As promised, I now begin to share a developing body of work I’ve called The Tao of Witchcraft. This serves as my first post in what I’m sure will be an enduring, in-depth, and evolving series as I explore topics of interest that meet three requirements. These requirements are:
- There exists an interest and unfulfilled need in the witch community on each topic.
- Each topic is not already being covered exhaustively, or from a specific and important perspective, elsewhere.
- The exploration of the topic can be useful in using witchcraft as a powerful tool and resource for survivors of trauma, including CPTSD (Complex PTSD).
Now, on to the good stuff!
A simple google search of “atheist witch” returns over three million results. The first results vary in temperament. Some label themselves as atheists turned witches, some are Christians chiming in on (read: mostly condemning without study of) witchcraft, some are even Christian witches. Yes, Christian witches really do exist and there is not any real conflict. In fact, Christian witches are probably more attuned to the intent of scripture than many modern Christians. We may discuss Christian witches another time (I am very interested in that topic), but today I’d like to explore agnostic and atheist witchcraft.
Like most thorough and responsible writers, I will begin by providing some definitions. There is some confusion and complexity surely to follow if I don’t, so here we go:
witch v. Witch = I use the term “witch” with a lower case “w” because I find the capital “W” is used rarely, and usually when referring to a member of the religion of Wicca, of which I, and many others, especially agnostic and atheist witches, are not.
agnostic v. atheist = forget the definitions on the internet, they are actually somewhat ambiguous. It is difficult to define spiritual concepts. For our purposes in this post and series, an agnostic is someone who does not think there is/are god/ess or god/esses in the literal sense but stops short of saying “I believe there are no god/ess or god/esses”. An atheist does state and believe “There are no god/ess or god/esses”. The difference relies usually upon the lack of scientific evidence for deity. Some believe the atheist is egotistical for stating such a sure claim. There’s a lot of political bullshit involved with these terms filtered through science, religion, philosophy, and what we can/cannot know. It’s just bullshit for our purposes. Call yourself whichever feels more comfortable to you, but don’t listen to what the internet thinks. Who cares? Even those accusing atheists of lacking humility are really just basking in their own ego while doing so.
agnostic witch v. atheist witch = for our purposes here, they are one and the same/similar: Any witch who does not personally believe in a literal, sentient god/ess or god/esses who are actively controlling our universe and events on earth. This definition gives no shits whether or not you may change your mind if the rapture happens. Also, agnostic/atheist witches really are unlikely to judge anyone else for believing in a literal, sentient god/ess or god/esses, they just privately do not believe. In this way, agnostic/atheist witches are simply “without a belief or conviction in any controlling deity of the universe or human goings on.”
secular v. secular witchcraft = According to the dictionary, secular – denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. Secular witchcraft is the practice of magick and witchcraft whereby the practitioner (witch) does not worship any deities, but secular witchcraft may not actually be a thing, as we shall see.
I have seen many lists that categorize witches by typology. But an agnostic/atheist witch is rarely included on these lists. When secular witchcraft is included, it is often a category that confuses even the author, but is limited to describing a witch who does not use deities in their practice. The problem here is that atheist/agnostic witches can use deities in their practice (more on that soon). There is also overlap and confusion where some argue that secular paganism/witchcraft is the same as secular humanism. This, also, cannot be accurate because the practice of magick is not a requirement nor is it common in humanism.
So, now that we see the full spectrum of confusion, how can we clear it up? Well, there are witches out there, like myself, who practice magick (not to be confused with sleight of hand “magic”), including invocation and worship of deities, but who are agnostic/atheist witches. How can this be? Well, I actually believe that many, many witches now and throughout history have practiced in a similar way. Let’s look at some of the seminal texts of witchcraft.
In Janet and Stewart Farrar’s tome A Witches’ Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook, the authors make a startling claim about Wiccan beliefs:
“witches hold the view which was virtually universal before the era of patriarchal monotheism–namely, that all religions are different ways of expressing the same truths and that their validity for any particular individual depends on his nature and needs.”A Witches’ Bible, Page 154 of 1996 edition
The very nature, then, even of Wicca itself, precludes proselytizing, evangelizing, and dogma.
Perhaps even theism is precluded. In Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler delves deep into the history of Wicca and witchcraft and reveals she got neck chills upon hearing a Craft priest describe it this way:
“To be a Witch is to draw on our archetypical roots and to draw strength from them. It means to put yourself in close consonance with some ways that are older than the human race itself.”Drawing Down The Moon, Page 43 of 1997 edition
Adler continues by citing Robert Graves’ The White Goddess: “one must think both mythically and rationally, and never confuse the two…” Adler goes on to say, “until about a decade ago most of the Wicca took almost all elements of the myth literally. Few do so today, which in itself is a lesson in the flexibility of the revival (46).
Even in Lisa Lister’s recent Witch, the focus is on remembering what we know instinctively as a witch, tapping into that universal history of being, and learning how to use that collective wisdom to empower ourselves today.
As I comb book after book and delve into deeper historical study of witchcraft, I find that few take the practice, or the myths, literally. And while there are deeply spiritual and even scientific experiences and results from the practice, it does not require a metaphysical, mythical, or – dare I say it – religious, theological belief in any deity. Yet we can still harness the power of deity through the archetypes they represent, and we can commune with the universe and be in awe of our existence here on earth and call that Spirit, Goddess, God, or whatever we feel most comfortable calling it.
So, as an agnostic witch, that is how I view my practice. I do not believe literally in any deity, though I do study and commune with deities for archetypal wisdom. Similar to Tarot, which I will explore later in this series, archetypes are a powerful tool to gently guide us in self-improvement and self-awareness. This process is deeply spiritual. As such, I have searched for nonspiritual “secular witches” and have found literally none. Every witch I have stumbled across engages in a certain level of spirituality. Secularism just is not a real thing I’ve been able to identify in the community. This spiritualism is so profound, I (and most others I’ve observed) can even speak to and commune with (hearing and feeling Spirit) and when I am connected, I believe I am plugged in to my subconscious, my own higher consciousness, and also a collective consciousness – one we as humans share, and where feminine, we who identify as women share. It is deeply true and powerful because it is real. Even in a scientific way.
Now, this leads us to science and for that, we’ll have to dive deep into psychology, how the brain works, and The Placebo Effect. Spoiler alert: the placebo effect works. And we can learn how to harness it to maximize its efficacy. That harnessing of the placebo effect is what we are (mostly) doing when we practice magick. And that magick has tremendous power to change our lives, provide healing, and build resources that makes us more powerful in the inevitable storms and challenges of life.
The Placebo Effect & Magick will be the topic of my next post, which I will have up by next Sunday, if not sooner. Please bear with me as I determine a best writing and upload schedule for this series!
Brightest Blessings Wild Ones!
Disclaimer: The content on this website blog and within The Tao of Witchcraft is not intended to and cannot replace appropriate professional medical or psychological treatment. This content is developed by a trauma survivor who uses witchcraft as one of many tools, including CBT and EMDR therapy, to heal from complex trauma. As with any tool, your success may vary.