Witchcraft – Whence and Wither?

The academic study of Witchcraft (and Western Esotericism) is progressing, in pace with many other d

The growth in the practice of Witchcraft has been substantial, since the 1950’s when the last Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed in England. It is estimated that there are approximately 40,000 “Pagans” in England and Wales (UK Census, 2001), with over 7,000 of these mainly white, middle-class, and significantly female, respondents identifying themselves as ‘Wiccan’.

I have just returned from the inaugural conference of ESSWE, the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, held in Tubingen, Germany, to be asked by the New Statesman online team to write this introduction to Witchcraft. It appears that the religion is now recognised in both Academic circles and in the Media, an acknowledgement of its status in post-modern society.

In popular culture, on television I can watch repeats of the witchcraft-based popular films, Charmed, Bewitched, or the series Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, featuring the Wiccan heroine, Willow, or even Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

At a more dedicated level, at the ESSWE conference, an academic gave a presentation on the three-year Priestess Training Program offered by the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.

The words diverse and eclectic barely do justice to the growth and variety of all forms of restored pagan spirituality!

The growth in interest in all the forms of Witchcraft is continuing apace. Self-initiated solitary witches, Hedgewitches, concentrate on the craft and folklore aspects of paganism, Dianic Witches focus on the Feminine, and Progressive Witchcraft calls for a re-evaluation of contemporary practice. Camps and Conferences, such as Witchfest are annual events attracting hundreds of participants.

The Internet is a significant tool in this expansion. In fact, whilst the internet was developing, witches were already active within the nascent online communities. The 1985 survey by Margot Adler, published in the comprehensive study of American Pagans, Drawing Down the Moon, was surprised to discover that 16%, the highest single percentage for any profession, of pagan respondents were involved in Computers and Technical careers.

The online, Magicka School has 25,000 members who have signed-up for lessons in Witchcraft, Tarot and Kabbalah since March 2006, and the site receives 1,500 new members a month. It attracts students from all over the world, primarily in the US and Europe, who follow modular online courses, take exams, and engage in lively forums ranging from “Brews and Broths” to “Spellbinding Books”.

Will Witchcraft continue to develop and attract more participants? I think so. The religion of Witchcraft is pre-attuned to growing environmental concerns and offers an antidote to the technological rush of modern society. It speaks to a discarded connection with nature and the feminine. It tolerates divergence and independence, and establishes a personal relationship with the seasons. This wheel of the seasons is seen as both an external occurrence, but also as an exemplar of dynamic inner change, learning and development.

We started this four-part series with an individual initiation inside a magical circle, and now our circle here can be made open but unbroken. Blessed Be.

Marcus Katz is an MA student of Western Esotericism at Exeter University. He is a teacher of Witchcraft, Tarot and Ritual Magick in the Lake District at the Far Away Centre
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.