One of my first introductions to Witchcraft was Scott Cunningham’s Guide to the Solitary Practitioner and whilst it is dated, littered with the conflation if Wicca and Witchcraft and miss information about ‘self’ initiation, for a book of its time it is actually a good place to start.
One of the things presented in the book which continues to make an impact on my practice are the 13 Goals of a Witch. The principles laid out are easily transferable to any magical practice and whilst two or three specifically align with nature based worship they could be easily transmuted to be relevant to say Hellenistic or Norse reconstruction practices or even those that do not involve deity but that doesn’t mean that they are not without their problems.
Cunningham doesn’t present these goals with much of an explanation so there are many different interpretations of what is meant by each goal and how we can live them all based on the writer’s experience and personal practice. This can mean that they goals appear to be repetitive in some cases where the writer is not able to separate subjects clearly either in their writing or in their mind. On the other hand, explanations may appear to exclude those with disabilities because the author is writing from the perspective of being in full health and ability. That’s not to say I am not going to fall in these bear traps myself, or put my foot in my mouth trying to avoid them, but suffice to say when reading any interpretation of the 13 Goals take what resonates, leave behind what does not and replace it with your own interpretation and understanding.
So, what are the 13 Goals of a Witch?
My Interpretation of the 13 Goals
It is significant that this goal appears at the top of the list given that it is both crucial in the pursuit of the Craft to have a full and truthful understanding of who we are, and who we are not, but also one of the primary reasons that people seek out the Craft in the first place.
The search for our ‘authentic self’ is authentic popular one in this day and age and whilst laudable we are only human, likely to ignore the things we find within ourselves that we don’t like whilst building false identities to build upon the impression that we contain everything that is desirable. The first of the Witches goals should be to be accepting of who and what we are, a combination of both shadow and light. Once we accept the things which we may be told are less desirable, rather than suppress or hide them, we can begin to work on incorporating them into our lives in a positive way or trying to move on from them to allow other aspects of ourselves shine forth.
The Craft can help in this search, but if we are not honest with ourselves about our faults and foibles they can hinder our progress as well. Nobody is asking you to be perfect, just honest.
Know Your Craft
The subject of the Craft is a wide and vast and it is impossible to know everything about all paths. Quite often seekers come and express a desire to know everything, be taught everything. Whilst the approach of ‘Jack of All trades, Master of None’ is perfectly acceptable it is important for the seekrf to ve realistic and humble in the depth of knowledge that can be achieved this way. You can never be a master of all disciplines straight away, if at all, not is is possible for you obtain this knowledge from one book, one person or whilst walking one of the many pathways of the Craft. There is, however, still a need to read deeply. There are many introductory books which profess to give grounding in all aspects of the Craft but often are limited to the authors own bias and preferences. No single book or teacher will give you all the answers and it is important to sample a number of different authors and opinions to provide a rounded view. Such wide reading can often help the seeker find the areas and aspects they wish to specialise in.
It is often far better to choose a single path and to seek to become proficient in it. Even with the field narrowed in such a way it is still important to read widely, practice much and record your experiences. Do not limit yourself in terms of your sources, and don’t be afraid to seek out sources that contradict each other. Being aware of conflicting opinions within a discipline / the Craft while give you the opportunity to form your own opinion and ways of working.
Know your Craft refers both to the Craft you wish to practice and the way you practice it. It is important to keep a record of what you read and do, and your thoughts and opinions of such things, in order to be able to chart your development as a Witch. Whilst knowing your end goal or destination it’s important it is equally important to remember how you got there, and from what point you started from.
This may seem to be a repetition of the admonition (sp) ‘Know your Craft’, and in many ways it is but learning goes far beyond Craft matters. The old saw of “you never stop learning” is both true and applicable. In addition to seeking our new books and teachers, checking and cross checking references seek out new experiences relevant to or separate from the Craft. Go on a Ghost Walk, join an archaeological dig, try a new creative craft or find a new hobby. Seeking out new experiences in mundane life is helpful in maintaining a flexible approach to your Craft in the log run so don’t limit trying new things to Witchcraft alone.
Apply Knowledge With Wisdom
Knowledge and wisdom are not mutually exclusive. Knowledge is a form of power, and with it you can achieve great things, but it is just as important to learn when to put that knowledge to use. The Craft places a great emphasis on personal responsibility the acceptance of consequences and outcomes of any chosen action. This means that in addition to seeking out the knowledge of the Craft one must also obtain the discernment necessary to know when to use is and in what way.
