll be where you place all of the items you’ve blessed and set as magickal, including your Book of Shadows. Other traditional items for an altar include an athame (a ceremonial blade), a chalice, candles, and incense. Keep your altar and its items separate from your everyday items.
For most people, witchcraft is out of the ordinary. It’s really easy to see modern day witches as either people following an aesthetic or as beings of evil (or, of course, as Halloween costumes), but modern witches’ beliefs are really just about being present in your day-to-day life, respecting the natural world and its karma-like workings, and focusing on your own individual life path, no matter what that may be or what that may look like to anyone else. It’s good to remind ourselves that change can happen simply with a bit more conscious intent: what people can call a little magick!