The Jackal, Stag, and Crescent

From the necropolis to the moonlit grove

A Rite of Passing West

In many traditions across the world, from ancient Egypt to modern Witchcraft, the West is often associated with death. The ancient peoples of Ireland, Wales, and Gaul, too, associated the Land of the Dead with the West, or sometimes specifically, a land west of today’s United Kingdom. As the direction where the sun sets each day to end one cycle before beginning a new one, perhaps it’s not surprising that different cultures continents apart might come to see the West as symbolic of death and so it is after these common threads that I take the name of this rite.

A rite that, sadly, has become increasingly necessary over the last, difficult year. Friends have lost loved ones to more tragedy than I care to count and while looking for an easily-accessible, public, and Pagan-ish friendly ritual a friend could use to mark their own friend’s passing, I was finding a great number that were either too tradition specific or full-blown funeral rites, none of which were suitable for my friend’s needs. As such, I have written this rite to be simple and, I hope, helpful for those grieving.

Required Items:

  • A representation of the deceased. This can be a picture but at minimum their name stylized with care on a piece of paper.
  • A candle, preferably white.
  • Incense. If you know their favorite scent, use that. Else, anything you think they would find pleasing. Absent any specific preferences, frankincense and myrrh are always great choices.
  • A glass of cool water.

Rubric and Script

Set the above items at a table in the West.

Prepare yourself properly in your normal way (e.g., center, ritual cleansing, etc, whatever you usually do).

Light the candle. Take it to the North and raise it above your head. Do the same for the East, South, and West, where you should set it back down.

“I leave this candle in the West, the place of rest and peace, for you, [Deceased’s Name]. Its light shall burn doubly bright at your journey’s end in the Blesséd Realms of the Dead. May it be a beacon in the darkness and may it guide you safely from any corner of the Underworld, [Deceased’s Name].”

Invocation of any Gods or Spirits with Whom you already have a relationship, including your own personal Ancestors.

“[Gods, Spirits, Ancestors], I ask you to hear me: A loved one, [Deceased’s name], has left this World and begun their journey West. I ask for Your aid and power to safeguard [Deceased’s name]’s journey. 

Guide [Deceased’s name] to the Blesséd Realms of the Dead safely. Protect [Deceased’s name] as you would protect your own. Offer [Deceased’s name] comfort and wisdom as you would offer comfort and wisdom to your own. For [Deceased’s name] is a worthy soul learning the Last and Greatest Mystery.”

Light the incense and raise the water high with a light bow of your chin. Then set the water back down.

“[Gods, Spirits, Ancestors], I offer these gifts as thanks for your guidance and wisdom. May they sate and please.”

Close your eyes and listen, should your spirits choose to share any messages with you.

Let the incense and candle burn out.

Let the water sit until sunrise.

Ebb & Flow

It has been a long time since I’ve made any posts or updates here. Life has been busy and, to be quite honest, I haven’t had much desire to write much of anything. I haven’t written any original content since 2017 and that’s mostly reflective of where my practice has been focused over the last four years, that is, inwards.

But now, I’m feeling the stirrings to write once again.

A Gardnerian Statement on Consent & Abuse




I am a Gardnerian initiate with traceable lineage back to Gerald Gardner. I do not speak for all Gardnerians or for the tradition as a whole. That would be impossible as there is no governing body nor hierarchy outside of individual autonomous covens. Nonetheless:

  • I recognize that abuses have been perpetrated in the name of religions the world over and ours is no exception.
  • I further know that the personal, spiritual, and human value of religion is immeasurable, making harm done in its name even more important to speak out against.
  • I also recognize that, as a community, more vocal statements on our beliefs regarding sex, sexuality, and consent are needed.
  • I additionally recognize that a lack of openness and transparency on these important matters has allowed abuses to be perpetrated against those earnestly seeking the tradition.


  • I affirm that proper teachers of our Craft will never pressure students into sex, sexual activity, or other non-consensual physical contact for any reason.
  • I affirm that consent is an inviolable expression of trust and love.
  • I affirm that consent is required for the teaching of our Craft.
  • I affirm that I believe that seekers under the tutelage of proper Gardnerian teachers have the following rights:
    • the right to bodily autonomy,
    • the right to an experience free of sexual coercion,
    • the right to an experience free of abuse, and
    • the right to leave a coven or teacher at any time, especially if their rights have been violated.
  • I further affirm that seekers who feel that they have had their consent and rights violated should be heard and be taken seriously.
  • I affirm that maintaining an open dialogue on consent and abuses within our community, and with the greater Pagan community, is necessary to dispel misinformation about our tradition.
  • I affirm that I will support the voices of victims and that they will be able to report abuse without fear of retaliation.
  • I affirm that abusers should be held accountable for their actions and I will do so to the extent possible, whenever possible. Individuals and/or groups who violate the consent and/or rights of those under their care will be persona non-grata within my Circles and events and refused referral to seekers.

I invite other Gardnerian initiates, elders, and coven leaders who agree with the affirmations above to add their names.

