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.

The Magical “Go-Bag”

magical go-bag - lego person

The Magical Go-Bag (AKA “Preparedness For Weirdos”)

What do you think of when you see the term “go-bag”?

If you don’t know what that is, the name has already probably given you an idea. However, if you do know, then the chances are that you fall into one of two camps: those who think they’re a great idea and already have or are working on putting one together; and those who think they’re something that only paranoid preppers do.

Preppers have a bad name. They suffer from the stereotype of being religious fanatics with doomsday bunkers and enough canned foods to last decades. However, that’s really not representative of most preppers, and if anything, we should all prep to some degree for potential events like natural disasters or economic downturns.

Most prepping efforts focus on sheltering-in-place scenarios, but the go-bag

magical go-bag - storm
The main reason why I have a tote full of emergency stuff.

is designed to help you get the hell out of a place temporarily (usually for 72 hours), and survive. As the name suggests, it’s preparedness on the go!

Ever since the Otherworld apparently began bleeding through, my magically inclined friends and I have noticed some pretty major changes in how the Unseen interacts with us (and vice versa). For starters, it’s far easier to get attention from Themselves nowadays. Moreover, the effects we’re getting during ritual are (or at least seem to be) more obvious and visceral. And it’s all too easy to stumble into situations while out and about. Lastly, we know we’re not the only ones experiencing the weirdness; we’re all getting hit up more often for advice about everything from simple hauntings to fairy possession and curses.

Does this sound familiar to you? Because if it does, you may want to consider making a magical go-bag.

Planning Your Magical Go-Bag

Unfortunately, when it comes to planning your go-bag, I can’t tell you what to put in it. My way of working is not yours, and so you really need to think about how you work and the kinds of tools and implements you find useful.

The first step to filling your go-bag is taking some time to think about the last ten or so magically weird situations you were in while out and about. Where did they take place? What did you encounter? What tools were useful? What do you wish you’d had at the time?

Go on, write that shit down.

When you have your list of items, you’ll probably find that there’s too much to carry comfortably in your handbag in day-to-day life. So this is where you need to begin paring down your list and/or looking for miniature equivalents.

Paring Down Your Tools

Ideally, the magical go-bag contains a combination of tools, apotropaics (protective items or substances), and offerings. So with this in mind, take another look at your list and classify the items you have. Divide your lists into three separate lists if it helps! Anything that serves as both a tool and apotropaic instantly graduates to the next round of consideration. For example, a hag stone serves as both tool and apotropaic, so that would make it into round two.

Now take another look – is there any way you can use any of those items to McGyver other tools on the fly?

magical go-bag sheep knuckle
A sheep knuckle – the ultimate in portable y/n divination.

The process of paring down is really about getting the most utility for your bag space, so think carefully here. Anything that is multipurpose or can be used like the Swiss Army Knife of witchcraft goes through to the next round. Don’t forget to consider items that you usually carry that can be improvised into a magical tool here (e.g. your keys can serve as a good stand-in for bells, so leave out the bells if you usually use them!)

Finally, is there anything that you just aren’t going to dump because it’s just so kickass and has been useful more times than you can count? If so, and if that item is on the larger side, it might be worth it to track down a miniature version.

Magical Go-Bag: The Final Cut

By this point in the process, you probably have quite a good idea of what is going in your bag. And clearly, how much you can fit in depends on how big your bag/ the space in your bag is. I tend to keep at least one apotropaic and one offering item in each of my regularly used bags in case I encounter some

magical go-bag - lego person
“Hello! I’m responding to a 911 exorcist call…why yes, I would be your on-call person. Oh yes, a cup of tea would be lovely!”

kind of incidental issue. I also have a more specialized bag that I take with me when I know I’m going to work “in the field”.

Whatever your bag situation looks like, only you know what you have and how much you can fit in. The trick here though, is taking your final list and figuring out where everything would work best. And don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time – the process of reorganizing your go-bag/emergency supplies is one that you’ll likely be revisiting again and again in line with what you encounter.

In my next blog, I’m going to give you a small tour around my main go-bag and talk about my favorite magical go-bag items so you can see what works for one witch.

5 Magical Hacks for the Brokeass Witch

brokeass witch - empty pockets

Being A Brokeass Witch In The Modern World

It can be expensive being a witch, especially if you work with more historic forms of magic. Materia magica and tools like goat fat, spindles, and the bodies of hanged men just aren’t as readily available nowadays as they were for our forebears. There is no walking to the gibbet at the crossroads to

brokeass witches - gibbet
Foraging was so much better back in the day.

harvest goodness knows what from some hanged criminal for us, comparatively few people raise their own animals, and unless you’re the kind of person to hang out at your local sheep and wool festival, you probably also don’t have a spindle.

Or a cauldron.

Or a pitchfork.

And depending on where you live, your foraging options might be limited when it comes to traditional European witch herbs anyway.

So what’s a brokeass witch to do when a working or form of magic requires materia magica and tools that are prohibitively expensive?

Well, you could try out the following hacks.

1. Keep An Inventory

The first and easiest cost-saving activity that any witch can do is take an inventory of the magical supplies that are already in stock. As a group, we tend towards being pack-rats. We accumulate herbs, rocks, journals, random bones and raccoon dick bones as we practice, and it becomes all too easy to lose track of what we have. So if you’re looking to cut the cost of your craft, you need to reduce the risk of buying unneeded items, and that is where your inventory comes in.

Go through your stuff, make a list, keep the list somewhere easy to see, and refer to it when making your nefarious, magical plans.

2. Cost It Out

brokeass witch - empty walletWhen you have a specific working in mind, take the time to research the cost of supplies. Shop around, fill shopping baskets on random sites and see what totals you get. Sometimes things will work out much cheaper than you initially expected and are actually affordable with a bit of budgeting work. Conversely, things may turn out to be a whole lot more expensive than you thought, so it’s good to cost things out to avoid any nasty surprises.

3. Figure Out Substitutions (And Make A Purist Cry)

In some cases, substituting some tools or ingredients can make things a little more doable financially. However, you need to be careful with any substitutions you make. After all, there’s a certain logic to magical workings, and some of that logic has pretty deep roots.

