I first heard of the concept of existentialism long before I came across Sartre, Camus or Kiekegaard. I actually got it from Adrian Mole. I remember looking it up to find out what it meant (I liked learning impressive long new words to annoy my teachers at school) and becoming even more confused by the dictionary definition - I rather got the impression the Oxford English Dictionary compilers were having a similar problem to my own...they didn't get it either!
Thirty years later, I can put it down quite simply, the concept of existentialism is the idea that personal existence cannot be defined by an imposed criteria. Definition of the self is determined by both the actions of the individual and by what the individual perceives themselves to be. There are no constraints beyond that of the individual's own will. If a person wants to change the essence of themselves they can but they must accept the responsibility for the choice of doing so. Boiled down to its most basic premise, a person isn't so much what they are but what they do. By placing the individual, not their environment, as the primary focus, existentialism also implies a certain amount of disassociation between a person and the world they live in.
I think an interpretation of existentialism is very relevant to those who choose to practice witchcraft. I get a lot of young people asking me how they can 'become a witch' and my answer is invariably always the same – stop thinking about the label and just get on with being one. A witch practices witchcraft, if you choose to practice witchcraft then you're a witch. Its a simple as that in my view.
Its interesting though to get differing opinions on what makes a witch. The existential view would fit in with my own, its the doing that creates the definition. But there is of course a school of thought that witches are born and not made and this contradicts my own view entirely. Others believe that it isn't the doing, its the success of what you do that makes a person a witch. I can kind of see their thinking on this - the label itself means little if nothing is gained from the actions you perform - if all your spells flop you may well call yourself a witch but doing so won't have a very positive influence on your life. It is the act of doing but doing it successfully that makes you what you claim to be. And witch or not, labelled or not, if you can't use the powers you claim to possess in order to influence your own life for the better you should probably go back to the drawing board and look for a different path more suited to yourself as an individual.
I think there is a clear difference between what a witch does and how a witch behaves. The behaviour is the stereotype of what people perceive a witch ought to be. As an individual I behave nothing at all like I would popularly be expected to behave by those with a conformist view as to what a witch does. I don't dress in gothic clothes, I don't come across as mysterious and ethereal, I don't even come across as particularly wise or sensible. In fact, come to think about it, I often come across as a bit of a twonk! The essence of me as a witch is simply that – me - flaws, silliness and all. I don't choose to change my behaviours to fit in with the image that is expected of me on the path I've chosen and I'm entirely comfortable with that as how I am perceived has no bearing on my identity as a witch. I identify as a witch for the simple reason that I work with the craft on a daily basis and, humility aside, I'm very good at what I do. Its also important if we're relating this all back to existentialism to understand that personal identity is derived from the individual, not from the perception of oneself by others. I don't have to fit an image to prove to others I am a witch because the definition of what I am is determined by what I do, not what other people believe me to be. If you take this a step further, labels themselves become redundant. I don't need to call myself a witch in order to work with the craft - if what I do is what I am, I don't need to label myself anything in order to do it. Which is exactly what I'm getting at with my young witches. Throw away the preconceptions and just get on with it!
But the relevance of existentialism has a deeper link to the craft than the simple labelling of what it is to a witch. The concept strikes at the heart of what it really is to be a witch. A witch is to an extent the creator of her own reality. The real world becomes almost extraneous to the everyday existence of the witch. I see checking into the real world as a bit like checking my email, I do it most days but to be honest,I tend to ignore a lot of it. My reality is the world I have created for myself inside my head and I prefer it that way. (That's not to say the real world has no value or that all witches live in the clouds, the important thing to understand is not that witches live outside the real world but that they shape the real world with their own concept of what they want reality to be.)
On a day to day basis I use the powers I have attained through my study of the craft to manipulate the world around me and to actualise as much of my own reality as possible. Sometimes I mean this literally, I quite frequently spend eight hours or more in a meeting writing my novel while everybody else present thinks I am taking copious notes. I choose my reality to be the world of my novel, not the world of the meeting. (Of course being a witch with some pretty good hiding in public techniques does give me a bit of an advantage in doing this. I suggest those of you lacking this particular skill don't try it unless you fancy a telling off from your teacher or boss.)
Sometimes the leap is more of a mental one, again to give you an example, when I'm feeling particularly stressed I remove my mind from the situation and place myself mentally in the peaceful environment of my Grandmother's old house. Its important here to differentiate between the imagining of yourself in another place and the act of actually taking your mind to a different reality. I'm not saying it helps me to think about my Grandmother's house, I'm saying a witch will interchange realities to suit her purpose. This is taking existentialism to the next level and making the claim that not only does the essence of self rely on the perception of the self but so does the entire nature of the reality surrounding the self (well at least for witches anyway). If you can imagine what I'm saying, you're probably half way to being a witch already.
In addition to the alternative realities created and shaped by the individual's own imagination, a witch may of course also choose to visit other tangible realities. I'd be flamed from here to Yule if I implied the spirit world existed only in the imagination of the witch, of course it doesn't. A witch understands how to step between the worlds. Call it crossing over, hedge riding, slipping the veil, whatever... a witch isn't restrained by a single instance of reality. Her perception of the bridges between worlds is fluid enough to allow her to pass between them. Again, to relate this back to existentialism, the individual doesn't just become what they are by what they do, they can live in the reality that they choose simply by choosing to live in that reality. Or to put it more simply, if you believe that other versions of reality exist and you behave like other versions of reality exist, they exist.
There is of course very little discernible truth in the world. Even the simplest things are based on interpretation and belief. Reality isn't the absolute that so many people would have you believe. And next time somebody accuses you of living in a fantasy world, I'd feel a bit sorry for them if I were you. It must be very dull indeed to live in a world with a single solitary reality.
Image http://fav.me/d4xhr1n (ErinM31)
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