We do so affirm:

  • Benny Bargas, Philadelphia, PA USA
  • Erebus, Highlands Coven, Louisville, KY USA
  • Mortellus, High Priestess of The Coven of Leaves, Rutherfordton, NC USA
  • ZS, Philadelphia, PA USA
  • Hjordis, High Priestess, Awen Forge Coven, PA USA
  • Mario Pabón-McAllister, High Priest, Queens’ Coven, New York City, NY USA
  • John Stiteler, High Priest of the Stillwater Coven, MN USA
  • Claudiney Prieto, High Priest of the Moon Temple Coven, Brazil
  • Yarilo, Jersey City Coven, NJ USA
  • Carol Stiteler, High Priestess of the Stillwater Coven, MN USA
  • Aima, High Priestess of Dragon Tryst Coven, Oxford, PA USA
  • Dylan, High Priest of the Beacon Hill Coven, Boston MA USA
  • Bren, Starfire Coven, NY USA
  • Samara, High Priestess , the Highlands Coven, Louisville, KY USA
  • Sophia Boann, High Priestess of the Cup of Wisdom coven, Ireland
  • Serapis, Cauldron of the Midnight Moon, Pace, FL USA
  • Raewen, High Priestess of the Awakened Forest, Wake Forest, NC USA
  • Sirana, Beacon Hill Coven, Boston, MA USA
  • Zelena, HeartSong, MD USA
  • Carnelian, HeartSong, MD USA
  • Kore, Dragon Tryst, PA USA
  • Nicanthiel, Dragon Tryst, PA USA
  • Heather, High Priestess,  LindenWood Coven, Waterloo ON Canada
  • John, High Priest, LindenWood Coven, Waterloo ON Canada
  • Emlyn Price, Reading, UK
  • Medb, High Priestess of Serpent Tree Coven, Warwick, RI USA
  • Morgaine, High Priestess Path of the Phoenix Coven, NH USA
  • Anna Stockinger High Priestess, Our Lady of the Stars Coven, Southport, England
  • Guinivere, Dragon Tryst, PA USA
  • Sherri Molloy, LindenWood Coven, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
  • Ishara, High Priestess of Whispering Forest Coven, FL USA
  • Turner, High Priest of Whispering Forest Coven, FL USA
  • Hermes, NJ USA
  • Acacia, High Priestess of the Glenwood Coven, North West Florida, USA
  • Puma, High Priest of Thorn Moon, Portland, OR USA
  • Misha Magdalene, Seattle, WA USA
  • AuraLea, High Priestess, HeartSong, MD USA
  • Europa, Minneapolis, MN USA
  • Epona, High Priestess of Autumn Moon Coven, NC USA
  • Adariana, High Priestess, Circle of the Silver Oak, MN USA
  • Rayn, High Priestess Of Hexen Moon Coven, TN USA
  • Wesley Leão, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Lilith, High Priestess of HearthStone Coven, MA USA
  • Kailani, HeartSong, MD USA
  • Rich Wandel, High Priest, Polyhymnia Coven
  • Proteus, Coven of Leaves, NC USA
  • Ian, High Priest, Circle of the Four Winds, UK
  • Aria, High Priestess of the Beacon Hill Coven, Boston MA USA
  • Yvonne Aburrow, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
  • Jenny Chalek, High Priestess, Lions of Rhea, Louisville, KY USA
  • Patrick, StarFire Coven, NY USA
  • DelaLuna, Detroit, MI USA
  • Loki, Serpent Tree Coven, RI USA
  • Kim Gardner, High Priestess, Sacred Grove Coven
  • Zemyna, High Priestess, Moonstone Coven, Southern NJ USA
  • John King, High Priest, SwansCove Coven, New York USA
  • Paula King, High Priestess, SwansCove Coven, New York USA
  • Chris Frey, High Priest, Erntemond Coven, Bochum, Germany

To read this statement in Portuguese, click here.


Have you been affected by sexual assault? You are not alone. You can contact RAINN at 800.656.HOPE or online at

For a printable PDF version of this statement to give to your potential students or take to a potential teacher, click here.

Circles and Lines: Politics & Witchcraft

Perseus and the Graiae by Edward Burne-Jones

“We don’t see color or sexuality in Circle.” “Well, we don’t see anything.”

There’s an axiom that says one shouldn’t talk politics or religion in polite company. The idea of course is that in order to maintain an air of civility and avoid any unpleasantries one mustn’t discuss these sometimes contentious topics in any situation other than the most familiar or one in which all parties are prepared to engage those topics.

Some have suggested that, at least with regard to politics, this social rule ought also be followed when in the company of other Witches. Supposedly the discussion of politics would spoil the sense of community, fellowship, love, and trust that would and must otherwise exist in order to commune with one another and the Gods. It is implied that the discussion of politics would create division, engender hurt feelings, and drive wedges between those who might otherwise be joined together as brothers and sisters.

But this is a lie.

A fantasy concocted by those who would ignore truth and choose to be blind to reality. While discussing politics may become unpleasant and the end result might be division, hurt feelings, and wedges driven, it is not in fact the discussion itself that has caused it to be so. Rather it is the revelations born from the discussion that create this result. And perhaps it is better so. After all, an individual’s politics reveals a lot about their character, their values, and their beliefs. Discussing one’s politics does not divide people, it only reveals their true selves. And it is important to know where others stand on the really important issues. It is perhaps even more important particularly in the case of other Witches for the sake of that requisite aforementioned sense of community, fellowship, love, and trust that must exist between them for them to share sacred space.

It is no small matter. Particularly for LGTBQ+ Witches and Witches of Color (WoC). LGBT+ Witches and Witches of Color cannot simply “leave politics out of the Craft” or pretend that politics don’t exist within the bounds of Circle because every aspect of their lives–their very existence–is political. That bears repeating because it’s important: every aspect of their lives–their very existence–is political. Our society has forcibly made the lives of LGBT+ and WoC political through no choice of their own. When she enters sacred space, for example, a Witch does not stop being a Lesbian nor does she stop being Black. These facts–her reality–will necessarily effect how she comes and relates to the Divine; how she sees herself and her relationship with her coven; and how the Work will effect her.

“Do not cross this line with your privilege.”

If in the course of discussing politics, a fellow Witch reveals that they do not believe in equal rights for LGBT+ persons then there can be no community between this Witch and their LGBT+ Witches, there can be no fellowship, there can be no love, nor trust. If a Witch reveals that they are complicit with the oppression of women, there can be no community, fellowship, love, or trust. If a fellow Witch believes that some races of people are innately better than others (despite race being an artificial social construct) then again there can be no community, no fellowship, no love, and no trust.