But while it’s clearly beyond the scope of this listicle subsection to teach how to ‘read’ and deconstruct magical workings in this way, I can give you a down and dirty hack to at least get you thinking about it.

Over the years, I’ve found that the easiest way to think about magic is in terms of story; and leveraging stories in order to change my own story, and the story of others. From an animist perspective, everything has backstory, and these backstories are what build the greater story-arc that you form when you create a spell. So the next time you look at a spell (or consider creating your own spell), try to think of it like a movie in a series of movies and deconstruct the various plots. Those bits where you find yourself thinking “Oooh wouldn’t it have been cool if (character name) did that instead of (character name)” are where you can possibly make some decent substitutions.

Just bear in mind that some spirits care a hell of a lot more about substitutions than others. I have done workings with some real sticklers, and workings with other spirits who are fine with you using whatever you have. So if it doubt, perform divination. Sometimes you can get some leeway from promising better when you’re doing better.

4. Make Your Own (Tools) if Possible

There can be a lot of magical and economic benefits to making your own tools. Because aside from the (usually) cheaper cost (again, cost this out first) of making your own tools, there is the added benefit of being able to birth your own tools into the world. You get to be there at the point of creation, and begin their stories. Yes, you get to be momma to some sketchy knives, spindles, staffs, and whatever the fuck else you need to produce in order to get on down with your magical selves.

Go have some magical tool kids! It’s like the only time you get to reproduce prolifically while poor without society looking down on you.

There’s also a certain niche value there too. I mean, no one else will have a table of art quite as shitty-looking as yours (or mine…speaking from experience here).

Table of “art”. Ha!

It’s artisanal, not shit.

5. Look For ‘Free’ Or Thrift

Finally, despite our lack of early modern witchy resources (oh, the irony), there’s still a lot to be said for foraging locally, especially if you can figure out some decent substitutions in your local plant life. Thrift stores can also be gold

brokeass witches - cauldron
This would be free if you stole it. But that’s not the kind of ‘free’ I mean here. Stealing is bad, m’kay!

mines for witches in need of tools, and you can still observe planetary timing in your purchases! Knives, candle holders, offering dishes, and fireproof bowls are not all that hard to find in a lot of thrift stores.

Of course, the only downside here is that you’ll probably never know the backstory on those tools, but can you ever really say that about any tools bought from local occult stores? So what if that knife you picked up was used by a little old lady called “Evelyn” to eviscerate her Canasta nemesis? Free spirits, bonus.

Final Words

Witchcraft has changed a lot since the days of our early modern counterparts, and so has poverty. However, one thing that has not changed is that witchcraft was, and still remains, the tool of the poor and marginalized.

So regardless of what you end up missing, or the cool shit you don’t get to own, just know this: By being poor as crap, you’re continuing a true witchcraft tradition. Like I said, witchcraft has always been the tool of the downtrodden, and most of those were also poor as crap. Poverty just looked different then. But don’t forget, it’s your economic counterparts (give or take a few hundred years) that the folks who can afford all the swank stuff are trying to emulate.

Yay, validity!

Leveling-Up Witchery and “Flexible Covens”

I’ve seen a couple of blog posts go by my various feeds within the past week that seem to be getting a lot of shares. People like those easy 5-point lists that promise easy ways to get better at something, and they also like models that give them a sense of belonging. However, while I can appreciate that no one can learn their path from a list and that the concept of ‘flexible covens’ gives people a descriptor for the kind of informal magical alliances we often find ourselves in nowadays, I still found elements of these posts problematic.

The Old Days and Five-Point Lists

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend shared a blog post she wrote about shielding (you can read it here), and we got into a conversation in the comments on meditation. You see, for years I’ve been under the impression that this is one topic that magic 101 books have neglected for a while now. And that’s not entirely surprising, because the most part, meditation is massively misunderstood in the West. Moreover, it seems to be one of those parts of spiritual/magical practice that people decide are too hard. Worse, a lot of people don’t even know why meditation is so important for spiritual/magical practice.

However, when you read older magic 101 books, or books written by people who are more old school, they’re pretty uncompromising on the need to develop a practice. And like I said, I’ve been under the impression for years now that a lot of the witch 101 books have become more…compromising. (Of course, the cynic in me just says that people write whatever books they feel will sell regardless of their utility for practice.) But it would seem, at least from the conversation with my friend and other participants in the thread, that I am not the only practitioner to have noticed this trend.

And this is where we come to what I would put on a five-point list. This is not a five-point list that claims to teach you everything, but if you follow it, you will level up your witchery.

#1 Meditation

Yeah, I get it. You fucking hate meditation. It’s boring as shit, and who the fuck could just sit there and do nothing until they have no more thoughts in their heads (and who the fuck wants that anyway?)? Also, what the fuck even is the point? It’s also completely impossible.

Okay, so now we’ve got the excuses out of the way, let’s go through a quick witchery - meditationrundown of what meditation actually is.

So the first problem is that we can’t actually give a potted definition because there are multiple different types of meditation and they have different goals. There’s also so much damn material out there on those different types too – no seriously, there are entire manuals written about each variety (and multiple manuals as well!).

However, the type you should probably begin with is what is referred to as ‘calm abiding’ meditation, or shamatha. I suggest this for four reasons:

1. Shamatha stabilizes the mind, making it far less volatile and allowing you to really take stock and figure out what the hell you’re doing before you start flinging magic like a monkey flings poop. It also makes it easier to catch your mind when it’s trying to run away with you in scary situations.

2. Shamatha includes the same kind of mental discipline as mindfulness. This is indispensable for developing not only will, but the ability to maintain focus on whatever the hell you’re doing magically.

3. It also provides an opportunity to practice visualization. In Shamatha you learn by using ‘supports’. Now, the support can either be a physical object that you maintain single-pointed awareness of, or a visualized object (such as a ball of light that you visualize just sitting there chilling out on your carpet). This is like magical cross-training because you’re not only stabilizing and strengthening your mind muscles, but you’re also working on those visualization skills while you’re at it!

