by Catherine Winther
‘Faith. What about faith? What about my ravenous doubt?’ Is perhaps one of the most common questions I get as a reader, teacher, counsellor, and even when I was a psychologist.
Belief is to hold something as true despite an absence of supporting evidence.
Given how little humans know about the Universe we inhabit, belief is an essential psychological construct needed to maintain our sanity and society on a daily basis if nothing else.
Questions of faith and doubt dog me, too. From a very early age I was drawn to magick but I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.
How did all of these beautiful and confident people seem to have such unwavering faith not only in themselves but in their path and the energies they worked with?
How did they make it seem so graceful and harmonious? While in contrast I was sitting in the corner like a pesky two-year old chanting ‘But why?’ over and over.
For a long time I saw my doubt as a burden.
My critical mind brought me and my magick down to the point I gave up witchcraft. Why bother with magick if you can’t believe in it?
I shrugged it off and reasoned that I had too many questions and too much of a critical mind to indulge in magick.
I pursued a career in science and left the craft behind. But somewhere, deep down, that felt wrong.
Witchcraft kept haunting my dreams and calling me back.
Plus, I had always considered science and math the language of magick. To honour ourselves, the Earth, and the Universe we must understand them.
That is what science does, it enables understanding. So, how could I be practicing the language of magick but rejecting the path? This quandary perplexed and pained me for a long time.
As I worked on my papers and theses I learned the art of hypothesizing and testing, and the question emerged: where do the witches fit in if we have scientists, mathematicians, physicists, doctors etc.?
Interestingly, many of today’s scientists, although agnostic, lean towards pagan and spiritual paths and philosophies.
Witches, in my view, work with science and the community to help bring people and the environment together by encouraging a healthy relationship between nature and the self.
Witches know that humans are programmed to believe in a higher power, we use that predisposition to encourage people to believe in and fall in love with a whole system of wonder including the Universe, Earth, animals, other people, and the wonder of the unexplainable and the explainable.
We encourage the feeling of joy, connection, groundedness, wholeness, love, transformation, and mystery.
We encourage people to own their place in this system and to respect the place of every other being in this system, too.
However, witches also sit at the edge of science along with the artists. Some theorists now refer to this space as the ‘borderlands’.
Witches and artists explore the questions of ‘what if?’ and ‘why?’ when faced with the unexplainable—just the same as scientists, but we aren’t constrained by grant funding or imagination.
We push beyond the mundane. We explore all the things science can’t explain—yet.
We lean into the mysteries and encourage playful awe and creativity as opposed to fear and guilt.
Witches don’t want people to be afraid of the Universe we live in.
Humanity and the Universe exist, we may as well enjoy what beauty we can, both in the known and the unknown.
And let’s face it, the tome of things humans don’t understand will always eclipse what little we do know.
We can either be afraid of the vast unknown and layer it with shame and wrath, or we can have fun with the mysteries and test our creativity in this expanding sea of stars and suns.
Witches and artists work to weave both the myths and facts of the past into the wisdom, rituals, and traditions of the present.
This weaving helps hold the structure and memory of our communities together. We also try to empower people to explore their own magick.
And both artists and witches create. We bring ingredients and inspiration together to inspire, move, and change the people in our communities.
This inspiration often propels scientists forward in their pursuits. Everything is connected.
When considered in these terms, witchcraft is a big responsibility.
Even if you are just doing it for yourself, there is a lot to consider and learn.
When this little nugget of wisdom hit me I had a real ‘aha’ and ‘oh my god I am a huge idiot’ moment.
Doubt is not a weakness, it is an ally.
In order to explore and create and unite we have to ask questions. We have to question everything.
All the time.
Doubt prevents us from becoming complacent and stagnant.
The Universe moves and changes so fast. It’s absolutely vital we ask questions as we go. This is what helps us learn and grow.
Doubt is also a hugely protective asset.
