Is Witchcraft Real?
As the chilling October winds begin their approach and the length of the days shortens, our collective cultural eyes once again turn to Salem, Massachusetts. And why not? It’s Halloween-central, after all. My first visit to Salem certainly reignited a reverence for Samhain. But, I noticed something else that night too, something that I’ve become increasingly aware of as time rolls forward. Many Salem tourists, after some hours in the Witch City, begin to ask strange questions like, “Wait, is Witchcraft real?” So let’s dive in and examine the ways in which witchcraft is very real and the way in which it, sadly, isn’t.
Table of Contents
Before we get into answering the question of, “Is Witchcraft real,” we must first define what exactly we mean and don’t mean by the term. “Witchcraft” is an umbrella term that encompasses diverse practices, beliefs, and traditions.
It often involves rituals, spells, and the invocation of unseen forces to influence events, heal, or cause harm. In various cultures, witches might be revered as healers or feared as malevolent agents of chaos.
The roots of witchcraft can be traced back to prehistoric times when early human societies sought to explain the inexplicable forces of nature. Shamans and wise women were revered for their connection with the spiritual realm, serving as intermediaries between the human and supernatural realms.
As societies evolved, so did the perception of witchcraft. During the Middle Ages, a dark cloud engulfed Europe as witch hunts and trials led to the persecution and execution of thousands accused of practicing witchcraft. In 1692, this environment culminated in the United States’ most heinous attack on Witchcraft, The Salem Witch Trials.
Anthropological studies have shed light on the existence of witchcraft beliefs across diverse cultures. These beliefs often serve as a means of explaining misfortune or seeking control over the uncertain aspects of life.
Anthropologists argue that witchcraft beliefs persist in societies where individuals feel powerless against natural disasters, diseases, and other adversities. In such communities, witchcraft accusations might function as a form of social control or an outlet for collective anxieties.
Is Witchcraft Real Today?
Now that we have a cultural and anthropological basis for the question of, “Is Witchcraft Real,” we can move into what you’re likely really interested in: Modern Witchcraft. The modern perceptions of Witchcraft, especially in the Anglo-Saxon West are almost inextricably linked to representation in media.
The Wizard of Oz, Bewitched, Harry Potter, Hocus Pocus, The Craft, The Crucible – each of these evoke a specific image of Witchcraft in our shared cultural imagination. And there are countless others from film, theater, music, television, visual art, and more.
Generally, when people are seeking to learn the truth about modern witchcraft, what they’re really wondering is, “Are the versions of Witchcraft I’ve seen in media real?” And the answer here is: It’s complicated. But in some way, yes, those witches are real. We’ll get back to this in a moment, but first let’s explore a general overview of the sorts of people you might discover are a modern reallife witch.
Today, the belief in witchcraft remains present in various parts of the world. Modern practitioners practice many forms of Witchcraft, ranging from Neopagan traditions, such as Wicca, to folk magic, Alchemy, and herbalism. These practices often focus on personal growth, nature reverence, and the promotion of positive energies.
In the 20th century, the revival of interest in witchcraft and occultism, partly due to the influence of popular media, inspired many to adopt witchcraft as a spiritual path. Wicca, founded in the mid-20th century, emerged as one of the most prominent contemporary Neopagan religions. Its adherents, known as Wiccans, embrace witchcraft as a spiritual practice, following principles of reverence for nature, balance, and harmlessness.
What You Really Want to Know
Ok, we’re all very informed now about the anthropological and cultural examination of witches real, both historical and modern.
But, here’s what I was actually curious about when I first began my long journey toward becoming one of the latest witches of America: Can I actually do the things I’ve seen in these movies? And, now we get back to the earlier answer of: It’s complicated.
Modern Witchcraft largely centers around the will and manifestation of one’s desires into reality. Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley believed that practicing Magick (he spelled it this way to distinguish it from stage magic) simply meant transferring one’s will to the material world.
So, for Crowley, Magick could be as witchy as a months-long ritual or as mundane as getting out of bed on time. Keep this in mind while I pose a little thought experiment…
How Real Witchcraft Works
I very much enjoy spiritual practices that are beneficial, whether or not they are materially real and I think this avenue of thought is suited well to exploring some more precise ways in which witchcraft is very real.
Let’s say you hate your job and you’re desperate for another. You do all the things you’re supposed to do (beef up the resume, send some emails, etc.), and no one is getting back to you. If you were a witch, you might then conduct a ritual. Let’s say you design a ritual meant to give you, “what you need” to find a new job. Two days later you have an idea and you reach out to an old colleague. They hook you up and you get hired at the new job!
Now here’s the question. Did you have the idea to reach out to the colleague because the ritual was received by a deity and they gave you, “what you needed?”
Or did you have it because you had done the ritual and were therefore subconsciously searching for a new perspective? Perhaps the idea, which was already present but buried under layers of thought, floated closer to your conscious mind as a result of having done the ritual.
Fascinating to think about, right? But here are the key takeaways. First, does it really matter what was materially happening here? You did the ritual for a desired result and you got the result. And second, even if what occurred happened without any divine involvement, your practice of Witchcraft had a very real impact on your life. And so, therefore, is Witchcraft real? Well, yours certainly was.
How Witchcraft Isn’t Real
Sadly, beyond this more nuanced understanding of Witchcraft, many of the popular media representations of the practice aren’t real. Or perhaps, a more precise way to phrase it would be that they aren’t strictly one-to-one corollaries of material reality. Here’s what I mean.
Can witches fly on a broomstick? No. Do witches use brooms as ritual items which help to vault their spirits out of their corporeal forms? Yes.
Do witches have green faces? No. Are they obsessed with nature? Yes.
And there are many, many more of these metaphorical extrapolations of Witchcraft practices and beliefs in culture. In fact, most of what you see in media surrounding Witchcraft is a metaphorical extrapolation. In storytelling especially, they tend to serve as a shorthand that clues the audience into the type of character of that specific witch, not necessarily a reflection on them all. But again, this metaphorical shorthand is generally rooted in real-world practice or belief.
And, of course, we’d be delusional if we didn’t admit that these representations often serve the explicit purpose of maligning witchcraft in general. While this isn’t as popular in culture anymore, there were many long years when entire works were solely dedicated to othering, disempowering, and villainizing the witch. This was especially true politically.
So, this author thinks that anytime a politician even utters the word, “Witch,” one’s ears should pay very close attention and proceed with extreme caution.
What is a Witch?
When you marry the perspective outlined here to the obvious benefits of engaging in some form of spiritual practice (there are so many and, that’s not really what this post is about, but here’s a good article to begin exploring these benefits), what becomes obvious is that Witchcraft is very real.
Whether or not the gods that a witch serves are materially real is a matter of faith and doesn’t actually have much bearing on the reality of their spiritual system. They believe it is real and, therefore, it is to them.
And this spiritual pathway is one which most faith systems share. The belief, in a very real way, determines the reality, not the other way around. A witch is simply someone who applies the aforementioned cultural, historical, and anthropological frameworks to the well-trodden mechanism of willful manifestation.
In closing, this perspective makes it very obvious that yes, in fact, witches are real. And more than that, through a purely agnostic viewpoint, we can easily see how the Pagan worldview not only benefits its practitioners but is clearly capable of assisting them in manifesting their will into the material world.