How could there be? How could an LGBT+ Witch be present in sacred space while they know Homer Homophobic by the Western Watchtower thinks they’re fundamentally lacking what’s necessary to fully commune, are aberrations, or are even undeserving of equal rights? How can any Priestess commune with the Goddess while she knows that Micky Misogyny thinks women are inferior and aren’t deserving of body autonomy? How can a Witch of Color connect with Rachel Racist when they know she thinks they and people like them are innately inferior?

For those of us who must have these four components as requirements for the sharing of sacred space, knowing the politics of your fellow Witches becomes pretty important. It may require us to rethink with whom we share that most sacred of spaces, it may require us to draw lines in the sand, and it may require that those lines be placed firmly outside of any circle.

The Vigil of the Doe

vigil-of-the-doe (3)
We may be involved politically and socially. We may fight for LGBTQ+ rights, awareness, and justice through political action (e.g., grassroots political organizations, protests, monetary contributions to LGBTQ+ allied candidates, etc.) as well through social action (e.g., being involved in our local LGBT+ community, supporting LGBTQ+ organizations and events, living out & proud).
But we feel a need to also do something spiritually.
The Vigil of the Doe is an LGBTQ+ devotional. It aims to serve not only our LGBTQ+ ancestral heroes (e.g., activists) but those who were taken by tragedy and malice (e.g., victims of hate crimes, AIDS epidemic). It also aims serve as means to focus power towards living victims as well as towards social change. It is named after the lone doe that sat at Matthew Shepard’s feet until police arrived.
The Vigil of the Doe is a monthly and yearly ritual aimed towards honoring our heroes, mourning our fallen peers, and powering change. The inaugural ritual is planned for June 28, 2017 and to be held monthly on the 28th of each month.
Find more information at The Vigil of the Doe.

LGBTQ+ Vigil for the Dead & Justice



Second iteration of the Pride Flag with turquoise stripe representing magick


I’m involved politically and socially. I fight for LGBTQ+ rights, awareness, and justice through political action (e.g., grassroots political organizations, protests, monetary contributions to LGBTQ+ allied candidates, etc.) as well through social action (e.g., being involved in my local LGBT+ community, supporting LGBTQ+ organizations and events, living out & proud).

But I feel a need to also do something spiritually.

I’ve been planning an LGBTQ+ shrine. It would serve not only our LGBTQ+ ancestral heroes (e.g., activists) but those who were taken by tragedy and malice (e.g., victims of hate crimes, AIDS epidemic) but also serve as means to focus power towards living victims as well as towards social change. I would plan a monthly and/or yearly ritual aimed towards honoring our heroes, mourning our fallen peers, and powering change.

But I also wondered if such an effort could be adapted to a larger group on an international scale and indeed if at all others would be interested in such an endeavor. The international group of Witches, Wiccans, and other magically-inclined folks would conduct a ritual at the same time and date at the same regular interval.

I’ve seen other Pagans do similar things as devotionals to particular Gods but I’m not aware of any that are geared towards LGBTQ+ ancestors or change.

So, the questions I submit to you are three:

  • Do you do anything spiritual like this already?
  • What are your general thoughts on such a group effort?
  • Is it something you’d be interested in participating in?

Gender Variance in Wicca


A butterfly that shows both male and female characteristics.


Our friends and family who do not identify in whole or in part with the gender identity that society attempts to impress upon them have made great progresses in society and so, naturally, issues of gender variance and imagegender identity are often topics of public discourse. Trans* visibility has increased with women like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings becoming household names and men like Ben Melzer making history as the first trans-man on the cover of Europe’s edition of Men’s Health and Aydian Dowling winning first runner-up in the the US counterpart’s cover contest. But along with the great gains made, so too, have there been terrible sorrows. Violence continues to disproportionately affect trans-men and -women, like the 20 who have been murdered in the United States as of August 10th. Therefore, it’s no surprise that gender identity would also become a focus in both greater Paganism and Traditional Wicca with increasing frequency. It should also be no wonder that I would find myself wanting to deconstruct the flawed and illogical arguments made by a few in Traditional Wicca to advocate for the lack of room for our trans* and gender-variant friends. And by deconstruct, I mean completely destroy three of the most pervasive.

The Tradition has always been about cis-gendered identities!/It’s Tradition!/You are fundamentally changing the tradition! 

This argument reveals that the person expressing this point of view suffers from a fundamental lack of understanding of sex, gender, and identity.

Sex is the word used to describe the physical difference between males and females (but there are also intersex individuals). Sex describes one’s secondary sexual characteristics and in fact that’s what is used to determine sex at birth. Whereas gender is the social identity of “man” or “woman” (or other variances like non-binary, non-conforming, transgender, etc.) that describes one’s social role, behavior, manner of dress, and self-image, among other things. Despite what some misguided folks will claim, gender identities are not universal. Each society has very different ideas and ideals regarding what is masculine and what is feminine, who is a man and how to attain or demonstrate manhood, and who is a woman and how to attain or demonstrate womanhood. Gender identity has no litmus test; it is a social construct and therefore no more inherently natural than money or religious identity.

Therefore, to suggest that one must be born of the male sex to be a man and that one must be born of the female sex to be a woman (that is, everyone must be cisgender) is reflective of your own personal belief in Western society’s imposed binary gender construct. It is not something that is demonstrable in practice as evidenced by the myriad gender constructs and expressions we find throughout the world’s cultures across both time and space. And Wicca, as I was taught, is an orthopraxy. This means that Wiccans are bound together by a shared practice and not a uniform belief. Accepting trans* and gender non-conforming identities has nothing to do with our Tradition and everything to do with your beliefs on what is or who can be a woman or man.

