I grew up in a Greek Orthodox Christian household. I was baptised, I went to Sunday school every week, I participated and understood almost all the sacraments of the church and I was even a camp counsellor at my community’s summer camp. Through my upbringing I understood very well the importance of spiritual ritual in which I gladly participated. However, as early as the age of seven I remember magick finding me in different ways.
I remember thinking I was able to read people’s fortunes as a child. I’d practice on my friends in the schoolyard for fun and we would joke and laugh about it. I would build shrines to fairies in my playroom and devote candles to them. Mixing herbs from my mother’s kitchen when she wasn’t looking and creating strange inscences was a guilty pleasure of mine. I remember at the age of ten I learned how to read traditional playing cards, and through no instruction, would wrap them up in cloths and designate special boxes for them as Ithey were valuable keepsakes. Astrology and dream analysis were my biggest indulgences as they were more commonly accepted. I loved hearing about witches and unknowingly created spells of my own during taxing times in my life; anointing candles with holy oil, performing meditations, creating keepsakes and rituals was not out of the ordinary. I was intrigued in the occult, yet also frightened by it, since my Christian beliefs often were in conflict with such practices.
Yet, knowing now what I know about witchcraft is that people have been practicing magick for centuries, including Christians. They may have other nomenclature: prayer, liturgy, sacraments, etc., but in essence it is all the same. In our earliest civilizations, humans used magick to communicate and generate desired results. People would perform rituals and sacrifices to the gods in order to produce food, shelter and positive weather conditions. Over time attempts at creating these desired results became more complicated and were designated to ‘wise’ or ‘enlightened’ individuals. These priests, shamans, priestesses, magi and the like would perform spells and rituals to commune with our ancestors and spirits. Early Celtic communities had Druids. Romans had magi. The evolution of western magick is a contested historical issue. Many believe it derived from superstition while others think it was an evolution of Paganism, Hebrew mysticism, Celtic and ancient Greek traditions. As cultures evolved so did spiritual and magickal practices.
During the eighth and ninth centuries Christian became more prominent. However, many Pagan practices were adopted by Christian churches to aid in the transition of Pagan followers to Christianity. Christmas for example is a widely accepted Christian holiday.
It’s timing however coincides with the Pagan tradition of Yule, which interestingly enough, celebrates the metaphoric birth of the sun, as days after December 21, the winter solstice, begin to lengthen. It is also believed that Christian imagery is derived from Pagan imagery of Apollo, the sun God.
As Christianity became more prominent, magickal practices became less and less accepted, culminating in the criminalization of witchcraft. By 900 A.D. Christians were promoting the idea that the devil was leading women estray. Our more modern incantations of a witch who is brewing evil potions, eating children, having orgies and making pacts with evil forces originated in these images created by early Christians. In 1317, under Pope XXII the inquisition began and hundreds of women and speculated witches were under scrutiny and trial.
By the sixteenth century witches were commonly known to be following an evil path against the will of the church. With the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum, a guidebook to hunting witches, the harsh burning times were underway. Hundreds of women, and some men, were persecuted and harshly tortured. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries thousands of people died after accusations and forced confessions of practicing witchcraft.
These accusations were often based on very arbitrary aspects. For example, witch hunters would often look for a devils mark on a witch in questions. It was said that when in a pact with Satan one would always bear a mark on their skin left by him. These marks could be as mundane as a mole, wart, scars or any strange skin irregularity. Practicing witchcraft could have meant one was financially independent, or poor, had a strong female circle of friends, possessed forward or brave behaviour (especially in women); free thinking was viewed as suspicious. All in all, the black sheep of society were under great scrutiny and persecution for during this time.
Now, had I lived in the fourteenth – sixteenths centuries my artistic sensibility, stubborn nature, non-conforming femininity and bluntness, at the time very well would have led to my persecution, aside from the fact I do practice magic. I have to say many of these qualifications can be identified as a rejection of the other, and/or a means of consolidating the masses. However, these well acknowledged and engrained preoccupations and misjudgments of independent spiritual practices have followed us into contemporary culture.
Magick today is still misunderstood. In my family is something of which to be weary. My interest in the occult had frightened me. My fear inhibited me from developing my craft earlier in life. With maturity, education and critical thinking I eventually understood my association with any specific dogma or practice was unnecessary. The sense of guilt and fear I had in wanting to practice and pursue magick while a part of me still had a faith in some of the Christian core values began to harmonize.
What I’ve learned to understand is that labelling my practice irrelevant. Both had equally important roles in my life and things that would impact my spiritual path. Do I identify as Christian? Maybe? Do I believe in magick and occult practices? Sure? But neither are independent of each other. The labels are what have led to persecutions and disharmony in the past. Realistically those labels are more for others to understand my spiritual path rather than for me. Coming to terms and existing without these delineations has created a lot of peace in my heart. With that, accepting that others may not understand, and in some cases may judge, my path is also something in which I have slowly come to terms.
So to the black sheep who still haven’t found their niche I send you love and peace. Sometimes we don’t really need to belong to have a place in the world.