Date: April 16th 2022
Moon Phase: Full Moon
If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s snobbery. Actually, let’s go one step further and add in classism, elitism, and gatekeeping. I especially do not like these things when it comes to what should be the accessible path that is witchcraft.
I’m breaking with tradition somewhat here, as I’m not really known for my ‘opinion pieces’ when it comes to my blogging on Witchcraft.
I tend to write informative ‘how-to’ pieces as part of my premium content, or I write in depth and researched pieces on folk ways, witchcraft, divination, plant, tree, and herb lore, etc
As well as this, I occasionally do diary-like entries that offer a glimpse into my day to day practice – after all, I am ‘Diary Of A Folk Witch’.
I guess this blog falls into that latter category, a piece where I spill out my thoughts and feelings and share it with others. Where this entry may not offer a glimpse into my practice as such, it will indeed offer insights into my thinking, ideas on witchcraft and how that shapes my everyday practice. So perhaps this blog is just as valid because of this?
Let me know what you think down in the comments.
This particular entry was born as an almost secondary act, I had sat down to write a segment on ‘Poverty, Politics, Pins and Needles’ for this weeks premium content blog (‘By The Pricking Of My Thumbs: The Use Of Pins And Needles Within Witchcraft For Healing And Ill) when I found myself not just analysing the general class structures within British culture (modern and historic) and how this has undoubtedly influenced British and Celtic Folk Magick, but also some of the class or hierarchical structures within modern witchcraft itself.
In the end, the segment was becoming far too long and was drifting too far away from the topic in hand (which was about pins in the use of every day folk magick, and the politics surrounding this). So, I edited the segment and cut the piece down in order to stay relevant to the blog theme. After all, no one likes a rambling piece that takes seventy odd diversions before it gets to the point.
However, only twenty or so minutes later, I saw a post on Instagram that embodied the very elitist and somewhat narcissistic tones on witchcraft (in this case, hereditary witchcraft) that I had only just been writing about in the aforementioned blog.
Now, before we go any further, I’m not ‘hating’ upon hereditary Witches, or on coven initiated, or those who are part of certain traditions etc. After all, in some ways, I myself could be classed as a ‘hereditary’ Witch, as many of the folk ways that form the foundation of my practice were the folk ways passed down to me by my mother and grandmother. There are plenty of Witches out there who come from long family lines of witchcraft practices who are not show offs and do not use their spiritual genealogy as a way of attempting to make themselves seem better than, or more experienced than, those who are not part of a family Witch line, coven, tradition, etc.
Nor do they use it as an excuse to practice ‘gatekeeping’ and attempt to exclude others from witchcraft or devalue their practices. However, this blog is a direct dressing down to the type of occultist who does attempt to bring a tone of class, elitism, and hierarchy in to the arena that is witchcraft.
There are three groups of people I have in mind as I write this entry;
- Those under the illusion that being of a ‘hereditary’ or other form of specific Witch lineage somehow makes them more experienced and important than other practitioners (yeah, it really doesn’t make you special).
- To those of us who know our worth and realise we don’t need to adhere to elitism within witchcraft.
- Those who have been put down (directly or indirectly) by fellow Occultists, Witches, etc
What Is Gatekeeping?
Put simply, gatekeeping is the active controlling and limiting of general access to something. The act of gatekeeping can come in a myriad of forms, however, within witchcraft it is usually from self appointed practitioners who like to elevate themselves to a place of supposed superior authority (one can only assume that this stems from a misplaced sense of elitism, or from a place of deep insecurity).
It’s fairly common to see some practitioners spout such opinions (and I stress opinions, because these sentiments are rarely, if ever, based on fact) as:
- You must be gifted your first ever Tarot deck otherwise it’s not traditional. Sigh… Where many people like this tradition and even practice it with loved ones (I was gifted my first Tarot by my mother), it is by no means a hard rule. After all, not everyone has someone in their life (especially when they first start exploring anything esoteric or occult) to kindly gift them a tarot deck.
