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The Disadvantage of Modern Witchy and Occult Scenes | Culture & Critique with a Christian Witch

Sometimes it can't be roses. Sometimes it's gotta be thorns.

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

Recently, I came across a solid compilation of a glaring problem that the #witchtok and #occult communities are having these days. It was funny. It made me giggle. But it also made me tired. As I talked about with Beck (@thestitchingwitch) already, it seems like it wasn't that long ago that one had to actually scour the local libraries in secret, use public computers to search things without parents looking over our shoulders, and sift through books by experts and hacks to see who was who. For Christian witches, especially, it wasn't that long ago since the only available two books on the subject were just haphazard blends of Wicca and Christianity, or memoir with absolutely no Biblical basis (and that's... honestly still kind of the case, at least until Discovering Christian Witchcraft drops).


Some years later, and the taboo around witchcraft has been all but lifted (save for in the more Hills Have Eyes style hyper-Baptist/Evangelical locations, I guess)—which is a good thing! People able to brush off annoying, preachy religious types and proudly follow a spiritual path that fulfills them is a luxury most did not have until very recently. However, it's a bit of a double edged sword, too, because these days, most folks can hop onto Tiktok and slide into the comments of their favorite creator, hoping to be fed information like a baby bird having regurgitated worms puked into its mouth. They can pop their question into a post on Reddit instead of a search engine and wait for someone else to do the work of curating sources (be they articles, webpages, or books) for them.


As a creator myself, I can say I have no problems with people asking me questions (in fact, I have an entire FIVE page dedicated to it), but I can't say that I'm not concerned with the way people try and offload the responsibility of research onto others. The reason these paths are called occult, you see—"occult" meaning hidden—is because this information isn't supposed to be so easily and freely available. People got killed for looking into these things once upon a time, and that's why they had to be hidden behind codes and metaphors and vague philosophical arguments to begin with. While it's a blessing that we can find these sources more readily now, the fact of the matter is that anything really good and worth reading or adding to your practice can't be spoon fed to you; you have to get out there and find it.


My content, while based in facts and lived experience and philosophical conclusions deriving from those facts, should only ever be considered a jumping off point. I do a lot for the sake of playing Spiritual Jackass. I make a lot of mistakes so others don't have to go through the wringer like I do. But that doesn't mean you can live your whole life watching someone else do the occult things for you; at some point, you gotta get in the ring and play Spiritual Jackass, too—and at some point, you need to do your own work to develop your own practice, and to ground it in solid facts, and to take some risks.


After all, growth doesn't happen in comfort. It happens in discomfort. So if you want to get more into the witchy world (and want to get as good of information as possible), here's some tips.


Make Use of Libraries and Scholarly Databases like JSTOR and Google Scholar

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

I understand that not everyone can afford to buy a bunch of books on the subject of witchcraft, and that's perfectly okay. You don't need to, anyway! What you can do is use either a free account or your college's library access to find all kinds of materials and resources that are guaranteed to have a more scholarly bend.


For instance, I'm a big fan of JSTOR in particular. They have a lot of good resources, including older ones from all throughout the 20th century, that'll give you a more anthropological and scholarly overview of the subjects you're trying to talk about. I've found some really useful sources here for my work that have opened my eyes to things that modern witchcraft circles will never tell you (because modern witchcraft circles are still a little lost in the Silver Ravenwolf sauce, to be honest). Wherever I can, I make sure to download the PDF so I have access to it at all times, regardless of internet connection, and so that I can print it out and mark it up for notes as needed.


That may make it feel a little bit like college, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? Research means research. It means reading things for knowledge, and learning to vet that knowledge. Sometimes you'll read things that are really dry and difficult to get through, but a healthy dose of interest in your subject will make it easier to read with enthusiasm and get through it. (It won't make extremely dense philosophical arguments and ideas any easier to parse, though, so don't feel bad if you end up spending ten minutes to read one paragraph over and over; that's just the nature of things sometimes).


Make sure you check out your local library, too. Most libraries these days also have online services where you can request books you're looking for to be transported to your library to pick up, and they also have e-book lending services that let you read on your tablet. That way, you don't need to pick through shelves all the time, and you can get the convenience of shopping online without actually spending money. Places like the Internet Archive, an online public library service, also have some good titles (like Matthew Fox's book on St. Hildegard and Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited, both of which I enjoyed on there).


