I have seen a lot of different recommendations for people to try and do when getting started in Paganism, Wicca, or Witchcraft. While it does tend to vary a little bit, in general the advice is to either dive right into spell work and/or read certain beginner books (i.e. "Wicca Starter Kit," "Modern Guide to Witchcraft," and "Llewellyn's Practical Magic," etc.) and these are both great options to begin learning from.
(Quick note, I tend to use the word 'craft' in reference to Witchcraft and the word 'practice' for a person's individual spiritual practice, regardless of how that person identifies. As not all Pagans or New Agers practice Witchcraft and not all Witches work with deities.)
Today, however, I wanted to discuss a different approach for the beginner when entering into the craft or practice. Now, this isn’t something everyone is going to be interested right at the beginning of their journey but I do believe it’s a phase that everyone in the New Age community has to work through or at the very least will encounter at some point.
For those who maybe wondering, my personal style is more that of an armchair philosopher…I’ll sit, think, and theorize from a comfortable chair over a cup of tea long before I put things into practice. You can just call me The ARMCHAIR PAGAN. (Yes, that cracks me up every time I think of it as it is a play on the old rich white men who did it and the fact that I tend to over-think.)
I’m definitely a late-bloomer, I like to reflect and theorize well before I ever put anything into practice. Which can be beneficial at times, it builds your visualization skills, helps with your planning phase, and can help save you some trouble in the long run but at a certain point you have to actually put things into practice.
Now, I make the 'Armchair Pagan' joke but most the New Age community will discuss their ethics very lightly and by lightly I mean in a rather vague sense, leaving it open to each practitioner. For example, in Wicca, they’ll mention “an it harm none do as ye’ will,” in Witchcraft it varies as some Witches will have no trouble with baneful work while others will keep it all ‘love and light.’ Other groups within Paganism, whether it’s Hellenic or Heathenism, etc., will depend on historical precedence, cultural references and traditions, or mythologies that those groups have to work from. But even within these specific creeds or groups, each practitioner can still take their own direction through their interpretations.
I mention all this as a way of explaining why I think within the New Age community there isn’t a lot of discussion or debate, for that matter, about the deeper philosophical work that affects how the individual practitioner or Witch operates.
For one, it’s personal but there’s very much this attitude of "if it works for you, that’s all that matters," or "fuck whatever anybody else says." Note, this mindset is oft discussed shortly thereafter, and with great controversy in some circles, in relation to appropriation. In fact, the topic of appropriation is one of the areas where Pagans and Witches alike all come together to openly debate the ethics of incorporating certain ideas or materials into their craft or practice.
For example, the man whose personal UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) involved the usage of the swastika with Dionysus. (Mind-boggling...to say the least.)
I’m not saying any of that is necessarily wrong, (except in the above example). What I am going to say next actually falls in line with the "if it works for you" attitude but in a way that makes it easier for a new practitioner or Witchlet to approach the New Age community on a solid foundation and assist in building a more personalized practice. Now, I know Witchcraft is not a religion but even Witches can take from this and still apply it to their own craft.
When you’re coming to Paganism or Witchcraft, it’s important to first consider and reflect on your moral center. Now, when I’m talking about your moral center I’m not just talking about what you consider right and wrong. I’m talking about your entire internalized moral framework. For me personally, this actually begins with virtues (values and virtues can actually be used interchangeably here).
Now, virtues can be defined as moral excellence; goodness; righteousness or “the conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles.” The keyword here being principles, which I will get back to shortly.
First, however, I want you take a sheet of paper and make a list of all the virtues that you believe are important to living a good life and being a good human being. (Note here, that these virtues are for your life not for every human life.) These can be anything from brave, kind, smart, or funny; really any quality you deem necessary to being a good human being.
Not a great one! Don’t get distracted with ordering or ranking, that’s not super important right now. Don’t even worry too much with the amount right now either. Most importantly, don’t get flustered with the qualities you don’t have. Just pause, take a few deep breaths and make your list.
Not a great one! Don’t get distracted with ordering or ranking, that’s not super important right now. Don’t even worry too much with the amount right now either. Most importantly, don’t get flustered with the qualities you don’t have. Just pause, take a few deep breaths and make your list. Once that's done, I hope you'll leave a comment below and share that list.
My personal list of virtues is as follows:
Once you have your list, you’re going to write about the good and the bad for each virtue on your list. Make examples for each good and negative aspect under each virtue.
Know that your morality, or the things you feel are right or wrong, is not affected by societal norms. An example being a person who is gay or trans, they feel this to be good, to be right. While society or the culture they may live in will say, “No, that’s not right! You weren't born a woman," or say that "you can't love another man."
