There’s been so much information surrounding witchcraft over the years, yet its true nature remains a mystery. Witches are often very divided on what it means to be a witch and what’s allowed and what’s not. As a witch whose passion for finding the truth burns hotter than hellfire, I’ve compiled the myths to dispel with research and my own observations and experience. I don’t have all the answers. I’m no expert or authority. But I feel I’ve learned and experienced enough to help clear some things up.
Myth #1: Wicca and witchcraft are the same.
Ah, the most popular one that people still tend to believe. The difference is this: Wicca is a religion that was founded by Gerald Gardner in the early twentieth century. Witchcraft is a practice that predates it. Some witches are Wiccan, but certainly not all.
Why does Wicca involve witchcraft, you ask? Well, a woman named Margaret Murray spun a witch-cult theory that appealed to Gardner, among many others. Gardner, however, was so intrigued by this theory that he built his own religion upon it. And that’s the story of how Wicca is not an ancient religion as previously thought.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. It’s based on ceremonial magic, Freemasonry, and Celtic lore. If you want to get to the roots, research British Traditional Wicca.
Myth #2: Magic and witchcraft are the same.
Witchcraft is magic, but not all magic is witchcraft. Ceremonial magic isn’t witchcraft. Folk medicine isn’t witchcraft. Divination isn’t witchcraft. So what is witchcraft, exactly, and what distinguishes it from other forms of magic?
First, let’s examine the etymology. As far as we know, the word “witch” derives from “wicca” and “wicce,” meaning sorcerer and sorceress, respectively. It’s speculated that further origins could mean “soothsayer”; “to separate or divide”; “to curve or bend”; “to make mysterious gestures”; and “one who wakes the dead.” We’ll never know the original meaning for sure.
Regardless, these speculations are helpful. We can conclude that witchcraft is certainly mysterious and grants a power over things. “Soothsayer” is particularly interesting because it denotes fortune-telling, even though it isn’t witchcraft by nature. Perhaps there were witches that practiced divination, but not all diviners called themselves witches.
All over the world, but especially in Europe, it seems as though only witches were thought to be working malefic magic. Cunning folk weren’t condemned. They were consulted for their anti-witchery services. Healing rituals and the making of amulets (particularly in Jewish tradition) were also not condemned. Such activities were done in the name of God. Witchcraft was not.
Besides being Devil worshippers, witches were also believed to be hateful and lusty and out for personal gain. Of course, almost everyone accused was innocent, targets of scapegoating and personal vendettas. “Almost” because there was Isobel Gowdie, a Scottish woman who freely claimed to be a witch and copulate with the Devil. She also mentioned cursing her landlord, a man whose sexual advances were unwanted.
Taking all of this information into account, witchcraft is a branch of magic that offers power, and it doesn’t have to come from a holy or higher source. Witchcraft is not anti-Christianity, however. There are Christian witches. You might be confused, wondering exactly which side witchcraft is on, but it simply doesn’t take any. It can be order and it can be chaos. No box can contain it.
Are some people wrong for calling themselves witches? No. What people call themselves is what they feel drawn to. Something so personal doesn’t require a concrete explanation. Being a witch isn’t about what you do that makes you one. It’s about how a word with such mysterious origins and power speaks to you, and it will speak to everyone differently.
Myth #3: Witches are women.
Witchcraft doesn’t care about gender, contrary to what historically illiterate TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) will tell you. Consider, again, male witches such as Gerald Gardner, as well as the fact that men were also accused of witchcraft. Let’s not forget the etymological evidence of “witch” deriving from both male and female words.
This isn’t American Horror Story. Testosterone has no bearing on magical ability. Men (and non-binaries) can be just as intuitive as women, if only they would stop being told to “man up.” And no, the moon is not connected to women only, either. In fact, there are lunar gods in some cultures. There’s also evidence for the moon having been considered masculine, at least in a grammatical sense:
The modern English poetic usage when personifying the sun and moon has taken up the French or Romance gender for sol (masculine) and luna (feminine), instead of retaining the Germanic grammatical genders where the sun is feminine and the moon masculine.Masculine and Feminine in Dialect
Myth #4: Witches abide by the Law of Three.