Well then, it’s not about gender, it’s about sex!/Ours is a fertility religion that celebrates the mystery, polarity, union, and procreative power of the male and female sexes and so one should act in the capacity defined by our Tradition according to sex!

Théodore Gericault, Nude Warrior with a Spear, French, 1791 - 1824, c. 1816, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection

I’m nude and stroking my long, hard spear. TOTES SUBTLE, right? Under-stated masc 4 fem.

The tradition I learned does not prescribe behavior according to sex (male and female). There are roles and functions for men and women (gender) but the Tradition does not define who qualifies as a man or woman. Further, by suggesting that the sex of a person is paramount and must determine their role, you are suggesting that there is something inherently necessary about having male sex characteristics to be a man and female sex characteristics to be a woman. You are equating a person to their sexual characteristics, reproductive anatomy, and procreative capacity. Therefore, if the physical characteristics and procreative ability of the sexes are the foundational definition of what it means to be a woman or man in the Craft, then by that logic:

– infertile males and females must either not qualify as men and women, respectively, or must be lacking
– females who have had their uteruses (and males their testicles) removed or damaged must not qualify or must be lacking
– males who have breasts and females who do not must not qualify or must be lacking

Such is the necessary and logically-consistent result of harboring beliefs that sex must determine gender, role, and ability in the Craft. There is no alternative reading that is logically sound. What’s more, a definition of people relying solely on sex cannot account for the sheer complexity of nature. After all, where would intersex individuals fall in such a worldview? If someone shared anatomical organs with both males and females, how would you decide if they were a man or a woman? Why should it even be up to you to decide on that which Nature has created and that which another person lives?

This is not how Gerald B. Gardner or other Craft Elders would have thought or done!

Gay can't do Witchcraft? LOOK (clap) AT (clap) HOW (clap) FABULOUS (clap) I (clap) AM (clap) AT (clap) IT (clap).

Gays can’t do Witchcraft? LOOK (clap) AT (clap) HOW (clap) FABULOUS (clap) I (clap) AM (clap) AT (clap) IT (clap)! … and I can tell your weave is fake.

Certainly, Gardner and the first generations of Wiccans had their ideas about it and it’s almost guaranteed that they would probably define man and woman using cisgender descriptions. But as evidenced by the fact that several of them would have refused admittance to homosexuals in their day on the grounds that homosexuals were aberrations and unfit or incapable of the practice of Witchcraft, clearly our fore-fathers and -mothers suffered from a lack of knowledge of the reality of sex, gender, sexuality, and the intersections of such realities with identity.

So while it is often wise to refer back to their wisdom on matters concerning the Craft, they are neither infallible nor unquestionable. They, like us, are products of their time. And as products of our time, we have learned much about Nature and Reality since their days and part of those revealed Mysteries includes the dispelling of the beliefs that heteronormative and cisgender identities are the only natural reality and that all else are aberrations, unnatural, and undesirable.

To adopt the anachronistic beliefs of our fore-parents would mean turning our backs on the wisdom and knowledge we have gained in the last six or seven decades. It would be no better–indeed no more wise–than adopting the belief that the Earth is flat because our spiritual forebearers believe it so. And as Witches, many of us are driven to learn more about Nature and Reality (i.e., Existence) and Its Mysteries, not ignore them to imitate the Dead.

If I have missed or not addressed other important arguments against the inclusion of trans* or gender non-conforming individuals or the lack of room for their involvement in the Craft, please share them with me. I welcome further discussion on the topic. Even more importantly, though, I am a cisgender gay man and while I do my best to educate myself on the realities and issues facing my trans* and gender non-conforming peers, I recognize that I may sometimes fail, so if I’ve misspoken or misrepresented something above and you wish correct me, please feel free.

And to learn more about the realities, daily lives, and issues that impact transgender and other gender non-conforming people, check out the following resources:

The Philosophical Crutch

The Crutch is pretty pervasive among modern Pagans and it comes in many different variations. Some of these variations masquerade as theology (“This is a lesson from a higher power”) or as eschatology (“You must’ve chosen to experience this before you were born”) but it all boils down to the same thing:

“everything happens for a reason.”

This pseudo-philosophical explanation is often paraded out when Pagans face adversities or tragedies, oftentimes as a sort of coping mechanism for those circumstances. It attempts a philosophical explanation for the events to which we find ourselves subject but it fails miserably. It’s not philosophy–there’s no rationale, no reason, and no critical reflection or introspection. In fact, it is the opposite of philosophy: dogma.


The Philosophical Crutch, circa the advent of Christianity

Let’s be clear, though: everything does happen for a reason. That is, everything has a cause. Everything that happens to us, every circumstance in which we find ourselves, and every event we witness or in which we participate happened because of conditions set in motion by our own actions or the actions (and inactions) of others. Many of these things began moving long before we were born and many more were set before our grandparents were conceived. But having a reason is not the same as having purpose. That’s what people who espouse the dogma of the Crutch actually mean. They are saying that everything that happens to us has a purpose or meaning and that, if true, is quite problematic in at least three different ways.

It was all planned long ago.
If everything that happens must happen for a purpose, then it must necessarily have been planned and caused by an intelligence intervening in one’s life. If an event that occurred has a purpose for the person (or persons) to whom it happens, then it must have been intended for them for that purpose and the conditions and circumstances which led to the event must have been manipulated and set before the event itself occurred. There are, as one can imagine, thousands of circumstances one must manipulate in order to get just the right combination to lead another into a specific event. We many thousands of choices everyday–turn right or left, leave early or on time, take the bus or a cab, etc–and all of these variables must be accounted for if the right circumstance is to occur to lead one to any particular event. Indeed, not only our own actions and circumstances but every other action and circumstance of our universe–the many billions of threads that intersect with our own–must be accounted for and shaped. And if these variables, the very decisions we all make every day, are being manipulated then we have no free will. If everything that happens has a purpose, then our actions must be planned and our lives predestined.

