Advice for Baby Witches

When I first started out as a wee little baby witch, twenty years ago exactly, Wicca, not personalized witchcraft or paganistic practice, was the "thing." Internet was in it's dial-up days still, and personalized, low-graphics, self-built websites were the norm for witches to come across when researching on the web. Blogs weren't invented yet, at least not that I was aware of, and the main things that were stressed was that you had to work with both the god and the goddess, and your altar was supposed to be set up "just so."

I've noticed that the trend these days, with the Instagram-altars being so prevalent, is to get away from a specifically constructed altar that follows strict item and tool placement, and is more about creating something that looks magickal, beautiful, highly personalized, and relevant to what the witch is going through at that time, and I couldn't be more happy about that. Some altars are strewn with natural bits and bobs, collected from nature walks and hikes, where others look like someone raided the crystal shop. My personal favorites are the ones that have a bit of everything... natural bits that are relevant to the season, crystals, candles galore, a cauldron usually plunked down somewhere with incense burning in it, an image of two of a deity, and maybe a statue, skull, antler, or other natural bit. I love altars that look like they are practically tingling with magick, and are dripping in occult mystery and second-hand-shop wonders.

But there still seem to be a lot of myths out there about what you need to do to have a perfect pagan practice, and quite frankly, I'm getting tired of the same few bullshit things being spread around the internet. So, for all you baby witches out there, I'm going to spell (get it, hehehe, spell?) a few things right out for you, an "honest witch's guide" if you will. A few things to keep in mind as you start off on your path as a witch, or pagan.

1. Please remember, some people are exaggerating, or out-right lying.

This is a tricky subject to handle, so I'm going to keep it brief. Yes, some people will have Instagram feeds that are blindingly beautiful, and stop you dead in your tracks. And you may be tempted to believe that because their altars are so beautiful and finely crafted, and their captions so poetically put, that it means that they have this stupendous relationship with their deities. And you know what? That isn't going to necessarily be true. Please remember that social media allows us to carefully portray what we want other people to see about our lives, and it may not be a realistic image of what actually goes on in their spiritual practice. Try to keep social media like Instagram and Pinterest around for inspiration, not an ideal to live up to, or a ruler with which to compare and measure yourself against. 

2. Take what you want, toss the rest.

If you are reading a book about Wicca, or paganism, or related subjects, and it suggests or tells you to do something as part of your practice, and you don't really vibe with it... then leave it. I, for instance, never use an athame. I bought one in my early Wicca days, and the only use it has is trimming my candles when they tunnel too much and threaten to not light properly. That's it. I don't use it for directing energy, I don't cut doorways with it in my circles. It's entirely practical. I use a simple, cheap polished rod of selenite as my wand and energy director instead. The thing that I've found is that if something doesn't make you feel magickal, you will feel uncomfortable. And that will distract you when you are raising energy, casting spells, or trying to get into meditative space. Basically, don't think that your practice has to work exactly like how it sounds in a book, someone's YouTube video, or social media feed.

3. You are allowed to mess up, change your mind, or grow into something else.

For awhile I "played the field" when it came to working with a specific goddess, and I bounced around from Hel, to Kali, to Freya, before I finally woke up and smelled the coffee, and answered the call of my matron goddess, The Morrigan. And while I recognize and honour divine masculine energy, it has almost never factored into my magick, meditations, or personifications until quite recently, when I started "courting" Cernunnos, and sometimes even Odin. I originally chose Coventina as my matron goddess when I started off as a baby witch, but because I didn't really connect with her all that much, I quickly "dumped her" and moved on to a deity that actually called me. And never forget, you are walking a path, and you will grow change, and mature as you walk it. Deities or practices that fit you well at the beginning of your journey may no longer resonate with you later on. Your relationship to your deity could possibly grow and deepen as the journey continues, or you could "outgrow" that deity, and adopt a new one at a different phase. You are allowed to make rookie mistakes, choose blindly and realize you made a hasty choice or embrace the presence of someone new in your practice. This is your path, and at the end of the day, it's you walking it. Walk it confidently, and never feel like you have to justify something. 

4. It might be necessary to go on a social media detox.

As helpful as it can be to have a whole community of fellow witches and pagans at your fingertips, social media, blogs (yes, even this one!), Facebook, and internet searches can also be damaging at times. Because we can access so many people's interpretations of altars, deities, and practice in mere seconds, we can sometimes shut our own creative and intuitive centers down. It's so, so important to put the phone down, or close the laptop and get in front of your own altar, or into your own garden, or out into the local nature of your area from time to time, and see what happens when you're just in it. It's not about having an Instagram-ready altar all the time (seriously, you should see how shitty mine looks right now), or a book of shadows that looks like it should be in a museum. Your practice, your altar, and your relationship to Great Spirit should ultimately reflect you, and if you find that you are doing way too much toxic comparison to how pretty or perfect someone else's whatever is compared to yours, then it's time to unplug and remind yourself what this is all about - faith. 