After this part then, any examples you made in your moral description that included degrees of good and bad, that is actually a practice of your ethics and that is affected by societal norms.
One of my virtues is sustainability, the moral good of that is leaving the Earth in a better place than when I got here. Being wasteful is bad, especially when I know it could be repurposed or given to someone else. I would measure the degree of good or bad that I have achieved towards this virtue through ethics. “Did I take out the recycling? No. (That's bad) I want the back of my truck to be full of cardboard before I spend the gas to get to the recycling center.”
Now, it's shifted from being bad to good because spending a large portion of gas for a small load of cardboard doesn't really balance out. Recycling for the sake of recycling is very black and white when you're not considering other factors. It could also be said that some cardboard can be used as a weed barrier in a garden, completely removing the need to drive and use gas entirely from the equation. Though... it could also be said that cardboard with a lot of ink, staples, or tape is bad for the soil and plant life. Why not just burn the cardboard? Now you see where ethics takes you.
Nothing is ever perfect and it can be really hard to judge whether you’re doing it right, whether you’re doing the good, but your ethical code is the area that judges how well you’ve achieved that. The space where societal norms affect your ethics can take a variety of shapes and shades through access, peer pressure, societal acceptance, and the normalcy of a thing.
One of the more important aspects in determining and learning about your moral center is the part that most people stop at. A lot of folks will have an easier time with naming virtues and describing the ethics and morality behind those values. However, reflecting on why these virtues or values matter is when you come to your principles. Think of principles as your 'why’s.' Why does this matter or why does that affect me so? This is where you get into the meat of your moral center, this is the psychological element. I consider this to be where you get the most shadow work done, if you're a Witch.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’re probably losing your mind. You’re probably thinking that this is too much, this is way more than just casting spells and praying or communing with the Divine Feminine or deity. Understandable.
Remember when I said that just about every Pagan and Witch comes to this phase at some point in their practice? It may not seem like it at first but this is typically the phase where a person goes from experimenting and trying things out to fully diving deeper into their craft or practice. What human goes through their life and doesn’t ask the big deeper, meaningful questions of "why am I here?" and "what’s the point?" in some form or fashion. The only part of the New Age movement that may do this a little differently is Witchcraft but even Witches should be asking "why am I doing this?" and "who or what is it for?" these are things usually addressed with intention.
The biggest reason I bring this up as a recommended for new Pagans and Witchlets is that aside from Witchcraft, the other sects that fall under the Pagan umbrella are religions and should be treated just as seriously as any other. Any form of spirituality is truthfully, just a way to find comfort with the unknown, provide meaning, and make yourself a better person.
While this is a lot for a person to go through and figure out, especially in the beginning, it has helped me significantly. I like being able to go through the things I do and weigh them against my values. Just the other day, I was realizing how unkind I had been to someone close to me by making a poor joke. Being able to tell whether you’re out of alignment with the things you know to be important can help bring you back to where you want to be. This is also why I said to write down the negative or inverse of your values. Life is a huge balancing act.
Principles though, being the why’s can be difficult to fully answer. Often the answer for that is in childhood…if you’re like me. Okay, not everything goes back to childhood but why you think certain values are most important to keep in order to be a ‘good human’ is very indicative of how certain things in your life have affected you. This is, as mentioned before, where you really get into shadow work, which is it’s own separate topic that I will discuss at a later date.
Let me mention here that your values will likely change over time. Some may stay for the rest of your days but the priority with which you rank each will change as you get older and events in life change you. Which is why I said ranking isn’t super important but also...sort of important (ah, the paradox).
If you’re still with me and wondering what do I do with all this stuff now? That’s where the Witches Pyramid comes in. I know, I said not all Pagans are Witches but if you’re new to Paganism you’re likely going to encounter the Witches Pyramid at some point in Witchcraft or Wicca. Regardless, it's actually a pretty useful guide outside of the craft. After all, what's the point in writing all that down just to put it away in a drawer somewhere and forget about it? If you're not actively integrating or at least seeking to integrate important concepts then you're spiritually bypassing.
The Witches Pyramid is a philosophical framework for practicing magic, it guides the Witch or Wiccan in performing spell work. The pyramid is divided into four points with an optional fifth (as it was added later), each being associated with one of the elements and cardinal directions. I find it's framework to be beneficial when looking for ways to apply one's values in their craft or practice, which I will detail shortly.
The following is just the framework I like and I have changed two... three things actually, but that’s a personal eclectic decision and merely reflects my own experiences and beliefs. Do what thou wilt...with that. So, here we go.
