|Roman slave collar|
Sources and Influences
BAM: And ye shall be free from slavery,
Leland Aradia: And ye shall be freed from slavery, and so ye shall be free in everything; (58-59)
This section gives a reason for what witches do: the point of the witch cult is the freedom of its members. Writers who are often named influential on Wicca would include Murray, Leland, Crowley, and Frazer, but I believe this passage indicates the influence of a stream of writing on witchcraft which is often overlooked. The stream is perhaps best represented by Jules Michelet, whose book La Sorcière was written with little research in a period of two months to finance the writing of a history of France (Ronald Hutton: The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001.). His ideas of the history of witchcraft were heavily influenced by his own anti-Catholicism and dislike of the nobility, and his conclusions are not accepted by historians today, but the nature of his writing makes an emotive appeal to those seeking magic today. The introduction to the book would also count as one of the few positive images of the witch – as wisewoman and healer – written by a non-witch who believes that a witch-cult actually existed. (Jules Michelet (translated by A.R. Allinson): Satanism and Witchcraft. Tandem Books, London, 1970.)
This cult he sees as a movement of the common people, driven to despair by the two pressures of Catholicism the serfdom into which they were driven by the nobles. In search of freedom they sought or retained the old ways, of domestic Gods, of healing with herbs, and the use of enchantment to overturn the existing order. Michelet believed that this cult eventually degenerated into Black Masses after the infiltration of – guess who – the nobility.
This is very much the understanding of witchcraft in which Aradia is placed, and therefore indicates that this tradition did have an influence on Wicca and most obviously the Charge. Aradia posits as the aim of the witch cult freedom from the slavery imposed by nobles and the church, by means which will be taught by Diana, a Pagan Goddess. The witches will be able to find treasure belonging to rich men, the Trinity of the Christians is derided as three devils, and every last one of the oppressors will die. (Mario Pazzaglini and Dina Pazzaglini (editors): Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, 1998.)
I would argue that the ideal of freedom in Wicca is closer to that of Crowley than to that found in Aradia or in Michelet: the reality is that we are not part of some great occult conspiracy to overturn the world order as we know it, nor yet part of some para-terrorist organisation devoted to world change by means of causing death by enchantment.
Rather, for Crowley the idea of liberty is bound up completely with his idea of the true will. His much-misunderstood dictum of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ is not an encouragement to do whatever you feel like, or do what the whim of the moment dictates. The Great Work of the finding and doing ones True Will is a radical commitment:
‘The central commandment of [Book of the Law], “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” was not an incitement to anarchy, but an injunction to move with the tide of Nature, in accordance with the real reason why human beings are on this planet. Crowley said this is “to bid Stars to shine, Vines to bear grapes, Water to seek its level; man is the only being in Nature that has striven to set himself at odds with himself,” and with Nature. To cure this, one has to find one’s true Will, and do it.’ (Stephen Skinner: Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley, Tunisia 1923. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, 1997, p. X.)Crowley understood that each person’s true Will is individual; this is the meaning of ‘every man and every woman is a star,’ and they are all different. But that Will, once found, will not conflict with that of another. If I think my Will conflicts with yours, one of us has definitely misunderstood his true Will.
How this relates to modern witchcraft is in our concept of balance. Witches understand that we live in a divine economy, often symbolised by the spiral, and particularly understand that this is cyclical. My will and freedom do not mean that my life is never going to have any downs, but by the same token other people do not have the right to inflict down times on me against my will. This concept of autonomy within a divine economy is actually what underlies the various ideas of return (whether threefold or some other arbitrary number) found in many modern witchcraft traditions. Life goes up and down, and in particular all must die. This is a reason why both the ‘black magic’ and ‘fluffy white witchcraft’ brigades are on to a hiding to nothing: life just isn’t like that and nobody can go through life having only ‘positive’ things happen to them.
There is a tension here: the point and the hallmark of witchcraft is what we know as the peace and the ecstasy of the Goddess. Gardner commented in a 1960 interview (which is available on the internet) that when people ask him why anyone would want to become a witch, he replies that it is because the seeker wants joy and peace. In Witchcraft Today (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975), though, he also comments on the fact that the freedom of the witch can lead to people ‘letting themselves go.’ This aspect of wildness is precisely what is seen as threatening or sinful to outsiders. Of course this once again cuts right to the heart of the witch archetype, i.e. witch as threat, and also returns the context of the source text of the Charge in Aradia, where those who learned witchcraft in Aradia’s school were the oppressed who learned how to overturn the rule of the powerful. This also introduces how our religion is not one of comfort: when our Goddess speaks to us when can guarantee we will be challenged in some way; even in this central ritual text the issue of who has the power is not absent.
The next section of the Charge will show how witches demonstrate that they are free.