The Third Path

“Three paths stretched before me. The right-hand path led to heaven, the left-hand path to hell, but the path betwixt and between led into the heart of the forest.”

Daughters of the Witching Hill, Mary Sharratt

Years ago, I had taken a break from my usual craft studies, which at that point in time had consumed most of my existence away from work, to read simply for pleasure. I’d been in a sort of limbo for a few years about what I was doing magically, why, and whether any of it was fulfilling anymore. My practice and the philosophy behind it felt stale but also shallow. When I first stumbled onto witchcraft at the end of the twentieth century, the idea was not just empowering but juicy, lush and decadent like a pomegranate at peak ripeness. I remember reading through Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (yes I read every entry the way most people read novels) like a person starved. I loved the old woodcut images, albeit sensationalized by the Christian media of their day, of witches dancing in circles around horned figures or elderly women calling off the names of their familiars.  Where were the old tales of the deep forests that these images invoked? Where were those who wanted to meet at the crossroads at night?

V0025811ETR Witchcraft: witches and devils dancing in a circle. Woodcut,So much of what I had found seemed surface level. The mysteries were simply the cycles of the seasons. Where’s the mystery in that? Mind you, three hundred years ago the seasonal cycles were all encompassing to agrarian societies, but there just had to be more to it.

And what of the old saying, “A witch that cannot curse, cannot heal”? Curses were either taboo or something only spoken of by attention-starved teenagers simply for shock value. Witchcraft in the late twentieth century seemed to have been scrubbed of anything that made it empowering or rebellious. It was no longer dangerous and other. It was attempting to mainstream, and thus spells were “the same as prayers” that worked if you believed they did, witches wore tie dye (the horror!), and the “magic” in the world was viewed just as a metaphor for the state of the human psyche.

Mind you, I had parroted the official speak, but it never did sit right with me, mostly because I never really believed it. It was like when you lied to your parents as a teenager about the meaning of the song lyrics on that CD you used to play all the time, right? Right? Except that in this case the official speak became the truth. The censored became the censors and witchcraft had been defanged from within in order to be more palatable to the masses. And many within the community felt compelled to toe the white witchcraft line. So I went back and forth for years. Popular witchcraft, after that first taste of freedom when I believed it was something other than what it was- that I had stumbled upon something REAL, was rather dull; a pallid impostor- a sickly changeling, perhaps.

Anywho, I was taking some time out from study and reading a novel based on the Pendle witch trials. The protagonist is Alizon Device. Just as she is prepared on the gallows in the last chapter she has a vision of two paths, but a new one appears in the middle between the two and the Queen of Faerie beckons to her. It is this that brings her comfort in the end. I had been searching for an answer, my thoughts weighing heavy, but a quick break from my intellectual pursuits in order to unburden my mind for a bit provided that answer- via a novel. At that moment, just as when I first called myself “witch” and the burdens of shame and guilt lifted from my shoulders those many years ago, so the new burdens of fear of cosmic returns, group alienation, and artificial magic lifted and the world was once again wondrous and awe-inspiring.

Through the years, so much more material has become available both online and in print. There are so many blogs to choose from and independent publishers that put out quality material. A student of traditional crafting is never left wanting. Those seekers not forced to start in the realm of neo-wicca are lucky indeed. They have not had to navigate that particular rite of passage as so many before them.

The title of this blog comes from the epiphany described above, so rest assured, it has nothing to do with the Clintons’ neoliberal political philosophy. The title is all about choices, even the ones we don’t at first perceive. So if you are ever facing two seemingly diametrically opposed choices, look for that third path. There the teacher beckons you forward. After all, the truth lies betwixt the horns.

forest at dawn



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