Are you looking for something to fulfill your spiritual needs aside from religion? Are you looking to expand your esoteric knowledge? Are you wanting to get in touch with your inner selves and other spiritual entities? Are you wanting to have a spiritual connection with nature and all her aspects? If you answered yes to any of these then you may have thought about witchcraft in some capacity.
The first thing, in my opinion and experience, is to find your niche. We need to find which path you feel most comfortable with. The best way to do that is to learn and read up on any and all sorts of different paths that catch your eye. Which you feel most comfortable for you or even calls to you is a good fit. Keep in mind that this may continue to evolve over time as it has for myself and so many others.
Once you find your chosen system you can also go through and see which tools you want to use and what works best for you. In my practice, I will still use traditional tools like the athame (ritual knife), cauldron, bells, wand, and more, but mostly I found that doing more constructive type of casting like those found in Voudon or classic Celtic traditions. What I mean is that I make poppets (dolls), wreaths, charms, jewelry, books, bossoms (brooms) and basically anything else I can. The other thing I often do is to use food and herbs. I cook my magick into meals and treats, make medicines and potions. There are so many things you can do and it’s all available to you.
How would you like to practice? Do you have a talent not magically inclined? Are you an artist, crafty person, carpenter, computer savvy, mechanic, cook, writer or any one of a million different things? You can incorporate your talents/skills with your conjuring/casting. Do you have dreams that seem to come true or have a strong sense of Deja Vu regularly? You may be most successful with astral works and divination.
Once you have found your system or systems, if you, like many others, have chosen to be eclectic and use multiple systems, you can begin diving in! This is where the fun really starts picking up speed! Now we know what your starting path is so let’s see if you want to use a set of gods, goddesses, elementals, or spirits. Did you want to work with one specific one or many? Most use more than one but have one or two patrons that we tend to favor. Often times you may feel drawn towards specific ones, but may not like them. This is often recognized as that entity choosing you and calling out. Finding myths, legends and origin stories are a great way to learn about your power beings you’re working with.
Note: just because you’re working with an entity doesn’t mean you are worshiping that being. In the most basic of ways to explain it is imagine you take your car in for an oil change. You give the mechanic (your entity you’re working with) specific instructions and giving them your intent of getting the oil change (the spell or ritual) and you wait patiently as they go to work for you trusting they are performing the request fully and correctly. Then they will ask for payment either before or after the work (a small task, offering or sacrifice). Not all witches/practitioners follow a religion or worship any deities. That’s a choice and one you can choose to or not follow.
Some have the misconception that we are all tree hugging hippies. My chosen systems aren’t so, but I am still concerned about nature and the state our environments are in. There are a growing number of technomancers out there who work magick with technology. This isn’t wrong nor ineffective. Magick is an awesome thing and is only bound by the limit of your imagination and understanding.
What is occultism?
The dictionary definition of “occult” means “hidden” or “secret”. Occultism is the study of knowledge hidden or secreted away from the mainstream of society. However, modern parlance usually implies that this “secreted” and “hidden” state means “not understood or accepted by mainstream society or the natural sciences” rather than any notions of hidden cabals of occultists operating from the shadows of society. An occultist is somehow who studies or practices techniques utilizing this information often with the intent on creating change in him/herself or in reality via the art of magick.
To give some examples: In a classical setting, this may refer to the teachings of the Mystery Schools of Egypt or Greece. In a tribal/pastoral setting, it would be the knowledge held by shamans, rootworkers, and cunning-men. In a modern light, occultism could be the psychonauts who explore the unknown regions of human consciousness and its untapped potential.
Is it a religion?
While some schools of occultism utilize or worship god-forms in their rituals, there is not a universal pantheon, deity, or even theology to which all occultists adhere to. Some occultists are quite devoted to a particular pantheon or god-form while some are completely atheistic. It goes without saying that we are not all Satanists or demon-worshipers out to steal your baby, slay your cat, or take over the world. Not all practitioners are religious, yet have a relationship with the entities they work with, or simply utilize them as just another tool in their ritual toolbox.
What is magick?
“the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”
This is the quote thrown at those who wish to understand magick though it barely explains anything. In simplistic terms, magick is the ability to achieve a desire through indirect means through focused intent. The mechanics of how this desire is achieved varies according to the school of thought. Common explanations include divine/spiritual intervention, energy manipulation, parapsychology, psychology, and convoluted models based on chaos theory and quantum physics.
Is it real?
To quote Nick Dutch, occultism is an experiential and experimental phenomenon and anyone who gives you hard and fast answers regarding its “reality” is full of shit or trying to sell you something.
Try some basic rituals and see what happens. Remember, the thinker thinks and the prover proves.
Other users have also tackled this subject if you care to read it.
Where do I start?
Read and then read some more. Feel free to ask questions, but also remember that occultism is highly personal and no two practitioners will give the same answer. The first step, though, is to figure out what you are looking for. Are you interested in spiritual transformation or more interested in getting material results? Do you want to Rend the Veil of the Temple or pay homage to the Horned God and Lady of the Stars? Maybe you want to summon Cthulhu to give your asshole nightmares?
What books should I read?
Transcendental Magick, by Eliphas Levi
The Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie
Magick: Book 4 Liber ABA, by Aleister Crowley
Modern Magick, by Don Michael Kraig
The Training and Work of the Initiate, by Dion Fortune
The Kybalion, by The Three Initiates
My Life With The Spirits, by Lon Milo Duquette
The works of Austin Osman Spare
The works of Peter J Carroll
Condensed Chaos and Prime Chaos, by Phil Hine
Quantum Psychology and Prometheus Rising, by Robert Anton Wilson
Chaotopia!, by Dave Lee
Advanced Magick For Beginners, by Alan Chapman
Pop Magick!, by Grant Morrison
Principia Discordia, by Malacalypse the Younger
The Pillars of Tubal Cain and Call of the Horned Piper, by Nigel Jackson
The works Andrew Chumbley and Daniel Schulke
The writings of Robert Cochrane
The Satanic Bible, by Anton Lavey (Church of Satan)
The works of Donald Webb (Temple of Set)
The works of Michael Ford (Luciferianism)
NAOS: A Practical Guide to Modern Magick (Order of the Nine Angles)
Energy Work, by Robert Bruce
The Psion’s Handbook, by Sean Connely
The Frontiers of Noetic Science Anthologies
Neopagan/Wiccan/New Age Witchcraft
Collective works of Scott Cunningham
Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland
The Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton
Book of Shadows by Gerald Gardner
My own personal experiences