It’s not your fault.
Following from the first problem: if our lives are predestined and our actions predetermined, then we have no agency in our own lives. No amount of reflection or introspection makes a bit of difference on our choices, ultimately, because our actions were predetermined long before we were born. Having no agency, we must not then have any responsibility for our actions. How can one be responsible for deeds one had no choice in making? How can we be held accountable? How can we hold each other accountable for misdeeds and violations? We can’t. It’s not possible. If all is predetermined, we have no free will, we have no agency, then we have neither responsibility nor accountability for our actions. Nothing is our choice and nothing is our fault.

Who designed this one? This shit is fucked.

Who designed this one? This shit is fucked.

An unethical and immoral Universe.
If everything that happens to us is not by our own making but by the power and decree of a greater power, then all of human suffering both great and small is by its design and will. This power would necessarily be responsible for personal misdeeds and personal tragedies like the time someone stole your identity and destroyed your credit or the death caused by a drunk driver to great injustices and atrocities like slavery and ethnic cleansing. And all for what purpose? A lesson, a motivation, an experience? There is no lesson to be had in the experience of being murdered. There is no value to being a newborn who dies at birth. If everything happens for a purpose, then we find ourselves in a Universe where those who suffer and die become merely fodder for the lessons and experiences of others.  They have been determined to be acceptable collateral damage by whatever power designed this Universe that purposefully causes everything that happens. And so, we must find moral lacking in the very design of such a Universe and thus with its Creator, which constitutes a whole other set of problems and quandaries.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Jordan, North Carolina National Guard)

Watch me fuck this shit up

Therefore, if one does not believe that we are Will-less creatures predestined to act in accordance with some greater power’s plan, if one does believe that we are capable of willful choices and are responsible and accountable for those choices, and if one does not believe that the Universe was created by a morally-questionable and ethically-impaired power, then one must reason that while everything may have a cause, it does not have a purpose. But that isn’t to say we cannot find meaning in the tragic and terrible things that happen to us. We can certainly draw or make meaning out of anything. In fact, it’s one skill for which humans are singularly well-suited. Living in a Universe where events don’t have purpose is quite liberating in that way because it means the tragedy in your life does not have to define you, you have the ability to assign meaning and learn from it, and you have the agency and power to change your circumstances to navigate the future endless possibilities. As someone wiser than me often says: “Shit happens and fucks you up, so fuck shit up right back.”

How Witchcraft Liberates


Don’t need these anymore. kthnxbai.

In discussions of Witchcraft, it’s common to hear or read about how peoples’ lives change for the better through its practice. One can easily find accounts of witches who improved their lot in life: better jobs, more romance, a greater sense of belonging, or protection from enemies. Also common are accounts of witches who find spiritual revelations: a greater connection to Nature, a personal relationship with god(s), or the discovery of one’s own divinity. But the most important power granted by the practice of Witchcraft I’ve discovered is one that is least often given the place of importance it’s due: personal transformation—specifically, the sort of personal transformation that liberates the witch from the deleterious shackles placed upon us by society—through the power of Witchcraft’s inherent subversive nature. And so, I discuss how Witchcraft can liberate through its ability to empower, its rejection of sexual repression, its opposition to body-shaming, and it’s utter antagonism towards the patriarchy.


What’s this? Oh yeah, my power and agency all up in your ship, Rob. All sea, no shade.

Witchcraft certainly, as previously mentioned, does grant us an ability to create change in a real, manifest way through its practice. It can deliver us more options in careers and love, more material wealth and position, and even more control over people that we would otherwise lack without it. The practice of Witchcraft allows us to affect the physical world in very real ways but I found that the real value in that is not the effect itself but that I am empowered. That is, Witchcraft grants me the ability to exert influence and agency in my own life even when mundane, i.e., non-magical, means of doing so prevent it and the value of that is profoundly empowering for one’s psyche. As a young man, Witchcraft enabled me to put an end to an abuser’s power when mundane options proved impotent. While it was immensely satisfying to be able to put a stop to the abuse, it was even more critical to realize that I did and could affect my circumstance and that I was not and would never again be powerless. This first liberation of Witchcraft was the realization of my own power and agency.

Witchcraft also empowers and therefore liberates by requiring that the Witch think for himself by developing a personal ethical system as opposed to simply inheriting a morality from society. Witchcraft has no dogma. It offers neither any moral commandments nor prohibitions. In Witchcraft, developing one’s own set of ethical principles, founded on reason, becomes a necessity. In order to determine how best to use one’s aforementioned power and agency, the Witch must possess an understanding of ethical action. And instead of simply accepting the pervading morality of our culture, which is arguably antiquated and Abrahamic, I had to determine for myself what was ethical and what was unethical; I had to critically evaluate society’s moral judgments on topics such as sex and sexuality, the meaning of and qualification for life, violence, drugs, and personal autonomy. This exploration of fundamental human questions and the requisite formation of a personal philosophy as a means to live a good and meaningful life liberated me from many of the prejudices and assumptions with which I had grown up and helped me become a person whose ethical judgments are based on reasoned reflection. The second liberation of Witchcraft was the rejection of socialized moral systems without reason and the subsequent development of a rational personal philosophy.


The Gay Pride After-Party, circa 450 BCE. Iolas, we’re all happy you can adopt now. But seriously, get a fucking babysitter.

