Recently I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about “Old School” versus “New School” witchcraft. But, as the terms are being thrown around, it’s been a struggle for me to find a set (or at least widely accepted) definition for what each term actually embodies- it seems like what goes into which category depends largely on the person using the terms.
→ Generally, it seems like “Old School” witchcraft is used to describe formal rituals and long-standing folk traditions or practices that have been passed down through generations.
→ But for “New School” witchcraft, people seem to be using it left and right (and sometimes in borderline derogatory ways)- as all positivity and no darkness, or just “love and light”. Others use it to describe newer traditions or practices that have gained popularity recently. I’d heard some people describe it as practices based on just positive intentions.
As someone who is very Eclectic in their practice and doesn’t follow a set tradition, I’m leaning more towards classifying my practice as “New School” witchcraft, but the lack of clarity around the term makes it hard to adopt as a label
What are your thoughts on this? Do you lean more towards “Old” or “New” witchcraft in your practice? Or do you prefer not to label/classify it at all?
I consider myself eclectic, as well. I don’t have a problem with how other people approach witchcraft or if they choose to go only with love and light approaches. There are legions of practitioners who do that. I personally have not seen borderline derogatory works by inexperienced or New school witches. But I have personally experienced that with a few old school, traditional witches. I consider those to be isolated cases. I think it is a reflection of societal changes and it is reasonable to expect people to align their practices with their values and lifestyles, instead of feeling compelled to adhere to practices that evolved in other centuries, even the ones that were created in the 1950s most likely do not reflect the values of today. For example, in traditional witchcraft, if I am not mistaken, there is a significant and understandable emphasis on secrecy. But in our age of transparency, technology and increasing tolerance and inclusion, secrecy is not seen as a strictly desirable value, and it is not always perceived as a safeguard. I love Rider Waite tarot cards but I also appreciate newer decks that are more diverse or that present themes that resonate with different people. I think it’s interesting how practices and symbolism associated with witchcraft (especially lunar magick!) are becoming fixtures in popular culture, at least in the U.S. and U.K. W Magazine publishes a “Witch Week” series of articles, Seventeen and Cosmopolitan Magazine regularly feature articles on witchcraft, Five Below sells books on witchcraft, there are Disney Tarot cards and witchy toys are marketed children (e.g., Magic Cauldron, crystal jewelry making sets), just to name a few examples.
I don’t want to sound like 'old blue eyes" (Frank Sinatra for the kiddos)
I do it my way.
PS: My Dad loathed Sinatra. Back in the '40s, He was the Elvis of the day. Mom once told me that her sister and she were making ‘girl’ noises over a Hollywood magazine. Oh my! My mom said you’d think I was kissing Hitler. Dad called the singer many unfortunate names denigrating his heritage and birthright etc.
In the sixties, when JFK was assassinated, (My Goddess, that was a vile day.) Dad informed the entire family that,
“That 'filthy rotten Son of a B----en, d-----, W–, B------, Was a no good gangster. a criminal…a…commm-u-nist. Now he’s killed our President. What a dastardly crime!” He could really cuss, my dad could.
Well, Dad didn’t go Irish War God often, but when he did, we all sat on the couch and nodded our heads at the appropriate intervals. (Like German Shepard Bobbleheads"). When he had run down to occasional, humph…cuss more…humph, etc. We would slowly slink out of the room and that was mom’s cue to go in and settle him down.
He wasn’t physically violent but wow, could he cuss. But all evening as he watched TV, he would occasionally growl 'Humph. Cuss, cuss. etc. But by morning mom had settled his temper. He wasn’t really mad at Sinatra, but the man made a good target for his fear, anger, and sense of grief.
The Irish God types are like Nitro. It takes very little to send them into berserker mode. Thank God he was all noise and not action or he’d have destroyed Texas.
Hmm, I suppose I am both Old School and New School. I take what I like from both and/or what works best for me. I have a physical and a digital BOS. Before I joined Spells 8, I didn’t know that journaling, writing and drawing is a form of magick. I used to think that all magick was potions, lotions, oils, crystals, candles, and tarot cards. Hey, maybe I just defined Old School and New School magick.
I think @mary25 is right. Secrecy is stressed more in Old School witchcraft (for understandable reasons). It was illegal until the 1950’s to publish non fictional books about magick. And of course, centuries of persecution. But the world, at least my part of the world (the US) is becoming (albeit slowly) less hostile towards pagans, so absolute secrecy isn’t necessary anymore.
@TheTravelWitch_Bry I think I tend to be on the ancient nature side - I am less old school (I don’t like formalized rituals with exceptions) and I am not necessarily eclectic or chaotic or new age, but I’m learning more about crystals, and pantheons and other forms of magick. I like to honor the old traditions from way way back before the 1500’s even, and use more up to date ingredients and items that make my life easier to do the magick.
