BASIC BELIEFS OF WITCHES

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One of the witches’ most important basic beliefs, obviously, is the reality
and possibility of magic. (See MAGIC.) This involves the idea that the
physical world is only part of reality, the part that we are able to apprehend with our five senses. Beyond are vaster realms; and in these the
witch seeks to venture. This, again, involves a further belief, namely that
human beings have more senses than the usual reckoning of five. By
means of these innate psychic capacities, the realms beyond the physical
are contacted. These powers, say the witch, are perfectly natural ; but
latent and inactive in the majority of people. They are powers that have
become overlaid and hidden by the artificialities of civilisation ; but
they can be reawakened.
This is one of the matters that have brought witches so often into
conflict with the priests of orthodox religions. The established religion
of a country does not find it acceptable for people to have their own
contact with the Beyond, independently of orthodox priests and their
rules and sacraments. This may well have been the reason why the socalled Witch of Endor had to live in hiding. (See BIBLE, REFERENCES TO
WITCHCRAFT IN THE.) The Establishment does not like having its
authority weakened.
Witches reject the masculine, patriarchal concept of God, in favour
of older ideas. They do not see why a rigid monotheism should necessarily be a sign of human advancement, as it is generally taken to be. It
seems more reasonable to them to conceive of divinity as being both
masculine and feminine ; and as evolving moreover a hierarchy of
great beings, personified as gods and goddesses, who rule over the
different departments of nature, and assist in the evolution of the cosmos.
If witches’ concept of God were to be more precisely defined, it could
perhaps best be called Life itself-the life-force of the universe. This,
it seems to witches, must be basically benign, however apparently
destructive and terrible some of its manifestations may be ; because if
this is not so, then Life is divided against itself, which is absurd. Moreover, it must be supreme wisdom, because of the wonder and beauty
manifested in its myriad forms. Its tendency is to evolve forms capable
of expressing ever higher degrees of intelligence ; so we who are its

children should seek to live in harmony with nature, which is the visible
expression of cosmic life, and in doing so find true wisdom and happiness.
Witches do not believe that true morality consists of observing a list
of thou-shalt-nots. Their morality can be summed up in one sentence,
“Do what you will, so long as it harms none.” This does not mean,
however, that witches are pacifists. They say that to allow wrong to
flourish unchecked is not ‘harming none’. On the contrary, it is harming
everybody.
This bears some resemblance to Aleister Crowley’s law for the New
Aeon : “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the
law, love under will.” People often quote the first part of Crowley’s
dictum, and claim that he advocated universal licence. They forget the
second part of his words. Centuries before, Saint Augustine said something very similar : “Love God, and do what you will.”
The idea of reincarnation seems to witches to be not only much older,
but more reasonable and right, than the concept of only one short life,
to be followed by heaven for the righteous and hell for the wicked ; or
than the materialist’s idea that when you’re dead you’re finished. They
quote the statement of the old occult philosophers-which I believe
modern science supports-that nothing in this universe can be destroyed ;
it can only change its manifestation. Descartes said, “I think, therefore
I am.” Human individuality and intelligence exist. Through the physical
body, they manifest. When the body wears out, or is damaged beyond
repair, the person is said to be ‘dead’. But it is the body which is dead.
You cannot bury or cremate people-only bodies. In so far as a person
is an individual intelligence, can that individuality be destroyed ?
The testimony of all ages and countries says, “No.” But at the same
time, nothing can stand still. Everything is constantly changing and
evolving. To be imprisoned in the personality of John Smith or Jane
Brown for all eternity, is no more consonant with cosmic Jaw than
being annihilated. Here we may notice the derivation of the word
‘personality’. It comes from persona, a mask. There is that in us which
truly says, “I am.” The personality is the mask it wears-a new one for
each incarnation. (See REINCARNATION.)
Between earthly incarnations, witches believe the soul rests in the
Land of Faery, a pagan paradise like the Celtic Tir-Nan-Og, the Land
of the Young. Many references to this pagan otherworld can be found
in British and Celtic legend. It is a very different place from the Christian
heaven, involving no harps, haloes nor golden gates, but a country like
the old dreams of Arcady. It is conceived of as being, not somewhere
‘up above’, but in another dimension co-existing with the world we
can see with mortal sight. Sometimes, say witches, we visit this other
dimension in our dreams, and can bring back fragmentary recollections
of it.

Another implicit belief is the power of thought, for good or ill. Truly,
thoughts are things, and the realisation of this is one of the fundamentals
of magic. We have become accustomed to this idea as it is put forward
in the modern world by the exponents of various movements, such as the
so-called ‘New Thought’ , practical psychology and so on. But as long
ago as the beginning of the fourteent´┐Ż century, Robert Mannying of
Bourne wrote of the power of thought in his tale “The Wicche, the
Bagge and the Bisshop”, an episode in his long poem Handlyng Synne.
This story tells of a naughty witch who made a magic bag of leather,
that went about of its own accord and stole the milk from people’s cows.
Eventually she was arrested and brought before the bishop, together
with the magic bag. The bishop ordered her to give him a demonstration
of her witchcraft, and she obliged by making the bag rise up and lie
down again.
The bishop thereupon tried the charm for himself, doing and saying
just as the witch had done ; but the bag never moved. He was amazed,
and asked the witch why the magic would not work for him. She replied,
“Nay, why should it so ? Ye believe not as I do,” and explained to him
that “My belief hath done the deed every deal.” Whereat the bishop,
rather set down, “commanded that she should naught believe nor work
as she had wrought”.
This story is notable in that it ascribes the powers of witchcraft, not
to Satan, as it would certainly have done in later centuries, but to the
hidden abilities of the human mind ; and the bishop, instead of ordering
the witch to be burned at the stake, simply tells her to go away and not
do this again. In 1 303, when this poem was commenced, the great illusion
of ‘Satanism’ had not yet bedevilled men’s minds to the exclusion of
reason.
Practitioners of magic have always emphasised that, although there
are techniques to be acquired and the uses of magical accessories to be
learnt, in the last resort it is the mind that holds the power of magic.
Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa, two famous adepts, said this in the
sixteenth century ; and at the end of the nineteenth century Miss Mary
A. Owen, telling of her investigations in America in Among the Voodoos
(International Folk Lore Congress, London, 1 891); said : ” ‘To be
strong in de haid ‘-that is, of great strength of will-is the most important characteristic of a ‘conjurer’ or ‘voodoo’. Never mind what you
mix-blood, bones, feathers, grave-dust, herbs, saliva, or hair-it will
be powerful or feeble in proportion to the dauntless spirit infused by
you, the priest or priestess, at the time you represent the god or ‘Old
Master’.”
This is the same as the witch belief, although it comes from the other
side of the world.
There are two museums in Britain today which are devoted to showing
the beliefs and practices of witches. One is at Boscastle in Cornwall, and is run by Mr Cecil H. Williamson. The other is at Castletown, Isle of
Man, and is run by Mr and Mrs Campbell Wilson.