Witches & Wizards, Oh My

Words are funny things. They have meanings but they can also be given meanings. I am a pushy and quirky sort, so when it comes to some words, I often care less about what they usually mean, than what they can possibly mean. That possible meaning takes place against the horizon of meanings they have had, but I aim to shoot past them.

It is with this attitude that I want to talk about how I like to use the terms ‘witch’ and ‘wizard.’ I know that the terms have a few centuries of struggle rolled up into them, and to a certain extent I am positioning myself in that struggle even as I try to move the line. Still, brass tacks, I can’t get into that other horizon if I pin myself down to fighting over the accrued meanings.

I use the two terms to describe a point of divergence; while they emerge from a common milieu, they organize and engage with it differently. Those of you who know a little Deleuze & Guattari will see some clear traces of my education under their work.

‘Wizard’ delimits a field that operates vertically and hierarchically. The Hermetic maxim “as above, so below” sits close to the heart of this approach. It distinguishes, for one, an above from a below and privileges the above. The implication is that the magician orders the below under the auspices of the above.

Command plays a prominent role in the work. The nature of occult assignment, the building of lists around correspondences, and so on, is not simply a matter of discovery, but also of assertion. You will serve as the vehicle for Mercury, not just you are a channel of Mercury. Tellingly, this showed up in Tumblr as I was putting this post together:

“This is the primary secret of Solomonic magic. As long as the magician remains plugged in to that which is above, he or she is simultaneously plugged into (and must begin to master) that which is below.” (Lon Milo Duquette)

There is a form of bad faith that can develop around the wizardly approach which elides the element of command through a form of naturalization. Rather than acknowledge the relayed command inherent in the work (as it is above, let it be below), it treats the result of the command as part of the natural order. It mistakes the disciplining of the lower order for the lower order’s ‘natural’ state. The wizard’s ars memoria is a record of conquest as much as anything else.

Wizardly bad faith, though, abuts the good faith of the witch. The witch delimits a mode of operation that supresses hierarchy and instead proceeds opportunistically within the horizontal plane. Whereas the wizard assigns, the witch captures, seduces, and startles. If the wizardly guides the ars memoria, the witchly manages an ars familiaris, an art of becoming familiar.

Above and below are here replaced by proximity and sympathy. This, here, sings with me. This, here, sings against you. With this, here, we may sing together. The witch’s bad faith tends toward spite. The witch work is intimate and its failures, too, are intimate. The failures of the witch’s work manifest as bitterness and cruelty rather than presumption.

The conflicts that flash between the witchly and wizardly can be seen against this background. The witch’s danger to the wizard is that she, through sympathy and alliance, violates heaven’s assignment. Even worse, the wizard must fear the witch that inscribes the wizard’s authority into the world as just one more thing that might be conquered, captured, or seduced. Contrariwise, the witch treats warily with the wizardly, lest the order of heaven tear down the bridges her work establishes or the wizard assign her work to the heavens, removing it from the opportunities through which it might leap and grow.

As styles these are subject to the substance against which they are deployed. There are dramatic instances, too, in which the substance remakes the style, as when the alchemical arts rent the wizardly limb from limb, remaking it as Saruman remade Isengard. Here the authority of the heavens becomes the authority of wizard cum scientist and ego mounts the throne once occupied by higher powers.

In Ceremony, Silko called Europeans witches, but the truth is darker than that. It is not the witch that sits atop the atom bomb and the sails the rising waters, but the wizard reborn. It is not with bitterness that they assault the world, but with self-assured dominance. It is, however, the witch’s work remade that drives the engines of innovation and discovery, that rules the alchemist’s oven cum scientific laboratory.

It is a most terrible hybrid, but it remade the world. I don’t see a way to return to the time before its dominance, so the question becomes one of how we live through and past it. I’m laying odds that the hope lies with the witches and the witch-ly, with the subversion of the hybrid from within. But, hey, you go with what you know, right?