I’m so tired of seeing the Threefold Law that is nothing but a misconception. This tenet is similar to the Westernized idea of karma, stating that whatever energy you send out, positive or negative, will return to you three times as much.
Except… that’s not how the universe works, as evidenced by everything that makes our world shitty. Corrupt politicians, corporations, murderers and rapists, all of whom can get away with their crimes and outlive the most benevolent people.
Life’s not fair and telling people otherwise is wrong and harmful. You don’t have to curse or hex if it feels bad to you, but pretending we live in a universe that protects the innocent is denying reality. There are ill-intentioned people and they are capable of hurting others that don’t deserve to be hurt. Look at Hitler and how he was allowed to rise to power and destroy millions of lives.
So, what can you do to protect yourself if you’re the victim of baneful magic? Bind the spell-caster and redirect their spell with something (e.g., a poppet) to be absorbed, but a “return to sender” spell works, too. You can’t wait for some misconstrued idea of karma to take care of things because it won’t. You need to take action as 9-1-1 does when there’s an emergency, even if you’re afraid of overstepping moral boundaries.
Myth #5: You need to worship a god or work with a spirit in order to be a witch.
Once again, witchcraft isn’t a religion. Spirits, including gods, might have access to certain knowledge and power, but they don’t have a monopoly on all magic. Some will argue that spirit work is inherent in witchcraft. They’re not necessarily wrong. We are spirits, after all. We manipulate lesser spirits for our spells, such as herbs and crystals and planetary alignments.
Sentient spirits like us, however, are not necessary for a fulfilling craft. We’re not less capable of powerful spells or spirit travel just because we have physical bodies. On the contrary, we have the best of both worlds, and it explains why these spirits never quite keep to themselves. Generally-speaking, they need us more than we need them.
Myth #6: Ancestors are the first/only spirits you should be working with.
Not everyone has good ancestors (in fact, none of us do, if you go back far enough), nor does every witch have an interest in or personal connection to biological family. Some don’t even speak to their relatives and want nothing to do with them.
Ancestors might have some magical knowledge, and perhaps they learned a thing or two on the other side, but they aren’t some mystical gateway to unlimited information. Their lives were usually more challenging and they didn’t tend to be very open-minded. It’s the recipe for a boomer-esque attitude, and the other side doesn’t always change that.
Myth #7: You need to join a coven/be mentored before casting a spell.
This is like the myth that claims you can only practice witchcraft if it’s in the blood. I didn’t add it because pretty much nobody actually believes that anymore, but there are probably some who still believe in the need for a coven or a mentor. So, let’s dispel it.
Plenty of witches are solitary and self-taught, including me. The idea that you need a coven or a mentor in the age of accessible books and Internet is just silly (but I’m aware that other countries are not as privileged). Although there are certain things that certain covens and people are specialized to teach, you’re probably not new if you’re looking for something so specific.
When you’re starting out, you should start small. Charm bags and spell jars, for example. Don’t go nuts with buying stuff you don’t need (but stuff can be really nice to have anyway, I admit). You probably have what you need at home. That’s how witches of the past managed. They used what was available to them.
Myth #8: You need to meditate/ground yourself/cast a circle before casting a spell.
This might be true for some, but not for all. I’ve never done any preparation before a spell. Some witches are simply more intuitive and can cast spells on the fly. And some spells are more likely to be successful when cast with emotion. Meditating or grounding oneself prior might snuff out the flame, so to speak. It really just depends on the spell.
The idea behind casting a circle is to contain your “spell energy” so it doesn’t scatter and attract spirits, assuming you don’t already have wards up or aren’t protected by spirits of your own. Some witches might need a circle because they can’t focus well, or they might not be good at commanding magical energy. A circle can help with stability.
Circles are mandatory in regards to summoning a powerful spirit, especially a Goetic demon. This is technically where the idea originated. I’ve never summoned such spirits and have no plans to, so I have no advice to give here.
Myth #9: You can always tweak spells or substitute ingredients.
