Monday, 23 January 2012

Fam-Trads and Hereditary Witchcraft

Fam-trads, or Family Traditions is when a witch or pagan can claim to have been trained by a living family member - like a parent or grand-parent. This hereditary path has been treated as some special Pagan Royalty, to the point where many people make false claims to be fam-trad, and now any such claims are treated automatically as someone lying and trying to be something they’re not.
I don’t automatically treat anyone who makes a claim to be fam-trad as a liar and flake. Witchcraft has been becoming more popular for around 60 years now, we can’t all be the first generation to find it. But I am somewhat cynical when I hear it - cynical seems to have become my natural state when dealing with the Pagan Community.
I have managed to become less openly cynical however. I’ll take a step back and make all the appropriate noises when dealing with people making hereditary claims. I don’t automatically fall into the hero worship or adoring puppy mode, but neither do I dismiss them as a deluded twit who is probably attention seeking. It’s something I now treat as no different from any other tradition. The hereditaries I have met though, have been vastly different, and perhaps it is time to consider those differences.
There is one chap that I know who explains his path as “traditional hereditary”. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, he teaches, and when challenged he says “that may be, but this is the way I was taught and this works for me.” At no time does he suggest that his way is the right way. He is open to learning new things and new ways of doing things. While this man was at my house one day, I received a phone call from a lady who thought she might have some magical mystical goings on at the new place she’d bought which had been previously owned by a Wiccan. I asked a few questions, as I do, and didn’t feel it was anything she needed to be worried about. On a whim, I also put it to this man. He asked a few questions and gave her a very sensible, down to earth answer too. This impressed me a lot. There was no deep mystical fantastical “I’m so special” type of nonsense from him.
Another man I’ve met describes himself as fam-trad. He frequently talks about the family book that goes back a couple of hundred years and how he does things ‘his way.’ The first time I heard this from him, it was followed up by a request for me to make him several incenses for special purposes, and could I possibly also teach him how to dry herbs. I’m sorry, but for me this is the basics. What has he been learning from his grand-mother who taught him everything?
I’ve spent time around the second man in workshop situations. My role was to monitor the energy for the facilitator and keep control of it. I had to make sure that no one was in over their heads, that it didn’t get out of hand so everyone got the most out of the workshop and the facilitator could focus completely on what it was she was teaching. His energy was like a stagnant pond in the middle of a river. When we did the connecting aspect, he was thrown out of the circle. The symptom was a physical one, easily explained, however, the true reason was that he wasn’t in sync with the rest of the group. My impression was that he was either unable to connect, or didn’t want to. His ritual etiquette was badly lacking. He approached the person running the ritual and objected to the choices made for key roles within the ritual. He turned up to the ritual with a cigarette in his mouth, and didn’t get rid of it even after having been told to repeatedly. He was disrespectful to all concerned on a number of levels.
Now these things don’t make his claims to be a fam-trad false, but they do high-light one of the flaws with the way many of us see family and hereditary traditions. The assumption is that because they’ve been trained by a family member then they automatically know more than those who are new seekers or who have learned the hard way. We’ve all met people who seem to be missing a big part of their training. People who might be strong in one area but have no clues in another. I know that I don’t get certain things that others consider the bare basics, but I have strengths in other areas. I don’t make any claims to know it all however.
We as Witches, seem to assume that he should have all the basics and have all the training that we’re working hard to catch up to. What if his grandmother (who apparently did his training) was lacking an ability, if she had no strengths in one area and so was unable to monitor his progress there? Or what if she had issues with his mindset and never taught him a few things, believing him to not have the core stuff required, but never spoke to him of it? What if she passed away before teaching him anything serious at all?
The twits and flakes we meet in the Pagan and New Age community come in all shapes and sizes, and more importantly, in all age groups. Consider if you will, any one of those flaky people training their kids and grandkids. Those people can rightfully claim to be fam-trad or following a hereditary tradition. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the family tradition was one worth upholding.
I learned a lot of things that have helped me in my own learning of witchcraft from my grandmothers. However, neither of them were witches. They were both ordinary women, living a life of challenges and hardships and making the best of it that they could.
I believe it’s time that we stopped looking at hereditary traditions as being anything overly special, and look at the qualities of the person themselves. That’s the truest measure of their worth - the things that they say and do and the examples they set. Who cares if it’s a 500 year old secret, passed down from parent to child over the generations, or an inspiration that came on the spot five minutes ago. It’s what you do with it that counts, and the person you choose to be now.

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