I had never heard the two phrases before today so I’m not sure where I fall here. I’d say probably a mix of both? There are some things I do that are steeped in traditions and folklore much older than I am. Then there are things I whip together in the moment that many traditionalists might scoff at It would be cool if there were actual definitions between the two but, if I’m being completely honest, it seems like another way that one group of people is looking down on another.
We’ll be middle-aged school witches together
I think this is a really succinct explanation, to be honest. Of course things are going to change over time and usually it’s the older generations (not singling anyone out, just generalizing) that have more not-so-nice things to say. It reminds me of the phrase of "Back in my day, we had to climb two mountains and walk to school barefoot in the snow!" because it’s almost saying that because information is so accessible these days, modern witches or New School witches don’t know how easy they have it. There’s two sides to that coin, though.
I wouldn’t expect any other response from you Garnet that sums up your practice perfectly!
I would hate to have to be secret about it I got enough of that when I was younger and now I really don’t care anymore
I think this would make you a mish-mash of both! You can join @Amethyst and I in being middle-aged school witches We need to start a club!
I hadn’t read or heard of this distinction until now and I hope what I say doesn’t come off as negative because I don’t intend it that way. Speaking as another eclectic, I think I am always striving to combine old/traditional practices with new/modern practices. For me, dividing things between old and new is helpful for classification, but doesn’t define meaning in terms of my praxis or the philosophy/belief that underpins my ritual. And, speaking as someone who also defines themselves as Wiccan after too many years of trying everything else and deciding to accept who and what I am, too much classification gets my mind worrying about things for which it doesn’t have to worry. Lastly, for myself, I am more interested in learning how others practice and what I can learn from them than adding more division to the conversation.
What a fabulous topic. I don’t know for sure. I’m still so new I don’t feel like I can actually answer. I think there is a place for the ancient, I think that our sisters and brothers of the craft worked so hard to keep that knowledge alive for us that we would be remiss not to acknowledge and celebrate their ways. They endured so much so that we could access the knowledge and power that they had. There is definitely an important place for our ancient traditions and heritage. They are mystical in a way that I doubt we could replicate.
However, I’ve learned a lot over the past 9 months and I’ve learned that I have to do what feels right to me. I am so blessed to have many teachers (you all!) and you have never steered me wrong. From using a coffee grinder to grind up herbs, to printable spells and digital grimoires, magic in the moment and group rituals that span the globe… I’m not sure where I’d be without a little new age in my life. I probably wouldn’t be a witch. This community has shaped me into what I am, it’s given me access to the information I needed when I needed it, friends to turn to when I’m not so sure, discussion and challenges to push me past my comfort zone. I think our brothers and sister who practiced in secrecy and suffered some of the most brutal and unfair persecution would rejoice with us today.
Thank you so much to everyone for sharing your thoughts- I really appreciate hearing and learning from you all!
Absolutely! Hahaha I love this- I think I may join you all in the “Middle School” Witchcraft club
This is really well-said, Mary I agree that secrecy does tend to be a prevalent theme in “Old School” witchcraft and long-standing traditions (some of which seem to be so well-guarded that they seem not to even exist on the web). It’s easy to see how safety played a big part in why discrepancy was so important, and yes- as technology developed and societies changed their laws/opinions around witchcraft, secrecy became less essential. I’d even suggest that secrecy can put some traditions in danger of fading out these days, while having a well-kept online presence is what makes other traditions thrive in modern society.
Thank you for your very eloquent input on this!
Go, Garnet! You do you!
(Also the “German Shepherd Bobbleheads” had me chuckling- what a great image! My dad isn’t much of a cusser, but we definitely had our “bobblehead” lecture moments growing up too )
It sounds like you’ve built some good definitions of the terms, Kasandra! I agree and I think it’s pretty safe to categorize journalling and things like art magick into more “New school” trends- I may be wrong, but these aren’t things I would associate with ancient traditions of magick.
That sounds like a beautiful and respectful balance- using time-honored wisdom and traditions while incorporating modern ingredients. Maybe it’s just a personal thought, but I think the idea of using what is in season and available is probably closer to the ideals of the ancients then bending over backwards trying to source the same ingredients they had way back in the day
There’s actually a fun cooking channel I follow where they try to recreate ancient recipes! Some of the ingredients are still in use today (albiet changed with time) while others are extremely hard to come by but still fun to see! Here’s the video they did on hippocras (European medieval spiced wine):
You know, I think “traditionalist” is a better (and easier to visualize) word than “Old school witch”. I like this!