- You must be initiated by another Witch/Priest/Priestess in order to become a Witch (even bigger sigh…and snort of derision). Despite this still being a popular opinion, especially amongst more veteran Occultists (strives not…to…make…boomer…joke…) it’s not actually a hard and fast rule for everyone. It may be for some traditions, and that’s fine. If a certain tradition stipulates that in order to be part of that lineage you must be initiated in a certain way, that’s fine. It would fall outside of the gatekeeping parameters. However, when this tradition preference is used as a blanket rule for all witchcraft, that’s when we hit a problem, as ANYONE can choose to practice witchcraft, and even self initiate too, if they want too.
There is a really interesting interview with Doreen Valiente (which we shall look at in more detail later in this entry) where she is asked what she thinks of self initiation within The Craft (presumably general witchcraft as well as Wicca, as by this point, Scott Cunningham and others were already leading the way for solitary Wiccan practices). Interestingly, Valiente replies “Well, let’s face it, who initiated the first Witch? If anyone can answer me that then they can answer that question, can’t they? I haven’t had an answer to it yet, and I think that if people want to follow the old religion, then their sincerity in wishing to develop their own powers ought to, and indeed does, enable them to make the contact with the inner planes for themselves, and that’s what really matters”.
The fact that Doreen Valiente herself, a person who many view as the mother of modern witchcraft, appears to advocate for self initiation and the accessibility of witchcraft should say it all really. However, there are still those within the occult who do not agree with this sentiment and therefore do advocate for a more select practice in who can access witchcraft, and who shouldn’t.
- “I can’t stand all these ‘baby’ and Tik-Tok Witches. They are not serious practitioners and make witchcraft look cheap”. Ok, so I can understand some of the frustration here. There are a lot of ‘Insta Witches’ out there who do seem to be using witchcraft as a trending platform for likes, Witchcore fashion, follows, fame etc.
However, there are also a lot of genuine practitioners out there too and we all come to, and explore, witchcraft, in our own unique ways.
The person who looks like they are just trending witchcraft on social media may actually be a genuine and dedicated practitioner. Unless we know them personally, it’s not our place to judge. The way I see it, is anyone pretending to be a Witch will eventually get bored anyway and they will probably hop on the next trend and go with that. So, in reality, what harm are they doing?
They are not devaluing your practice, and anyone who does seriously practice witchcraft with sincerity will likely have the discernment to not take such trend accounts seriously. And who knows, someone who may start off in witchcraft because it looks cool and trendy may end up becoming a truly dedicated practitioner. After all, how many of us millennials turned to witchcraft and alternative culture in the 90’s and early 2000’s because it was our form of social and political rebellion? It didn’t make us any less, and many of us who came to witchcraft in just that way are now the authors, bloggers, course facilitators, Priests, Priestesses, and so on of todays witchcraft.
Who knows, the same may hold true for today’s ‘baby’ Witches and influencers. In twenty years, they may be the ones holding the torch for modern witchcraft. It’s important to note that witchcraft is a practice that is constantly evolving. Certain core principles within sympathetic magick may stay as a foundation, but all else fluxes and changes. That is what makes witchcraft so powerful. It changes and adapts, and this is why it survives!
The problem we have when people snub what many annoyingly call ‘Baby Witches’ thereby putting them down, is that we are attempting to make witchcraft inaccessible for them. Worse of all, the term ‘baby witch’ has now been overused so much that some of those who are new to the craft take up the term mistakenly thinking it is ‘cute’, that they are somehow performing an act of rebellion and ‘reclaiming’ the phrase for good, or that they are indeed inexperienced ‘babies’, purely because they lack the experience of other practitioners. This is so unfair and condescending, not to mention completely unwarranted. New seekers should be welcomed with open arms, as well as encouraged in their pursuit of magick and spirituality. Not put down, or relegated to the archaic status of unworthy apprentice or neophyte.
The above are just three of potentially dozens and dozens of examples of gatekeeping within witchcraft, and it is something that needs to be actively rooted out. This will only happen when we directly challenge it.