We have many aspects in our lives for which we need to balance our time and attention against, the Craft is nearly one more thing to add to the pile. (Video about making time for a full life). There is so much going on around us, with different people, tasks and interests vying for our attention, it can be difficult to find time for all the different this we need and want to do in our lives. Our Craft is important, but it does not have to become the be all and end all of our lives unless we want it to be, vertical lying this shouldn’t be at the expense of our family, friends and everyday life.
Be mindful of your health and state of mind. If it ever feels like the Craft is becoming a burden to you the take the time to evaluate your path and practice. It might be you are trying to take on too much and would benefit from either simplifying your practice or even taking a break to try new things. You may feel overwhelmed by your experiences whilst learning the Craft, or find yourself being overwhelmed by life in general, and it is no bad thing to take time to re-centre yourself or seek out help if you need it. An accept of personal responsibility is taking responsibility for your own mental health and seeking out support wherever and whenever you need it.
Keep Your Words in Good Order
This may seem like common sense but it only takes a casual glance at social media to know it is all too easy to let your words get away from you. Words have power both in the magical and mundane world’s, with the ability to harm and heal, create and destroy. It is important to choose your words with care to ensure there is a clarity in meaning, not only can this mean the difference between success and failure of a spell but it can also mean the same in our interactions with people around us as well.
As Witches we face many condemnations and possibly even confrontations. There around now many misconceptions about Witchcraft and there around reread just as many who wish to use them to malign practices they fear or do not understanding. In a confrontation with any zealot, be they religious or secular, the ability to keep calm and choose one’s words wisely is paramount. It is important also to not match insult with insult, and attacks against other religions abandoned spiritual believes should be unnecessary is one has learnt all they can, obtained wisdom in their knowledge and the balance to choose their words with care both for clarity and maximum effect. This is another aspect of personalise responsibility, neighbours responsible with ones words.
My final interpretation of this goal centres around the four power of the sphynx. Although not all points are represented into the 13 Goals “to know” is implied in goals one and two whilst “to keep silent” is represented here. Sometimes keeping our words under control is necessary in order to be able to pay attention to what is being given said by people around us. When we flap our lips trying to be the biggest names to with in the room we usually miss out on the subtle teachings of more practiced individuals in our community.
Keep Your Thoughts in Good Order
Words and thoughts are one in the same in the sense that they both have the ability to manifest themselves in our lives. How we think and feel affects our day to day lives and then our thoughts are in confusion then our lives can become disordered as well. When negative thought patterns become the dominant makeup of our thoughts process, be they related to anger, sadness or any like emotion, to the point where they are intrusive and disruptive to our lives it is important to take steps to ensure we are looking after yourself (self help) to seeking advice and support from people and professions. Again, we’re harking back to the importance of personal responsibility.
Another interpretation of this goal related to the importance of keeping our thoughts, words and actions aligned to ensure magical success. When these three things are not consistent and concise our magical efforts become dilute and more likely to fail. This isn’t a ‘The Secret ™’ situation where negative thoughts or a lack of will when wishing for an outcome result in negative consequences but rather if you can’t keep a firm image in mind when visualising your desired outcome in mind or it doesn’t match what you are asking for with your words, things aren’t going to turn out the way you expect them to.
Now we come to a goal where we start to hit a little bit of turbulence when it comes to interpretation. Some would interpret this as an instruction to honour and protect all living things on the planet but this might be expressed as involvement in animal rights and ecological campaigning to vegetarianism and veganism. Whilst all these things can be done in moderation and are no bad thing they are a sliding scale, with the far ending being a form of almost militant extremism. This can be problematic when the phrase ‘to celebrate life’ includes the incorporation of animal remains into personal practice. It is important that life is part of a greater cycle, and one cannot truly appreciate life without being aware and reverent of death as well. This is particularly true when looking at nature and the animal kingdom, which is red in both tooth and claw. It is possible to celebrate the life of an animal through the tend keeping and reverent respect of its remains as part of a magical practice just as much as it is possible to do so by engaging in preservation efforts. Neither practice is wrong, both practices are equally valid.
But there is a more inward looking element to this goal. Celebrate life through living your own. Learning is all well and good but it is important to live out lives as well. Do things that you enjoy, look for the joy in your day to day life, magical and mundane. Sometimes it can be difficult to see these things through the day to day grind of modern living so try doing those journaling exercises or jar experiments that get touted around social media so much and take a constructive five minutes at the end of every day to find one thing that made you feel good about the day or greatful for the life you lead.
Attune With the Cycles of the Earth
More turbulence ahead because not all Witches worship nature or wish to observe seasonal celebrations. Whilst this goal is often presented as an instruction to participate in the celebrations of esbat and sabbat and experience the turning of the seasons as a spiritual experience I think there is a less ‘religious’ level that sometimes gets ignored.
