There is a lot of talk about what exactly brings legitimacy in witchcraft practice. This idea that some particular knowledge or skill makes someone a “real witch” can stop us in our magical tracks. While knowledge is of course an important piece of any spiritual path, the contemporary ways in which many learn seem incomplete. As the old guard die off, younger generations of witches and occultists are left to figure things out for themselves and the misinformation they receive via social media trends and purely aesthetic voices in the pagan community often create laziness and a sense of entitlement. This is an unpopular view understandably, but as an older, established witch I can see the truth in it. Where I see entitlement rearing its head most these days is in disputes over initiation and closed practices.
Initiation is still a necessary practice in most forms of witchcraft and no, you cannot self-initiate. You can argue this, but the ways you have learned your craft wouldn’t have been available to you without the work of prior generations who completed processes of initiation in their respective traditions. Looking at the other side of this debate we do have to acknowledge the history of heretical practice in witchcraft. We consciously choose to live on the outside of the common belief and avoid the limits and dogma of religion when we pursue a solitary spiritual path. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to honor the spiritual ancestors of the paths we choose. Initiation is not just about your personal journey. It is a vow to do the best you can with the knowledge and power you’ve been given through your connection with a tradition. This vow is made every day as you learn and grow and particularly when you undergo initiation.
What is a closed practice? Most authentic traditions will be considered closed practices in that they aren’t just open to anyone who comes knocking. I use the word authentic here in reference to traditions with proven spiritual roots. Not those created by many 20th century charlatans. When many who are seeking discover that a path is closed, we hear claims of gatekeeping. What we identify as gatekeeping has been a part of traditional witchcraft practice for as long as we know. Not everyone can or should be a witch. In recent weeks, with the rise of the #BLM movement, there has been constant chatter about appropriation and misappropriation of indigenous spiritual practices. Contemporary witchcraft would not exist if different cultures and beliefs hadn’t merged at some point. This amalgamation is called syncreticism and it is very different from eclecticism in practice. There is knowledge everywhere but the keepers of this knowledge must be respected, particularly when the people who first practiced that spirituality have been disrespected, abused, raped, enslaved and murdered by the ancestors of those who now wish to claim that tradition as their own. No one is entitled to all witchcraft or magic. Consider your own blood ancestry and how they may have harmed people of another race or culture. You are of course not responsible for their actions but as a descendent, you may be carrying their spiritual burden and you most likely enjoy a world that was built to sustain your ancestors’ ideas of right and wrong.
Before you claim any spiritual path, you must do the work to learn about where and from whom it originated. Beyond this, you need to seek out a practitioner or two within that tradition and only with the approval of both that witch and the spirits of the tradition, should you move forward. Doing this will make your path true and you can practice as you wish in good conscience.