4. Finally, if you stick with it, it can become a source of major insight. Things will arise that will help guide you along your path.

Interested? The Buddhists have the best materials on this mind-tech, so I recommend checking this  and this out for an easy explanation, and then picking up this book by Pema Chödrön for more concise instructions. The (free) beginner magic course over at Quareia isn’t half bad either!

#2 Keep a Journal

I’ve posted about this before, but I’m going to reiterate its importance here. Magical journals are incredibly important to developing a practice – regardless

witchery - holy book
Let’s pretend this is a journal, m’kay?

of what your magic looks like. There are a number of reasons for this. But the biggest one is keeping a record. This sounds like a no-brainer, but keeping a record of dreams/trances/interactions with the Other/magical workings/insights/and especially pacts can help save your ass down the line like you wouldn’t believe. Not only that, but it will help you take stock of what you’ve done/experienced, and show you how to tweak what you do to get better results in future. A well-kept journal can highlight so many teachable moments, and we always learn far better from our fuck-ups than the things that went perfectly.

#3 Get to Know Your Local Area and Work on Connection

This is a multilayered recommendation. For me, the process of creating connection begins with going for long walks. Back in the 1990s I read in a book that a witch should explore a 5 mile radius from their home in order to get to know it and that advice has stood me in good stead since. But what am I looking for?

On a purely physical level, I note the trees, the types of plants, the rivers, the graveyards, and any spaces that just interest me for historical or aesthetic reasons.

But then there’s the hidden dimension too. This is best expressed in questions like “Why does that tree draw me?”, “How does it feel?”, “Why do I get the feeling I’m being watched in that place?”, and “Does it feel friendly or unfriendly?”. I recommend bringing offerings on these walks. You may find the witchery - pathunseen interacting with you in some of these places, and that’s fantastic. That’s what you want as a witch! Relationships with the Unseen have always been part and parcel of witchery. Just remember to be polite and to never offer anything of yourself or that you are not prepared to truly give.

Sometimes you find places where you feel like someone may be there, and these are the places where you can sit out (as long as the vibes are good).

The practice of sitting out is old – very old, and no one knows exactly how to do it. However, the method I’ve found that works best for me is to simply allow myself to sort of melt into the land – to become a part of it – then just simply sense what or who is around me.

I’m not going to lie, there is an element of danger in this kind of work – a place can quickly go from welcoming to dangerous. Just remember that offerings can appease, apotropaics and amulets are a great idea, and that Morgan Daimler writes a whole bunch of books about staying safe(ish) when dealing with the Other (you should absolutely read them).

#4 Read Widely – Especially Those Older Texts

Humans have been doing magic for a really long time, and even better, a good chunk of us have been writing that shit down whenever we’ve had the ability and/or cultural imperative to do so.

So it goes without saying that there’s a hell of a lot out there. Moreover, much of it is far better than the stuff we find in modern texts. Okay, so the style of writing might not be as accessible, but the shapes of magic are pretty well conserved over the years. These shapes can give us the underlying mechanics of how different magics work, and that’s probably one of the most useful things any witch could learn. Moreover, being “conversant” in more forms of magic only adds to your ability to not only diversify your practice, but tweak your workings to get better results, and adapt when encountering magic that is the product of a different paradigm.

To learn about the shapes of Goetia, check out Jake Stratton-Kent’s work.
To learn about Greco-Egyptian magical shapes, Stephen Skinner is a good bet.
Aaron Leitch explains Solomonic magical patterns.
Paul Huson shows some of how all that stuff above can be shoved into a witchcraft paradigm.
Folks like Jason Miller and Gordon White also show some of that sexy adaptation shit.
People like Ian Corrigan leverage grimoire—shaped magic for Irish-inspired workings.

And those are just a few examples! If you really want to get into the weeds, you can also read reconstructionist magical sources of Irish/Norse/Old English/Greek/groups not represented above.

Cool, huh?

#5 Commit to Experiment, Commit to Practice!

But none of the above is any good unless you commit. You need to commit to experiment (so you can find your flavor of practice), and you need to commit to practice.

witchery - practice
Even if what you do looks like this kind of a train wreck, just do it!

Nothing happens without putting in that work, and if you cannot commit, then maybe you need to evaluate whether or not you should even bother trying to level up? Or even bother with any of this. It’s okay to just find something interesting and enjoy the aesthetic. That doesn’t detract from your inherent value as a person. Or maybe it’s just not your time yet? That’s also okay. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about whether you’re ready yet. Magic can fuck you up, so it’s important to be self-aware and honest with yourself about this.

But if you’re ready to go balls to the wall on this magic thing, then do that. Do the meditation even though you fucking hate it. Keep that journal. Walk like Hobbits on their way to Mordor. Make allies and figure out who to avoid. Read all the things. Grow.

You’ve got this.

But one thing you should absolutely be wary of doing is getting in one of those ‘flexible covens’.

Flexible Covens

Look I get it, it sounds really nice, the vast majority of people don’t come across their perfect coven. So a lot of folks end up working with people in a really undefined way.

From that perspective, the idea of a ‘flexible coven’ is lovely. It projects a sense of belonging and closeness, and that’s entirely why it’s a terrible idea.

Think about all the things you associate with the word ‘coven’. I bet all those ideas are overwhelmingly positive (at least if you’ve never been burned by one), right?

Herein lies the problem. The thing about membership in a coven or any tight magical group is that there is a level of trust and intimacy. It’s the kind of ‘deep’ you don’t find in the kind of casual friendships mentioned in the ‘flexible coven’ post. You are connected on a level that is hard to describe, and strange things happen because of those connections all the damn time.

I’m in a magical group, it’s kind of an outgrowth of our battlefield psychopomp group. And though we don’t refer to ourselves as a ‘coven’, that is pretty much what we are. We are a ‘magical family’ – that’s probably a good term for it.

To give you an example of the kind of thing that happens to us, we were looking for retreat places. You know, somewhere where we could disappear for a couple of days and just immerse ourselves.  So naturally, I became fixated on this one place – Shepherdstown WV. I posted about it in our chat and found that two group members were actually in Shepherdstown. They’d driven up randomly and I hadn’t known about it before they posted.