“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven”
Eccles 3: 1-8 NIV
Yes I am quoting the bible at you. Even witches who do not worship or observe the cycles of nature are at some leven aware of their impact upon the magical practice. Whether they observe that it is better to cast spells of drawing during the waxing moon, or spells for new life are less productive when cast during the dying half of the year, or that the planetary hour impacts of the success of the spell, there is some awareness of the importance of cycles and timing and how they fit into the overall cycle of the solar/lunar year.
That being said I know some witches who will cast on regardless if they have a need, and in truth I don’t wait until the waning moon in the dark half of the year for the hour of Mars on a Saturday night to get a spell of the appropriate purpose cast. If something needs doing we just get it done, because if we will it, it will be so, but that doesn’t mean that we are unaware of the added value that incorporating such elements into our magical workings can bring.
Something that I think all Pagans can make an effort with, regardless of whether or not they honour nature as a divine force, is be mindful of their impact on the environment and seek to reduce it through mindfulness, recycling etc. Not because they are Witches and should “honour and respect” nature but because they live on the planet and such efforts benefit them regardless. You don’t need to be a nature loving witch to realise that taking a dump in your back garden is going to pollute your life and doing it in your neighbor’s yard isn’t the beat idea either.
Breathe and Eat Correctly
I personally don’t understand what Cunningham was thinking when putting these two things together, certainly eating well would have been a better companion to goal number eleven but he did so to a degree we are stuck with it.
To breath correctly is easily interpreted – meditation and the control of the mind and thoughts through the act of breathing is an important part of magical practice and one every witch must practice and cultivate. Meditation is also a useful part of achieving many of the above goals, such as keeping our thoughts and words in order and maintaining out mental health.
Eating well also makes a certain amount of sense as, as above healthy diet is central to a healthy body. Yes we all indulge from time to time and that is okay. This can also be related to the practice of fasting prior to rituals. Fasting for 24 hours ahead of rituals is considered an ideal but not a necessity. Some practitioners will fast shorter periods of time whilst others will just ensure they eat lightly ahead of ritual. Fasting before ritual can help towards the creation of an altered state of mind however one must have a healthy diet in order to achieve this. Other choose to fast a few hours beforehand, or to eat lightly, to help avoid uncomfortable digestive distractions which might come before a heavy meal. Experiment and see what method brings results for you.
Exercise the Body
This one annoys me because quite often I see interpretations that demand peak physical fitness and take a very ableist approach when talking about what this goal interprets.
We are all different, and the level of exercise we can achieve varies dramatically from person to person. For some daily visits to the gym to lift weights or run long distances on a treadmill may be a possibility but for others experiencing chronic pain and complex health conditions it may be totally out of their reach. It is important to be realistic in what is achievable, both for ourselves and others, and to not engage in fat or health shaming.
The important thing is to be aware of how your health affects your magical practice, it may mean that certain practices are too strenuous or not accessible in the standard formats. In many cases rituals and processes can be adapted to accommodate a variety of health conditions but it is still important for practitioners to understand when they need to take a break. Efforts may become overly taxing, leading to a worsening of health, or diluted and you may become more vulnerable to negative influences and energies. Take the time to understand when it is okay for to be practicing magic, and when it might be necessary to take a break to allow the body to recuperate.
I personally think this is covered in goal ten but Cunningham wanted to actress the importance of meditation, and I suppose it is a point worth the repetition. Meditation is the foundation of many skills within Witchcraft, most notably visualisation, and is an important tool in exploring spiritual development and communicating with spirits/deities/energies. Practice practice practice.
Honor the Goddess and God
So again, not all Witches honor deities in their practice of the Craft, there are indeed such things as Atheist Witches and they are just as powerful and as effective as someone who calls on the Morrigan, Pan or any of the many gods that modern pagans are drawn to. In my experience these Witches recognise the power inherent in the Craft and Magic and whilst it would be incorrect to say they worship it they treat it with honour and respect in the way they approach and employ it.
Equally there are branches of Paganism engaging in the Craft which see Divinity as something within oneself, such as Satanism. Adherence to principles and taking responsibility for one’s words and actions in the fullest sense honours not only oneself but also the essence of humanity and is a high ideal in of itself.
And then there are those who worship the Gods, ancient and powerful, treating them with respect and honouring them through ritual and rite.
Regardless as to your position on deity there is a core to this goal which is applicable to all.
Honour your beliefs and the things you have learnt by living your ideals. Honour the teachings you have received, the lessons that have been shared with you, the experiences you have had by living them in the truest way possible. Practice as you preach as much as possible and regardless of your stance on divinity, you will be honouring your truth.