Spells are complicated. Some can be swapped with different but similar components and yield similar results, whereas others will work much differently—or not at all—if tweaked, possibly even backfire. It really depends on the spell and the spell-caster’s knowledge and intuition.
The belief that “intention is everything” is relatively new. Intention is like the driver in a car, but if the car doesn’t have the right parts, it’ll fail. Real, undeniable results can and do happen. They aren’t small, ambiguous coincidences that barely affect your day-to-day life. Not all spells have to move mountains, but modern witches shouldn’t fear being honest when something clearly isn’t working.
My biggest issue with this belief, however, is that it disregards cultural and historical practices that do not prioritize intention. I’ve quoted Jason Miller before, and I’m quoting him again:
A Theban Magician did not painstakingly preserve and hide the Greek Magical Papyri with its many formulas because intention was all that mattered. The Grimoires were not passed among a network of underground clergy and literate laity because the precise instruction did not matter. Families of African slaves did not preserve traditions of Congolese Magic in the New World at risk to their life just because your intention is all that matters! Yes, it’s true that substitutions can be made and that Magic does not work through slavishly adhering to dogmatic instructions, but it’s a bit disrespectful to suggest that the instructions do not matter.
Spell ingredients, such as herbs and crystals, have correspondences for a reason. Tradition provides foundation, but, of course, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of magic. At one point in time, traditions weren’t so traditional. People found what worked and passed on their methods that continue to be reinvented by generations. It’s all about knowing what you’re doing and dealing with.
Myth #10: Tools you make for your spells are more powerful than tools made by others.
This is one of those myths that romanticizes the past. People in the old days made their own everything, which gave their creations more meaning or something. No, people in the old days made their own everything because they couldn’t afford to have things made for them.
Not everyone knows what they’re doing. Not everyone has the time, interest, or mental health to learn. As a perfectionist with severe OCD, I don’t enjoy making things (Canva, however, is a godsend). If you believe that energy flows where creating goes, then that negative energy of mine would be going into my creation, and that wouldn’t be good, would it?
There is no shame in having something made for you by someone who knows what they’re doing AND enjoys it. Their energy will be nothing but beneficial to your spells.
Myth #11: Witches worship nature.
As a witch who generally respects nature but has absolutely no personal connection to it, this never fails to annoy me. Not to push any buttons, but witches and pagans alike tend to have a romanticized view of the world beyond civilization. I suppose we’ve been sheltered for so long that we’ve forgotten how red in tooth and claw nature actually is.
Yes, nature has magic and spirits. Yes, nature provides food and water and other materials that make up the things we use (thanks to humans for harvesting that food and purifying those waters and building our electronics and so on, making our needs and wants more accessible). That doesn’t mean we owe nature anything more than keeping it habitable.
Contrary to popular belief, witchcraft isn’t Earth-centric. Witches can work with spirits that don’t have folkloric or mythological ties to this world. Pop culture magic is a thing, and thank imagination for that. Seriously, I am not joking when I say fiction is home because I simply do not connect with this planet.
Also, if we found other habitable planets, do you really think witchcraft would stop working the moment we leave Earth? I don’t. I can’t imagine it would. I bear the torch, like other witches, and feel the flame would still burn. It certainly makes you think about the true origins of witchcraft as well as magic in general.
Myth #12: Technology has no place in witchcraft.
Emoji spells, tarot apps, and Pinterest altars get a lot of side-eyeing and sneering, but these things only look ridiculous because the past has been glorified so much. Witches in the old days were believed to be more connected with nature. It’s true, but nature was all they had.
Is technology not made up of Earth’s materials? Even if it weren’t, what would be stopping it from being capable of magical use? No, mass production doesn’t remove the “spiritual energy” from things. The process might change it, but the energy is still present and can be converted. Let’s not pretend that the first law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply here.
I’ll admit that some modern practices can be too lighthearted and cheapen the image of magic. Spell-casting doesn’t have to be complicated, but in regards to emoji spells on Tumblr, the whole “likes charge and reblogs cast” thing is questionable. Although emojis can be used in spell work, this is an “instant success” trick (perhaps for the original poster) that I’ve always been skeptical about. An emoji is often compared to a sigil, but it’s nothing like one, as a sigil requires a serious creation and activation process.
