Communicating With the Dead

Magic With The Dead

I shuffled the cards as best I could, laughing at myself and my cackhandedness. I’ve never been able to shuffle, and my knowledge of tarot is rudimentary at best. It just never spoke to me in the same way as it seems to speak to every other witch on the planet.

I’ve always been better with runes and ogham – especially when I’m trying to do my periodic ‘drunken and completely inaccurate’ readings over on my personal Facebook. Things can get somewhat uncanny with that.

But this time I had cards, albeit Magic: The Gathering cards.

I was at a Samhain event, and had been participating in a discussion on tarot.

“I hear you can read anything” I’d said, as I tried to shuffle the cards. “I’ve heard of a woman who used to read beer mats like tarot while in the pub. She was apparently super accurate.”

A couple of cards tried to escape the deck and I simply added them back in, laughing to myself as I continued.

“Some people think it’s the symbols, but others? They think the cards are more like props, and that they sort of draw out the psychic impressions the reader is getting anyway.”

Finishing my shuffle, I laid out three Magic cards as though they were tarot.

“And if I had that skill, I’d be able to give you a full reading off of these bad boys right here.”

I laughed again, and without really knowing why snapped a photo.dead - magic cards

“But I don’t have that skill, so all you’d get out of me is that there’s something to do with a train and movement, then an hourglass, and then this guy here who looks like a right dick.”

(Conversation paraphrased, this happened a while ago.)

Someone else at the table made a joke, and I put the cards away.

Later that evening though, I’d look back on this tomfoolery with different eyes.

Under Darkened Skies

It was dusk when we came to do ritual – the perfect time really for this kind of rite. We’d gathered around a blazing fire and sang the dead forth using an old dirge with psychopompic elements. We’d adapted it of course;we’d wanted to raise the dead, not lay them. The night darkened, the temperature dropped, and there was the distinct sense that we were no longer alone.

We’d gotten some attention.

But then again, we were using borrowed necromantic tech in Gettysburg of all places.

We set out a place for the dead and shared mourning cookies, offered food and clothing. Then we’d set out a bread man as substitute “sin eater” for those who felt the burden of sin too heavily to move on. That’s not uncommon for those who die in battle after a certain era. For all the talk of “glory”, war continues to torture and torment long after the guns fall silent and lungs empty.

I perceived a line of dead coming from the passage of trees to my right. I watched them as they wound a procession around the fire, each man taking his turn with the bread man. The temperature dropped further, and there was the sensation of a small breeze where they passed. (I would later find out that they had come from the direction of one of the battlefields that sits only a mile down the road.)

The ritual progressed and we asked for an omen, and this was where things began to get interesting.

The Dead Opine

The designated seer for the rite had chosen tarot, as it was not only potentially more recognizable to the dead than runes or ogham, but she also has the gift I lack with that medium.

“Is there anything you wish for us to know?”

That had been the question (or near enough). One by one, she laid out the cards, carefully positioning them in the firelight so she could read them.

The first was the Chariot reversed, which I’m told speaks of movement that is out of control and a need to regain control lest the wheel falls off.

The second was Temperance reversed that further underlined the lack of balance and control first spoke of by the Chariot.

And the final card was the Hierophant reversed, the card of a despotic leader.

The year was 2016, and that was when I knew Donald Trump would win the election.

But the weirdness would not end there. Because after the rite, when we’d returned to the warmth of our host’s house, I realized something about the cards the seer had pulled.

The images were basically the same images as I’d pulled from the Magic deck earlier.

It would seem the dead didn’t just have a message but had been screaming it all day.dead - tarot

The Dead v Our Ideas Of The Dead

There was an oddness to 2016 that I feel in this year too – albeit somewhat different; 2019 has its own flavor. Death came for many at the birth of the year. Terrifying clown sightings filled the news as the northern hemisphere moved into Fall only to stop before the election. And political campaigning took a turn for the nativist, throwing out appeals to history with abandon.

“Make America Great Again”

Like the “good old days”, just like “how our ancestors lived”.

As the living, we like to put a lot on the dead and our ancestors. We like to try and speak for them, we like to try and act in ways we think they would approve of most (even if subconsciously).

Every time you use that old family recipe or wear the jewelry your grandma died clutching. Every time you gather photos or go tidy up a grave site. All of it is a form of either engaging with ancestors or in the cult of the dead depending on what you’re doing). We just no longer recognize it as such.

How many times have you heard or thought people expressing the sentiment that by doing an action, they would make (dead person) happy (if they could see them)?

You see? We invoke the ancestors often.

Anthropologists have noted that this tends to lead to a more conservative society – especially when the veneration of ancestors is limited to only a few generations (Lehman and Myers 283-284).

But the dead are often not what we think of or assume them to be, and depending on which group of dead, can differ wildly from us in what they approve of (as opposed to what we might think they would approve of).

The problem here is communication, and this is something that we need to talk about before getting into ancestor veneration proper.

So how does a person communicate with the dead?

Communicating With The Dead

Contrary to popular media, one doesn’t have to be psychic in order to have meaningful communication with one’s ancestors or more recent dead. Often times, you just need to be able to recognize that communication for what it is.

Dream

dead - dreams
No accuracy guaranteed!

In many ways, the dead are far easier to communicate with than most people think. Moreover, there are a lot of tools that can help and mediums through which they can communicate.

One of the most common ways in which the dead can communicate is through dreams. This is something you see in pretty much every culture in which ancestor veneration exists.

This communication may be spontaneously obtained or via incubation practices. For example, ancient Greek seekers would go to a psychomanteion/nekyomanteion for this purpose. The nekyomanteions are thought to have mimicked the geography of the afterlife in some way, and often involved tunnels leading down into the earth, and bodies of water. Those wishing to communicate with their ancestors (either via speaking with a priest-oracle or dream) would make preliminary sacrifices and/or ingest narcotics (depending on the sought experience) before entering the sleeping rooms or tunnels.

In some ways, this mimics the Northern European practice of sleeping the night on a burial mound in order to gain wisdom or poetic ability from the dead. In both cases, the seeker goes to a place in which the underworld may be accessed in physical or symbolic form in order to sleep.

This is something that we too can make use of in our practices even if we don’t live near any burial mounds or grave sites where we may sleep without getting arrested, but I’ll get into that in a future post.

Divination Tools

As we saw in the story above, the dead can also divination tools (either ‘official’ or improvised) in order to communicate with the living. This was one of my first methods of communicating with the dead while still in the

dead - cards
“One of 54 Devils checking in for your middle school necromantic needs!”

equivalent of middle school. Only we used a set of regular playing cards for our seances with the school ghosts, and the suits and their colors were how we derived our answers. As unlikely as it sounds, we had some fairly strange things happen while experimenting in this way, and it was enough to concern our parents.

Unfortunately, the substitute activity my father asked me to use (the key and the bible) never got the same results (so I stuck to the cards).

In my experience, tools often take on a chill when used for relaying the messages of the dead. That’s probably good to know. As an aside, this is not so dissimilar from the manipulation of modern tech in order to deliver a message.

Ouija Boards

This is obvious and also probably something I’m going to catch heat for. However, there are ways in which you can use a Ouija board safely, and conveniently, most of those ways also correspond with general spirit etiquette and psychic hygiene.

I’ll write more about Ouija boards in another post. But for now I’ll just stick with saying that if you’re absolutely terrified of these things, keep away from them. You already lost the head game.

(If you can’t wait until I finally get round to writing about ouija, this post is great.)

Synchronicity

When you start associating with different groups of ancestors, you might find

dead - clock
“Maybe it’s ancestors, maybe it’s Maybelline.”

things pertaining to them cropping up. For example, when I was working particularly closely with my Irish ancestors, I began to randomly win Irish-related things. Information that led me further into connecting with them better also just sort of landed in my lap. Often it can feel as though you’re being pushed along when this stuff happens.

Manifestation And Apports

dead - white feather
“Whatup sis! I’m doing good. Got myself some new threads and everything!”

Finally, sometimes the dead can be pretty direct. They can appear, and they can cause other things to appear. Like the white feather that appeared in the air and fell into my mother’s lap when she was thinking about her deceased brother and feeling sad. Or disembodied voices speaking with my native accent and dialect in a place separated by thousands of miles from any other speakers. Or that deceased relative stood by your bed when you wake up from an awful nightmare. The nightmare may have been awful, but when you fall asleep again it’s but a lovely dream.

Well, you get the idea…

Next Time

In the next few posts, I’m going to start getting into the meaty bits of this topic. First I’ll be covering the different conventions for setting up an ancestral shrine. Then I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of doing so. I’ll also be discussing some of the ways in which you can work at your shrine. This will include offerings, prayers, songs, and anything to help you get your dead on. Then, I’ll be taking a look at the different mediums through which the ancestors may be contacted.

Ancestor Veneration: Three Modern Pitfallls

An Uncharted (Ancestor) Land

When you think about it, modern ancestor veneration is kind of like trying to navigate a territory that was once known but long abandoned. Maps are not ancestor - mapeasy to find now, and the only thing we have in our favor is some acquired knowledge of similar landscapes. So it’s no wonder that we encounter pitfalls.

