About three years ago, I began a meditation practice. This practice went hand-in-hand with my burgeoning Buddhism, the particular sect of which I prefer Theravāda. At my core, I am still a Buddhist – I believe enlightenment is possible and that the most direct route to free one from suffering is through meditation. Sometimes I confuse people when I tell them I’m also an atheist but Buddhism really doesn’t comment on the existence of God. Something about an organized religion not having theism involved in it strikes us as strange in our Christian-centric society.
To complicate matters further, I am also a witch. This is a bit newer of a revelation; about nine months ago I dipped my toes back into the waters of witchcraft. As a teenager, I had practiced Wicca for some time but eventually went back to my hardcore atheism because I was very edgy and logical. When the pandemic sent us all into lockdown mode, I found myself grasping for something that would help me feel like I had some tiny iota of control over my situation. And anyone who knows anything about witchcraft knows that it’s incredibly empowering. I wasn’t interested in returning to Wicca itself but a more freeform sort of witchcraft.
The only problem? A lot of its core philosophies come in direct contradiction to Buddhism. I’ll be honest – Buddhism took a bit of a backseat and I dove back headfirst into witchcraft. In the past few weeks, however, I’ve been trying to find a balance between the two and finding it to be less simple than just choosing to believe in both.
Theravāda is about pure meditation, no ritual;
witchcraft loves ritual
Maybe at first glance this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Just go the ritual route when casting spells and keep it simple when meditating, right? Sure, you can do that (and so far, it’s the choice I’ve forced myself into), but it does make one wonder at the purpose of each.
Theravāda says ritual is distraction – to end suffering, one must reach enlightenment. To reach enlightenment, one must meditate. That’s really the whole philosophy in a nutshell. Witchcraft, as different as it can be between its many variations, basically boils down to willpower/intention/sympathetic magic = results. This is a huge oversimplification of an incredibly multifaceted practice so please know that this is me speaking on my particular brand of witchcraft. Being an atheistic witch means I have no deity worship and my long-lived skepticism means that witchcraft to me is not so much a religion as it is a practice in manipulating subtle energy.
In order to channel that willpower and intention however, there is a general formula of how to go about protecting your energy, building it, releasing it towards a goal, and manifestation. Often it involves something called sympathetic magic, in which one gathers items which correspond to the goal of your magic. Candles, incense, herbs, stones, and so on all have magical connotations. You can get really quite complicated with it if you so choose. I generally keep it relatively simple. I work with the elements because the elements are observable energies in our world and it doesn’t take much to believe in their ability to lend power to things. I have a set pattern of things I do when I cast a spell. It usually takes me between thirty and sixty minutes to complete a ritual.
Compare this to Theravādan Buddhism; to meditate, all that is required is my mind. In fact, it is encouraged to keep it as minimal as possible. Candles, incense, herbs, stones, and so on are all distractions. The singing bowls which are associated with Buddhism originate from Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps the most ritualistic of all Buddhist sects.
Does this mean that one is “right” and one is “wrong”? Not necessarily. Meditation and ritual have different goals. But to any layperson going through my belongings, my altar and collection of spell correspondences would give my witchcraft away. Aside from a necklace with the depiction of the Buddha I received from a friend, there would be no evidence to suggest my Buddhism.
Buddhism taps into ancient eastern energies;
modern witchcraft is primarily based in European traditions
You might not think this really matters. And I know with certainty that many magical practitioners mix and match different gods and cultures as they please without a second thought. This is a personal quandary I have that some people may think I’m foolish for worrying about or even find offensive for me to suggest is an issue. I do want to preface this with the level-headed skepticism that over a decade of atheism lent to me: these are all beliefs. This means there is no evidence anything that either you or I say is true! So at the end of the day, believe what you want as long as it doesn’t harm other people.
Having given that disclaimer, my research has lead me to the conclusion that certain energies do not work well together. Mixing deities can potentially backfire as there’s a presumed bit of competition between different religious systems. I don’t work with deities so that specific bit of warning I’ve read doesn’t particularly pertain to me but I do feel the resistance of some energies rubbing against each other. Some things that I attempt to incorporate with my witchcraft feel almost dissonant due to the years worth of Buddhist energy I have built up in my system.
My workaround for this is to try and stay in touch with my personal energies. If something new that I try feels wrong, I don’t push it. That’s perhaps the most beautiful thing about witchcraft – it’s highly personal. You can subscribe to Gardnerian Wicca if you want rules and structure but I find the most satisfaction out of finding my path through a mix of intuitive experimentation and eclectic research.
Buddhism says to let go;
witchcraft says whatever you want is possible with willpower and intention
This is the biggest philosophical struggle between the two and it’s where I spend the most of my time trying to reconcile my belief system.
In the most bare bones of terms, everything is suffering. Existence is suffering. We suffer from the moment we are born to the day we die without any respite. This sounds really extreme. “Surely when I’m eating a delicious pint of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie I’m not suffering,” you might say. And your suffering might seem temporarily alleviated except it creates a cycle of craving. Your satisfaction is fleeting, and it only made you wish you had more. You think about how you can have more tomorrow. Until then, you suffer.
I always use ice cream as my illustrator of the phenomenon of suffering because it’s the metaphor that made me understand it. Happiness just creates a craving for a return to that state of being. Therefore, everything generates suffering even if it doesn’t seem to do so. So how to you end suffering? Let it come, let it be, let it go. Meditate, reach enlightenment, reach an understanding of suffering that transcends an intellectual understanding of it, and you will be free of suffering. Every other thing we do is simply a never ending cycle of temporarily staving it off.
I very genuinely believe everything I just wrote. So doesn’t that mean that witchcraft, that casting spells, and trying to change my life through its influence is simply feeding the cycle of suffering? Honestly, yeah. It’s not bringing me any closer to enlightenment; in fact, it might be hindering my path there by making me focus on what I want and how I can get it rather than simply accepting my life as it is in this present moment.
But like a friend of me said recently when we discussed being selfish with our time and energy to insure we’re content with our lives rather than giving that energy to other people: is that such a bad thing?
And though the circumstance is a bit different, my answer isn’t.
“I don’t have a good argument against it.”
So… are you going to choose one or the other?
For now, no. I am leaning back into my Buddhism which may result in me pulling away from my witchcraft a little simply because I only have so much time in my day. But for the time being, they can co-exist. And illogical or not, I enjoy being a witch. Making my own incense blend and programing items with my intentions and energy makes me feel good. Kicking back and basking in the cognitive bias of a moon in Cancer while I’m menstruating gives me a sort of peace with my place in the universe. It might not be getting me any closer to enlightenment but that’s okay with me right now. It’s where I am in my life presently.
Do you have any sort of religion or spirituality practices that seem to contradict one another? I would love to hear about it c: