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Deep beginning witchcraft: Could Witchcraft Be a Delusion? Facing the Uncomfortable Truth

At some point in your practice, you need to decide whether you believe in magic and witchcraft. While there are checks and balances to develop, if you’re going to commit, dedicate, initiate, or whatever, decide if you’re in or out on the “Is magick real?” question before you do. No one but you can decide what is proof enough. Neither I nor anyone else can advise you on your lived experience - it’s your lived experience. Just remember, you don’t have a say in someone else’s lived experience, and that’s how two opposite truths can exist simultaneously and be true.

If you spend time in magickal groups, you’ll likely come out feeling a little…yikes. You get people who like magick but don’t believe in it, and you wonder what they’re getting out of being present. I’ve also seen people claim they’re an “empath” who “have precognitive dreams” (not necessarily part of an empath thing) who can tell how people feel by looking at their faces (also not an empath thing, and maybe a sign you’re merely neurotypical and can read expressions.)

I’ve watched the Dance of Woo versus What? Come out in two ways, both of which are less than optimal in my opinion:

A belief that witchcraft is nothing more than “spicy psychology” and that all magick is a matter of inner experience. I want to acknowledge the importance of rituals and their psychological impact, but the idea that that’s all it is leads to some dangerous misunderstandings of psychology. The idea that all magick is merely an inner experience when your energy bodies strengthen, and your rituals evolve can get you into serious trouble. You might have your own inner Metaverse, but certain very real spirits aren’t going to conform to your inner experience because as far as the illusions of this world go (if you look at the whole world as an illusion), they are having their own illusory experience and rules and see no damn reason to conform to yours.

A belief that everything is magick, on a spectrum between utter irresponsible fecklessness and pronounced paranoia. The world is connected, and as an animist, I do see the world as magical, alive, and aware. I do not, however, see this to the exclusion of science, physics, and some of the more sensible understandings of how disease and healing work (which is far from absolute but is also not as easily resolved with things like essential oils as certain …pipelines…would have you believe.)

Gen X, Y, and some Millennial witches devised a word for the situations, intuitions, spirit communications, downloads, and physics-defying events that can’t be proven: Unverified Personal Gnosis, aka UPG. I think it’s a pretty good term and useful to explain where certain things came from. I want people to keep using it and not just use it because an older generation thought of it.

For everything else, we have a fact-checking and skeptical inquiry. Nikki loves skeptical inquiry; she’s fascinated by the intersection of science and magick. Most of my interest in the sciences is because I work with herbs - no, they’re not safer because they’re natural - and because of my ongoing fascination with things that go boom and how to make boom happen.

Healthy skepticism is a skill that demands nourishing if you want to get anywhere at all with whatever type of witchcraft that calls you. If you plan on adopting anything we put forward for the deep beginner’s witchcraft series, I advise the rule: the more wooing something is, the deeper the fact check is needed.

Fact-checking is a hard practice to incorporate. I’m constantly catching myself nodding along at memes on my Instagram feed and then having a “wait…no…” moment. Sometimes, my partner catches it if I read it out loud. I’ve started avoiding memes as the misinformation infestations they too often are, but they’re everywhere, and sometimes you just need a laugh.

By fact-checking, I do NOT mean doing a Google search. Google used to be a reliable way to get some facts, but that hasn’t happened in the last decade. Google has failed us. We need new resources.

Fact-checking also means the following:

If someone is telling an anecdote, insisting something spooky happened, or posting what used to be a chain letter to your email, check Find out whether a story is true, especially if it’s a story that happened just long enough ago that a search for “topic: news” doesn’t turn up anything recent.

The moment anyone says something began with Ancient Egypt, fact-check it. Do the same for anything Celtic.* There is so much front-loaded baloney on both subjects that it’s amazing scholars of ancient Egypt and Irish legend have any hair left on their heads. You can do this by logging on to your local library’s website, giving them a visit, or even asking your local reference librarian for some help in finding out whether or not tarot was invented in Egypt. (It was not, tarot began as an Italian card game. That it started off as a toy of the wealthy does not make it any less a powerful form of spiritual and intuitive connection).

Ultimately, we recommend that people exploring witchcrat bring the Scientific Method with them into their most likely utterly unscientiic practice:

  1. Ask a Question

  2. Do Background Research

  3. Construct a Hypotheses (Make an educated guess)

  4. Test with an Experiment (this is hard because spells don't tend to pair well with controlled and consistently reproduceable conditions.)

  5. If it fails, look for reasons why. (Witches use divination for this)

  6. Whether it succeeds or fails, analyze the data (What did we learn?) and draw conclusions, accepting that those conclusions will at some point be blown up by some life experience that begins in deeper inquiry.

  7. Record your results. Also a difference from the scientific method in that some traditions of witchcraft require oaths NOT to share with the class.

If you’re in a place where the Internet is your only research option, try working with the following tools. It bears mention that while I am not excited about Google as a general search, other Google products so far are hanging on as worthwhile resources:

Google Scholar - it’s limited, but it can at least get you to some article synopses.

JSTOR - These are peer-reviewed, scholarly articles on so many topics of magical interest: folklore, ethnicity, superstitions, and more articles appear every year. - The academic search engine for high school level; it has a feature that serves up mostly peer-reviewed PDFs of various articles.

PubMed - What we know about medicine and genetics advances every year. No matter when you took that high school biology course, it was outdated within a year of you completing it. PubMed gives the public access to what is being studied now.

Even with these resources, a certain level of social skepticism does need to come with it. For example, every time you see a study on a diet drug, the first question to ask is, who paid for the study? We haven’t really made any genuine advancements in that arena, ever. Yet “new discoveries” paid for by multi-billion diet corporations come out every few months. While academically vilified at times, the book When God Was a Woman highlighted how our own cultural biases cause us to misinterpret archaeological, historical, and scientific discoveries. Ultimately, as usual, most of the vilification seems to come from simply having the biases pointed out. While shadow work can address some biases, there’s always more within ourselves to discover.

If you’ve noticed, my early posts are largely geared towards radical self-honesty and giving you tools that, when used wisely and without confirmation bias, will protect you from the bull that’s out there. If you practice witchcraft, some stuff is going to get weird; let’s make sure you know how to see if it really is weird before you take that big dive into the question of “real or not real?”



*at some point, we will talk about the problem of over-representation of certain topics within the Pagan and Magickal world. Any area of interest will have some aspect that gets so much attention it excludes and almost occludes other topics. The primacy of Ancient Egyptian lore and Celtic lore in Pagan contexts is among those crowding-out topics.


Want to catch a class with Diana? She's teaching ONLINE Urban Magick: Rebuilding Community in Times of Crisis on Wednesday, February 7th via Wicked Grounds Magickal Crossroads! Space in class is limited so reserve your spot in class now!


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