Much of the Western world’s views on sex and sexuality are colored by the Judeo-Christian worldview, which historically has taboos or moral prohibitions against perfectly natural aspects of human sexuality like homosexuality and recreational sex. This prejudicial attitude towards natural expressions of sexuality are so ingrained in our society that it had been heavily legislated against in decades past and continues to be the source of legal battles throughout our culture. But, as already discussed above, Witchcraft has no dogma nor codified morality; it offers no judgment on human sexuality and sexual practice. Instead of establishing taboos or prohibitions, I found that Witchcraft celebrates sex and sexuality—all forms of it—as sacred: “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals”, says the Goddess of Witches in Valiente’s seminal prose. What’s more the frequent celebration of sexuality, fertility, carnal passion, and life in Witchcraft through ritual, symbolism, and mythology revealed an inherent openness, acceptance, and reverence towards human sexuality that is not present within broader society, least of all the dominant religions of broader society. It was through Witchcraft that I found not only acceptance of my own homosexuality but a celebration of it. Witchcraft is the foundation from which I was able to demand my rights and needs as a non-heterosexual person; and it was Witchcraft that allowed me to fully own my sexuality—my desires, my needs, my expression, and the frequency with which I engaged in sex—without condemnation, judgment, or shame. The third liberation of Witchcraft was escape from sexual repression and oppression.


Robes? To cover up all this deliciousness?

Undoubtedly due to its values regarding sex and sexuality, mainstream society also has a deeply flawed relationship with the human body. Beyond the social taboos society continues to reinforce on public nudity, nudity in art, and nudity in other media, society even legislates against it for entirely natural and necessary reasons such as breastfeeding. We are explicitly told that our bodies should be covered and hidden and then implicitly told that exceptions are made and encouraged for those who fit the ideal physical aesthetic through art, media, and social pressure. But Witchcraft instills no shame of the human body. On the contrary, if anything, Witchcraft celebrates the human body, the vessel without which, celebration of sex, sexuality, fertility, passion, and (human) life would not be possible. So much so that it’s traditional to practice Witchcraft entirely in the nude, contrary to what society would expect of a religion. It’s not uncommon for Witches to stand naked before one another as equals and this, seeing each other laid bare, engenders an acceptance, appreciation, and love for one another and onseself. So, it’s no wonder that it was through Witchcraft that I, previously plagued by a nearly debilitating sense of shame for my own body, came to truly see myself and find comfort in my own skin. And this gift—the gift of freedom from body-shame and total ownership of my body—was the fourth liberation of Witchcraft.


He said, “Well, actually”. Crystal Ball, how many fucks do I give? … Well, actually, NONE.

And so we come to the most important ways that Witchcraft can liberate us from the one of the sickest of our social ills. Our society is founded upon a narrative of powerful men and it perpetuates that narrative like a virus. Our society is, for all intents and purposes, rooted in patriarchy. It sees women as secondary persons, if it sees them as persons at all; it devalues womanhood or portrays it as obscene; and, it teaches men that power is what defines them and separates them from women, among many other things. (Here I must admit that I am in no way the best voice for how Witchcraft can liberate us from patriarchy—to that end, the most profound voices on the topic would be women—but I can speak on how it began to liberate me from this social influence and how it continues to do so.) But Witchcraft, arguably, empowers women more so than any other religion. There exists in Witchcraft a recognition of the Divine Feminine, or a Goddess, as not only a figure worthy of worship but one on equal footing with the Divine Masculine. It requires no explanation to suggest that this isn’t so of the dominant religions of our culture. Women themselves, too, are often leaders in Witchcraft and can more easily be found leading groups and religious organizations than female members of mainstream religions. Womanhood, Women’s Mysteries, and the power of women are recognized as sacred and are not treated with derision, contempt, or made to seem obscene. And so, this natural tendency in Witchcraft to have powerful women as leaders, in turn, teaches men that power is neither integral nor unique to being male. It, too, teaches men that their manhood nor masculinity need neither be threatened nor lost by being a supporter instead of director, and an ally instead of a champion. And that is the fifth liberation of Witchcraft: it unfetters and loosens the grip of the patriarchy on both women and men.

So, that’s how Witchcraft has liberated me. Has it liberated you?

How Pagans Get It Wrong: Haitian Vodou

Pentacles were not permitted on veteran gravestones1, workplace discrimination has and continues to happen2, prison inmates are often not provided equal access for their spiritual accommodations3, there’s a lack of representation amongst military chaplaincy4, and Pagan temples fight for survival5—these are just some of the examples of discrimination modern Pagans have found and continue to find themselves contending with as part of their reality as a minority religion.

If not subjected to institutional discrimination, Pagans still encounter a lot of prejudice and antagonism from peers and individuals within broader society. Who hasn’t encountered misinformation about Paganism, from the banal stereotype that it’s something into which only Emo teenagers dabble, to the more malicious belief pervasive in evangelical Christianity that Pagans worship evil, harm and abuse other living things—human and animal—and consort with the malevolent demons of Christian mythos? Yet, despite all of these personal experiences with prejudice and discrimination, Pagans themselves are often perpetrators and perpetuators of these very same problems.

While many of us grow up and educate ourselves to correct our gross misinformation, so many within our communities remain confused, misguided, or in possession of completely incorrect information about other minority traditions. In recent years, one of the traditions to come into focus for Pagans has been Haitian Vodou.

Affaire de Bizoton 1864

A sketch of the eight Haitian Vooodoo devotees found guilty in 1864 in the affaire de Bizoton. The persecution of and prejudice against Vodouisants continues today.

A religion of the African Diaspora, Vodou was born from the syncretism of native traditions defiantly held by the African men and women brought to the West by the slave trade and the Catholicism forced upon them by the slavers. Vodou, unlike many Pagan traditions, is monotheistic and as such professes belief in a single god—in fact, the same god of the Bible. Vodou also teaches that there are non-divine, ancestral spirits, the Lwa, who intercede on the behalf of its practitioners. Vodouisants (the proper term for someone who practices Vodou) build and sustain relationships with the Lwa through regular ritual, both personal and communal, so that the Lwa might be propitiated and invested in them and therefore be oriented towards assisting them through life.