However, there are three main pitfalls in this ‘landscape’ that I can warn you of, and that is what I’m going to be covering today. (Warning folks, this is going to get pretty salty.)

1. A Lack of Proper Boundaries

The first and biggest pitfall in this Valley of Death is becoming overly familiar with the ‘locals’. The dead are not the same as the living, and while this valley can be undeniably beautiful and familiar-feeling, it is not a place where you can become too familiar.

Because those who become too familiar with it tend to become a part of it.

For the ancient Greeks, this was expressed by the concept that the dead were polluted, and that pollution could spread to the living (and eventually cause sickness and death). The Norse were more direct in their beliefs, simply believing that the walking dead brought disease. In both cultures, a level of separation (albeit differing) was observed between the living and dead.

ancestor - skull
Danger danger, high voltage!

It should be noted here though, that not all human cultures observe such separation from the dead. For example, while the Greeks took extensive precautions to ensure that separation, practitioners from cultures with non-dualist worldviews often frequent places thick with the dead to no ill effect. As always, consensus reality must be taken into account, and we inhabit a consensus which oscillates wildly between extreme taboo and over-familiarity towards death and the dead.

In other words, our boundaries here (as in so many areas of life) are FUBARed, and no one needs to go for a night out on the graves with non-dual checks their asses can’t cash.

So caution it is.

When it comes to the dead there is a simple rule to remember: the greater the proximity to physical remains, the greater the power and greater the caution required.

This means that those of you who are inspired to take up Cult of the Dead graveside practices, or work on battlefields filled with remains or burial mounds, will need to observe a greater level of purification than those of you simply honoring your ancestors at a home shrine with no physical remains.

Purification can be as simple as washing your feet off (you can leave your shoes on) with water when leaving a place of burial/death, or taking a pinch of salt between three fingers, then putting it on your tongue and drinking it down with clean water. I do both and recommend both as initial practices (trust me, you’ll feel better for it). You can also take a bath with purifying herbs, or showering with soap made with purifying herbs. This is also a good option, as is the use of récels (purifying smoke, incense). Good herbs to use here are mugwort, rosemary, vervain, juniper, and hyssop. I also make an oil of hyssop, rosemary/vervain/juniper + a little something from the Testament of Solomon oil for on the go that I’ve had great success (and great reviews for).

But if you bring nothing else with you to the place of the dead, bring water and salt. Those are your basic necessities. Something of iron is also good to carry with you – just in case the dead get a little…testy.

The home shrine is a more relaxed affair, but still some taboos are best observed. These can vary wildly too – in some cultures, ancestor shrines are kept hidden from all but family and closed off in some way. In other cultures, the shrines are open and a part of the home. This second model is the one that I follow as I have no physical remains and well, that’s just what I grew up with. Still, despite my more relaxed approach here, I observe certain protective measures. For example, I keep to the rule that what is used for and given to the dead is theirs and no longer for living use. I keep it clean, and don’t allow offerings to rot. And if I’m actively calling upon them for counsel, I do so using a variation of the Art Armadel (basically summoning their spirits them into a bowl of water and then scrying the answers) so that they remained more contained and manageable. Prayers are family events as the level of interaction is far less intense than when I’m actively engaging with them using more sciomantic ritual tech.

One final thing I’d like to mention before moving onto the next point though, is that when I’m done with my interactions at the ancestor shrine, I end by walking three steps backwards and bowing before moving on with my day. It’s something that my ancestors told me they wanted me to do, and it has become habit in other settings too. As I would go on to discover, not turning your back on the dead is a common practice among some groups.

The dead often lie, but the elevated ancestors often have good advice. Discernment is key.

Judging the Actions of Our Dead

For the vast majority of European-descended peoples, it’s an undeniable fact that many of our dead did some really shitty things, things that may make us have some pretty uncomfortable feelings. Some of us might tell ourselves that those things were “just the way things were”, or that “it was conquest, and that shit just happened”, and yes, that might ease those feelings somewhat. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, when we cling to excuses like that, we’re only doing so because deep down we know that what was done was wrong. We’re just seeking an escape from the feelings.

Now don’t ‘at’ me on this. As the daughter of a nation that fucked with all but something like 22 countries in the world (and adopted daughter of a nation currently racking up its own score), I know this one really well. And I’m coming to tell you that if you’re doing this, you’re only hurting yourself in the long run.

Why?

Because in order to cling to those excuses, you need in some way, to continue to hold the cultures that were harmed by the actions of your ancestors as being somewhat lesser – “deserving” of it maybe even. And well, where does that get you? That lands you on a train that will probably eventually take you to

ancestor - train

‘Racist Fuckhead Town’.

But here’s the thing about racism: it’s not about power. Well, it is in one sense – the sense of having power over somebody. You may even get that. But it doesn’t empower you where it counts, because people only usually want that kind of power over others because they’re scared on some level.

The sad truth about racism (if I’m being extremely charitable), is that the vast majority of racists are shit scared of people who are different from themselves. They cling to the differences and find ways to shift blame to recast themselves as victim. They cling to the things that enable them to avoid those negative feelings.

And they create a world of angry, sick ghosts in the process.

On the flip side, you have what is referred to as “cancel culture”, and when it’s applied to ancestor veneration, this is just another form of putting your head in the sand. Sure, these people feel the wrongs of their ancestors deeply. However, “canceling” those ancestors is nothing more than an easy way out. Humanity can be monstrous, we can be the most evil beings in existence. “Canceling” ancestors not only enables us to avoid grappling with the fact that we are all capable of some truly terrible things given the right (or wrong) circumstances, but limits our ability to engage with our feelings on the harms of our ancestors to a surface, mostly seemingly performative level.

“See?! I’m one of the *good* ones! I cut all the bad ones out!”

In my last post, I talked about the effects of our ancestors upon us. If they can affect our crops, our fertility, and prosperity (as people believed), they can affect us in other ways too. You ever wonder why we never seem able to move on as a society from the same old bullshit over and over again?

The dead affect us regardless of our feelings about them, and you’d better believe they have opinions and want to work their will in the world!

But you can’t lay those ghosts if you ignore them or take them for something they’re not.

An Obsession with the Ethnicity or Culture of One’s Ancestors

The final pitfall is something we see so much of in modern Heathenry (but also in other forms of Paganism), and that’s an obsession with the ethnicity and culture of one’s ancestors. This is the most toxic potential endpoint of ancestor veneration, and if I’m being truthful, we let it go too far and fester for far too long.

Okay, a bit of real talk here.

Modern Heathens spent way too long pretending that Folkish Heathenry was the weird (but kindly) uncle that said sort of fucked up shit at Thanksgiving that we’re all so apparently used to ignoring from relatives. Because of this approach, the rot took root, and it’s going to take an extremely concerted effort to kill that I honestly don’t see from most modern Heathen groups. We called it ‘folkish’ and ignored the racialist-then-nazi roots of that term. We ignored the work of people like Mattias Gardell back in two-thousand-and-fucking-THREE that demonstrated the nazi-fapping, white supremacist fuckery of it all. We pretended that it was ‘just a different POV’, and came out with the bullshit Jarnsaxa scale as though it was some kind of sexuality or gender spectrum instead of calling it for what it was.

And then we all screamed like it was a big fucking surprise in 2016 when the AFA came out of the white supremacy closet and opened the floodgates.

I mention all of this, because these people trade in a jaded and perverted view

ancestor - fantasy
The good old days!! *fap* *fap* *fap*

of ancestor veneration. It’s one of their biggest hooks in a society full of people looking to feel rooted and belong. They cloak themselves in cultures that are no longer theirs, and make themselves gatekeepers because some of their ancestors hailed from some of the places they associate with their favorite fantasy of “greatness” (which when you get down to it isn’t all that different from the sword and sorcery fantasies of the 80s).

But this isn’t really about ancestors or ancestor veneration. Because if it was really about ancestors then they wouldn’t fixate on the culture and ethnicity of a relatively small percentage of ancestors so much. (It’s a little “one drop rule” if you hadn’t already noticed>)

Ancestor veneration is about people, not race or culture. It’s a human story, and most of those humans in all of our lineages, when you go back far enough, had different levels of melanin in the skin, different languages, and different cultures. Moreover, we’ve been sleeping with whoever looked good since fuck knows when (which is how most of us have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA btw). Boom chika wow wow.

When we focus on anything other than that, when we extract and isolate our favorite bits from the story of our ancestors and make those small pieces the whole, we’re not engaging in ancestor veneration. That’s nothing more than wish fulfillment and yearning for a “halcyon” time (for white men mostly) that never existed because the modern world can be scary. That is not taking the ancestors as they are. That is not honoring them. That is using them as a tool.

An Uncharted Land is a Hard Land

As these pitfalls demonstrate, ancestor veneration is not an easy practice – especially in our broken society, and especially when you have a shitload of ancestors who most likely did some really awful things. However, we live in a world of ghosts – of dead who both affect us and have some pretty strongly held opinions about current events – and we lack both the resilience and ritual tech to mitigate their negative effects on our reality. In my next post, I’m going to share an account of an ancestor veneration rite in which the dead made their opinions on current events strongly known and share some ways in which you can begin connecting with the dead and ancestors.