Low-effort magic is valid, but compared to stirring your intention into a cup of tea, there’s no magical effort in simply liking and reblogging posts. Despite not approving of elitism or gatekeeping, I have to be honest: nothing is exempt from criticism. Not even transhumanism, and I say that as a staunch transhumanist.
However, as civilized life will only become more high-tech, we witches really ought to start reconciling magic and technology. Humans will continue pushing the boundaries between biological and technological. There is nothing unnatural or unspiritual about this. It’s in our unique nature and power to transform ourselves and manipulate the world around us, whether we use spells or science to do so.
Myth #13: Witches don’t work with the Devil.
Oh, my sweet summer child. Some witches would like to have a word with you.
It’s rare to find a witch who actually works with the Devil, but they’re out there and probably call themselves “traditional” witches, if they aren’t theistic Satanists. Traditional witchcraft works based on region and folklore. The Devil, also known as the Horned One, the Man in Black, and the Witch Father, is a prominent and complex figure. He might or might not be the Christian demon, but he represents the wild, the deer and the wolf eating the deer, as it’s often said.
Not all traditional witches work with the Devil, but he is a spirit that is known among them to initiate witches. To be initiated is to undergo intense transformation that promises secret knowledge and power. Those willing to risk everything may leave offerings at a crossroads to get an entity’s attention, for example. Initiation isn’t to be taken lightly.
Myth #14: Witchcraft is not evil.
Witchcraft can be used for evil just as it can be used for good. It doesn’t work based on morals or high spirituality.
Some say that witchcraft has always been the magical weapon of the poor and oppressed. I say it’s because witchcraft was all they had, so of course they would seek help from the world of spirits and superstition. The rich and powerful almost never give any thought to the occult, and why would they when they have so much as it is?
Witchcraft doesn’t discriminate based on income, or anything, for that matter. It promises power to those who are willing to go after it, and there are no rules or limits, just possible consequences as a result of shortsightedness and a lack of self-control.
Isobel Gowdie claimed to have cursed her landlord who couldn’t handle rejection. The curse apparently ensured that no male child of his would live to adulthood. Now, the landlord is definitely vile, but if you believe that some sense of morality is required to practice witchcraft, couldn’t this curse have been more… balanced? Couldn’t Isobel have cursed him to confess to his criminal, slanderous ways instead of sentencing his children to early death?
The truth is, witchcraft is like a snake: it doesn’t care who you are and it’s fully capable of delivering a venomous bite, whether you’re the charmer or the prey.
Myth #15: If you don’t cast spells, you aren’t a witch.
Witchcraft is more than casting spells. It doesn’t even have to involve spells. Hot take, I know.
I’ve only cast a handful of spells and don’t plan on casting many more. Why? Because, instead of relying on spells to effect change, I have spirit connections. It’s also possible to work magic through meditation and astral projection. Physical ingredients aren’t always required.
The witch has always been the one who walks between worlds, bridging the gap between the physical and spiritual. This is why liminal spaces are significant in witchcraft and also why spells aren’t all there is. Like the word’s mysterious origins and diversity of practice, the witch is never just one thing. Like a trickster, witchcraft takes on many faces, and it will break out of the box in which it is shoved.
Myth #16: Witchcraft can be explained by the placebo effect.
The idea that magic is all placebo is a modern belief. Witches in the past never chalked up their magical workings to psychology. They communed with spirits and the land and could make some unbelievable things happen. Traditional witchcraft acknowledges this.
That isn’t to say the placebo effect can’t be magical. Just because it can be explained doesn’t mean it’s no longer magic. Remember that we are magic, too, especially if you consider yourself an animist.
The placebo effect is usually embraced by practitioners of chaos magic. The psyche-based practitioner focuses on transforming the self with “psychodrama,” a secular form of ritual that appeals to the subconscious. It’s a creative way of brain-hacking and rewiring the self to manifest the desired reality. Can it be witchcraft? Yes. But it isn’t all witchcraft.