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growth in the practice of Witchcraft has been substantial, since the 1950’s when the last Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed in England.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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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