But Vodou is also a tradition that, historically, has been and continues to be oppressed by mainstream cultures and religions in the West. It should be a great shame to us, as members of other minority traditions, to find ourselves perpetuating and reinforcing that oppression and ignorance. To help dispel our misunderstandings and ignorance with regard to Vodou, I asked for help from someone who lives this tradition: Mambo Chita Tann, a voice respected within Vodou and by many Pagans.

Benny (BB): Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Mambo Chita Tann (MCT): I’m Mambo Chita Tann, and I’m in my mid-40s and have been a Vodouisant for a little less than 20 years. I am also a doctoral student, and clergy in another unrelated polytheist religion. 

BB: Are you considered a priest of your tradition? An initiate?

MCT: I am a mambo asogwe, which is a priest rank (the highest priestly rank); I am also an initiate.

BB: Are they the same thing?

MCT: Initiation is required to be a priest in Haitian Vodou, but not all initiates become priests.

BB: In what ways is being a priest different than being an initiate of non-priest rank? Are priests officiates of rituals like they are in, for example, Christianity? That is, is being a priest(ess) in Vodou orient one towards service of laity?

MCT: Yes, Vodou priests lead ceremonies, instruct and initiate laity, and also serve the spirits on behalf of the laity – we are the most likely to be creating and doing the healing and other ceremonies that assist people in their lives, as well as all the rites of passage.

BB: Do you need to be a priest to work with the Lwa directly? How do the non-priest initiates interact with the spirits and what roles can they serve within the tradition as a whole?

MCT: Nonpriests can serve the spirits, but only on their own behalves and informally on behalf of other family members. They are not given the license or the training to perform the group ceremonies, the rites of passage, or the heavier types of work (divination, healing, sorcery, etc.) that priests do. Nonpriests do interact with the spirits, both on their own and in ceremonies with priests and laity. They form the backbone of the Vodou sosyete (society) and cook the foods, sing the songs, dance the dances, and welcome the spirits that the priests are invoking and directing for their benefit. It’s a highly symbiotic relationship between laity and clergy.

BB: How long have you been a member of this tradition?

MCT: Since 1992 or so. I have been a mambo since 2001.

BB: Is my summary of Vodou in the first part of this piece accurate? Is there anything you’d add or correct?

MCT: there is a strong disagreement over whether Vodou is actually a religion or if it’s just a magical/ancestral tradition that comprises parts of other religions. Not even all Haitians agree on this [or that it is monotheistic, she advises me after reviewing a draft of my introduction].

BB: Does it have a unifying set of principles—a doctrine?

MCT: Other than that there is a world of spirits beyond this world we live in and that the spirits want us to be healthy and happy, I’m not sure that Haitian Vodou has an overarching doctrine. It’s a practice-based tradition much more than a dogma-based one.

BB: What does it say about the nature of the Divine, if anything?

MCT: The creator (“Bondye,” or “the good god”) is beyond understanding or description. We are provided with the Lwa, or the angels/helping spirits of Bondye, for our needs, while Bondye keeps the universe running.

BB: So, do Vodouisants communicate directly with Bondye? Or only through the Lwa?

MCT: Vodouisants honor Bondye as the first being at the beginning of all prayers and ceremonies, but generally it is the Lwa that do the work and communicate with us.

BB: Are there specific ways to address or interact with the Lwa? Or are they open to anyone who wants to interact with them?

MCT: There are traditional ways to address and interact with the Lwa that are taught family to family, through a chain of transmission and initiation. There’s nothing stopping people from attempting to contact the Lwa on their own, but being certain that you are really interacting with the Lwa, and forming a strong relationship, comes through the training and license of the traditional methods. It is generally not a solo practice in Haiti; Vodou is a family legacy and an unbroken tradition within many thousands of individual lineages.

BB: What are some other important aspects of your tradition?

MCT: Emphasis on healing, possessory work, magical work, cultural heritage of Haiti are all big parts of Haitian Vodou.

BB: Does your tradition fit under the “big umbrella” of Paganism?

MCT: Not really in and of itself, though there are Pagan/Polytheist Vodouisants.

BB: If not, why not? Does it share any commonalties with Pagan traditions beyond those that all spiritual traditions have (e.g., the enrichment of human life, etc.)?

MCT: Haitian Vodou is an ancestral magical practice and is almost always practiced in tandem with Roman Catholicism. There are “pagan” elements in Catholic Christianity that find their place in Vodou, such as the veneration of saints and relics, observance of certain holidays and other practices that ultimately derive from Roman paganism and not from Jewish practices.

BB: Is there a typical format to the traditions’ rituals? Is there an underlying goal to all of the rituals (e.g., communion)?

MCT: Formal ceremonies are marked by a Catholic style liturgy sung at the beginning, followed by drumming and singing in various African tribal styles and manners. The underlying goal of Vodou ceremony is to greet the ancestors and the spirits and seek healing and education and protection from them.

BB: What have you found to be the biggest misconceptions about your tradition amongst Pagans, in particular? What’s the worst misconception Pagans tend to have, in your opinion?

MCT: That the Lwa are “gods” like Pagan deities is probably the biggest one I know of; the rest of my pet peeves have to do with misunderstandings based on racist Vodou tropes, and are not unique to Pagans.

BB: Would you be able to elaborate on some of those racist Vodou tropes? Would those include the idea of Vodou being “dark” or “evil” magic versus the “light” or “good” magic of European witchcraft? The use of “Voodoo dolls”?

