Witchcraft is a transformational process. Aleister Crowley said that magick “is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” One of the surprising things I found out was that Will is much, much greater than I imagined.
Everything changes. Nothing stops changing, even after death. The cliche is that people only stop changing when they are dead, but the truth is that beings continue to change after they are dead. We call it decay, but it is change and transformation. Further, our memories of the person change after someone’s death, which changes them even more.
Transformation is not easy. Societal demands are such that conformity to norms is demanded and upheld as a standard. We humans are tribal anyway, by nature, and living in a tribe demands some level of conformity. Or to be a bit less cold about it, being in a tribe requires the ability to live in harmony with other people (at least to some extent).
Our society – the modern, Western, technocratic side anyway – is industrialized and capitalist, and operates under a variety of political systems, all of which enforce conformity to societal norms. These norms are relative. They are entirely a product of the psychic and physical environment in which they were created. (And they were created. There was a time when they did not exist.) They have relevance to certain times and places and situations, but are not eternally and infinitely applicable to all places and all times. This is the dreaded “moral relativism” that many right-thinking people fear.
However, at the same time they demonize it, they also enact it. In the current moral environment of the early 21st century, homosexuality is considered by many Christians to be a sin. Yet these same Christians overlook mistreatment of the poor and homeless. If we look at the New Testament, Jesus says not one word about homosexuality, but he has quite a lot to say about the treatment of the poor and homeless. However, the Christian cultural norm – and by extension, the wider cultural norm – is skewed away from recognizing this. So at the current time there is conflict between this unworkable norm of homophobia and the scientific truth that homosexuality is a normal sexual orientation, one of at least three, as a matter of fact. Therefore in the long run it makes more sense to accept scientific fact than to oppose it, but societal norms are not sensible. Especially when they are being clung to out of fear, in times of fear and unreason.
Part of the work of witchcraft, then, is to embrace and facilitate change, since change is inevitable and necessary. Personal change is part of that change.
There are those who say that witchcraft has become too much about self-help. I would assert that part of the work of magick is to help humans learn to accommodate and facilitate transformation – transformation that is inevitable because of the very nature of the universe we live in. In that sense, it is a bit about self-help, but not in the sense of a current pop-psychological trend of the moment. It is self help in the sense that it helps people to deal with a truth that the current societal norms are incapable of addressing – the truth that transformation is ongoing, and that it is a universal constant.
If, indeed, transformation is a universal constant, then anything that helps humans cope with it, accept it, and utilize it in a healthy way is going to be advantageous. In this context, self-help is a perfectly valid reason to practice witchcraft and engage in magick – which is another way of saying, engage with the universe as it is, right here, right now, on all its levels – seen and unseen.
There are many levels to the universe. It would be silly to maintain that there are not, because in our day to day life we can see that reality has many levels.
For example: I am a man. I am also a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle, a lover, a friend, a writer, a musician, an occultist, and the list goes on and on. All those roles have different functions in the societal environments I interact with, even though they are part of a (hopefully) integrated whole. I deal with the universe a different way, though, depending on what part I am playing in the societal environment I find myself in at any given time.
I am not going to conduct myself on the job the same way that I conduct myself in the bedroom with my wife, and I ‘m not going to address the Kiwanis Club with the same speech I would give to a small witchcraft group. And the different people involved in all these different universes would not expect me to deal with them all in the same way. It would completely discombobulate them, and cause all sorts of complications.
Therefore, most of us navigate different levels of our universe – our personal universe, which, some would argue, is the only one we know anyway – in different ways. Why, therefore, should the wider universe be any different? Why should the agreed-upon universe be static and single-layered? Because most certainly it is not. It is an old cliche to talk about the wavelengths of light that we cannot see and the scents that we cannot smell, and the sounds that we cannot hear because our eyes and ears and noses are not sharp enough. Animals can hear and see and smell these things, and we can register these events on instruments that we have invented. However, to our unaided senses, they don’t exist. And unless we work in a lab, most of the time we don’t really think about the things that we can’t hear, see, or smell, even though these things are quite as real as you and I.
I would posit that the study of witchcraft, and the study of magick, is partly the attempt to observe and work with elements of the universe that are outside the normative boundaries accepted by our culture. In another sense, it is an attempt to create a relationship with the universe, which, since it seems to keep producing sentient beings, might very well be alive and sentient itself, since rocks do not lay eggs. If it is alive, why not communicate with it?
If the observable universe is populated with innumerable beings who have some sort of sentience as we define it currently, it might make sense to say that it is alive. And since these sentient beings keep popping up, well, something must be going on with the universe that isn’t currently covered by our societal norms and our societally normative level of observation. The universe keeps changing and evolving. The study of magick therefore can be a way to observe this change, adapt to this change, and participate in this change. Magick is active, not passive. Witches are people who do things. They are people who recognize the constancy of change and who ride these changes, implementing and embodying change in themselves and in their universes.