And sometimes, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites can have really good information, too (I mean, hey—you've read plenty of good stuff on my blog!) but you have to make sure that you're looking at some credible sources before you believe everything someone says wholesale. Lots of people like to be confidently incorrect on the internet, and we see it time and time again on Dan McClellan's page as he corrects wild amounts of misinformation from all over the place using his expertise and study on the Bible.


But How Do You Vet the Sources You Find in Your Hands?

"Find good sources," I say—and believe you me when I tell you that there are ways to go about making sure those sources are good.


For one thing, a big mistake people make when looking up sources is not looking into who wrote them. I've seen sources on angels and Jewish Kabbalah that were in no way written by a Jewish person (but were published by big publishers like Llewelyn, who do tend to post some moderately questionable stuff in between some decent resources, too). Jewish Kabbalah is a closed practice, so if you were to learn about that, it's best to do so from the actual people with the authority to speak and teach on it.


A good example of this is James L. Kugel, who wrote one of my favorite resources, The God of Old. When I looked into him and discovered that he's an Orthodox Jewish professor at a university in Israel, I was pretty satisfied that he had the cultural and scholarly lens to be speaking about the God of what Christians call the "Old Testament." I wouldn't have wanted to get a take on this from a Christian perspective, as this would open us up to all kinds of Christian potholes, intentional or not (like supercessionism: the blatantly anti-semitic idea that Christians have replaced Jewish people as the rightful inheritors of the kingdom of God).


Another good example is Dr. Justin Sledge, who runs the YouTube channel Esoterica. He's also an Orthodox Jewish man, having the cultural authority to speak on things like Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, and he not only has a Ph.D. in the study of occult and esoteric practices in religion; he also is kind enough to put sources in his descriptions, which, after the wonderful jumping off points that are his videos, make it easier to find your next direction of study.


If the author doesn't look like anyone super special, though, your next place to look is the publisher. As I said, Llewleyn can be a bit hit or miss—but academic presses, like ones run and vetted by colleges and other academic or professional institutions? Yeah, I'd trust that—and that's why I trust sources like Robert Louis Wilken's Christians as the Romans Saw Them, which was published by Yale University Press. When you find sources that are published in professional journals or magazines, or that are published by reputable presses, you can be a little more at ease with the resource you're holding (though this doesn't mean quackery has never slipped past people and gone to print, so this isn't as foolproof as we'd like it to be).


Nonetheless, if you can match these together—finding a professional scholar like Kugel and a university press or other academic publisher—you've got a better chance of having a quality source.


Lastly, there's the issue of the bibliography. I have put books down that make unsubstantiated claims, even if those claims were compelling, because compelling is not the same as true. If the author can't be assed to tell me where they got their ideas from, I do not want them. Simple as that. Other books, however, ones that aren't necessarily written by a big shot scholar and haven't been picked up by a professional press, I still appreciate and cite regularly, because the bibliography they have in the back has sources I've been able to find, read myself, and verify as quality. A good example of this is Robert Conner's Magic in Christianity from Jesus to the Gnostics, which, while Conner himself isn't a hugely accomplished scholar or anything, and while the press that printed his book isn't a big shot publisher, makes me willing to put my stamp of approval on the source. There are some finicky things with it, but the information I'm concerned with holds up, and has been corroborated with other sources (like my Jewish Study Bible), which gives me some confidence that this book isn't talking entirely out its back end.


Another good example is me! I'm by no means a Biblical scholar on the level of McClellan, and my and my co-writer, Mimi's upcoming book, Discovering Christian Witchcraft, isn't being published by a scholarly press, but the resources I've curated are ones recommended by religious leaders and ones that have gone through this checklist I've given you here (so you know that works cited is gonna be good).


The rare times I've seen this not apply so much is in the case of true occult materials, because obviously, talking to demons isn't the most academic thing people spend their time on—but even then, authors like Dr. Thomas Karlsson have some better stuff than the typical, hyper-self-published, Edgelord Supreme materials. And of course, there's always going back to the classic sources like Agrippa, Weyer, and other such men who focused on occult philosophy and demonology during the height of the European witch trials. So remember that checklist, and remember to have at least one to two things from that list each time you pick up a source:

  1. Author Credibility

  2. Publishing Press Credibility

  3. Bibliography Credibility

And stay discerning as you read. Remember you don't have to agree with everything a book says just because it's in a book. Find opposing arguments and viewpoints to get well rounded ideas. Put in the effort to know what the hell you're talking about.


Learning to Read Between the Lines and Get Creative in Occult Practice

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

Now, you may be saying to yourself: "But Sara! Only two of those things you mentioned actually had anything to do with witchcraft and magic!"