This is on top of all the other stuff like dreams with shared themes on the same night.  Or contacting each other randomly when someone is working magic. These are people I trust and share secrets with. These are people who, if they violated their oaths, could harm me (and I them).

This is precisely the problem with the ‘flexible coven’ though. When you work deeply with people on a magical level, you share a lot of yourself. You make yourself vulnerable and consider them ‘safe’. You stop doing things like clearing your hairbrush before they come round or keeping hawk eyes on your tools. In other words, they gain opportunities to really fuck you up.

But what of people who start to think of others as ‘coven’ without those bonds and oaths being there?

I would advise caution. Perhaps create for yourself an inner and outer court system like some covens have. Make your inner court those who have proven to you again and again that they are worthy of your trust. Casual acquaintances you like and work with occasionally can fill your outer court.

In other words, don’t give ‘the keys to the castle’ to anyone who hasn’t earned it. (And even then, keep a backup plan just in case!)

You Don’t Own Witchcraft (and Other Rants)

witchcraft - devil

Ownership and Gatekeeping

You don’t own witchcraft – none of us do. It kind of makes me sad that I feel witchcraft - morpheuslike I have to say this, but witchcraft isn’t just the domain of (predominantly) white neo-Pagans – there are forms of witchcraft all over the globe, existing in multiple worldviews. Just because you’ve created modern forms of religious witchcraft, it doesn’t mean that you somehow have a claim on it all, or that it bears any resemblance to (any) historical witchcraft. In other words, none of us get to be gatekeepers here.

You know what does bear a resemblance to historical (European) witchcraft though?

Some of the shit in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (hereafter referred to as CAOS).

You know, that shit that some of you are getting mad about.

Look, I get it. You don’t like the inclusion of Satan/the Devil/Old Nick in a show about witches, and some of you seem to think it’s playing into a Satanic Panic mentality. But let’s be real for a moment here.

Sympathy for the Devil

First of all, the way Pagans react to the Devil/Lucifer/Satan/Old Scratch/Whothefuckever (not that they’re all the same being anyway) is ridiculous. It’s 100% Christian baggage over a being who is basically the kitchen sink of all the shit the Christians hated.

witchcraft - satan
“Oh fuck…I think I left the coffee machine on.”

I mean, could you honestly say that you’d feel the same about the Devil if we lived in a world that had retained large polytheist populations and the Christians were ranting about this being? You probably wouldn’t. You’d probably file it away in your head that he might be worth slitting some (animal) throats over in certain situations, but could also be a royal dickbag.

And it’s not like we avoid worshipping beings capable of being royal dickbags as a collected mass of religious and spiritual movements either (see: current popularity of “fayeries” for a great and exceedingly ironic version of that). We’re actually pretty cool with that – it’s edgy even. They just have to be ‘our’ (potential) dickbags.

But a dickbag, is a dickbag, is a dickbag.

So why do we elevate one dickbag over all the others in terms of how we perceive their inherent dickbag…ness?

Could it be that despite our best efforts to Pagan ourselves the fuck up, we inherited more than a few attitudes from the dominant religion/s in our society anyway?

Yes, of course we did. None of us live in bubbles.

But that’s not the whole story – there are bullshit respectability politics at work here too.

To some degree, I can understand this. After all, we’re only a few decades out

witchcraft-Dees20
I know, I know…but I wasn’t sure if I could rip off any actual D&D pics for this post.

from when playing D&D could get you into trouble. But there are some very real issues with engaging in respectability politics that I think we should all be mindful of (which you can read about here).

Sabrina and Satanic Panic

Secondly, the obvious ‘hole’ in the Satanic Panic worries is that the witches from CAOS were clearly intended to be fantastical. I mean, they’re immortal (or near enough) and you’ve got people kissing the Devil’s hairy hooves, for goodness sake!

Their magic is also massively more successful – like supernatural being successful. This and the immortality element are important markers of the fantasy elements of this show. The witches here are not *meant* to be believed in in a literal sense.

And look, don’t get me wrong, we can do a lot more with magic than we witchcraft - Devilgenerally think. We *could* do a lot more, but most of us just aren’t there yet (you know, if we’re being real). We’ve got a lot to build and paradigms to shift before we can really get there.

But none of that is inherently a bad thing. Because the Satanic Panic concern isn’t entirely misplaced; our current social climate is absolutely ripe for a resurgence of kind of awfulness.

It won’t be CAOS that will set it off though. If anything, it’ll be all the highly public grandstanding curses of public figures and groups like the NRA.

To Keep Silent

It’s one thing to network among practitioners and set up working groups – that carries very little risk. As does democratizing magical efforts via anonymous fora such as 4Chan. However, it’s quite another thing to go in front of a camera crew and ramble on about how you’re going to work malefica on people in power! (People in power who, I might remind you, enjoy a good deal of support from the kind of zealous motherfuckers who would gladly burn people like you and I had they the chance)

These public rituals have already planted those seeds in their minds too. Pastors and other sources on the right already talk about the curses against the president, and the NRA put out a video not all that long ago warning of that very thing. So in other words, they were taking that threat seriously and starting the rumblings of what could become another Satanic Panic way before CAOS came along. If you think this is going to be instigated by a Netflix show with a talking cat, then you haven’t been paying attention.

No, if anything, what will come will be because of what people within Pagan communities themselves were putting out. CAOS isn’t the problem here.

Disbelief is Our Friend

Because as galling as it might be, one of the greatest protections we could witchcraft memehave in times like these is disbelief. We don’t want people to believe we can do the things they associate with witchcraft. Especially not in times like these.  Trust me, we probably wouldn’t like their BBQs, and it wouldn’t just be because the potato salad has raisins in it.

Restoration, Not Reenchantment

restoration -ljosavatn

Hey, you there!

Yes, you, my fellow North American Heathens/Pagans/Witches. I’d like a word with you about a few things. You see, I’ve had a lot to think about of late, and I think some of you all really need to hear what I have to say.