Ancestor Cult is Not Saint Cult (And Other Stories)

ancestors - gallery

I talk about the dead a lot. Not because I’m a morbid fucker, but because death, dying, and what happens next are important topics to grapple with. After all, we’re all going to die someday, it’s one thing (along with shitting) that all humans have in common. So we may as well get to grips with it all now.

ancestors - bird
“Tweet tweet, motherfucker! I’m a new series of posts!”

(This is the sound of a new series of posts being born.)

But we’re not all that great with this stuff. Talking about death is still somewhat taboo, and ancestor veneration among European-descended Pagans and Heathens suffers from poor modeling. There are also a lot of misconceptions that don’t seem to exist among people who follow traditions that still include ancestor veneration.

So what’s going on? Why do we mostly suck when it comes to ancestors?

And that kids, is going to be the topic of this post. So grab yourselves a snack and buckle in, because I’m going to learn you some shit.

European-Descended Pagans and Ancestors

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Why do we get it so wrong?

Well once upon a time (or more accurately the 6th century), Pope Gregory I wrote a letter to the Abbot Mellitus about his mission to spread Jesus like Herpes among the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. Instead of the usual message of “burn it down like a latrine full of spiders” though, pope Greg advocated repurposing holy sites and co-opting rituals for Christian worship. I mean, they were even

Ancestors -letter
“I really liked those English lads, so don’t go burning their shit down. I really want them to be on ‘Team Jesus’.”

cool with cow sacrifices at first, as long as they were cow sacrifices for Jesus (bet you never learned that at school, right?). This and similar policy is probably why you see so many Christian sites on former Pagan sites all over Europe.

(Fun fact, but there’s an anecdote that pope Greg’s eye was quite taken by a couple of fair-haired English boys at a slave market in Rome…and if that’s not the most Catholic story ever…wow.)

Unfortunately, this also meant that the church took control of any and all rituals pertaining to the dead (something the Vatican is still flexing its muscles on in modern times), making themselves the (weirdly conical) intercessors between the living and our dead kin (Lee 105-106).

Is it any wonder we don’t really understand the ancestors or what to do anymore? We let a middle man take over and change our ancestor traditions, then got rid of the middle man!

When it comes to ancestor veneration, we lack the basics, and it shows in how we think of and interact with the dead. If anything, what we have is like a strange mishmash of Hero Cult, Cult of Saints, and what scholars refer to as “memoria”.

So what are the top three basics of ancestor veneration that we’re probably missing?

1. Individualism vs. Collective

The most important concept we need to get to grips with is this idea that the ancestors are probably best thought of as a collective (with individuals that pop out from time to time to give messages and such). This is pretty much how it is in the vast majority of cultures that still have living ancestor veneration traditions.

It’s also the most practical view of ancestor veneration. Because when ancestors are a collective, a big, burgeoning mass of power, then a few shitty dead are no longer a barrier to practice. Moreover, it also allows for a belief in rebirth (ask Olaf Geirstad-Alf about that). Because when your ancestors are a collective, then what matter if some in the line are being reborn and others are staying dead?

However when you think about it, it also makes sense within a European historical context. (Well okay, I’m going to be focusing on Northwestern Europe here because that’s my jam, you Classical kids can sort yourselves out).

I mean, could you ever imagine worshipping only one of the Matronae? Or thinking of the Wild Hunt as a bunch of individuals? It sounds strange, doesn’t it? And yet these are ostensibly ancestral or at least associated with the world of the dead. The same goes for elves too, albeit within certain contexts.

So where did the idea of focusing on individual dead come from?

Truth be told, we’ve always worshipped some individual members of the dead. But these aren’t ordinary dead people. These are big or greater in some way. These are the dead who were possessed of some intangible quality that made them an ælf/álf. These were the dead who were worshipped in the mound and thought to be able to bless the people and land around them.

Guess what people were probably reminded of when the cult of the Saints came around?

Like elves in their mounds, martyrs/saints (because what even was the difference back then?) inhabited their tombs and were considered able to essentially bless the land and people. And as with elves, people would feast

their tombs in the Pagan fashion – except more Roman-like. Because they were actually in Rome, and it was the 4th century, and it was all cool until Augustine of fucking Hippo went all ‘ixnay on the sacrificial mortuorum’ (Lee

ancestors - elves
E L V E S

116).

And yes, I realize that I just conflated saints with elves, deal with it.

Elves.

Fucking Augustine.

When the church began to take over burial rites and rites for the dead in Northwestern Europe though, something that scholars refer to as memoria came into being as an alternative to feasting the dead at the grave. This term referred to every kind of rite in honor of/for the care of the dead created by the church. There are no parallels in Jewish ritual, and so the likelihood is that the concept was in some way descended from or inspired by Pagan rites – only with the Paganisms removed as much as possible.

ancestors - relic
“Coming soon to a church near you – our new and improved, porta-Elf! (Now with added Jesus)”

For a long period of time, these memoria – or rather individual memoria – and the Cult of the saints were closely associated (Lee 116). It’s not hard to see how we came to view ancestors as individuals from whom we expect the highest ideals. It was after all, a very slow separation between the individual memoria and the Cult of the Saints.

But for all of the individual memoria, a prayer referred to as Pro Anima Kari in the 8th century Bobbio Missal suggests that the ‘dead-as-collective’ thing wasn’t entirely…dead. Designed as a prayer to aid the dying, the Pro Anima Kari called upon all of the descendants of Adam who were deceased – basically all human ancestors – and if that isn’t a collectivist view of the dead, then I’ve got some hang glider engines I’d be happy to sell you ( Lee 109-110).

2. The Cult of the Dead vs The Cult of the Ancestors

The next thing to be aware of is that the Cult of the Dead and the Cult of the Ancestors are not the same thing. Okay, so they both pertain to the dead. But when you look at ancestor veneration around the world, it’s like you have different grades of “dead” (that go beyond “fresh” and “not fresh”). In some cultures, the dead are guided through ritual processes that formally install them or acknowledge them as part of the collective ancestors of the group. In other cultures (such as Japanese Shinto), the dead are thought to gradually merge with the generalized group of family dead. The newly dead (shirei), take on characteristics of new buddhas, then buddhas, then ancestors (senszo), then kami (gods) over the course of 35 to 50 years (Klass 63-64). Regardless of how it takes place though, there is the sentiment that the recent dead are not the same as ancestors, and that some form of elevation takes place.

However, what would that process look like in a Northwestern European context?

Well, as far as I know, we don’t know. However, older traditions such as feasting the dead at the gravesite (a practice known as Dadsisas) are suggestive of a Cult of the Dead that took place at the graves of the more recently deceased (Lee 113-114). We may perhaps also infer from the collective terms mentioned above (such as the “Wild Hunt”, “Matronae” etc.) that some form of elevation also took place for at least some of the dead (although the picture provided to us by source materials is far from clear).

Regardless of how much we don’t know though, the concept of elevation provides us with a useful model for beginning to understand the different kinds of dead we may find ourselves dealing with, and the ritual remedies required as part of our cultic revivals.

The Unwell or Angry Dead Can Fuck With The Living

There are reasons why the dead are generally feared, but mostly it’s because

Ancestors - outhouse
Haunted outhouse, the worst. Will literally scare the crap out of you.

when the dead are unwell or angry, then that’s generally bad news for the living too (Oesterdieckhoff 585) . Because I mean, if the big dead are able to influence the land and people for good, then why wouldn’t the angry or unwell dead also have this capability – especially en masse? So for many humans around the world, it’s considered to be kind of in our interest to care for and remedy the matter of bad dead via ritual. (And no, I’m not talking about magical murderhobo-dom here.)

Final Words

Ancestor veneration is something that many of us of European ancestry find difficult to get our heads around, or find our rooting in. However, as we have seen above, there are some excellent reasons for that disconnect, and a general lack of understanding. This is a real shame, because research has shown that even just thinking about our ancestors can have positive effects. I truly believe that healthy ancestor veneration can be one of the keys to happier, more rooted, more connected, and more compassionate lives.

In the next blog, I’m going to ramble some more about the dead – possibly about some of our issues with ancestor veneration.

But just for today, pick a dead family member or older ancestor who you know went through some shit, and take a few moments to think about them. Think about what they endured or overcame, and reflect on that badassery. You’re here because of that badassery, and shades of that badassery are in you. How does that make you feel? Now try to imagine how much badassery your ancestors collectively have.

That’s one hell of a deep well, isn’t it?

Sources

Christina Lee – Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals
Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, Steven Nickman – Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief
Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff – Why Premodern Humans Believed in the Divine Status of their Parents and Ancestors

Free Your Magic!

magic - community

We’ve been through one heck of a story arc with these past few posts. First, we took a look at the nature of reality and how consensus can literally delineate the boundaries of what we see, think, and experience. Then, I moved onto an exploration of the ideology underpinning much of our current consensus and the negative ways in which it affect spirituality/Paganism/Witchcraft in “WEIRD” cultures. In this post, I’m going to lay out some concrete measures that each of us can take in order to begin the process of freeing our minds, practices, and magic from the negative effects of our neoliberal consensus.

