Instinctive Witchcraft

Many years ago, Steve Wilson gave a talk entitled Archaic Witchcraft. One of the things he said was to remember how you imagined witchcraft would be when you were a kid. What thrilled you about the idea? What did you imagine that witches did? And then he suggested creating a Witchcraft to fulfill those childhood dreams. He proposed calling it Archaic Witchcraft. I suppose it could also be called Instinctive Witchcraft.

It would look different to different people, because everyone probably had slightly different imaginings of witchcraft. It probably includes a hefty dose of animism and talking to trees.

I remember the first time I tried to make a magic potion. It smelt awful. But it was fun. I remember the very first time I tried talking to trees. I have C.S. Lewis to thank for that. I also remember the witch in one of Cynthia Harnett’s novels, who traced sigils in the ashes of the hearth. That idea is a bit tricky if you don’t have a hearth.

Your instinct might be to converse with the waters, look for pictures in the fire or in the clouds, or to commune with rocks. Whatever it is, do that. Make your own sigils. Tie magical knots. Find your own symbols and work with them. Converse with your local river or hill or tree.

A book that I found really helpful in this process is The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci, by Barry Patterson. It invites you to explore your local landscape, geology, folklore, flora, and fauna.

Obviously this can be problematic in a colonized land, which is one of the reasons why making your own relationship with the land is important, rather than taking elements of someone else’s relationship with it. But it’s good to learn the Indigenous names of the places around you.

There are a lot of witches on Instagram and Tumblr who seem to be practising an instinctive or folkloric form of witchcraft, and good for them.

There’s also a great conference in the UK called the Nameless Arte, which is mostly about folkloric witchcraft, but also includes people talking about practices they’ve developed instinctively from interacting with the land.

The great thing about instinctive witchcraft is that you can do it with pebbles and twigs and ash and herbs — it doesn’t cost much, if anything. Just space and time and imagination.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my books, Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft and The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation.

4 thoughts on “Instinctive Witchcraft

  1. I absolutely love this idea. Working with nature and following intuition makes so much more sense to me than scripted rituals. I’ll have to look that genius loci book up!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t mind scripted rituals but— and this is a big but — their purpose is to enact ritual drama for cathartic purposes and they shouldn’t be the only mode of ritual that people engage in. When doing a scripted ritual, people must put down their scripts when they’re not reading from them, and watch the acting of the other participants. And even better, have a fairly minimal learnt framework within which you can extemporize. Hmm I can feel another book coming on.

      You would love the genius loci book. It’s truly wonderful. I must dig it out and read it again.

      Currently reading Priyamvada Gopal’s excellent book, Insurgent Empire.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am always interested to see how people practice the craft by instinct rather than very formalized rituals.

    I also love the cover art for your books. I’m adding them to the list of things to read along with all the bazillion others I have. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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