Can You Be A ‘Hereditary’ Or ‘Natural’ Witch?
Well, I suppose it depends on how one defines ‘hereditary’ when it comes to witchcraft.
I am of the personal opinion that witchcraft is not a selective ‘gift’ that some folks are born with and others are not. This in itself is snobbish gatekeeping and unnecessary.
There are a lot of memes and ‘opinions’ out there that proclaim some are ‘natural born witches’. But I do not subscribe to this notion.
Witchcraft is a practice, first and foremost. It is also a skill, and as is the case with all skills, it must be practiced and perfected over time in order to fully master that skill.
After all, a child may be born with a natural proclivity to gravitate to music, they may even demonstrate some natural talent in the area. However, in order to actually become a musician, that child will still need to grow up and learn how to read music, write music, learn how to play instruments, as well as realise which particular instrument really appeals to them and what doesn’t. No one is born having the full and complete skill set already fully there. It must be refined with years of dedicated practice. The same holds true of witchcraft.
One can be born with a natural proclivity to, or grow up having an interest in, and then gravitate towards, things such as folklore, witchcraft, herb lore etc, but unless they take time to learn from the natural world around them, spirits of the land, and other practitioners, as well as be in tune with their own natural intuitive instinct in regards to the craft, I do not believe they will really become a ‘Witch’.
But what about if someone is born into a family of practicing Witches? Doesn’t that make them a ‘natural born Witch’.
Ermmm… No. Sorry, I don’t believe it does.
Going back to the musician analogy mentioned earlier, let’s look at it this way…
A child can be born into a family where both parents are gifted and dedicated musicians, one or both sets of grandparents may also be musically minded, but that doesn’t mean their children will naturally be good at music. They may be absolutely tone deaf!
Even if we move on from skill sets, and instead look at spiritual submersion, it still does not mean someone growing up in and around a certain religion or spiritual practice will automatically gel with the families chosen dogma. Look at how many people now leave the faiths that their parents brought them up in because it just isn’t for them.
Therefore, even if someone grows up around witchcraft or folk ways, it doesn’t make them a Witch.
There is no ‘Witch gene’, and in many ways, witchcraft is a spiritual calling. This means that absolutely ANYONE can feel called to learn and practice witchcraft.
The fact that witchcraft can act as a spiritual calling means that it is an accessible practice – or at least, it should be! When we lean into arenas of ‘one needs to be born a Witch in order to become one’, or, MUST be initiated by a coven etc we wander into elitism and potentially even eugenics (the belief that some genetics, traits, or characteristics are somehow more desirable than others).
Some practitioners may have this calling later in life, where others (like myself) may have felt a lifelong tug to the realms of magick and spirit.
However, just because one has felt drawn to witchcraft earlier than another, does not mean they are a ‘natural’.
After all, what is a ‘natural’ Witch? How on earth would one reasonably and fairly describe this? Especially as witchcraft largely an invisible force.
What comes naturally to one practitioner may be totally alien to another. For example, I work and communicate often with spirit. I also do a lot of what some might call kitchen/herbal witchcraft and protective magick/psychic protection.
Yet another Witch may abhor anything to do with the kitchen, struggles to commune with Spirits, but is fantastic at fertility workings or healing work.
I think it is fair to point out that witchcraft, as with any other skill, may not come naturally to everyone.
Just because one has a calling and a passion, it does not mean that learning and refining a skill will come naturally to them. Some people have to work bloody hard on the things they are passionate about. I will offer another example here, I am passionate about reading and writing. I couldn’t imagine a life where I was not able to express myself through writing, poetry, journaling etc. But does it come naturally to me? Well, no… you see, I’m dyslexic.
My dyslexia has been a huge hurdle to overcome, and every blog I write is kindly checked and edited by my husband. This doesn’t mean I am a terrible writer, or that it doesn’t come naturally. It just means that I have to work that little bit harder to get my thoughts onto paper (or screen, in this instance).