Work to Recognize the Patterns

The first and most important step that any of us can take is to read about neoliberal ideology and its inherent patterns. This allows us (at least theoretically), to better recognize the parts of our lives/practice/magic that are poisoned by this dehumanizing crud.

The next step after education, is mindfulness. You need to work to be mindful of what you do, think, and how you perceive the world.  Your aim here is to recognize those neoliberal patterns as they come up, and actively choose to do, think, and perceive differently.

A good example of this in action would be the process of talking yourself out of buying yet more needless junk. The consensus we inhabit presents products as fixes for everything. Now, as I discussed here, there are likely things you do actually need to obtain for magical practice (depending on your paradigm). However, there’s no product on the market that can give you a greater connection with deity or greater magical ability. The only thing that will get you either of those things is putting in the work. So the next time you feel that drive to buy something like that, take the time to ask yourself why you feel you need it. What do you think it can really do for you and your practice. And then take a deep dive into why you feel that way.

Sounds like a lot of work, right?

Well, no one said it would be easy to hack your way out of the consensus.

Compassion

If there’s one virtue that becomes a flaw when viewed through the neoliberal worldview, it’s compassion. This makes the act of developing compassion one of the most powerful acts of resistance anyone can participate in. We live in a society that seeks to make virtues out of cruelty and selfishness. A world in which the monetary aid sent for the reconstruction of a crumbling edifice outstripped the aid given for a disaster characterized as being the worst to hit the Southern Hemisphere. And not just by a little either – Portuguese/Macanese press reported a massive 16 times difference.magic - window

Even the resident bees survived the Notre Dame fire, whereas Mozambique is struggling with a death toll of over one thousand (with thousands still missing) and unimaginable damage done to homes and crops.

Next will come disease, but Whitey Aristocratface the 33rd of Fuckersville is going to hack a load of old growth oak trees down from his estates to donate to an edifice that hardly anyone gave a shit about fixing until it burned.

(But don’t you dare judge the super rich for what they choose to do with their money!)

Compassion in our society is seen as a weakness, and yet it is not. If anything, compassion that is properly rooted and developed can be one of the most powerful forces a human can manifest.

It’s not just about being meek and mild and feeding the poor. Compassion can be wrathful, it can be the sword wielded to protect or fight for justice. It can burn as strongly as Brighid’s hottest flames, and forge a person strong enough to stand their ground against the greatest of enemies.

Real compassion takes courage.

And if I’m being real, I think this is something we all know deep down too. How many people take refuge in selfishness because caring about others – because compassion is far harder?

You see selfishness (that fine neoliberal “virtue”), may give some respite from feeling upset at the suffering in the world, but we trade in our humanity in order to gain that relief. That’s right, we trade our humanity. Studies now suggest that we humans are hardwired for altruism.

So don’t take the easy way out. Stay with those feelings, let them stoke the fire within to relieve suffering, and reclaim humanity.

‘We’, Not “I”

As I discussed in my previous post, neoliberalism has a vested interest in keeping people from joining together. You see, not only was the fear of any kind of collectivism Hayek’s primary inspiration for what would become neoliberal ideology, but he also recognized that the greatest challenge to his ideology was people banding together.

magic - mall
Ever notice how these places are kind of trance-inducing?

Like selfishness, rampant individualism also became a virtue – it’s kind of necessary if one is to transform people who are primarily citizens into people who are primarily consumers. You see, ideally a citizen has responsibility to country and fellow citizens. Which is mightily inconvenient for the kind of folks who just want to throw money at politicians in order to do whatever the hell they want regardless of who gets hurt. This is why corporations tell us over and over again that “you can have it your way” and that “the customer always comes first”. Consumers aren’t invested in the whole but in self-gratification, and because of that, they’re much easier to control than citizens.

In my opinion, this is a huge part of why so many of us in the Pagan/Heathen/Witch spheres tend to think in terms of a personal path and personal spiritual development as opposed to doing better in order to uplift our wider communities. And this is hugely problematic, because with that mindset, it’s all too easy to consider those around you to be means to your spiritual ends. For example, with this mindset, it’s easy to put your need for something like white sage above the wider issue of hurting groups of people who have already seen far too much hurt. This makes spirituality into a shopping place that puts the consumer first, and it’s fucking bullshit.

The antidote to this is to step away from individualism and re-find your place in the wider web. Recognize that you are but one part of a whole system of interbeing, and learn to view the world accordingly.

As John Donne once famously wrote, “no man is an island entire of itself”.

Stop pretending you’re an island and recognize the whole from which you arise.

Build Community

It’s one thing to change one’s view of the world, but unless it’s put into action, then very little changes. And the best way to put compassion and interbeing in action is to form and build community. And not in an exclusionary way either – too many people create community and think they need an outer enemy in order to maintain cohesion. This is called negative identity formation and has magic - communityactually been the source of many negative forms of collectivism. This is what underpins ethno-nationalism, and we don’t need to go there in order to have communities in which we share genuine bonds of friendship and love.

So make communities, work to create them with a basis of mutual help, trust, friendship, and betterment of the whole. Practice feeling happiness for the successes of your community members instead of jealousy. And where you are successful, work to help your community members attain the same successes. Remember, this is about the ‘we’ and not the ‘I’. Witch wars need not apply here.

(And no, Heathenry, you can’t just put this all on the women because of something something “frithweavers”.)

Stay With the Trouble

Finally, as Gordon White says, you need to stay with the trouble. All the work described above is hard, it’s a massive change from the typical Anglosphere paradigm. It will provoke uncomfortable feelings and reflections, and you will need to stay with them and dig into them if you want to get to the other side. Realizing brokenness is hard, compassion is hard, de-centering yourself is hard, and communities can be extremely hard. But I would argue that until we do this, it’s near impossible to do pretty much any Pagan/Heathen/Witch faith authentically. Instead, we find ourselves significantly disconnected, distracted, declawed, and numbed.

And well, I think we can do a whole lot better.

Witch Wars: Survival Tips

In the previous two posts of this series, I discussed what you can do to minimize the likelihood of getting seriously attacked, and how to diagnose a curse or attack. In this post, I’m going to take a look at the less-discussed aspects of dealing with and surviving magical attack.

First of all though, I’d just like to clarify something here. The kind of magical attack I’m talking about here is the more serious kind, the kind that goes beyond a simple case of the evil eye. Now I realize that a lot of people don’t believe in this more serious kind of curse and generally look to psychology for explanations. Thankfully, relatively few practitioners from WEIRD cultures have experienced the kind of magical attacks that can truly destroy your life. And for those of you who have never experienced this, I truly hope you never do. I’m not going to argue about the existence of this, you can either take this seriously or not.

But if you have experienced this kind of thing, or simply take magic seriously enough to recognize its potential for completely fucking up your shit up to and including taking your life, then read on.

There’s been a lot written in various places about how to respond to curses in terms of getting it off you, uncrossing, protection, amulets, and magical counter response. However, there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t seen discussed about magical attack -stuff I consider important to management and survival -so that is what I’m going to discuss here.

The Fear Response

For most people who find out that they’ve been cursed, or are the subject of a magical attack of some kind, the most common response is fear. This is completely normal. For someone who hasn’t experienced this kind of thing witch wars - fearbefore, it can be one hell of a wake-up call to realize what others can do to you, your loved ones, and your life with magic. And for those of us who’ve been through the mill a few times, it can be triggering because you remember how fucking awful it was all those other times.

However, the hard truth of it, is that you cannot give in to that fear. Because it’s too easy to make stupid moves, and at a time when you really cannot afford to do so.

So the first step to keeping your shit together when you’re on the receiving end of some magical whammy, is to recognize the fear. Take some time to sit with it (but not too long), lean into it and find out where its roots lie.

Then put that shit aside for later. You haven’t got time for that right now.

Attacks Are Often Multilayered

In the majority of cases, ‘curses’ are generally more rightly thought of as “multilayered campaigns”. You see, people who want to take you out tend to not stop with simply fucking up your luck and your health, or messing with your dreams, or whatever.

They will attack you on multiple fronts (if they can), and some of those attacks will fall more into the “curse” category, while others will fall into the “psychic attack” category. They may even bind spirits and send them after you, and you need to also realize that they will probably come after your family too.

Fucking horrible, right?

But if someone has decided that you are sufficient enough of a threat to their ego, then nothing in their capacity is ‘off the table’. I mean, let’s get this straight: there is no such thing as honor here, it’s down and dirty shit-flinging. And even if you have cleared or gotten free of the main attack, you will probably find other minor fronts coming to light months down the line.

So recognize that this is likely not going to be a ‘one working and done’ kind of deal. If they have launched a campaign, then you are fighting a campaign, and you need to plan accordingly.

You May Need Help (And There’s No Shame In That!)

Unfortunately, being able to set aside the fear and recognize the breadth of the campaign being waged against you, is no guarantee that you’ll actually be able to fight it. Remember all those things I mentioned in my last post? Well a witch wars - helplot of them like that feeling of helplessness, sapped energy, and decline in mental (and physical health) can all affect your ability to respond. Depending on what has been done to you, you may not even be able to do anything at all!

To make matters worse, a lot of witches tend to take pride in being able to handle things alone. But don’t fall into that here – this isn’t the time for more ego. If you find yourself in this situation you need to reach out and get help. And the chances are that if you’re involved in your local community enough to cop an attack, you already know someone in your community that you suspect could and would help you.