That isn’t a pretty affair. It breaks the dominance of the global which has become our era’s image of the universal and the forces released by that will be exceptionally spite-prone witchy forces. But the spite can be treated, softened. If we greet bitter with bitter, it fans the destructive tendencies inherent in the moment. The bitterness is close to hand everywhere, and to draw forth the secret potencies of our time that bitterness must be soothed with the sweetness proper to it, specific sweetness that must be discovered.

Ars familiaris, the arts that make us familiar. That is the witchcraft we need though it will be harder than ever to achieve. The work of Venus under the auspices of Saturn, no mean thing my pretties.


17 thoughts on “Witches & Wizards, Oh My

  1. Lots of interesting things going on here. You’ve set up an interesting dichotomy between witchy and wizardly, which is an interesting stance. The poet says, “in the conflict between continuum and dichotomy, dichotomy wins. It has to. Think about it.” 🙂 But there’s this complicated continuum, really, of paralleling arts of ‘magic’. When I do alchemy with glassware and ceremonial magic, I’m being wizardly… but when I do alchemy with cook pots and my oven, I’m being witchy? Is it simply a matter of tools, or is it a matter of mindset? Are all witches female? Are all magicians male? Is a witch who uses astrology to time her plant work really a magician? Is a magician who uses a broom to sweep his kitchen really a witch?

    For my own part, I see my work as wizardly, because it’s about ordering the below and the above together; but it’s also about ordering the within and the without. I don’t see myself as a ‘witch’ at all, but that’s in part because my partner has done a full course of initiations — and so in our conversations, a ‘witch’ has a specific initiatory tradition behind it, as opposed to Wicca/Wiccan, which is much more generic. But I also see my work as Druidic — in part because I’m working through a course of study in Druidry, but also because I’m trying to align my self and my work not with the Above vs. the Below, nor the Within to Without, but to accept that I am part and parcel with Nature as a Whole.

    I’m aware, very much, that the last few hundred years have been dominated by the wizardly (as opposed to the witchy) mindset… but after completing my first degree initiation in Druidry, I’m tempted to think of druidry as a third way that unites and realigns both streams/currents of intention. In any case, it’s a third position on the continuum between Witch/Wizard worth considering.

    1. Io

      I don’t think I articulated this as strongly as I ought: from my perspective, most every specific practice is a clear hybrid of these styles. It’s all third ways out here.

      In this post, I’m thinking more in terms of who is guiding the ship, whose ethos directs the work–is it the wizard’s sensibilities or the witch’s? That core ethos strikes me as important in terms of how we engage in trading experiences and practices with each other and in terms of how we proceed to deepen our personal practice.

      Again, this question of style, organization, ways of thinking, alongside what is thought. I remember reading an article about how different cultures favor different styles of essay writing written for ESL teachers–Anglo-american essays favoring argument and point-by-point casemaking, european essays favoring a certain pattern of digression and return…this is sort of how I’m trying to use ‘witch’ and ‘wizard.’

      1. AH. I see the wizardy model as being more argument through case and talking points; the witchy model as more digression and return. The wizard builds up a whole tower of power, while the witch wanders as far as she dares before returning to the cottage to reflect on what has been learned. Vertical vs. horizontal methods… and also provides a useful visual for the Ars memorativa

      2. Io

        Yes, like that. Now, add a layer into that. The way in which we organize our ritual practice shapes the spiritual ecosystem in which we live. And the spiritual ecosystem influences our actual ecosystem (albeit in indirect ways), then the ways we favor for organizing our spiritual lives are claims about what we think is proper to our personal health and claims made on the world.

        I don’t want to say that choosing a favored style is choosing sides, because sides only have to develop when the system is under stress. But they are choosing a place in an ecosystem and those places carry with them forms of responsibility, antagonism, and cooperation.

        That is where the milieu is important. If wizard and witch are families of strategies (sort of like forms of bodies and metabolism in evolution), then they are strategies in an environment. The concepts help highlight forms of (spiritual) life.

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