This post is part of a sporadic series on Building Competency in Witchcraft. The search for advanced witchcraft and advanced magick is common throughout the witchcraft community. Yet, much of what qualifies as advanced work is only possible after the cultivation and mastery of basic witchcraft skills -the advanced work comes about as a culmination of skills and the experience gained through cultivating and honing those foundational skills. The previous post in this series, Creating Your Spiritual Calendar, discussed the need for consistent practice and the benefit it provides in enabling one to be able to do advanced witchcraft in the first place. This post focuses on the foundational skills of witchcraft because it is not until you have the basics mastered that you can consider yourself an adept and learn the advanced skills -you cannot effectively do the advanced work if you haven’t mastered foundational skills.
In considering what basic witchcraft skills may be, it is important to first have a clear understanding of what we mean by witchcraft. Many people are hesitant to assign a specific definition to witchcraft, for fear of inadvertently implying that the spiritual practice of another is in some way less. This is because when we define what something is, we simultaneously define what it is not.
Yet, without concrete definitions, our ability to communicate on any subject becomes difficult. We cannot have clear communication unless we are working with words the meaning of which we each have a clear understanding. This is the foundation of communication regardless of what the topic may be: using shared language.
With that in mind, the definition of witchcraft as being used within this and other articles on this site (as well as within my books) holds witchcraft to be something fluid and changing.* At its core, it is secular, hence why see witchcraft able to be practiced within (and without) a wide variety of religious contexts. This is something that is occasionally debated, with some “secular witches” asserting that witchcraft only holds a religious element and that, by working from that religious context and working backwards to remove it, they have created something unique. Unfortunately, history holds differently, and there is ample evidence available showing that, despite an affirmed Pagan nature, modern witchcraft is in part based off of European folk magic practices -and these folk magic practices were indisputably practiced within a Christian context. If this attitude that witchcraft is intrinsically religious were true, then practices done now within this Pagan context could not work because of their original conception and application within a Christian concept. Thus, we see that the religious element is not essential to witchcraft, yet it can be beneficial.**
As such, regardless of whether you practice witchcraft within a Pagan context, Christian context, or wholly secular, there are specific skills that are essential to learn in order to be a competent witch and work effective magick. These foundational skills are continuously applied regardless of how long you’ve been practicing -whether that’s two years or two decades- and are built off of as part of learning advanced skills. Consciously working to develop these skills is how to practice witchcraft effectively and how to become a more competent witch.
These foundational skills are:
Although it is easily the most overlooked of all skills a witch need develop, awareness is the most essential. More than the ability to see what’s around you, awareness is the ability to take note of the subtle -both within and without. Not only is it the founding skill of divination, but without awareness, you cannot feel the changing energies noting you of coming trouble, or that you’re on the right track, or that your long-term/distance spell work was successful. Without awareness you cannot feel the energy as you send it forth, you cannot hear the Gods or spirits talk to you, you cannot hear your own intuition. There is no magick nor working of witchcraft without cultivating awareness.
Awareness is also seeing and feeling without expectation of what you’re supposed to see and feel. It is an openness to your environment that places yourself in a passive, receptive position. It is existing in that place where the various levels of being -physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual- all meet. It is a place of wholeness, of balance, and of objectivity.
This is the next level of awareness, the ability to pay attention. But this attention is both passive and active. It involves the ability to hold a thought and not get distracted by mental chatter: to be the keeper of your own thoughts. When your thoughts are in order and you are the master of them, you strengthen your internal core, becoming unshakable and unlikely to be deterred from your goals by the superfluous.
Focus can also be active in that it is the ability to act with purpose and to be consistent with action -not just the ability to follow through on your actions, but to follow through on your words; this is integrity. Focus is the difference between a witch who sees needed change, makes plans, and creates the change and a witch who talks about how spiritual they are but can’t be bothered to set their phone down and actually practice witchcraft. A focused witch sees a problem and corrects it, an unfocused witch collects tools but never uses them.
Magick works through the application of energy, either pulling that energy and bringing it closer to you or pushing that energy and projecting it outward. Although the use of tools can make the doing of such easier, facilitating the proper mindset and flexing of those magickal muscles, no witch is truly functional if they cannot push or pull energy without the use of any tools.
Energy manipulation is the active application of awareness in combination with focus. It is acting, at the most fundamental level, off of what one is aware of. It is seeing and feeling the subtlety and then performing the necessary actions to create change within that the subtlety. And this is an action that can be accomplished through movement and gestures, singing and chanting, breathing, or simply by stilling your mind, taking hold of that energy, and then moving it as you will.