Just be aware that you may have some difficulties getting to meet or communicate with your potential help. The spirits involved in curses will often take measures to prevent the subject of their nastiness from escaping. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s the ideal time to dig out any older amulets you have lying around. Depending on what you have, they may not help with the wider attack, but they may help with the simple issue of getting to your help.

Destroy Connections

One of the least discussed parts of being attacked that I’ve noticed is the matter of connections. Now on one level, when I talk about connections here, I’m talking about connections created by gifting. But on another level, you may have more subtle connections to a person that were either created through working together, or that were planted on you in order to influence, spy, or witch wars - chainsdrain you.
The physical connections are clearly the easiest to sever. Seek out anything they gave you that still feels connected to them (again, you may need help here) and either destroy it or put in some kind of containment for leverage down the line. If it can tie them to you and used by them to affect you, it can tie you to them for the same thing.

As for the subtle connections – this is another area where you will need help. Even if you can deal with the rest of the attack alone, you will need help to get rid of these.

Freeing the Mind

For a bunch of people who basically work to change reality with our minds, breath, bodies, incantations, and wills, we often forget our minds in our training, our work, and in surviving magical attack.

If you are subject to magical attack and the person wants to let you know it without directly saying it, they will work to keep themselves front and center in your consciousness. This is incredibly empowering for them, because on one level it helps to build upon the fear and feelings of helplessness their previous witch wars - onionwork has created. However, on another, it’s still giving them access to your mind.

This is something you need to resist; but how?

After all, it’s not like you can pretend they don’t exist or what are you fighting against? The key to this is figuring out the right level of access. Sounds confusing, right?

Try imagining your mind like an onion of many layers. Now think about where certain people in your life are in the onion -see your nearest and dearest in the central layers as clearly as you can before moving outwards from the center and mapping where different people fall in the layers. One of those layers should be some kind of defense that is impermeable from the outside, and it’s in the layers beyond that where any enemies should sit in your mind. If you find your enemies within that barrier, or yourself without a barrier, then you need to do some evicting.

Your goal is to be able to talk about them and think of them with no more weight to their names and faces than you would give turd you scraped off your shoe.

Tu Quoque

Finally, you need to realize that if you send things back to them, then you are sending them exactly the same as they originally meant for you, and you need to be ok with that. You need to really walk through the ethical and moral implications of it and figure out if you’re good with it or not. The morals of witchcraft are the morals that each individual witch carries. So work deliberately. Because it doesn’t matter that they started it, you are choosing to take the same action and will be just as responsible for the ensuing consequences.

Which all sounds easy to live with when you’re angry. But could you really live with something that (for example) was targeting your kids, targeting other children?

See what I mean?

Just…be aware of the scope of what you choose as a response before you do it, and recognize that you will have to live with whatever rolls out from that course of action.

Neoliberalism and Spirituality

neoliberalism - puppet2

A specter is stalking Europe. Well, not just Europe really, it’s pestering the whole bloody world. It often goes unnamed, though we can all point to its effects, and has been credited with everything from the 2008 financial crash and decline of public health and education, to the epidemic of loneliness.

This specter does have a name though; shall I name it?

It is none other than “neoliberalism”, and I guarantee that this poisonous ideology is currently fucking up a spiritual practice near you.

Defining Neoliberalism: The Roots

Neoliberalism is one of those terms that is difficult to define, and despite its early proponents happily referring to themselves as neoliberals, is a term seldom heard nowadays, even as the ideology has rooted and solidified.

Curious, no?

It started, as with many things, with a group of people thinking they’d found a better way. Collectivism is a force that can either be exceedingly positive or neoliberalism - treeexceedingly terrifying; and the earliest proponents – two Austrian exiles attending a meeting in late 1930s Paris had certainly seen plenty of the exceedingly terrifying. So it’s not hard to understand their aversion to anything that smacked of collectivism. I do not mean to paint these men with too much sympathy though, and the reasons for this will become clearer as I go on.

What began as a term coined during a meeting of minds in the City of Lights would coalesce into theory in 1944 when Hayek published his book The Road to Serfdom in which he argued that government planning not only crushed individualism, but would eventually lead to totalitarianism. This unsurprisingly caught the attention of some extremely wealthy individuals who saw in this ideology the potential for both limitless profit and an escape from taxation.

So it’s no surprise that when Hayek founded the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 – the world’s first organization dedicated to spreading neoliberal ideology – he did so with the backing of multiple millionaires.

Defining Neoliberalism: The Ascent

Hayek went on to create a transatlantic network of supporters, and his rich backers put their money towards a series of organizations with names that some of you might recognize such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute For Economic Affairs, the Center for Policy Studies, and the Adam Smith institute.

As time went on, the movement changed and gained new thought leaders such as Milton Friedman. It was also around this time that the term “neoliberal” curiously all but disappeared as a self-identifier – or indeed from public discourse.

But no one was paying attention to that back then – Keynesian economics that emphasized the social contract were in vogue, and so the neoliberal leviathan slept.

The 70s brought with them economic crisis and the old Keynesian policies were struggling to keep up. This was when neoliberalism popped up again with all the enthusiasm of Internet Explorer when you accidentally hit the wrong icon at the bottom of the screen. Except with you know…a weird illuminati vibe.

“When the time came that you had to change … there was an alternative ready there to be picked up”
-Milton Friedman

Defining Neoliberalism: Dominance

1979 and 1980 were big years for neoliberalism – or rather the ideology that was now curiously unnamed. Key proponents of the ideology swept to power in both the US and the UK and set about following Hayek’s prescription to the neoliberalism - povertyletter. Deregulation was pushed so as not to impact the efficiency of industry. Public health and education were privatized and dismantled as much as possible. Special efforts were taken to break the collectivism of the trade unions (and the threat they posed to the neoliberal agenda). And all the while, the rich got to divide up and profit off everything that was outsourced and privatized – all with increasingly egregious tax breaks of course.

And that is the world we now find ourselves in, kids! That

is neoliberalism.

A world in which money buys freedom and political voice while the vote and wages of the average citizen decrease in value. In which the earth itself is sacrificed for profit, and people are kept docile by endless consumerism and entertainment. (Or as the Romans liked to call it, bread and circuses.)

But hey, “you can have it your way”, “you’re free”, this isn’t really the road to serfdom.

Neoliberalism and Spirituality

“Consumerism is the opium of the masses…along with well, illegally acquired prescription narcotics.”
– Me

But what in the Sam Harris does any of this have to do with your spirituality, and how is probably fucking it all up for you? Well, I’m glad you didn’t ask, because I’m going to tell you anyway.

In my last post, I wrote about consensus and how it affects perception. Well neoliberalism is a huge part of the consensus reality we live in, and it guards its neoliberalism - puppet2position fiercely. How often is it presented as being the only option (and the only alternatives presented as being either Nazism or Communism)? Think about that for a second. Does it really make sense that out of however many years humans have populated the earth in all of our countless cultural variations, this (or Nazism or Communism) is the only feasible option for forever?

Of course it doesn’t, and yet we can barely imagine actual alternatives.

That’s powerful.

So it only makes sense that as such a key part of the consensus, its influence on your spirituality is significant.

This influence can be seen in two main ways.

Firstly (and most obviously), you can see its influence in the commodification of spirituality. I’ve written about this before, but how many of us buy occult tchotchke like it’s some kind of super special thing that’s going to fix/provide greater connection with/protect us from ______ like right now? And if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the time we don’t need that shit. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy pretty arcane things if you have the cash, just don’t kid yourself that it’s anything other than something you just like.

neoliberalism - smudge
Exhibit A

We see this commodification in courses as well, or rather the forms they take, and this is especially prevalent in the “shamanism” courses. Now there are some excellent courses out there that are presenting information as wholly and authentically as possible, but there are many that are basically taking lots of very complex things and simplifying (or outright editing and distorting) them to make them more accessible for predominantly white American audiences.

The second way in which we see the influence of neoliberalism in spirituality is in the cult of the individual. Remember that old neoliberal grudge against any form of collectivism? Yeah, that plays out in your spirituality too.

We live in a world in which staunch individualism and the ability to get by on your own are seen as virtues. Like the tax burden, the solving of problems (regardless of the root cause or capacity), has been shifted to individuals (preferably in a way that does not in any way burden productivity in terms of time and cost).

Have a terrible job that barely pays you enough to live? Here! Take this mindfulness prescription! Go fix it with this commodified, soulless version of a

neoliberalism - yoga
“I make shit for money on my three jobs, I can’t afford to get rid of my crappy roomie, and retirement is something I’ll never see. But it’s all okay, because I’m doing a yoga.”

practice that’s actually deep and whole-making when not completely divorced from its religious context! How’s about a little Jesus to go with that? Yeah, he’ll make you feel better, he fucking loves you! I got some yoga to go with that too if you still haven’t managed to fix yourself (why haven’t you managed to fix yourself yet?).

See what I mean? This focus on the individual has given us a necessary extra job that nobody wanted: ‘self-care’.