Restoration - Ljosavatn
As you can see, it was a truly horrible place.

First of all, if you’re not already doing it, you need to be going on pilgrimages. Speaking as someone who’s been in Heathenry for a while (over twenty years, fml), we don’t really have a culture of pilgrimages, but we should. Now I’m admittedly biased about this shit seeing as I recently co-presented the Land, Sea, Sky Hiddenfolk, Witches, and Elves tour in Iceland with the incredible Morgan Daimler, but hear me out.

Making the Case for Pilgrimages

When we think of pilgrimages, I think we tend to think of them in terms of

Restoration - rock face
Here’s Johnny!

going to a place that’s considered inherently holy in a way, and trying to gain the favor of some numinous being. And don’t get me wrong, pilgrimages can be that. But I don’t think they have to be that (or at least that’s not where their greatest usefulness lies for us). Sometimes, pilgrimages can be a way to experience things related to your worldview that you wouldn’t otherwise experience in your normal environment.

You know, key things like ‘what it’s like to live in an actually inspirited landscape’.

A Tale of a Few Cultures

Let me tell you a quick story to sort of illustrate the point. The second time I visited the United States, I went to a large East Coast Heathen event where I facilitated the construction of a fire labyrinth. When we first went to the planned site and started to discuss the logistics of construction, we foundRestoration - Labyrinth ourselves being mobbed by mosquitoes.

A common enough occurrence, you say?

True. But none of them were actually biting, and so I took it as a sign that the local spirits of the land required some assurances and payment in order to proceed without us becoming walking clouds of mosquitoes while we worked. So I got some hard cider and addressed my words towards the woods, explaining the entire process for finding the stones we would use to mark out the labyrinth, the contained use of fire that would not burn the land, and how we would put the stones back in the forest when done. Then I poured out the offerings and the bugs left us alone.

To me, that was nothing – that small act of explanation and offering would have been a baseline response in so many other places that I’ve inhabited. However, it simply hadn’t occurred to my American counterparts to do that, or even that the wights would even be a factor to be taken into account. This led to me being introduced as someone who was especially into working with wights for the remainder of the event.

The Whole in the Hole

Now I’m not telling this story in a ‘nur nur I’m better than you stupid

Restoration - Godafoss1
It was just awful…so awful

Americans’ kind of way. (I’m an American citizen now too, so I’m also a stupid American.) I just wanted to illustrate how far they tend to be from the minds of modern American Heathens/Pagans/Witches, despite the fact that the existence of the numinious Other forms a key part of the historical worldviews of each of those groups. Even worse, where people do profess belief, it’s often not in a concrete way. Gods are easy for Americans to grok (as a culture we’ve a long history of god(s)-bothering) – ancestors too to some degree. But the Other is hard.

There are some good reasons for this, but to boil it all down to the most TL;DR explanation ever: Early colonists saw the colonization of America as a kind of religious crusade in which they had to “win” territories from the devil and “cleanse” them of the Heathen. (Don’t believe me? Check out this book, and the rantings of Cotton Mather here.) America was to be a covenant nation, given by god and kept for a long as Christianity held sway. This is the society most of you grew up in, and it is one that not only drove out the spirits in many places, but still lacks nuance when it comes to viewing those beings. If it is not dead or godly/of god, then it is demonic, and here is where we come to the crux of our problem.

There is no cultural framework within mainstream (predominantly white) American culture for interacting with the non-dead and non-godly. So is it any surprise that the Other remains and afterthought for many Heathens/Pagans/Witches here?

Restoring Pieces

Yet I believe it is the missing piece of the bigger picture, and I think many of us feel it or re-enchantment would not be a topic within our community.

Restoration - coast
We were just tortured by stunning natural beauty and elvish sex vibes.

This is where going somewhere that you know to be inspirited (by reputation) comes in. I appreciate that not everyone can afford to go to places like Iceland, but pilgrimages (or perhaps more accurately ‘retreats’) don’t have to be to places that are considered particularly connected to Pagan or Heathen traditions – they can be far closer to home. (Do we really think all those mysterious National Park disappearances are purely coincidental?) Take some like-minded friends! Take some apotropaics (bells, black salt, iron, wolf bones…you know, the usual)! Make a weekend of it!

Restoration - Dimmuborgir
Trust me, the rent isn’t worth it.

Go out there and experience the Other that peeks out of rocks, invites you into ‘move-in ready’ holes (don’t accept though), throws disembodied voices, moves your shit around, and just generally makes itself known.

Do that until you have this kind of an experience,*then* let’s continue our conversations about the ‘re-enchantment of the world’, but instead let’s call it ‘restoration’, and ‘finally getting our boots on for a spiritual war that’s worth a crap’. (Because what do you think all that Christian Spiritual Warrior crap has been doing anyway?)

Restoration > Re-Enchantment

The more I think about it, ‘re-enchantment’ as discussed in modern paganism sucks. (You can find a good example of how some modern Pagans interact with the concept here.) I mean, it’s not inherently bad but I think there are some definite issues with the current discourse:

Firstly, the world is viewed along an axis of enchanted vs disenchanted in this discussion. This suggests an endpoint at either extreme of the axis and I don’t

Restoration - Godafoss2
How the fuck did we even handle it?

believe that to be the case (for reasons I will go into).

Secondly, the predominant focus of re-enchantment is on human perceptions. There is no partnership with the Other here in this ‘re-enchantment’. It’s about humans rediscovering the enchanted nature of their local environment.

Thirdly, it’s all well and good to ‘re-enchant’ your perceptions of your local environment, but what if you work on that and there’s fuck all there? You may perceive the Other just fine when away from home, but what about when your local area is just…empty? Or how about pissed?

This is why restoration needs to be the goal as opposed to re-enchantment – that is just a step along the way.

Going Beyond Re-Enchantment

So what should restoration look like? In my opinion, it should involve inviting the Other back from the Outer yards, creating sanctuaries for them on our lands, building relationship, and giving them greater footholds among us. It should involve facing up to our collective shit as a culture and making amends for past sins.

Restoration - Gryla
Gryla says “Hi!”