You're right. Know why?


Because "occult" means hidden. Which means no one in these academic journals is going to spoon feed you information like the hyper-decorated Witch Books™ you find in the Spiritual section at Barnes & Noble. You may be used to going in there and plucking a book off the shelf that consists entirely of pre-written love spells—cookbooks, as some esoteric folks call them, because they take the uniqueness and individuality straight out of the craft by telling you exactly how many rose petals to sprinkle on your pink candle—but rolling in the more niche and specific paths means doing some work, baby.


Unless you want to stay a Wiccan your whole life. You can do that too. Plenty of books from Llewelyn are written by and for Wiccans, pretty much spoon feeding you everything there is to know about being a witch in the modern age and giving you some good introductory looks at a lot of spirits that they like to mishandle and divorce from their original contexts. But if you're trying to get into anything more narrowed down, or more culturally defined than just the Lord and Lady, then you'd best get yourself some real academic books on the subject.


For instance, it wasn't a scholarly resource on worship in ancient Greece that told me that there was "no wrong way" to encounter the goddess Persephone. There was a Wiccan one that did that, though, and that's the kind of rhetoric that got me royally messed up when I went to approach Greek gods at all. Turns out there is a wrong way to do it, and I was wrong as hell. So honestly, be wary of those witch books, because they have the tendency to say a lot of bullshit under their pretty, professionally produced covers.


But when I say reading between the lines, I mean that these scholarly sources aren't going to tell you the exact step-by-step formula on how to do witchcraft. They are going to give you some clues as to what counted as magic, which you can then break down like a pistol and see all its moving parts to recreate it yourself. Hell, even the Bible has all kinds of stuff like that, and by reading scholarly study versions like the Jewish Study Bible, I can get more context on what the hell is happening in there, to the point that I can actually break apart something like Leviticus 14 and reconstruct it for modern magic. I can read Jesus's words about having the faith of a mustard seed and cross reference it with Damien Echols' idea that a magician should be able to work powerful magic with just their own energy and understand the connection. I can read an anthropological source about what people thought about witchcraft in my ancestral lands, Slovenia, as well as folktales and other lore, and drag out the methods of crafting counter curses (or just read about the counter curses typically used, as once I was lucky enough to find a paper about that specifically).


Then, of course, I actually have to put all that theory into practice and see if it works or not.


Because that's the big kicker there: most of all, I have agency. And chutzpah. Meaning if I want to know more about King Belial and don't have what old school magicians say I need to contact him—like a sphere of brass and a piece of precious metal to engrave his sigil on and all that—I can cross reference what knowledge I do have on him with my modern understanding of the craft and create something entirely new. If King Belial is earth based, for instance, and I don't have any precious metals to laser his sigil into, who's to say a potato with his sigil drawn on it won't do just as well?


(Elitists who want to feel better about wasting time and money on shit they really don't need while doing zero actual practice to get the same results, that's who. I said what I said.)


Sometimes, when all else fails, you just need to take what you can find and spin it into something new. You gotta stop waiting for the moment you have all the knowledge, because you never will. You have to be willing to throw yourself in the deep end, because on a path like this, absolutely nobody else is going to care enough to; if anything, people will be trying to drag you away from the pool entirely. So be bold, be brave, and be willing to roll your sleeves up and get a little spiritually banged up for the sake of trying things out and seeing what works. Like a chemist mixing things together and hoping it doesn't blow up in their face, there comes a time where all the learning in the world won't help you if you never get to work and try it out yourself, or try to make new things from the compilation of old things. It's a practice for a reason: no good artist becomes a good artist just by looking at art and never picking up the brush.


So get after it already. You know you can do it, if you just take the time to try.

 
Where the Gods Left Off, Pagan, Christian, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Religion, Medium, Psychic

I finally got all this formatted and sent out for a proof print. That means it's time to proofread it, add the last pictures and details, and get the e-book properly situated, and then we're just waiting around for release day.


I'm having a sale price right now. Printing this thing is expensive, more so than I thought it'd be, so the 19.99 price is only available from now to release day on September 20. If you want to lock in that price for the print book, make sure you do so now, and thanks for following along with me on this entire journey since.


Now that we're about done here, though, we'll be looking back at Discovering Christian Witchcraft to get that ready for printing by March 1st, 2024. Then I'll be taking a long break from nonfiction and academic work to get back into where my heart and soul really lives: fiction writing.


I've got so many ideas that need to be written down. In the meantime, check these works out!



 

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her s


piritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover


God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.



Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.


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