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Musings from a Hereditary Witch

Being a Hereditary

A Hereditary tradition does not have to be transferred from parent to child. Often it can skip a generation and be passed from a grandparent or an aunt, uncle or other family member. A Linage tradition is passed directly from parent to child and so forth down the generations. Of course, I am speaking from my family’s understanding within our own tradition.

My own line of hereditary witchcraft began with my great, great aunt who was adopted into a hereditary line of witchcraft. Often entrance into a family tradition was through birth, marriage or adoption. My great, great aunt then passed on the tradition to my grandmother and from that time it has been passed on directly from parent to child. I am the fourth generation and my children carry the path forward with my granddaughter being the sixth generation. All in all we have a hereditary path spanning over 125 years. We are by far not the oldest hereditary family path, nor are we the youngest.

I know that I am very fortunate to have grown up in a family tradition as opposed to seeking one out later in life. I am often asked what it was like growing up with a path already set in place. It was magical, like living within warm earth and it was lived every day. My family raises cattle for a living and every day we were surrounded with the cycle of birth, life and death. We grew our own food and butchered our own animals. It was hard work.

While my mother worked a day job, I lived with my grandparents. Grandma was the local healer and a semi-self taught veterinarian. Someone was always bringing a sick or injured animal, domestic or wild, to the house. Sometimes grandma would go to administer healing at someone’s home. There was always some sick person or animal she was tending too. Family and non-family referred to my grandma as ‘aunt’.

We are an oral tradition. The closest thing to a Book of Shadows would have been the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We do not adhere to the tenets of the new religion of Wicca; we have our own codes of conduct and honor. We do not take magical names, let’s face it, we are family and everyone knows who we are. We do not use terms such as Priest or Priestess, but we do have an Elder who is elected by the family. We do not wear special clothing for our rituals; as long as we were clean, pants and shirts were fine. Of course today I can afford to wear something more to my liking for ritual.

Growing up, there wasn’t a local metaphysical shop to drop into to pick up supplies. We either made what we needed or used what we found in nature. Candles were made from canning paraffin and oil lamp wicking. We were lucky to get colored birthday candles on occasion. We grew our own herbs, made our own teas, tinctures, salves. Sometimes we found quartz, serpentine, arrowheads and sea shells in the creek, washed down from the mountain.

Our rituals are rooted in our family land. We work with the land children and the guardian who watches over our land. We differ from some traditions by not calling quarters, casting circles, or worshiping gods & goddesses. Well, that’s not quite so, because the gods & goddesses of my dad’s family claimed me when I was young, but that is for another column. The ritual tools we use are the cauldron, knife, staff, broom, stone, and antler. Our rituals may include healing work, gratitude, communion with the land, journey work, learning a new skill, divination and sharing what portents & signs we observed. We work with folk/sympathetic magic which may include workings for justification.

We celebrate the seasonal shifts and moon tides; however seasonal shifts do not necessarily coincide with a date on the calendar, but rather with the physical shift of the season on the land. We do a spring cleaning and a fall cleansing. We have rituals for honoring the steers before slaughter and when we drive the cattle from the winter pastures to the summer ones.

This is but a small glimpse into my family tradition.