The fact that someone has to work a little harder at their passions does not make them any less then those who find that certain skills come easily to them. In fact, sometimes, it’s the ones who have had to work really hard in life that are the most experienced and adept. This is the sort of person who rarely lacks the complacency that some of the more ‘over-confident’ practitioners.
When talking with my husband and close friends about this topic, a few questions were posed that I think are helpful when it comes to thinking about ‘natural’ Witches. In many respects, we can see from the presence of witchcraft in all societies of the world, that the act of witchcraft is an act of humanity. None of us as are born more human than an other. This begs the question of can any of us be born more ‘witch’ than another? Does witchcraft and it’s ritual acts not actually define us as human? Those that enact it perhaps are reading and riding the boundaries between the human condition and the wider landscape of the nature that we see as outside of ourselves?
Going back to how one may define what ‘hereditary’ or ‘natural’ Witch… If by ‘hereditary’ one instead means that their practice is what it is, or inspired by family influence and practice, then yes, there is some wiggle room for the term ‘hereditary’.
However, it’s a loose term. I have on previous occasions used the term hereditary Witch, purely because it was both a widely accepted term and therefore was understood when it was used, but it never really sat comfortably with me. These days, when and if I give reference to my family folk ways, I call it just that, family folk ways. I feel it suits me better and it looses a lot of that cringe-worthy grandiosity. Especially as my mother and grandmother never seriously referred to themselves as Witches. These were women who instead identified with the more ‘Granny ways’ or ‘folk ways’ of old. However, it should be noted that no matter how finely you split that hair, folk ways and witchcraft are both forms of sympathetic magick. It’s just that some are more comfortable wearing the label of Witch more than others are. There are a myriad of complicated social and political reasons for this. After all, It was not that long ago that those who openly practiced witchcraft could loose their job.
In fact it is still not entirely unheard of for practicing pagans and witches, here in the UK, to be referred to Social Services for ‘Safeguarding’ concerns over being openly pagan families, or Witches.
Thankfully, this sort of social and spiritual ignorance is becoming less of an issue here in the UK (largely due to the fantastic work of organisations such as The Pagan Federation, The Police Pagan Association etc), but it does still occasionally happen. It’s perhaps no wonder then that some folks still avoid the ‘W’ word, for fear of modern Witch hunts.
But I digress…
Yes, if an individual feels comfortable with the term ‘hereditary Witch’ and they are not using it to be obnoxious and put others down, then sure. I see no problem with that. It’s when some (and I stress ‘some’) people use their supposed traditions or lineages to put others down or criticise what some people refer to as ‘Baby Witches’ that there is a problem.
I have decided to omit the details of the particular Instagram profile and post here, I don’t want to perpetuate it’s nonsense, give it another platform, or any online traffic. I’m also not interested in starting any direct conflicts. But what I will say is if you have to use the fact that you’re a ‘hereditary’, supposedly a ‘natural born’ witch, or part of a certain tradition in order to prove a point, or in some way belittle another’s practice, then you’re not sitting in a place of power at all. If anything, you’re demonstrating that you’re seated in a place of deep insecurity and lack of personal integrity. Both traits that can easily be exploited by those who know how.
But What About Coven Initiated Witches, Surely They Have An Advantage Over Other Witches?
Well, again, it depends on what you mean by advantage?
After all, the premise of what is advantageous is entirely subjective to the individual. Some practitioners absolutely thrive from working as part of a coven and having gone through it’s initiatory processes.
There is certainly the advantage of having a community behind you to socialise with and support one another, and some people prefer to work in a group where you can not only share power, but also have a clear and recognisable hierarchy to help set boundaries and leadership. That being said though, this does not appeal to everyone, and many find it far more liberating to act as a solitary practitioner of witchcraft. To this sort of person, there would be little to no advantage of working in a coven.