5. Make it your own damned self.

Seriously, the next time that I hear someone say that a found branch with no decoration is inferior to their $400 crystal wand with chakra-aligning stones and detachable coffee maker, I'm going to fucking scream. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - crafting your own tools, decorations, and spell items with your own two hands, infusing them with your own energy is way, way more important than buying the perfect-looking specimen from a store. Yes, there are times when buying something is preferable to making it - an athame would be a good example, unless you're a blacksmith or something, or different coloured candles if you don't like to make those, etc. But a lot, and I mean a lot of things that you may want to decorate your altar with can be made by yourself, and often, on the cheap too. Take walks around your neighborhood to find items that you could incorporate into your altar, book of shadows, or personal practice. I think you might be surprised what you can find. And don't forget to look locally for people who can craft things for you as well. For instance, my husband loves to work with wood, so he made me a couple of triangle crystal shelves for my altar and windows for a fraction of the price I could buy them for from Etsy. And another friend of mine sews, so we bartered services for each other, and I got some lovely altar cloths for helping her with her garden. Tarot readings can be exchanged for astrology birth charts, or cooking a few meals for someone's freezer can be bartered for making a ritual robe, or oracle and tarot decks can be swapped amongst friends. Your imagination is the limit. But remember, the more energy you put into something yourself, whether it's making it with your own hands, or sourcing out someone to make it for you if it's out of your skill set, the better relationship you will have with that object, and the better magickal result you will get when working with it. 

6. Check your facts. Do your homework.

One of the things that really, really sucks about our particular community, is that because Wicca is a new religion, and paganism is a revival, but not necessarily always accurate representation of religious and spiritual beliefs of people pre-Abrahamic, is that a lot of what is being published about our "ancestors" (what we mean by this is witches who practiced before Christianity was the wide-spread choice of religion), there can be a lot of incorrect, inaccurate, or out-right misleading information out there. I recommend to anyone starting out on their path for instance, to make sure that along with their beginner pagan books, to include some actual historically accurate books about the witch trials in Europe and North America, because there is so much exaggeration about the witch burnings its maddening

Please take into consideration that I am also a history nerd, so the deliberately spreading of inaccurate numbers of the witches burned during the middle ages by certain authors (ahem, I'm looking at you, Silver Ravenwolf....) and portraying them as just like us, but 500 years ago, is a complete, bald-faced lie. But the problem is, a lot of these books are classics when it comes to explaining paganism, Wicca, and witchcraft, or are popular sellers because of their titles, or the way they present the content. So, it's extremely important that when we see things being presented as fact, that we take a step back and analyze whether or not this is actually true. I'm going to continue with the example of the representation of the witch burnings, to explain my point.

I believe it was mostly during the 90's that the number of "nine million witches" burned or executed during the middle ages was thrown out there as fact, and it's been popping up here and there ever since. A lot of the modern authors have referenced books and authors before them, and cited this number as fact, when it is not. In fact, if nine million women had been burned or executed for witchcraft during that time, it's very possible that Europe's population would have been completely decimated. Not even the Black Death was responsible for so many deaths, and that's if you add up a lot of major outbreaks of plague over a couple hundred years. It's also important to remember that a lot, and I mean a lot of the people accused of witchcraft during the witch trial days were actually being accused because of a sort of social cleansing by villages and communities. People who were mentally or physically handicapped, didn't quite fit in, or were outspoken during a time when fitting in and going with the flow was not jut encouraged, but practically required, were often the victims of the Inquisitor's flame. Confessions were often extracted by torture, and methods that were used to tell witches apart from innocents could often result in death, such as testing if a bound person tossed into water could survive - if you did, you were a demon or a witch, and if you didn't, well, regrettably, you were innocent (but hey, don't despair, they're in a better place now...). 

Yes, a lot of the people executed during the witch trials may have practiced some forms of healing such as midwifery, plant healing, and just good old fashioned common sense when it came to tending sick or wounded people, but most of these people were fervent Christians too. Some beliefs in pagan ideals or deities were woven into the folklore of an area, and maybe even distantly celebrated or recognized, but for the most part, the people executed during the witch trials believed in God and Jesus Christ at a superstitious, deeply-seated level that most of us would not relate to at all these days. 

So, long story short, take the facts presented in your pagan books with a grain of salt, and check the bibliography for references. If the bibliographies are short, or mostly contain books published by the same publishing house as the one you are currently reading, then you should probably be following up that book with something that contains factual sources to set the records straight. If the bibliographies contain a lot of books that written by people who have PHD's, or have titles extremely long and boring sounding, then mostly likely this author has done their research using as many primary sources as possible, and fact-checked their material to the best of their ability. It's very important that if we want our branch of faith to be taken seriously in the world that we stop spreading around misinformation. 

Well, I hope you baby witches (and veterans!) have enjoyed this list of tips. Please comment below with your favorite pieces of advice for those just setting off on their path too, the more the merrier!


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