In it's original form it looks like the image on the right. This is the framework that Witches normally operate with. The original and my own interpretation are completely optional, feel free to disregard or use whichever format you find most suitable.
You start at the bottom, with Air, which is "To Know..." The element of Air is all about knowledge, not wisdom there is a difference, it would be associated with the suit of swords in the tarot, the East and the season of Autumn. So, to be a witch is to be knowledgeable, in other words, you should know all about your values, your deities, the craft, etc..
The second from the bottom is traditionally Water but here I switched Fire and Water because it doesn’t personally make a lot of sense to me. "To dare..." or be bold requires a lot of passion and energy that fire-drive to do or be something. Whereas, Water, has a will of it’s own sometimes, and you can say Water follows the path of least resistance but it wears away everything with enough time. Water in it’s glacier aspect wears down mountains, it is relentless and patient. Consistent practice is a matter of willpower because you’re not always going to feel like doing ‘the good’ and you need more than just that initial spark of passion to keep you going. That’s just my logic and reasoning behind the switch, you don’t have to follow it. Do what feels morally right to you, lol.
"To dare..." is Fire, that is associated with the suit of Wands, this is the South and is associated with Summer. To take that first spark of creativity require boldness, the drive to funnel that creative spark into the craft or your practice, whatever that looks like. It’s literally asking that you be brave and be ‘the good,’ follow your moral compass, do the shadow work necessary to actively bring yourself closer to your values.
Water is "To will..." and it is associated with the suit of cups, this is the West and is associated with the Spring season. To be willful is to have the willpower to bring whatever manifestations or intentions you have into the real world, into your practice. This isn’t just wanting something and willing it into existence, this is willpower to go and do and be, not just sit on the sidelines waiting. Be like water, hold up ships, slip through fingers, be powerful enough to drown, soft enough to cleanse, and deep enough to save even if it's just yourself. (Okay, I acknowledge my bias. I'm a Water sign.)
Earth is the top of the pyramid and originally there was no spirit aspect at the top but I’ll get to that one shortly. Earth is "To be silent..." and is associated with the suit of pentacles, this is the Winter season and is associated with the North. Now, to be silent has two meanings. The first and frankly, I believe to be the more important, is about safety.
It’s not always safe to be anything other than one of the dominant Abrahamic religions and even then there’s stereotyping and stigma, but for Pagans and Witches, it is even more so. If you live in a rural area that is heavily conservative or Christian, you know what I’m talking about. People are still persecuted to this day around the world.
A woman lost her job from Panera Bread for being a Pagan and is suing them for discrimination, that happened in 2020. "To be silent..." is a reminder to be safe, honor, and remember all those who have been made to suffer and have even died for being Pagan or a Witch. The second reference to being silent is that your words have power. Whether you think of this in the psychological sense of negative thoughts or in the spiritual and magical sense towards manifestation, ‘so mote it be.’ Be careful with your words, be careful with your work.
Learning to live honestly with yourself should come before you decide to be open about your beliefs with others. Even then, "to be silent..." is a reminder that not everything need be shared. Sometimes less is more and the truly curious will listen to what you have to say rather than preach or condemn. This is not about being fearful, "to dare..." is to follow your own path even if it is a lonely one. While "to will..." asks for conviction and confidence. Choosing to share or not explain yourself to others takes nothing from you, "to be silent..." is be selective about where you spend your energy and who you share it with.
Finally, the point above the pyramid (in the two-dimensional sense) is Spirit. Now, this is the third thing I changed because originally, Spirit meant "To go/do..." but I thought that was a little too similar with "To will..." and "To dare..." as both ask a kind of action. This is also where we go from the 2-dimensional pyramid to the 3-dimensional.
The Spirit, for me, is "To be..." and is the culmination of all the prior elements below. The spirit is the center point where all others meet, this is the major arcana of the tarot.
This is also the traditional pentagram or pentacle, the spirit is when all things come together and you finally achieve wisdom. Though, I also associate wisdom with Earth but…everything overlaps if you really think about it.
So, when following the Witches Pyramid you can use your values/virtues, moral code, ethics, and principles behind them as a guide to help you as you go along in your craft or practice, whether that’s witchcraft or any other form of Paganism. This is just what I’ve done and how I try to live. Things will always change as you go through life, some things will remain like being kind. (Honestly, don’t ever see that one ever leaving.)
I’ll leave with one last final question to the new and the old Pagans and Witchlets to think on though… I hope you'll also leave a comment below with your response. I'd love to hear others viewpoints and how they live their craft or practice.
Do you seek your values or do you wait for opportunities to practice them to come to you?