And you know, we talk about spiritual bypassing a lot in the Pagan community. Of course, it’s always in terms of the behaviors of individuals within our respective communities. But is it any surprise that these behaviors exist when corporations and society at large push what amounts to spiritual bypassing in order to get people to focus on something other than their shitty life situations (and more importantly, the things that are causing them)?

Interestingly, the term “spiritual bypassing” first appeared in the early 80s. Funny that.

Thinking With Motivation

Which brings me to the question of motivation for spiritual activity. What motivates you? Because if you sit with that question and you come up with what essentially boils down to self-care, then your motivations may need a little work.

Having the right motivation for spiritual practice is an incredibly important yet under-discussed (at least among Pagans) thing. Proceed with the wrong motivation and you either burn out when things become difficult, or it becomes limiting. But if you proceed with the right motivation, then it can both sustain your practice when things become hard, and present a limitless array of possibilities.

neoliberalism - LARP
“My favorite LARP is ‘Paganism: The Escape’. It’s super sweet, really takes me away from it all!”

Motivation that is essentially self-care generally falls into the first category, because (and this is especially the case with paradigms that are very different from what we know in our day to day lives) it can all too easily become a form of escapism. A therapeutic religious LARP, if you will. When this occurs, spirituality is no longer whole-making. It is no longer something that connects us to our lives in a more authentic way, and rather than chasing the real, it becomes an exercise in avoiding the misery.

Final Words

In my next (Tuesday) post, I’m going to take a look at ways in which we can free ourselves and our practices from neoliberal ideology. Sounds like a tall order? Well, nothing is too tall if enough people are working together – just ask that Yahweh one about Babel.

“Reality”

reality - cat

Reality is a funny old thing, isn’t it? For starters, everyone thinks they know what it is. We all have clearly defined ideas of what is ‘real’, and what is ‘a bridge too far’, and while there is some degree of variance between individuals, on the whole there is still something of a consensus.

This my good people, is what is known as “consensus reality”.

Examining Consensus

I’ll admit, the first time I heard the term “consensus reality”, it somehow managed to make all the sense in the world, and also sound like bullshit all at the same time. It just sounds like one of those terms that crazy people make

reality - VR
Another wonderful experience in a human-created reality! Thank you for trusting Rekall for your memory needs!

up, that sound scientific, but really are not.

However, when you think about it, and especially in the context of what we know about how the brain perceives and stores information, it makes a lot of sense.

You see, consensus and prior experience (which is also subject to consensus) provide the framework for how we perceive and remember the world around us. This is part of why the Overton Window is such a big deal. Because if you shift the consensus, then you shift the very framework through which people perceive and interact with the world. (Those “culture wars” don’t look so fucking stupid now, do they?)

But how does this all work?

From Senses to Storage

Our senses take in a lot

of information per second. According to the Hungarian-American psychologist, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we take in around 2 million bits of information per second through our five senses. Now that’s a massive amount of information, and so it’s probably no surprise that the brain cannot store it all. After all, the brain is like any other storage device – it has finite capacity.

So what does the brain do?

Well, this is where the conscious mind steps in and basically edits, deletes, distorts, and generalizes this information down to a more reasonable 134 bits per second.

Or does it?

There is some disagreement as to the amount of compression taking place here, with the Encyclopedia Britannica citing a compression ratio of 11 million bits of information perceived to 50 bits stored. Which suggests that we remember even less about what we perceive than believed by Prof. Csikszentmihalyi.

The Editing Room

So how does our conscious mind decide what to store and what to dump?
Multiple studies suggest that interpretation and storage of information is massively influenced by prior knowledge and experience. In other words, we interpret what we encounter and build a complete picture of our world, from within the framework of what we think we already know.

This is also where consensus comes in, as part of that prior knowledge is informed by consensus. It is quite literally the ‘style guide’ for your brain’s internal editor.

So when I see arguments online about “reality” that are largely based in the enforcement of the scientific materialist consensus that has dominated for so long, I can’t help but roll my eyes.

Why?

reality - fairy
Unbelievably, Pixabay has no images of fairies wearing roller skates with neon signs. I am disappoint.

Because if you hold to that consensus strongly enough, a fairy could literally skate by you wearing a tutu and leg warmers, with big, flashing lights saying “I’m here!”, and it wouldn’t matter because your brain would just edit it out anyway. It would just be another bit of information out of 2-11 or so million that just gets edited out within less than a second. You wouldn’t even know you’d seen it. Hardly makes you an arbiter of reality, right?

Let’s not kid ourselves here, there is no objective reality when it comes to your senses and what is stored. If anything, the consensus that people cleave to is probably best thought of as being something akin to the Matrix. So why not go ahead and trust your senses (after you’ve ruled everything else out)? Well you know, as long as they’re not leading you to do something harmful to yourself or others…

Hacking ‘Reality’

However, unlike the Matrix, both the brain and consensus are somewhat “hackable”. All you really need to do is just change the narrative and keep repeating the same narrative until it becomes the prior knowledge that “everyone knows”. This is basically how people like Donald Trump get entire groups of people to believe in things that would have been considered too ridiculous to consider even five years ago.

This is also how you can consciously choose to change your perception. Ever wonder why some people always see weird shit and others don’t? It’s all down to perception and the ‘style guide’ your conscious brain editor is working to.

In my opinion, this is a big part of why you see some of these ‘trends’ in the kind of phenomena that people report experiencing around the same time that entertainment media is focusing on similar things. Are people really seeing that stuff, or are those things arising from the energy and belief of the consensus and becoming entities in their own right? Who knows? It’s kind of like Schroedinger’s cat in that we just don’t know and cannot know without somehow opening “the box”. But ultimately it doesn’t matter either – especially for magic workers. Because we tend to have to work with what we encounter, in the form in which we encounter it, and at the time when we encounter it regardless.

(As an aside, this is also why it doesn’t matter what fairies originally were. If you don’t work with what they are now, learning from the people who have continued to experience them, then you’re not only being an arrogant dick to the cultures in which these beliefs still survive, you’re also probably going to run into trouble sooner or later. That is if you’re actually encountering them, of course.)

To return to the main point though, this is also how you can work to hack your brain to see more stuff that you may not otherwise see. And you do this by repeatedly and consistently setting down the layers that change your ‘prior knowledge’ about the world and what is possible. In other words, you demolish that “bridge too far” brick by brick.

Unpacking Realities

All of this talk of a somewhat malleable consensus reality though, does beg the question of whether or not there is an absolute reality that is untouched by consensus. A reality that exists regardless and that serves as the foundation upon which all else is built.

Personally, I think this is something that is self-evident. After all, if we are editing things out to fit in with this created reality of the consensus, then it’s

reality - elephant
“Is it me, or is this reality thing a little cold, hard, and wrinkly?”

logical that the unedited version is the absolute reality, or at least as much as a human can perceive of it. Moreover, if dogs can smell more than us, and mantis shrimp can see colors we cannot even conceive of, then we can infer that this absolute reality is also beyond human concepts.

But what is this absolute reality?

I don’t know, but I personally believe it is one that is interconnected – that we are all connected in a tapestry of energy, consciousness, or whatever other word best fits here. And that the interplay between absolute and consensus realities is best imagined as being like a glass of milk with melted butter floating on top.

This absolute is beyond concepts and limitless. It is also a state in which a magical practitioner who is able to perceive and manipulate even the smallest portion, would not only have greater wisdom, but also possibly the ability to do some truly wondrous stuff.

There’s just one catch though: if this absolute reality is one of interconnectedness, then if you ever get to that level, it’s a cookie either poisoned or blessed by your actions that we must all ultimately eat.

Thank goodness for that psychic censor, right?

Witch Wars: Diagnosis

witch wars - magnifying glass

Finding the Right Balance

Belief in being cursed or being subject to magical attack, can become a curse in of itself – especially when you’re already encountering a run of bad luck. So it’s important to have the proper perspective when it comes to the subject of witch wars - balancemagical attack. Because if you place too much belief in the possibility of being cursed or attacked, then it’s all too easy to see malefic magic and psychic attack at every turn and become paranoid. There’s also a lot to be said for self-fulfilling prophecy here – especially with the more magically-minded. But if you refuse to even consider the possibility, then you run the risk of missing some of the earlier warnings and allowing things to become far worse.

I’ve been that person in the second category, and I’m coming to you from the future to warn you about that very thing.

I messed up a lot in my early 20s with this, and a whole lot more. So trust me when I say that if you write everything off as being “just a run of bad luck”, then things can get really bad and in really unbelievable ways too.

So how do you find the right balance with this?

In truth, unless you have physical evidence that someone is working against you, you need to be looking at multiple factors. But what are they?

Luck

The most obvious thing that is going make you suspect attack is a run of bad luck that just doesn’t seem to end. But sometimes shit just happens! So how do you figure out if it’s regular old run-of-the-mill shit, or magical shit?

witch wars - horseshoeThis is where it gets pretty tricky, and also why you shouldn’t just rely on one thing when assessing whether or not you’ve been cursed. However, a good starting question to ask yourself is if what is happening is logical given the surrounding causes and conditions. For example, if you happen to lose your job and your house is foreclosed on during a time of economic downturn, it’s easy to see the circumstances at the root of your situation.