I’m not going to lie, it’s not always going to work out. Some folks are likely to have shittier experiences than others with this. Some of you will have spirits that have absolutely zero interest in working with you, and will likely want to skullfuck you into next week. Those spirits have always existed, the same can be said about humans.

It’s time to stop freaking out when the Other makes itself more known, and it’s time to stop talking in ominous terms about the ‘Otherworld bleeding through’. Because this is, and always has been the fight in this land – the back and forth of Christians driving out the Other (both Human and non-Human) in order to maintain their damned, blood-soaked covenant. Cotton Mather knew it, as do his modern Dominionist counterparts do. We just need to finally get on board and start fighting our corner.

”Wherefore the devil is now making one attempt more upon us; an attempt more difficult, more surprising, more snarled with unintelligible circumstances than any that we have hitherto encountered; an attempt so critical, that if we get well through, we shall soon enjoy halcyon days with all the vultures of hell trodden under our feet. He has wanted his incarnate legions to persecute us, as the people of God have in the other hemisphere been persecuted: he has therefore drawn forth his more spiritual ones to make an attack upon us. We have been advised by some credible Christians yet alive, that a malefactor, accused of witchcraft as well as murder, and executed in this place more than forty years ago, did then give notice of an horrible plot against the country by witchcraft, and a foundation of witchcraft then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered, would probably blow up, and pull down all the churches in the country. And we have now with horror seen the discovery of such a witchcraft! An army of devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the center, and after a sort, the first-born of our English settlements: and the houses of the good people there are filled with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants, tormented by invisible hands, with tortures altogether preternatural.”
Cotton Mather – The Wonders of the Invisible World

Our side in this was decided long ago.

Love and tea,

Me

P.S Check out Morgan’s open posts on the Pleiades for similar content on opening things up.  Part One. Part Two.

P.P.S Morgan is fucking awesome and a pleasure to stalk all over a volcanic land.

Doorways

Doorways - Doorway

Introduction To Ranting About Doorways

Doorways are interesting things, and in my opinion, they’re also rather underrated and underused in modern magic. Well, at least from what I’ve seen

doorways - Cyprian
Please cool kids, come back! I’ll give you moar necromancies!

anyway. Which you know, considering that I’m the kind of person to either work in ridiculously niche groups or alone, that’s not saying a whole lot. I mean, for all I know, you’re all rocking the doorway-thing, and it’s way bigger among the cool kids than St Cyprian was a few years ago.

(Please tell me this is true?)

But things were quite different in Heathen period Northwestern Europe. For one thing, they didn’t have the internet to start massive “witch wars” on. Nor did they have convenient sandwich makers upon which to create endless grilled cheese sandwiches to get fat on.

Life was just different back then.

Doorways - mound
Tadaa!!!!

One thing they did have though, was burial mounds. Yes, wonderful, boob-shaped containers for the dead. (Or pudendas. Honestly, whichever junk-based imagery you like best is good here).

And some of those wonderful bosoms of final doom also have what appear to have been post holes in front of them. Or more specifically, post holes for (most likely) doorways.

Now this may sound like completely irrelevant bollocks, but it’s  not, and to find out why, you need to stick with me through a minor detour.

Oh Look! A Conveniently Labeled Digression!

So, these pudendas of death didn’t just have post holes. No, some of them also have what appear to have been ditches. And moreover, pollen analysis of some of those ditches demonstrates that they used to be filled with water for at least part of the year. This would have turned these mounds into temporary, de-facto islands of the dead.

Doorways - boat
I was looking for “boat burial” and this came up. This is better. This is far better                                                                             

When you factor in the amount of European death lore that describes the dead crossing over water of some kind to the afterlife, it’s not hard to see the applications for all kinds of dead-related activities here.

The point I’m making with this digression?

We often build our holy places with ritual and cosmology in mind. If you want to figure out ritual and cosmology, it’s good to look at the holy places.

YAY!!!! The Return of the Original Point!

Now, a bunch of post holes wouldn’t really be anything, and we wouldn’t necessarily guessing that they’re door posts were it not for a continuous thread of ritual doorpost usage connected with the dead.

Moving forward in time to the Viking Age (you know, that time period all the

Doorways - Doorway
Imagine a relative buried in your doorway. Every time you walk over it they get to see…Imma stop now.

bros like to fap off over), you have the doorway burials of the Viking age. You see, some folks back then would actually bury the people they wanted to stick around post mortem in the doorways of their homes.

Well, there’s nothing like  keeping the family together, amirite?

As you might expect though, this backfired sometimes. Most usually when the person you unwisely decided to give visitation rights to was a raging dick in life. You see, rule number one of ‘Necromancy Club’ is that a rabid cockwomble in life is sure to be a rabid cockwomble in death.  People don’t just automatically become wise and loving ancestors; there’s a process for that in most cultures that still have coherent ancestor cults.  Unfortunately, most of us in modern WEIRD Pagan communities come from cultures where the death rites were taken over by some imperialist death cult that worships a dead dude on a torture/execution device. So, to say that our ideas on all of the above can be a little fucked up and unhealthy is something of an understatement.

But anyway, doorways!

They were a thing in the foul arte of necromancy back in the day. (Although to be fair, it was probably just called “going to ask Aunt Guðrún about that there thing we were talking about”.)

“Wake aunt Guðrún, wake auntie good.
At the back door I call you (to ask you where our fucking sheep went)”

And she’d bitch you out, call you crazy, and then tell you want you need to know. That’s a filch of an actual invocation btw. It’s from Svipdagsmal, and yes, it mentions doors.

The Final Point!

Aye, so doorways are interesting things. To stand between doorposts is to be neither in nor out, neither here nor there. It is to stand in a liminal place in which things may be seen, and through which things may pass (albeit when engineered a little bit…)

Doorways - Druidenhain
Here’s one I made earlier. Ok, so it wasn’t really me. Not this one anyway.

One of the best things about doorways too is their availability, so you don’t need to drop a load of cows or bling on obtaining fancy schmancy stuff. Because if you don’t have any kind of doorways and don’t have access to some woods where you can create arches in the trees to work in, then you’re probably a fair way up shit creek and should be working on other stuff first.