MCT: Yes, they would. The biggest tropes are that Vodou is only evil and only used for evil, hand in hand with the idea that it’s “black magic” both in the evil sense and in the African sense. Pins in dolls and zombies are the legacy of bad horror films that were created during the 1920s-onward U.S. occupation of the island – racist politics gone very wrong. Such damaging tropes and misconceptions aren’t unique to Pagans, but it is disappointing to watch Pagans happily accept them without question.

BB: Where do you think this misinformation comes from? Are these misconceptions new ones or are they old ones that members of your traditions have had to contend with for a while?

MCT: I think this misinformation comes from the same place that assumptions about a single goddess and/or god come from; a well-meaning but misplaced desire by a certain subset of European-American Wiccan oriented Pagans who want to universalize practice. We’ve had to contend with this since Haitian Vodou hit the Pagan radar with the Feri tradition, and it has only gotten louder in the Facebook age and with some non-Haitians saying things they don’t really know anything about being taken as truth for all kinds of Vodou.

BB: I’m not familiar with Feri’s interaction with Vodou and I could guess that many others aren’t. Would you please elaborate more on that history and its fallout?

MCT: I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about it either but am aware that Victor Anderson had some interaction with Haitian Vodou. Whether or not he was actually initiated or went to Haiti, or whether he just plugged Lwa into his magical system, I am not entirely aware. You would probably have to talk to a Feri initiate to get more details on this. I am told, however, that this is where the Neopagan interest in Vodou got its start.

BB: Do you think some of it is based on fear?

MCT: Yes, because there is latent and overt racism involved in the understanding of Haitian Vodou, just as there was in its creation in the first place.

BB: Could you talk more about the overt and latent racism present in the West’s treatment of Vodou? How is it expressed?

MCT: This is the subject of several chapters [of her book] and it’d be a book on its own. Haitian Vodou has been demonized, literally, since it was a tool of black freedom on Hispaniola/Ayiti (the island), and it has never ceased to be paired with the idea of dangerous black people who are wild and just want to kill white people. The Catholic church has demonized it, the US government demonized it, Hollywood demonized it and it just persists.

BB: Do Pagans tend to be more open-minded, less, or about the same as mainstream cultures and religions? Why do you think that is?

MCT: I think it’s about the same for people in the same sociocultural brackets. I think much of the issue of open- or closed-mindedness when it comes to American Pagans at least is more related to white privilege and a lack of familiarity with persons of color and the history of colonialism, than to anything in Paganism.

BB: Should Pagans, by virtue of their own minority and marginalized status, have a better track record than they do when it comes to interacting with and understanding their peers of other minority and marginalized religions?

MCT: You’d like to think so, but unfortunately, socio-economic status still seems to trump religious status.

BB: Have Pagans unintentionally adopted the prejudices of the over-culture with regard to your tradition?

MCT: I think they’ve intentionally done it in some cases. I don’t believe that Pagans have confronted the issue of white privilege or of their response to colonialism adequately if at all, and there are some serious issues in the Pagan community around people of color.

BB: Can you provide an example of how someone in the Pagan community intentionally adopts the prejudices with regard to Vodou?

MCT: Well, the introduction to my book details an interview with a Neopagan who also happens to be Haitian, who decided he wanted to go to Haiti and get initiated not because he was getting in touch with his ancestors or even out of personal interest, but he stated that he needed to “save Vodou” from Haitians so that it could be purified of evil elements. There are neopagans who have decided that the Lwa are gods and goddesses, and when told by Haitians that this is simply not so, they use some European writings from the last century that present a Unitarian/theosophist idea of all the “gods of Africa” even though the Lwa in Haiti aren’t considered to be African anymore necessarily. There are Pagans involved in other ATRs who look down on Vodou as being too primitive, too dirty, too “evil” to practice compared to Lukumi or Candomble. There are many prejudices based in prejudices against Haitians themselves, based in prejudices against black people, etc. (The issues with some white pagans about pagans of color also persist here.)

BB: If you could change the dynamic between the Pagan community at large and your community, how would you change it? What would you ask of the Pagan community?

MCT: I don’t know that I care enough about the Pagan community at large to put in that kind of work with it. Haitian Vodou is not a dying religion by any means, and whether or not Pagans understand it or not is not something that Vodouisants put a lot of concern into. We also don’t really care what anyone else thinks about us, either, so it’s not a particular issue with Paganism. I personally find it frustrating that people profess interest in the tradition and often do very little to learn about how it really is, but again, the problem seems to be on the other end. Vodou is a closed community and while the door is always open for those who sincerely come to knock, there is no sense that we are going to be out there looking for people to show the door to. That’s not meant to be rude; there’s just no proselytization or need to show off/find more people in what is largely an indigenous tradition.

BB: Is there something that Pagans who want to be aware can do to be more respectful of Vodouisants and their tradition?

MCT: As when encountering any tradition one isn’t part of, respectfully listening to the practitioners when they tell you who they are and what their tradition is, instead of trying to explain it to them, goes a long way. Being aware that it is generally not polite or acceptable to make changes to the tradition, which doesn’t need saving and isn’t in danger of dying out. Simply being respectful of it in the first place.

BB: Are there any important issues or questions I missed that you think it’s important to relate here?

MCT: I think these are good starting points, and if you want to expand on anything here, please let me know – I am speaking very broadly on purpose.

BB: Any other final comments or statements you’d like to add?

MCT: Thanks for asking these questions. I hope they were helpful!

BB: They were! I learned a lot!


If you have additional interest in Haitian Vodou or Mambo Chita Tann’s published work on the tradition, you should consider her book, “Haitian Vodou: An Introduction to Haiti’s Indigenous Spiritual Tradition,” available for purchase at her website:

I know I’ve certainly added it to my reading list!