Being part of any coven or tradition is subjective in it’s advantages, and is not a necessity to be part of. It really irks me when you come across the occasional coven initiated Witch, who somehow thinks they are better than everyone else because they are Wiccan, Alexandrian, etc etc (note: these are just examples, I know plenty of Wiccans who do not behave in such ways). The only advantages to come from an initiatory status is found within the initiating organisation itself.
It’s perfectly fine to be proud of your Witch lineage, but when you use it to put others down or elevate yourself outside of your own tradition, all you’re doing is being an arse and making a tit of yourself.
This attitude that some Witches are in some way better than others because they are from specific traditions etc is both toxic and tedious.
As mentioned before, there is a fascinating interview over on YouTube ( (95) Doreen Valiente Interview – YouTube ) Of Doreen Valiente being interviewed on various aspects of witchcraft.
Some of the questions asked to her come down to what we would now call gatekeeping and being able to access witchcraft, and Doreen makes some absolutely brilliant points!
So I would like to finish this entry with a written transcript of some of they key points from that interview. I think the one and only mother of modern witchcraft sums up her views on this topic perfectly.
Interviewer: Do you think (in audible) for the craft to survive, do you think that the book of shadows should be made available to those who don’t want to join a group so that it carries on, or do you think that… how do you..?
Doreen: “Well this of course is a great big question, and it’s hard to make a pronouncement about this, because social attitudes you see and the whole situation of society has changed. Where in the old days there was a necessity for secrecy, when witchcraft was actually illegal, and in the days where it wasn’t illegal but was very much frowned on, you could see the necessity for secrecy. But on the other hand, today, I really don’t see why people should not be able to get the rituals, and why they shouldn’t be able to use them.
You see, I don’t like this idea which has started to spring up in some quarters that some people have got a way of saying ‘Well, of course, we are the only genuine article, and if you’ve not been initiated by us then you can’t be a Witch.’
Well, I don’t like this sort of power hierarchy. I don’t see why people need somebody’s permission to follow the old religion or worship the old gods. And I think what matters is whether people are sincere in their wish to follow the old ways and to carry them on. Not whether they’ve been initiated by so and so or somebody else, and whether they’ve got umpteen degrees for this, that and the other. I think, to paraphrase Gertrude Steiner, A Witch, is a Witch, is a Witch.”
Interviewer: “Do you think people then should be allowed to initiate themselves, like self initiation?“
Doreen: “Well let’s face it, who initiated the first Witch? If anyone can answer me that then they can answer that question, cant they? I haven’t had an answer to it yet, and I think that if people want to follow the old religion, then their sincerity in wishing to develop their own powers ought to, and indeed does enable them to make the contact with the inner planes for themselves, and that’s what really matters.
I think it is fairly obvious to most people involved in witchcraft, the occult, or some form of pagan spirituality that these forms of gatekeeping and somewhat elitist attitudes are completely unnecessary and avoidable. Put simply, all they do is cause division and tension within the community. And speaking as someone who has, over the years, faced a fair amount of prejudices and scorn from those outside of the craft (largely from previous employers and Christian fundamentalists) I think that if the witchcraft and pagan communities need anything, it’s a sense of acceptance and unity.
There is no one true form of witchcraft. There is no one grimoire or book of shadows, when we display such attitudes we wander into the patriarchal beliefs of such faiths as Catholicism who believe they are the one true church, etc.
When we belittle another’s practice for being different to our own, we not only devalue their practice, but we devalue our own. Policing or critiquing another Witch’s practices demonstrates an issue with the one critiquing and gatekeeping. It demonstrates a complete lack of personal integrity. One of the best things about witchcraft is that it has so many flavours! Witchcraft is a practice that is evident in pretty much every culture of the world! Therefore, how can there ever be one practice or way that is superior to them all? The truth is that there cannot be. Therefore modern occult snobbery and gatekeeping is not only flawed and lacks integrity, it also demonstrates a lack of critical thinking and intelligence.
Thank you for reading this week’s entry, I hope you enjoyed it, or at the very least, found it thought provoking!
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From the time, mists, and distance between us, blessings from me to you.