So yeah…give it a go.

The first time I tranced in a doorway, my garden filled with mist, a storm blew in, and I heard screams on the wind. I’m not claiming the storm here, but to hear the screaming on the winds of a storm that had taken lives on its way across the land before hitting my area? Would I have heard them had I not been trancing in a doorway? Who knows! But still. Doorways are useful things in magic, and they have the benefit of being easy to get out of if things become a bit much.

Don’t like seeing what you’re seeing? Go in and close the door. Make sure your wards are awesome. Good times!

Well, that’s it for me today. I’m currently in the middle of packing for going to Iceland where I’ll be co-hosting this trip with Morgan Daimler!

 

Of Witch Kits and Gatekeeping

When I first saw the whole Sephora “witch kit” thing on social media, I had roughly three thoughts:

“Huh, that’s not a bad price! Wonder what those perfumes smell like.”gatekeeping - white sage
“Ugh, white sage…”
“I bet this is going to piss some people off.”

Now 2018 might be an utter shitshow in that “Hold my beer, 2016!” kinda way, but it’s sort of nice to know we still have some constants, you know? And a tacky ‘witch kit’ created by Pinrose and being flogged by Sephora enraging a whole bunch of people for largely nebulous reasons has been that constant in this case.

(Thank you, Internet. I love you too.)

But that’s not to say that there aren’t real reasons to give a shit about this Pinrose/Sephora foray into (Basic?) Witchcraft. For starters, there are valid criticisms surrounding the inclusion of white sage in these kits from both appropriation and sustainability standpoints. Then there was the booklet (which I haven’t seen), apparently it also contains appropriative bullshit (because I guess they were going for a theme here?).

So you know, real reasons.

But also a lot of nebulous feelings based in “exploitation” and even “appropriation” (which is a little rich considering how much white Pagans take from marginalized peoples and you know…appropriate the shit out of it).

Some of it, undoubtedly, also comes down to gatekeeping, which is handy, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about today!

Gatekeepers and Gatekeeping

gatekeeping - ghostbusters
So romantic!

Louis: I am The Keymaster!

Dana Barrett: I am The Gatekeeper!
Ghostbusters 1984

Our communities are filled with gatekeepers of various kinds, operating under various motivations. In Heathenry, we tend to deal with a form of gatekeeping based in the heritage of adherents. Because for some assholes (usually the kind who rage against “miscegenation” while ignoring the fact that historically, white boys haven’t had a whole lot of issues with that as long as it was the product of them getting their rape on), that’s a thing.

It’s a dumb thing, but it’s still a thing for them. Those are the gatekeepers we’re downright infamous for, but they’re far from the only kind.

Recently, The Wild Hunt covered (badly, like really badly), the story of the “Pussy Church of TERFy doom” (or whatever the fuck those lot are called). This again, is another form of gatekeeping. genital gatekeeping. With doxxing, and what looks like a nascent tithing system.

But gatekeeping isn’t just the domain of fuckernutters who essentially just want to discriminate under some pseudo-spiritual guise. There are other, more well-intentioned forms of gatekeeping too. You know the kind of thing – the preventing or discouraging of people from trying forms of magic that are considered (either rightly or wrongly) to be dangerous.

Will the Real Gatekeepers Please Stand Up?

Now, my views on danger in the Craft are probably well known by now. This shit isn’t safe. I would even go as far as to say that if you’re doing something real then this is all managed risk anyway. Forget “safe”. When you’re dealing with numinous beings with agency that are actually *real* (as opposed to being some feel good imaginary friends), “safe” isn’t really a guarantee.

Which brings me to who I consider the real gatekeepers to be.

When we think of a tradition or practice, we often only think of it in terms of the human side of things, and forget that there is also the numinous side of the equation to take into account. But what is any tradition or magical practice without its numinous powers?

Those of you who’ve tried scrying both with and without summoning the spirits into the water will know the answer to this one.

The answer is “lacking”.

The Other (regardless of what form it takes) is integral to the practice of witchcraft. And for as much personal power and raw talent as we can bring to the game, it’s nothing compared to what they can gift us.

Here is where we come to the crux of the matter.

Because ultimately, it’s the numinous beings who matter, these are the real gatekeepers here, and ideally, we humans work in concert with them. It’s not for us to do the accepting based on whether or not someone has the right training or got their start via some tacky ‘witch kit’. (Or from watching The Craft! What up, 90s witches! I see you!) The real test is when we bring them, or they themselves stand before the powers with whom we work.

Burned Fingers and Adult Pants

For some people though, the gatekeeping they practice is a matter of responsibility to the wider community. They believe in restricting information to certain practices in order to keep people safe. However, this tends to have the unfortunate side effect of stifling growth and keeping people in the shallow end of the pool.

Let me explain a little.

The vast majority of us come from broken or simply newly created traditions. Now let’s be honest here, our magical technologies need an assload of work, and the bar for what we believe magic can do needs raising. Don’t see what I’m saying here? Check out the kind of operations contained in the Greek Magical Papyri and grimoires! Check out reports from cultures from outside our WEIRD society! Are we anywhere near that level?

I don’t think so. Again, I can’t help but think of what I’ve seen from “Core Shamans” here in the States versus what I’ve experienced at Mudang shrines in Korea. And if you’ve ever gotten off a mountain path to allow a God-as-solid-block-of-wind to pass on his way to a shrine to possess a Mudang, then you’ll understand what I’m saying here.

But you see, we’re not going to get there if we’re hiding people’s adult pants and dousing them with water so they can’t get their fingers burned. At some

gatekeeping - pants
Actually, this is pants optional.

point, once the caveats have been given and understood, you just have to get out of the way and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s not to say you can’t take out forms of ‘insurance’ though. Think the person you just taught that curse to might use it irresponsibly? Why not take some of their hair in exchange for the knowledge and let them know just what you’ll do if you ever hear of them flinging it round like cum in a bukkake session? Got a tradition you want to protect? Why not enlist some spirit protectors? See what I’m saying? There are things that can be done that don’t douse or steal pants, and I think they’re worth doing.