Unfortunately, that seems to be the trend when I’ve seen these terms in use. I don’t want to generalize or point fingers, but it does seem to be one group trying to put themselves above or validate themselves more than the other group. Which is tough and kind of strange, because it’s really hard to tell who is who when so many of us fall somewhere in the middle
Maybe these types of labels that try to draw a line down the middle aren’t the best types of labels. After all, I can’t think of any discourse between the many “specialty” labels (Green, Hedge, Kitchen, White, Sea, etc.). Interesting to think about, and something I’ll be keeping in mind whenever I’m explaining my Craft to someone!
I fully respect this and I don’t think it came across as negative at all, Ben! And even if it did, please know that you are always warmly encouraged to share your thoughts. Respectfully challenging or pursuing the topic in a different way helps us all learn and see things from new angles, which is so valuable in the Craft
I completely agree about the problem with overclassification and how it can quickly become overwhelming trying on the many (potentially infinite) labels and types of magick out there. While some find them reassuring and helpful in building their identities, there are also those who thrive in the freedom of no labels at all. At the end of the day, I think happiness comes from doing what works best for you- labels or not!
Thank you for sharing your input on this!
And isn’t the best thing one can be! If you are you, then you are thriving in your Craft- whatever name or freedom from names you choose to go by
I love this so much Awww Ailey, I really felt your post- gosh, this was all so sweet and so well-written! I think you’ve summed up beautifully the benefits of each side, and how- rather than contrast- they can really compliment each other. There are a lot of benefits and good balance in having aspects of both “old” and “new” within your Craft!
I haven’t heard of these terms either and agree with many of you here - this sounds a bit like an ignorant ‘Ok, boomer’ descriptor, which I abhor. Can any of us truly know what “Old School” is unless we’re descendants of centuries old familial witchcraft? Even those, historically, have great variabilities from one coven to the other, I believe.
I would have to assume that “New School” is being benignly used to describe the inclusion of New Age principles to witchcraft. Although I don’t ascribe to New Age concepts myself, it’s inclusion by many shows that witchcraft is a dynamic practice. It’s capable of growing, modernizing, and as we all know, surviving existential threats.
These terms may be the perfect example of each of us practicing “If it hurt none, let it be.”
I honestly have a great interest in old school, but when i hear people say past it down through generations i tend to feel a little left out… New school is obviously where i am at with witchcraft and my practice as it all comes through newer sources such as authors, you guys, etc., but that doesn’t mean i rule out old school altogether. I tend to try to look into the history of witchcraft as thats where it was born and how we came to be today. So i am a new practicing witch with mostly new school methods but incorporate old school too…
As for light and dark magick, i am neither one or the other but am both. We can’t rule out or darker side no matter how light or bright we want to be. Yes i focus on the positive 99% of the time, but if we block out or dark side we are just denying our true selves and not accepting or acknowledging this side of us. They say you should love both the better qualities and the not so good one in partners so we should also learn to do this for ourselves to so we can truly be the best witch version of ourselves…
I hope i am not upsetting anyone by saying this and this is just totally my opinion and am happy to hear from others as i am sure they too have a unique way in their craft.
Love and light (and darkness i should say)
This is true also. Older traditions were very secretive and i get why, but now people are more open to their practice and although their is still judgement and in some countries such as Saudi Arabia i heard, it is so illegal there is an actual department for finding and prosecuting witches (sad i know), most people in western countries if not find an interest and ask, will just look the other way if they are unsure.
Honestly my mum had to she said because they were family of 11 kids and mum and dad, and her father was the only working person in the household at the time, she had to go barefoot to school sometimes and even stepped on barbed wire… To make matters worse, she got teased by ‘richer’ farmer boys… Boy times have changed and i believe this is why although my mum is the kindest person out there and wouldn’t hurt a fly, she is extremely strong and will get through anything
This is so true! I mean what would i call myself for starters? A Muslim Solitary eclectic new/old traditional witch who follows Wiccan practices? Labels are not important as long as you know yourself who you truly are
Yes me too where would i be without delivery to door services lol. And without a doubt if i was in a different era as the witch i am today, without a doubt i would either be in a gaol cell or stones to death at the very least… Thank the gods and goddesses we have the internet too. Where would i be without you all
I know i see this too. I mean we are all witches at the end of the day and i believe regardless of what stage you are at as a witch even as a person (rich/poor, male/female, etc.), we are all just humans at the end of the day and should be celebrating this not trying to put down someone or put ourselves above others. Who is to say i am better than my neighbour for example? I am not and like to see people’s individual qualities. That’s why we are so great as we are all unique and at the same time no better than each other and can share different thoughts so we can better ourselves and practice too