The importance of strengthening this skill cannot be stressed enough. It is the defining active trait of a magick handler and makes the difference between a tool reliant witch and a witch who can get the job done no matter the situation.
This is the ability to combine focus with imagination; the formula for change. When we can see what we want and imagine not just its attainment, but the path to that attainment, we take hold of the power needed to make that which we hold in our minds a reality. But visualization is a bit of a misnomer as it involves far more than simply picturing something in your mind’s eye. Potent visualization that fuels magick involves all senses and even the emotional and physical responses associated with that which is being visualized. In this way, even someone who is blind can effectively visualize as part of a robust magickal practice.***
To utilize visualization as part of magick, to create the change that we wish to take place, we hold firm that vision: we fill our imagination with focus and fill that vision with the details of a recreated physical state. This vision then guides our application of energy in order to create the necessary changes within the energy currents that permeate our world -this to bring about the change that we desire. But if that change, that magickal goal, cannot be clearly seen and envisioned, the ability to create it within the physical world becomes increasingly difficult.
Strength of Will
While awareness may be the most frequently overlooked skill, strength of will has easily become the most distorted and misrepresented of all magickal skills. Our society places excessive and unhealthy emphasis on the individual, to the point where many find it difficult to see their place in the world or to see themselves as being one small piece of a large and interconnected universe. When combined with magickal thought, too often self-esteem and confidence in oneself are used as excuses to be selfish, decadent, and lazy -to not do the necessary work to become better and grow spiritually. After all, you’re already made of stardust and radiating goddess energy.****
But true strength of will is much more than this. It is the ability to not just be self-assured, but to be justifiably self-assured. You feel confident in your abilities and power as a witch because you have done the necessary work to develop those skills and learn to harness and apply your power. You know your self-worth because you have proven it to yourself through your actions. And you will continue to prove it to yourself because you’re a badass who sees the merit in your goals and desires and you aren’t afraid to be challenged.
Part of that justifiable assuredness is a strong sense of self. When you are confident in your abilities it is because you know what you’re capable of -you know this because of your experience and the work you’ve put into developing those skills and abilities- and this helps to create a strong sense of self. When you say that you are capable of doing something, e.g., I can hear the voices of my Gods, you inherently profess and affirm your identity. Sticking with the example, who are you? You are a person who can hear their Gods -with all the implication that holds.
In all spell work, we accomplish our goal through will. The spell works because I say it does. My will be done. Your magick can’t work if you don’t know who you are. You can’t be confident in the abilities needed to work magick if you don’t know if you have those abilities. Strength of will and a strong sense of self go hand in hand.
No matter what your specific focus may be within your witchcraft practice, ensuring that you are strong in these five skills will provide you a greater level of efficacy with your magick and enable you to begin learning more advanced witchcraft skills. Many advanced skills have a combination of prerequisite skills that must be learned before any progress can be made. To that end, having a strong foundation in these skills will open up new opportunities to you, allowing you to take your witchcraft in directions you might not have otherwise considered.
Walk the path, and it will reveal itself to you.
* That fluid nature of witchcraft is echoed within the fluidity of each witch’s practice: building and growing, changing and flowing, but always being only that what it can be until it is changed -and change is the goal of witchcraft.
** If the religious element were essential, then it would matter which religion. All religions are not the same, many have grossly different worldviews, regardless of perceived similarities in worldview, i.e., Buddhism and Wicca. This means that the system of magick created within them would be, by necessity, different than that which would be created within another religious context. And, given an entirely different symbolic language, this would necessitate a bit of mental gymnastics in order to combine practices from these differing magickal systems in the context of a larger disparate practice. There would also be additional work created in order to reconcile the differences in energetic use, worldview, and focus between them (such as if one was extracting elements of witchcraft anchored within a specific religious context and then attempting to practice them within a secular context or alternate religious context.) tl;dr This wouldn’t be effective in any way, but fortunately, witchcraft is inherently secular, so this entire argument is moot.
** If you have aphantasia, I would love to discuss this subject with you, but mostly I would love to just listen to you ramble about your experience in this area.
*** One of the most recognizable examples of this in the magickal community right now is the heavy emphasis on shadow work. Rather than it being the uncomfortable, gut-wrenching work that it truly is, it has become an exercise in narcissism and a means of escapism -a tool of avoidance because rather than doing the deep work, superficial flaws are lauded with proclamation of how “strong” we are for acknowledging them and “moving forward.” Witch Tip: shadow work fucking hurts and consists of much more than “looking in the mirror” and making lists of things you wish you were better at.
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Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.