Because we live in interesting times now. Okay, so it may often feel like we’re dancing upon the edge of a great precipice, but we shouldn’t forget that these are also times of great potential and growth. How many of us are having more common and intense experiences with the Other now? How many folks have you come across that don’t normally encounter anything but are telling wide-eyed stories of things that “couldn’t possibly happen”?

I would suggest that perhaps we are living in a time when things are becoming steadily re-enchanted (and how many of us have been wanting that to happen?). And if that is the case, then surely that re-enchantment would bring with it the potential for greater magic? We just need to remember what it is ‘to dare’ first.

Sex and the Dead: A Right Load of Fuckery

ancestor - skull

The Paradox of Sex and the Dead

For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the onion was considered a vegetable of the dead. Perhaps it’s because it grew in the ground as the deceased are planted? Or perhaps the reasoning was something else. Either way, along with parsley and celery, the onion commonly graced the tables of funeral feasts

sex and the dead - onions
Viagra, a long time ago.

(“Eating with the Dead”).

But here is where we come to a paradox, because the onion was also well known as an aphrodisiac. And what of grim and unyielding Hades himself? Not only was he connected with the cycle of the year, but was also arguably connected to fertility too.

As it turns out though, this collocation of sex and death is not unusual, and it’s not limited to the classical world either.

Among the Germanic tribes, for example, the god of the mound is also the god who fertilizes the earth. It is he who is depicted with a large phallus – a sign of his virility. Ruler of Alfheim, so too do his subjects share the same associations. Mound-dwelling and sexually deviant, elves would eventually come to be known as incubi.

Moving slightly further afield, the Canaanite Ba’al the god of life and fertility is shown to be constantly locked in battle with Mot, the god of death and sterility.

To move even further afield (at least from the perspective of my resting paradigm), we see the same dichotomy in the Haitian deity Papa Ghédé who presides over both death and eroticism.

Again and again, fertility (or even straight up eroticism) and death walk hand in hand. Life is spun and then unspun in a cycle of generation and dissolution, the fibers falling away only to be respun again. These are in truth, two sides of the same cycle, and without the one there cannot be the other.

Man Imitates Gods (or Elves)

This also seems to be the case for many humans who work with the dead too, and the grave may be just as inseparable from sex and generation within some human practitioners, as it is with the aforementioned gods.

“Thus the Gods did, thus men do”

Taittirīya Brāhmana
(Eliade 98)

sex and the dead - beso negro
Those witches will get with any old unclean spirit!

There also seems to be something in the “wiring” here too. For anyone who has studied historical witchcraft accounts, accusations of “sexual deviancy” go hand in hand with accusations of trucking (sexually or magically) with demons or elves. Again and again we see this pattern of chthonic beings with fertility aspects and their human partners engaged in both necromancy and apparent sexual deviancy. (See Lee Morgan’s ‘A Deed without a Name’ for further discussion on these relationships both among historical and modern practitioners)

It would seem that one cannot separate the sex/eroticism from the chthonic, and by extension, death itself. And this can be unsettling to our modern WEIRD minds. (I note here that apparently Papa Ghédé enjoys fucking with white people because of exactly this kind of hang up. Go Papa Ghédé!)

But patterns rarely emerge without reason, and this one is no exception.

A Matter of “Wiring”?

First though, I’d like to talk about the matter of the “wiring” of human practitioners for a moment. Because here too are patterns to be observed. Why is it that the witch was so associated with sexual deviancy in historical accounts? Why did Jordanes write of the Halirunnae (Gothic for Helrune), if you’re interested) going out and having issue with “unclean spirits”? Why was that so believable to him that people associated with Hel practices would be all about fucking the “unclean spirits”? (Getica XXIV, 121-123)

This matter of “wiring” is something that Martin Coleman (aka Draja Mickaharic) comments on in Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy. To quote him regarding women with the propensity for necromancy:

“If you are a woman you may have had occasional vivid dreams of a sexual nature which you remember upon awakening. In some cases, the dream may

sex and the dead - necromancy
According to Pixabay, this is what necromancy looks like

have been so vivid that you awakened as a result of the orgasm that the dream produced. This is not an uncommon phenomena found in those women who are able to work with the spirits of the dead. Women who are able to work well with the spirits of the dead often have very little sense of physical modesty. In a few cases they are excessively modest. Often women who can work with spirits of the dead are quite uninhibited in comparison with most of the women of their generation. Occasionally they are asexual, but these women are usually found at the extreme ranges of dress and sexual behavior.”

So what is going on here? Why can working with the dead turn into such fuckery? (Ha, see what I did there?) Why does this collocation exist?

Sex as a Safety Mechanism

One thing you quickly learn when interacting with the dead is that to interact with the dead is to interact with death, and pull away from life. But to engage in the primal act of intercourse is to pull away from death and to reassert one’s place within the living world. It is to leave the world of shadows and rejoin the world of the heart pounding, heavy breathing, and corporeality of skin and bodily fluids. To fall once more under the spell of the sensual and reconnect with one of the joys of this world. It is in this sense, a way of exorcising the touch of death from yourself in the same way that you may take salt or wash your feet, or whatever else you do to purify when leaving the places of the sex and the dead - life and deathdead.

This is not some sick and perverted thing as some might think. There is no sexual attraction to the dead present (and I actually hate that I feel like I have to say that). Instead, I find it to be more like the triggering a safety mechanism that occurs in response to a certain degree of proximity to death. It’s a form of medicine. When you think about it, this is really no different from people fucking at or after funerals. It is, I believe, the same underlying mechanism at work.

In short, this is a piece of protective wiring for those of us who experience it, and deities like Papa Ghédé rightfully mock us when repression keeps us from this act of self-healing.

(Ace folx, I’d be curious to hear what you experience post-interacting-with-the-dead!)

Bibliography

Eating With the Dead: Funeral Meal Practices, by Tylluan Perry in MEMENTO MORI A Collection of Magickal and Mythological Perspectives On Death, Dying, Mortality and Beyond

The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, by Mircea Eliade

Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy, by Martin Coleman