However, if (for example) you find yourself applying for a college hardship fund and being rejected for being “too poor” after a run of being told you’re overqualified for student jobs you’ve applied for as a student, then something is probably going on. (It was. Those were some “fun” times.)

See what I meant when I said “unbelievable”?

Dreams

For a lot of people, dreams are just randomness bundled up with a combination of wish-fulfilment and stress. However, for magical practitioners dreams are a hell of a lot more. That’s not to say that we don’t also get the stress dreams about being late for French Literature class at college (or…you know…). But for us, dream can often also turn out to be a place of entrance into the Otherworld, or a common ground upon which we may interact with Otherworldly beings.

And other practitioners…

See the problem?

So if you’re not keeping an eye on your dreams, especially around the 15th lunar day, you’re missing out on one of the biggest canary warnings you could possibly have. Dreams on this day that include arrows, snakes, or any form of attack really, can be indicative that someone is working against you. Moreover, it’s often possible to divine the person (when a human is doing the cursing, but that’s another story) attacking you, and what their beef is (beyond simple ego).

For example, you may find that the attacks in your dreams are conditional on you avoiding or carrying out a certain behavior. For example, if someone wants to keep you in what they see as ‘your place’, then the attacks in the dream may only happen when you disobey instructions to not cross a boundary.

So pay attention to your dreams!

Feelings and Foreign Thoughts

Strange emotions and thoughts can come from any number of sources, especially if you’re empathic in any way (and if you are, you might want to check out this post for some handy tools). Moreover, our brains can be pretty weird places just in general. Which can make it quite difficult to figure out if a new crop of negative emotions and strange thoughts are from you, picked up witch wars - fallenby accident from others, or the result of a curse directed at you.

But what do I mean when I say “negative feelings” here? Generally speaking, the kind of negative feelings that come with an attack are an impending sense of doom and dread, and a nose dive in self-esteem. Depression is also common, as is a feeling of helplessness.

And I know, I know. Who hasn’t felt those things? I mean, for goodness sake, we live in the monstrous shitshow that is 2019!

However, when you take the time to examine why you normally have those feelings, you can usually point to concrete reasons why. Maybe it’s all the plastic in the sea? The climate crisis that is going largely ignored? The internment of asylum seekers and attendant human rights abuses? Or maybe it’s just down to the simple yet highly stressful economic insecurity that most of us experience on the regular?

The point though, is that when you get down to it, when you take the time to examine these feelings, you generally find causes that are usually highly logical (and not the result of outrageously abnormal examples of bad luck).

This is part of why meditation is important – because it gives you the tools to carry out that kind of introspective examination.

But most importantly, meditation helps you get to know your own mind. This is incredibly important when you’re subject to this kind of attack. After all, how else will you recognize which thoughts are truly yours, and which belong to a hostile party? However, for all the danger of implanted thoughts (especially the kind that ensnare the mind and have you picking out a death day on autopilot), this is also often the area where a lot of attackers ‘overplay’ their hands and give themselves away.

As the old adage says, “know thyself”.

Health

In the Old English sources, the concepts of ‘health’ and ‘luck’ (as well as wholeness and holiness) are expressed by the same word – ‘hælu’. This collocation of concepts into a singular term tends to make great sense to anyone who has worked extensively with either the paranormal, Good Folk, curses, or all of the above. Because it’s never just luck that tanks, but personal health too. For some of the more metaphysical (and scholarly) reasons for this, you can check out this essay here.

However, for the TL;DR version, let me just say that both curses and interference from the Other have very similar effects on the body, and especially the torso. So keep an eye out for gastric and other torso-related issues that are accompanied by a loss of physical energy – especially if medical investigation leads nowhere.

Dying Plants and Eggs

Finally, a lot of witches look to their plants. If a lot of your plants suddenly start witch wars - eggsdying off, then there’s a chance that someone is working against you. This is especially the case when this happens in conjunction with any of the other factors mentioned here. Some folks also keep an egg on their altar as a kind of hex alarm and watch for it breaking. Of course, you may go through quite a few eggs, and will need to remember to change them out if you opt to do this.

Being Off-Balance

Find yourself taking more trips and falls recently? Perhaps you’re experiencing the kind of clumsiness that you only normally get before your period (if you have those), but at the wrong time?

It’s not uncommon for people to experience more falls and injuries when subjected to psychic attack – part of this is down to that luck thing.

But in my opinion, there’s also a wider theme of keeping you off balance here too. This is something you may also see reflected in your thoughts. You may find yourself fixating on something or someone completely random and illogical – just out of the blue, to the point where it’s taking over everything to a really unhealthy degree. And it’s smart too – part of keeping you otherwise occupied so you can’t do the things you need to to fight back.

Now I’m not saying that every weird crush or obsession with a thing or person is the result of magical attack (especially if you’re already predisposed to obsessive behaviors). But it’s another factor to take into account along with everything else.

Next Steps

So what do you do if you suspect that you have been hexed by another practitioner (or even the Other)?

Your first next step is to perform divination and find out if your suspicions are reflected in a reading. Depending on what’s been done to you though, you may find yourself unable to read for yourself (assuming you could do it before), and in these cases you will need to get a reading done by someone else. Honestly though, regardless of whether or not you can read for yourself, it’s advisable to get a reading done by a trustworthy person anyway. In my experience, the role of divination in the diagnosis and management of malefic attacks is one that iswitch wars - tarot often forgotten. And I get it, it’s easy to lose your head when you suspect that magic is being thrown around – especially if you’re already a little battle-scarred before figuring out what’s going on. However, if someone is working against you and you give into that fear, you help them in their cause.

Divination can provide a chance to catch your breath and at least run your thoughts by another human. This is important for two reasons: firstly, running it by another person can provide a valuable “checksum” that you’re not experiencing some kind of mental breakdown; and these kind of experiences tend to be pretty isolating (which is never good when you’re vulnerable). Most importantly (?) though, divination can help you take stock of the situation, and may sometimes even give you information on how best you can defend yourself or otherwise end the attack. In other words, it’s a critical first step on the path to resolution and healing.

Witch Wars: Minimizing the Damage

Witch wars - tarot devil card

Which Witch War?

There are two kinds of “witch wars” in the Pagan world, and most of the time, it’s the gossipy, bitchy, war-of-words kind that is the most common. This blog

witch wars - praying skeleton
“Oh West Virginia Jesus, please don’t let me be misunderstood!”

post isn’t about that – largely because I suck at them. I just don’t have much investment in the kind of social fuckery that allows an actual honest-to-West-Virginia-Jeebus negative social campaign to form. In short, I’m not the droid your looking for when it comes to advice for surviving a social shit storm (but this droid might be helpful, and also this).

I am however, the droid that can give you some helpful tips on the second kind of witch war: the magical kind.

An Evil of Ego

To put it simply, this kind of witch war is usually an utter clusterfuck. Like the social shit storm variety, it usually comes about because one person gets their pants in a twist over some ego-related matter. They can come about quickly, Witch wars - tarot devil cardor they sort of ferment over time. In my experience of these slow wars, you usually have about 2-3 years of fermentation punctuated by relatively minor periods of being poked at before hostilities fully escalate.

The magical witch war can be soul-destroying, and can wreck your whole life in otherwise unbelievable ways. This is especially the case if you take the position that this shit just doesn’t really happen and so are perhaps not as vigilant as you should be. Moreover, if the attack is particularly bad, the aftermath can be quite difficult and take some serious recovery time .

Hands down the best way to deal with this kind of witch war though, is to avoid it in the first place.

But how can you avoid something that hasn’t (hopefully) happened yet? The simple answer is that you can’t. But there are some relatively easy precautions you can take to reduce both access and effectiveness that go beyond the usual wards and shielding.

Reciprocal relationships

One of your most important lines of defense against nastiness, is the reciprocal relationships that you nurture and maintain with your numinous powers. Sometimes it may be gods who help you, and sometimes Fair Folk. However, mostly it’s going to be ancestors and house spirits that do the bulkwitch wars - land spirits of the heavy-lifting here, so these are the relationships you really need to cultivate.

That’s not to say that the gods and Fair Folk wouldn’t get involved though, or that it isn’t worth taking the time to develop reciprocal relationships with them too. It’s just that they have less reason to be involved than the aforementioned groups, and unless there are already signs that you have their favor, their prices tend to be much steeper.

When you have good reciprocal relationships with your ancestors and house spirits, detecting, diagnosing, and dealing with magical attacks become much easier. Because when you have those relationships, you can get a lot done by simply calling to them with some offerings and checking in. I recommend checking in in this way on a weekly basis (at least).

Cleanliness

This is where I tell you to clean your house! No really, regular cleaning is one of the best steps you can take to create a layer of protection from some major whammy.

witch wars - cleaningYou see, sometimes witch wars involve sending asshole spirits to mess with you, and those asshole spirits tend to gravitate to the shitty, cluttered areas of your home like mosquitoes do to buckets of water. (This is pretty much why paranormal teams get people to clean up as part of the solution.)

Another reason why cleaning is an important activity (you know, aside from regular old health, hygiene, and decency), is that if you are in the slow moving kind of war, then you may find items planted in your home that come with…extra ‘gifts’ (in the German sense of the word). Regular cleaning keeps you familiar with what’s in your home and what doesn’t belong.

