Especially at this time of the year, we hear tell of witches as if they are one group of people who do exactly the same thing, practice the same rituals, cast the same spells, hold the same beliefs, and even (except in the case of Hollywood) look the same. You know the preferred look of the season, bent and twisted old spinster hag, with a long crooked nose, warts the size of molehills, one remaining rotten tooth and a pointy hat. They live in caves or a tumbledown filthy hovel with a shape-shifting familiar – frequently the much maligned black cat – and keep a besom handy for those all-important moonlight flights.
Okay maybe we’ve moved on a little since then, except on Halloween of course. But I bet you didn’t how just how many types of witches there are. No? Well here goes (and I don’t claim this list is exhaustive either!):
Augury Witch: This is the witch you want if you’re contemplating any kind of spiritual journey. This witch doesn’t foretell the future as such, but can read the signs a traveller meets along the way. They have the gift of prophecy – but they are not fortune tellers.
Eclectic Witch: This witch designs his/her own form of witchcraft. They generally select from the many different ways and belief systems, including, but not exclusively, Wiccan. They take the ingredients that work best for them and practice a bespoke form of witchcraft.
Ceremonial Witch: These witches draw on spiritual beliefs associated with the Goddess and use a range of disciplines drawn from the old religion, incorporated with mysticism and a form of ‘sacred mathematics’. They follow an earth centred path and call on a number of spiritual entities. Think Mother Earth here.
Faery Witch: This is an interesting one as these witches have no formal tradition or organisation – rather like the eclectic witches. They seek to commune with faery folk and use nature spirits in their magic.
Green Witch: This witch uses the energies of Mother Nature and focuses on natural places, natural items and substances to work his/her magic.
Hedge Witch: Ravens or geese are commonly associated with the Hedge Witch, who is something of a shaman. Their spirits travel into the Otherworld and they are frequently powerful healers. The word ‘hedge’ here refers to the boundary between this world and the world of spirit.
Family Tradition Witch: While you cannot be born a witch (only acceptance of ‘The Craft’ will enable you to become one), there are nevertheless families in which the tradition of witchcraft has remained strong through successive generations.
Cottage Witch: Also known as a Kitchen Witch, this witch is practical, and deals with finding the sacred in even the most mundane of tasks (not restricted to the kitchen). It is an increasingly popular form of witchcraft where the gods of the hearth and home are called upon to make the dwelling place secure and safe and all tasks are blessed.
Solitary Witch: As its name suggests, this is a witch who does not belong to a coven and who practices alone. He/she will frequently not follow any particular tradition but may well follow whatever he/she has grown up with. It is said that, in families where successive generations have embraced ‘The Craft’, knowledge of it and of the path to be followed are awakened following puberty.
One thing witches do have in common is that they do not worship satan. As a Christian creation, satan has no place in the traditions of witchcraft, however they are practiced.
Also, contrary to popular belief, male witches don’t generally call themselves warlocks. In fact the term has various derogatory meanings. The name probably derives from the old English ‘waerloka’ meaning oath breaker or traitor – hardly something any witch would subscribe to! These days ‘warlocking’ can also mean to be excommunicated from a Wiccan coven!
Hollywood has, as always, created some myths and perpetuated others. When I was growing up I always wanted to be Samantha Stevens – Elizabeth Montgomery’s nose twitching witch in TV’s long running Bewitched. But the closest I ever got was to exclaim, “Oh my stars!” every now and then. I wanted to be able to click my fingers and fly off to some glamorous and far flung destination. So far, no amount of finger clicking has achieved even a move to the bathroom.
Ah well, never mind. The one advantage of being a writer is that you can ‘live’ these places through your writing. I can do that any time I like.
And I don’t have to be a witch to do it!