Ciao a tutti,
I was just asked the question:
"What is your take on hereditary witches?"
It made me think. Really think. I had never really given it much though. I suppose that in order to have a discussion on hereditary witches, we have to go back to my favorite thing - coming up with a common language and description/definition for the words and terms we are using.
Using the dictionary as my guide...
First, there are different types of hereditary that we can talk about. There is the type of hereditary that refers to information and customs that are "genetically transmitted" or transmittable from parent to offspring. The there is the type of lore that is characteristic of or fostered by one's predecessors (via inheritance or by reason of birth). Finally, there is the type of lore that "hereditary" of a kind that is established by tradition
Second, when we use "witch" in this context, it can mean many things from a practitioners of pagan religious faith/spirituality/practice, to folk customs and other cultural identifiers, to magickal practices. Often, the "lore in question" is usually confined to social unit whether that be a family, town, region, or national culture.
Given the whole wealth of combinations of the above descriptions, "hereditary witch" can mean quite a few things! Hereditary witchcraft could even be an accurate description for a *modern* system that is consciously developed/invented/reinvigorated and intentionally passed for several generations through either through blood lines or through intentional inheritance. Personally, I'm seeing this more and more.
Generally speaking, I find that when people refer to hereditary witches, they are referring to a body of witchcraft lore and practices handed down to offspring over several generations. Personally, I think that is what is being refered to when most folks talk about "hereditary witches". So...
Do I personally believe that there are people who come from families (blood or chosen) that have preserved (or re-enlivened) witchcraft lore? Yes.
Do I personally believe that there are "families" (for lack of a better term) who have preserved their lore and continue to pass it. Yes.
Do I think that it is likely that there are "families" that transmit their lore and system of practices from generation to generation. Yes, absolutely.
Do I think that it is likely that there are "families" that transmit ancient, whole, intact systems of practices that have been passed *unchanged from generation to generation* for *untold aeons*? Unlikely but possible when phrased that way. My issue is with the *unchanged from generation to generation* and the *untold aeons* time frame parts.
Why? Well, especially with oral traditions, it is inevitable that there will be cultural, generational, and communicative "drift". This is apparent when you study immigrant cultures and how things do change, even after only 1 or 2 generations, often unnoticed. Later generations are under the impression that nothing has changed because the change tend to happen very slowly (i.e. can't see the forest through the trees syndrome). That's why I have a hard time with *unchanged from generation to generation* and the *untold aeons*. Partially because witchcraft tends to be "society based" or culturally based and the culture that we have now is not the same that was 100 years ago and that is different from the culture 1000 years before that.
I know quite a few people who believe that they are from a long line of hereditary witches and have been passed lore that has remained intact and unchanged for generations - some, *externally* verifiable for more than 100 years. Some claim a far greater time frame. Then again, "for generations" (at least to me) is very different from "untold aeons". :-)
I certainly know people who have practices and lore that is quite similar to those of ancient Greece and pre-Italy and are totally sincere in who they are and what they do.
I think it's more likely that our perceptions are that there hasn't been any change in the transmission from "ancient times" but that the changes have been slow and subtle. People being people, changes in culture would seem to dictate that at least SOME of an entire body of lore would be changed as a result of the changes cultures over time. Even so, I think that hereditary witchcraft can be both valid (does it work and it is relevant to the practitioners) and authentic (is it what is says it it).
However, my opinion shouldn't impact either the validity or the authenticicty of someone else's system. :-)