Prohibiting Magic as an Avocation

Disclaimer: This could very well all be wrong. There is no malice aforethought here.

Hoodoo has some interesting aspects to it: it’s the jazz of witchcraft practices. By that I mean it’s uniquely American in the continental sense of “America.” It also, in its principles, seems to steward every taboo known to Wiccan magic workers: it does have death spells, revenge spells and curses. Those coffin nails are not mullein, they are actual coffin nails. Conjure men and women charge for their magical services. These all make those outside the practice so uncomfortable that most do not realize there’s a lot more to the practice than the broken taboos.

I’ve been reading about hoodoo, and spending time on the LuckyMojo site. To clarify, hoodoo is not a religion, it is a magical practice with foundations in Abrahamic faiths. However, it seems pretty necessary for its practitioners to be people of very strong faith, and that is usually a religious faith.

My American-eclectic Wiccan religious outlook is unlikely to change. I believe strongly in reincarnation and in-life consequences for actions both spiritual and physical; I also believe in the absolute necessity of a feminine presence in the divine as well as a masculine one. I also think that God/divinity is utterly separate from religion, and while religions have unique beliefs and subsets of belief, they are at times outfits you wear while trying your road to a single, unknown  purpose that begins with  understanding what is.

Magical systems and traditions live in a strange area between religion and, for lack of a better and much more appropriate term, science. It often taps into some stream of energy that lives right next to what faith produces, but with slight flavor changes. What I get when I practice Ceremonial Magic differs just a little from how I feel when I perform a Wiccan-style uncrossing.

Hoodoo is jambalaya magic. It has the CM here and there, along with other forms of traditional/culture grounded witchcraft. It feels like it’s more about getting the job done than it is about perfecting the form.

…and  for a conjure man or woman, it’s a job. People get paid to do this.

I have not seen any indication it’s a lucrative job.

My wild guesses as it relates to Wicca

Wiccans do not charge for their magic. Even those not of Gardnerian lineage hold to this taboo. Wiccans do not ever earn livings working spells for people. It’s against our religion.

We do this because Gerald Gardner said no.

I wonder if Gardner’s intentions in banning witchcraft for remuneration wasn’t so much about avoiding charging for initiation – because honestly, how could you charge for something like that when delivering results is absolutely not in your hands ? – but in avoiding a resurgence of Craft as avocation.

The Paganism instituted in Wicca was separate and evolved away from the Christian/Pagan-influenced practices known to 15th century midwives and herbal practitioners. While I don’t believe for a minute that there exists a direct link between the wise women who lived out the Isles’ transition from Christian to Pagan and Gardner’s 20th century religious creation, I believe that their legacy has had an unavoidable impact on Wicca and Wicca’s current infancy. With all the anti-witchcraft laws still on the books in the 1950s, it makes sense not to allow someone to make money at that type of work. If you do that work for free, it protects you and anyone associated with you from prosecution.

Avoiding accusations of charlatanism and chicanery are a legitimate concern.

It’s a hard job to deliver results in magic, even to yourself. The blog RuneSoup talks all about why. It also talks about what you can do to change that.

Yet hoodoo practitioners promise results, and they charge for it. It appears to me that a good chunk of these Conjure People are quite honest and work hard. While Joss Whedon exaggerated the hell out of it with Willow in Buffy, magical practice does come with a physical cost and a needed recovery time. (I have never seen it as an addiction.)  I can understand offering payment, especially if unable to directly give the energy and time back.

Wiccans determined to live magically 24-7 have found some socially semi-approved ways to work around the taboo, by choosing or creating magic-related avocations that do not involve actual magic working.

For example:

  • Publishing/writing: Wiccans (along with other occult types) publish books and go on book tours/workshop rounds. This is very necessary to promoting any book. Author public performance is standard operating procedure in the publishing business these days. Despite our absolute reliance on the production of books for our faith practices, we still have a strange attitude toward the few who manage to do something with it full time.

I have encountered individuals who are vocally resentful of these authors daring to make money in exchange for the effort put forth. The irrational demonization of money extends to an irrational demonization of the authors. It also overlooks that the vast majority of these authors, even among the bestsellers, still have day jobs, or write stuff outside the occult sphere to make ends meet. A Pagan author’s life is not a rich one, at least, not by itself. Perhaps this is an expression of someone thinking they see a broken taboo.

  • Divination does not often receive this level of resentment. It’s almost a given that a Wiccan will, for a time, work or at least socialize as a tarot reader.
  •  Alternative healing techniques are OK as long as they’re trendy.
  • Metaphysical book shops are venerated but not always supported. It’s an example of the conflict between taboo and self-interest, with allowances made for metaphysical shops that don’t find out and offer what their community actually needs/wants for practice.

All this is more-or-less OK for avocation- as long no one actually uses any magic.

You can have an avocation that contributes to magical knowledge, as long as your avocation is not magic itself in Wicca. I realize that not all Pagan religions use magic, need to use magic, or want to use magic outside of ritual. Most covener Wiccans I’ve known in the past 10 years are also pretty comfortable with not using magic, and contributing all their energy to rituals and the established cyclic system in Wicca.

There’s a lot to be said for energy exchange, and a lot to be said for avoiding charlatanism. I find the difference fascinating, because I have to wonder – if the Wiccan religion did not explicitly ban magic as an avocation, how many people would take it up as a calling?