All witchcraft is political. This is certainly an opinion and one that I have a great deal of bias toward. I live in Washington DC, my life is completely immersed in politics of many flavors, and I help run one of the largest witchcraft traditions in the area (which engages in a lot of political non-election related activism). Knowing me, it’s pretty clear that I hold this position. Although many would be quick to deny it, I’ve found that explaining my reasoning in brief and succinct ways often causes agreement more often than not. Here are my top 5 reasons why I believe that it is impossible to separate witchcraft from politics.
#5 – It is a living history
In 1899, a folklorist named Charles G. Leland penned (or compiled) a manuscript entitled Aradia, Gospel of the Witches. In it, he describes a lineage of witches as given to him by an Italian witch informant that describes the witch-cult and its origins. Most notably, the text explains how the witch goddess Diana sends her daughter Aradia to Earth to be a teacher and liberator to the poor and mistreated. She was to recruit the first witches:
“Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,
But thou wert born but to become again
A mortal; thou must go to earth below
To be a teacher unto women and men
Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school”
The text goes on to describe all the ways that Aradia and her followers would overthrow their oppressors, aiming for a redistribution of power:
“Ye who are poor suffer with hunger keen,
And toll in wretchedness, and suffer too
Full oft imprisonment; yet with it all
Ye have a soul, and for your sufferings
Ye shall be happy in the other world,
But ill the fate of all who do ye wrong!”
The foreboding last line of the stanza above is enforced throughout the text, explaining how the witch ought to use poison, sorcery, charms and other tools to steal away authority and take control of their lives. These calls are not for the faint of heart and many would disagree with the methods called for. They are dangerous. Nevertheless, we have an important folkloric witchcraft text that’s almost entirely focused on the witch as an important protest and resistance figure, birthed into the world with the specific purpose of opposing political forces that enslave the common people. Although Aradia is just one text, it is a text that influenced the widespread growth of witchcraft, particularly through Gerald B Gardner and the religious practice of Wicca.
Aradia is my favorite example but literature from the ancient world is rampant with examples of magic being used for political gain or to overthrow political oppression. Generally, the ancient Greeks are an excellent example of the witch as a figure who worked magic unsanctioned by the priestly caste of the time, often showcased as a sinister sorcerer who refused to follow the religious rule of law at the time. This is a prime example of magic in the ancient world being riddled with political controversy. The history of the witch has always been primed with drama, political intrigue, and the tug between the oppressor and the oppressed.
#4 – Witchcraft is weaponized magic
Regardless of your personal ethics on how magic should be used, it is undeniable that witchcraft systems tend to be weaponized systems of magic. What do I mean by weaponized? Well, there are systems of magic that are non-weaponized. Meaning, they might be used for spiritual enlightenment, union with the divine, or other such noble endeavors. While witchcraft can encompass those goals, it is not limited by them. Witchcraft has the specific trait of being a tool that can “go against the grain” of the current flow. It does not settle for the best judgment of the gods. It demands that the witch take hold of the magic as a warrior take up arms to defend their people. This is where we get into witchcraft being used for causes, such as hexing the President, for example. This doesn’t have to mean violence. In a world of suffering and imprisonment, love is still a weapon.
#3 – Witchcraft cannot be separated from the body and land
Did you know that just one cubic inch of your bones can hold 19,000 pounds? Ounce for ounce, they’re stronger than steel (by about five times). We are stronger than we think. There is a great power in these bodies, in these bones. Magicians are often called “workers” for a reason. Nearly every tradition of the Craft teaches the importance of the body as the prime tool and impetus for magical strength. That doesn’t necessarily mean physical strength. Our existence alone is a miraculous set of circumstances that should be marveled at. Just like our bodies, the land is in an inseparable source of the witch’s power. Stones, roots, flowers, trees, stars, and bones have all been sources of inspiration for witches since time immemorable.
The body has always been politicized. We may think of issues of body image, reproduction, surface sexuality and other issues as relatively modern, but all of these topics are deeply embedded into human existence. There is no separating our body from politics. There is no separating witchcraft from the body. That goes for the bodies of humans and the body of this Earth itself. This power we seek to know and weird is embedded as deeply in the soil as it is in our bones.
#2 – We are products of ancestral power
Some citizens being separate from the political process is a relatively new luxury and is certainly not a luxury shared by most. Those who came before us understood how important it was to be involved with our communities and those who wish to rule us. Whether they supported or opposed the human ideologies that sought to govern them, my grandparents, great grand parents and so on knew that paying attention and being awake in the world was essential. This is especially true for particularly marginalized communities who have been under the thumb of political oppression for centuries. When we become engaged in the political process (or do our will in this area outside of the standard process), we are activating something within the DNA of our spirit bodies. We become living ancestors by changing the course of events for the people of the Earth who come after us.
#1 – Witchcraft is always responsive
Witchcraft is always responsive although it is not always reactive. Aradia was sent to Earth by Diana as a response to the conditions of the world. The Craft is not always reactive because sometimes stillness and silence is called for. Silence can also be a response.
But however it does, witchcraft will always respond to a bleeding world. We are meant to weave together the broken fibers of humanity; the solar cloth of Bríg, the Golden Fleece, Ariadne’s thread, the Red String of Fate… There is never a time when we are truly at rest because the witch is a living act of movement, of flight in a land so heavy. The political landscape of the Craft is as broad as the people, with all their views, hopes, and dreams. But where a dream most often stays a hidden secret of the mind, witchcraft is the unconquerable shout at midnight. It screams to be heard because it is the lighthouse for the voiceless.
Whether you like politics, advocacy, and civic engagement or not, you are engaging in political action when you perform and embody the Craft. Witchcraft is not a spectator’s sport. We cannot seperate ourselves from the world. We are the world.