Lastly, and most importantly, there are layers of protection you can build into your cleaning regime. You can clean with apotropaic herbs and washes (especially if you make your own cleaning supplies like I do), and you can get into the habit of regularly fumigating your home to cleanse it. This helps to prevent a build up of magical nastiness over time, which is useful all the time, but invaluable if you ever end up having the misfortune of dealing with a protracted campaign.

To Gift is to Connect

One of the worst things about witch wars, is that most of the people you are likely to end up in magical altercations with, will have likely started out as friends. They are usually the people you’ve “talked shop” with, considered working with, or maybe even worked with. This is part of why your slow-moving witch wars are like car wrecks that you can see coming in the distance – you can see the wreck coming, but there’s also this desire to try and prevent it if you can. I don’t mean to be the plot spoiler here, but most of the time you really can’t. Because it’s usually not about you or your friendship, but simple ego and dominance, and that’s an ill that lies solely within the person that witch wars - giftstarts the war.

But in those early days of friendship before you get to know a person, it can be really easy to gift freely. However, until you know how things are going to roll out (or oaths are in place), it’s important to be careful with both what you gift, and also what you accept.

To give or receive a gift is an act of trust, especially among magical practitioners. Gifting connects and provides either leverage, or a way into someone’s life (the Trojan horse principle). Because when you gift – especially if that gift is something you made or have had for a long time – you’re essentially giving them something they can use to connect you to them in a spell. Alternatively, the gifts you accept can come with some added…”extras” that can make for some really unpleasant times.

So be careful who you give gifts to, and what presents you accept from others. If you really want to give gifts in those early stages of friendship, opt for gifting by Amazon or another online service. They still get the gift, but none of the “you” to leverage.

As an aside, I always learned to never accept salt from another witch. I don’t remember where I learned that now (it was a good two decades ago now), but it’s a taboo I’ve kept to. Your mileage may vary.

Personal Concerns

Even worse than a gift though, is when a rival gains something of you. The term “personal concerns” is quite delicate-sounding for what is being referred to here, but basically, it’s your hair, nails, blood etc. Any enemy practitioner (or practitioner yet to out themselves as an enemy) that gets access to any of witch wars - hairthese things, gains the keys to the kingdom. There is so much more that they can do to you with this stuff- trust me on this. Because there was this one fun time and it literally nearly fucking killed me.

Protecting your personal concerns requires both cleanliness and diligence. Don’t leave hair brushes, toothbrushes, or anything else with your hair lying around anywhere where any guests can get to them. Be extra careful with sharp objects when others are around. If you cut yourself, pocket any tissues you use to staunch bleeding and take them home. Count them as you pocket them and keep track. Try to wash away any blood spilled with whatever is to hand. Got flyaway hair? Tie it up or cover it while meeting with new folks. Get the idea?

Basically, adopt the level of paranoia a hated Roman emperor would have found admirable.

Final Words

Witch wars of this variety are thankfully relatively rare, and it can be all too easy to become a little too paranoid. There is a balance to be had here, and in the next post I’m going to discuss some of the things you can look at to try and discern whether or not someone is working against you.

But for now – and most importantly – don’t give this topic too much space in your head. Stray thoughts can be dangerous things for people who use their emotions, visualizations, and will to change reality.

A Magical Go-Bag Tour

magical go-bag - hag stone

In my last blog I talked about the process of putting together a magical go-bag, and some of the reasons why a witch might want to. In this post, I’m going to give you all a tour around my main magical go-bag to give you an idea of some of the options that are out there when putting these bags together.

My Magical Go-Bag: A Backstory

Call me paranoid, but I’ve always carried some kind of magical supplies on me. I’ve just had that kind of life. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been the proverbial poop pile to the supernatural flies, and so always having some supplies on hand just makes sense. However, the impetus to create a dedicated bag for going out on the battlefield (or whatever else I’m up to) only came last year. Before then, my bags were all repurposed, or small bags that I’d just shoved into other, bigger bags. Last year though, things changed

To cut a long story short, working more intensely with the dead led to other spirits showing up. One of those spirits was a crane-dancing woman who told me to create a what was essentially a magical go-bag. Jokingly, I called it a “crane bag” (because it was a crane-dancing woman who told me to make it). However, the connection between the crane bag of Irish lore, and the Irish analog of the Welsh god who has played a pivotal role in my battlefield work also did not go unnoticed.

So off to the internet I went to scroll through endless pictures of “crane bags”. But none of them worked for me, and soon became clear that the best option was to make my own. So I did.

I knew from the outset that it had to be grey and hardwearing. The inner fabric – which could be softer – was a chance find that I chose for the deer in the pattern (an animal that’s long held significance for me). I came across the giant crane-patch by chance while searching for fabric, and well, the idea of a “crane bag” with a giant crane on it gave me a chuckle, so naturally I slapped the ‘purchase’ button.

Making the Bag

I’ve never been a good (or even competent seamstress). I don’t know what happens but I can start off with a perfectly good sewing machine, and then it all goes wrong. The tension decides to do its own thing, then the thingie in the bottom is also like “fuck you”, and in the end, it’s raining, the earth is falling in, and I’m about ready to pitch the machine out of a window. So the prospect of creating a go-bag was daunting to say the least.

I used this tutorial at the recommendation of my mum (thanks mum!), and although it didn’t quite work out (because: me), I came away with a serviceable bag with the custom pockets that you can see here.

magical go-bag - crane bag

magical go-bag - pockets
Custom knife pockets ftw.

Once made, I consecrated it in a small ritual to Manannán Mac Lir as it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  And in the end, I think it was the right decision as it triggered the dream experience that you can read about here.

So that’s how, and the why of creating my go-bag.

My Essential Items

Now here is where I finally get to the things I consider essential for how I work, But as I mentioned in my last blog on this topic, your mileage may vary.

Hag Stone

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

First on the list (but not necessarily in order of importance) is the hag stone or holey stone. These are stones that have naturally occurring holes through the magical go-bag - hag stonemiddle of them, and although I haven’t really found good scholarship on them, my experience has been that these are both effective tools and apotropaics. They’re protective against the Unseen, and allow you – again, in my experience – to see through glamours and things that are normally unseen if you look through them.

You can sometimes find them along rivers, but they are also readily available to purchase online. I would advise caution when purchasing these online though as some unscrupulous vendors try to pass off drilled stones as genuine hag stones.

Black Salt

Function: Hardcore apotropaic.

Next up is black salt. Salt is a great addition to any magical go-bag in magical go-bag - black saltgeneral because it has so many uses. You can use it to salt boundaries, protect, and banish. But black salt is just taking regular old salt and leveling it the fuck up! The addition of iron, ash, and (in my case) ground wolf bone, makes black salt an excellent addition to a go-bag. It’s like an apotropaic powerhouse!

Even better, if you make your own black salt, you can build in extra layers of apotropaic magic into the creation process! Why just scrape some iron from your pan when you can use your pan to burn prayers asking for divine favor with some protective herbs, then add that to your fire ash before scraping the pan for iron? I have a dutch oven that I use specifically for ritual work so that I don’t have to wreck my cast iron cookware; it was $10 from a thrift store – bargain!

Spindle and Fiber

Function: Tool and offering.

I use a lot of spinning in my magic, and especially when it comes to working with spirits. Spinning in a space can trap both dead and leftover remnants of magical go-bag - mini spindleenergy that might “grow up” to get its own ideas and start its own trouble. Spun fiber can provide a bridge, delineate space, and serve as an offering in its own right. I have two spindles that I typically use in ritual work: one is a collapsible spindle that fits in my bag; and the other, magical go-bag - large spindlemy large one, was a gift to thank me for help given. I adore my large one because it feels weighty and authoritative – like a wand. It’s something I’ve wielded in ritual before now when opening portals and working my will. The collapsible one lives in my purse (yes, it’s that small) along with the sheep knuckle I use for yes/no divination.

Railroad Spike

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

This is something I tend to swap out with my black-handled knife. There’s a magical go-bag - spikeresonance to this item that just works. I’ve engraved it with words of power (which I won’t show here), and it’s one of my favorite spirit weapons for subduing, setting up some hardcore protective space, or for when things go bad. I don’t know whether it’s wholly iron or steel (which is mostly iron anyway), but it’s kickass anyway.

Red Yarn

Function: Apotropaic, tool, McGyver goodness.

magical go-bag - red yarnThis is one of my more McGyver-type items. Red thread can be used to bind and protect, or create new items (like a crossroads effigy or protective rowan cross). It can also be used for knot spells, marking off space, and much more. The yarn I use is hand spun with intent and then ritually consecrated.

Offerings of some kind

Function: Offerings, because being a magical murderhobo is bad.

And finally, because being the magical equivalent of a D&D murderhobo is not something that any of us should aspire to, I carry offerings. So many situations can be avoided or calmed by just communicating and making propitiatory offerings. Easy offerings to carry on the regular are cornmeal, tobacco, water, cedar, and small sealed butter or cream packets. Just please, take any trash home with you so you don’t ruin any of your good work by doing anyone the disrespect of leaving trash in their space.