A critical mind will also help protect you against becoming another sheep in the flock, it will help prevent you from falling under some narcissistic cult leader’s spell.
If something is off about a group or a person, you will get a niggling doubt in your gut.
Doubt, critical thinking, and curiosity will help protect you against simply just going along with another witch’s fakelore.
It is perfectly natural and normal to create meaning and mythology around your own life, but it is important you have conscious choice over that… This is another issue for another time.
A critical mind also helps empathy and connections with others.
It helps us understand their point of view.
And if you listen to your gut and ask the right questions, you can tell if someone is lying. There is great power in doubt and questioning.
It is okay to be unsure. It is okay to have doubts, big and small. It is okay to ask questions.
It is okay to be critical. If someone tells you to stop questioning, walk away. Fast.
Any witch, warlock, druid, shaman etc., you see will all have questions and doubts.
Curiosity paired with a critical mind whips up fantastic energy that will help drive you forward and help you grow.
It is more than likely that those people you idolize got to where they are because of their doubt. Their doubt left them hungry to know more.
Doubt only becomes a problem when it erodes your self-belief.
That is where my healing really began.
Once I had realized that my real issue was self-doubt I developed a better understanding of the role doubt played in my life and my path in the craft became easier.
As I worked on healing my issues of self-doubt and self-worth, I came to understand that I was worthy of the magickal path and that I did hold personal power.
I came to understand that everyone was born with the same power and magick.
No one is inherently born with either more or less soul/magick/power than another. We are all powerful, magickal, and worthy.
What we do with that inner flame of magick is up to us.
But how did this help my questions around faith and doubt? How did I come to wield my magick with the same grace as those witches I’d idolized?
As my confidence and self-worth grew, I learned to work with and express my magick and power in my own way.
I also learned that perfection was a myth.
My spells didn’t have to be perfect. My grimoire didn’t have to be perfect.
In any given moment it was important that I gave what I could, but it was better to explore magick and perform magick as best I could compared to not doing any magick at all.
Ideas of perfection, doubt, faith etc., should not hold you back.
Pure intention is important but it is also so fucking rare – let’s be real.
This is because faith is a verb. It’s something you work at.
Faith is much like meditation. Most of the work of mediation is not in the blissful moments of Nirvana but in the constant work to get the mind back to that state of blissful Nirvana.
It takes dedication and work to get good at it.
Doubt is the status quo. Faith is the muscle you build.
Research shows that the stronger your faith is the lower your critical thinking skills are.
Why would anyone want to damage their critical thinking skills? Witches are about balance.
I want to be able to trust the Universe I am exploring from time to time.
I want to be able to lean into the every expanding and sparkling breath of space and believe, if only for a moment, there is an order to all of this, that there is a feeling of reciprocity and love between myself and all that I know.
I am not big on black and white thinking.
In my view faith and doubt can live in perfect symbiotic harmony.
Just because it can feel uncomfortable at times doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means I’ve got more work to do either answering the questions I have or, leaning into my faith.
The choice is always ours.
Doubt doesn’t disappear when I work magick.
I work hard to create sacred spaces and moments thus inviting clear moments of faith and magick to occur – it doesn’t always work.
But that doesn’t mean I stop showing up. It also doesn’t mean I am a failure or a bad witch.
Much like an artist puts hundreds of hours in to honing their art. A whole lot of mistakes go into making a master piece.
And those witches I used to idolise because of their power and grace? I probably just saw them on a good day.
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About the Author:
Dr. Catherine ‘West’ Winther is a retired psychologist and passionate LGBTQIA feminist who comes from a long family line of of creatrixes, witches, and wolves. Through her online coven at WeaverTarot.com she offers readings, spell-craft, curios, and counselling. Her passion is holding sacred shadow spaces and fostering alchemy through conversation. She aids healing and growth through encouraging big play, big magick, big nature, cackling, sensuality, and creativity.
images – author’s own via shutterstock