Hello. I am more of a student of High Magic, but I do have a significant knowledge of witchcraft mostly for green/healing purposes. I often find witches that "borrow" serious aspects of more "serious" paths, from Thelema to the Kabbalah and such, and they are extremely defensive when I try to point out the personal danger of misunderstanding knowledge as well as the disrespect for some of those traditions. Can you discuss that a bit more? Some witches just think their craft is the only right! S2
Forewarning, this is going to be a very long post.
Many witches aren’t aware of the origins of their own craft. Unfortunately, trying to talk to them about it can make them defensive, as their teachers or sources might have once told them otherwise.
A lot of the witchcraft that floats around today draws its lineage back to Wicca. The style of magic that they practice, often more ritualized than they know, does not consist merely of witchcraft. This is where people get defensive.
Witchcraft, as it is known in folklore and history, is a kind of folk magic that often involves malefic intent. Even if one removes malefic intent from this, it is still majorly based in folk magic.
When Wicca was created, Gardner (with a ton of help from Doreen Valiente) mixed folk magic with high magic. The major source that his high magic comes from is Solomonic in nature. His ritual tools, now known as the tools of Wicca, are interpretations of tools described in the Key of Solomon. A black handled knife, tempered with the blood of a black cat, would be used to draw circles and command spirits. This would change (and become much less macabre) in Wicca in becoming a general knife for magic and non-physical cutting. Though in Wicca, the white handled knife is for cutting, the Solomonic traditions hold it to be the knife to use in all other acts of magic, besides drawing a circle. Wands, swords, cups, and metal symbols are all commonly found in high magical traditions. But Gardner didn’t hide the origins of these things. He openly said that he borrowed from Sorcerers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Gardner was, as many other high magicians at the time, a Freemason. Though Freemasonry itself has little involvement in magic, the Freemasons themselves often take it upon themselves to study the Geometry of the Universe. When he left Freemasonry, he took the rituals and symbols with him, and neatly tucked them inside of Wicca. The rituals Gardner described and performed bear an uncanny resemblance to the rituals used by Freemasons.
These things, over time, were forgotten by many who were drawn into the religion in search of witchcraft. The history behind it was lost, hidden, or forgotten. As time moved on, people left Wicca, but kept the style of magic it taught to them. Eventually, as it grew, more people pulled in more influences that were not originally associated with witches. Eastern spirituality, New Age beliefs, Kabbalistic and Thelemic techniques, etc. Now people are practicing a mixture of magical practices, ranging all from high magic to folk magic, but know it all as witchcraft. This unique combination birthed out of Wicca has come to be labeled Modern Witchcraft.
As far as traditional witches go, it changes, depending on the tradition or lineage your talking about. Even the kind of ‘traditional’ matters.
You have all the followers of the Cultus Sabbati, the most popular of traditional witchcrafts, who are essentially witches working high magic (often going by the term ‘sorcerer’). Their witch imagery comes from the same place that all traditional witches pull from, but their ecstatic techniques are often quite their own. What isn’t their own was pulled from old grimoires.
Generally speaking, most traditional witches interested in working high magic will pull their knowledge from classic grimoires. Agrippa, Goetia, The Key of Solomon, The Grimoirium Verum, The Red Dragon, The Black Pullet, etc.
Then you’ve got the other half of traditional witches. Their practices are mostly based in folk magic and the witch lore found in the Early Modern Period (mainly from Europe and America). High magic is sometimes included, but the majority of their practices are spells and charms, rather than complex rituals and long evocations. That isn’t to say that they may not dip into ceremonial magic from time to time. Nor does it exclude spirit work. Folk magic still offers a plethora of ways to do spirit work without dipping into high magic.
Why is there such a sharp division between high magic and folk magic? It’s mainly due to the practitioners of both in the past and their relationship to wealth. High Magicians were the ones employed in the courts of kings, queens, and temples. They worked rituals with gods and spirits and stars to find prophecies, ensure a happy afterlife, appease forces, and generally work in the Universe in favor of the king or queen. Remember John Dee? These high magicians were wealthy, and their art costed a pretty penny. Their grimoires and objects of power were sold at extremely high prices, passed from hand to hand through time. That was though, after they had died.
Folk magicians worked magic that the everyday person had to worry about. How does one stop and start storms, ensure good health, bring luck, curse enemies, make animals come home, etc? They worked their art to both harm and heal. Charms made of string, glass, bone, wood, parchment, and cloth were used to bring desired effects. Because witches were thought to be of lower wealth, the majority of witch workings described in folklore are of folk magic. Those folk magicians who had access to grimoires (which were very few) sometimes used them in concert with folk magic.
I noticed your use of the word ‘serious’ when talking about high magic. Be very careful there. It is true that high magic often takes a much more solemn tone, but folk magic is not to be dismissed. The witches in Scotland, described as being able to destroy entire fields of crops with storms, were thought to do so with folk magic. The witches in the Ancient Near East who fed images of their enemies to dogs to do them harm were also practicing folk magic.
“High” and “Low” are not indicators of power. It is the relationship between Heaven and Earth.