Otherworldly Bleed, Consensus, and Magic

Otherworldly Observations

A few years ago, back when this idea of the otherworld bleeding through began to make its way into Pagan/Witch discourse, I had a curious incident at the side of a river with a witchy friend. We’d been on a walk together as we often did back then in the pre-plague years, end eventually (unsurprisingly) we’d begun to “talk shop.” You see, both of us had noticed the uptick in otherworldly activity, in a similar way to how hunters are often the first to notice disease in deer.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing the Other with disease here (I wouldn’t dare). I’m just saying that as magical practitioners, we tend to be among the first to notice this kind of thing.

But we were both also getting messages from multiple people. Moreover, these were often from people who didn’t ordinarily experience our kind of strangeness, and that stood out.

At some point in our discussion, I mentioned the fact that a witch’s knowledge and power was believed to come from otherworldly sources where I’m from. And I wondered what the effects of this otherworldly “bleed” would have on magic and what we humans can do with magic. Naturally (because I’m an idiot like this), I grabbed a stick and drew a sigil I use when creating portals into the sand and silt of the riverbank.

The effect was almost instantaneous: a shifting sensation that used to take more effort to achieve.

I closed it and scrubbed it from the sand almost as soon as my friend and I noticed the shift. But I’ve been musing about the changing limits of magical possibility, consensus, and opposition ever since.

John’s Rising Currents

Discourse is a funny old thing. Sometimes we can have an observation or thought sitting in the soil of our mind for a long time without writing about it. But then, something will happen to water it, and it’ll take root and grow.

(As an aside, it’s interesting how we refer to events that spark action as “precipitating events.” Soil and seeds. Soil and seeds.)

I’m a firm believer that most things have their season. And if the blog John Beckett posted this morning is anything to go by, then this subject’s season has come.

In The Currents of Magic are Getting Stronger, John Beckett makes the same observation I did at the side of that river. Ironically, he uses the analogy of a river running higher and faster to explain his observation that the “currents” of magic are getting stronger and enabling an increase in possibility/greater results. He also goes on to cautiously suggest some possible causes, and this is where I feel like I have something to add.

Magic and the Otherworldly

I’ve blogged about this before, but in the historical witchcraft traditions where I’m from, the source of the witch’s power and knowledge was otherworldly. This is where we get into familiars and hierarchy. These are all complex topics, and more than I can cover in this blog, so I encourage you to read the posts I’ve linked here if you want to go deeper. That’s not to say that what we call the “otherworldly” is the only possible source of magic and knowledge though, nor the only possible framework through which these changes can be understood.

We also cannot ignore the fact that most of the discussion on this topic is coming from US sources.  I’m not saying that strange things aren’t also happening elsewhere—some of my mother’s stories from back in Lancashire have been decidedly stranger than usual of late. But we also cannot assume that just because this stuff is happening here, it’s happening everywhere.

In my opinion, an important consideration in this discussion of how widespread or localized this “trend” is, boils down to the relationship between a culture and the otherworldly beings they interact with. ( Assuming the relationship between Otherworldly beings and magic is found within those cultures in the first place.)

Fairy-like beings are found in lore pretty much all over the world, but not all cultures have responded in the same way to their presence over time. Some cultures—such as many Western European cultures—equated them with demons and/ fallen angels, destroyed their sanctuaries, and drove them out after humans converted to Christianity (LeCouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land. Pp. 23-28, 68-80).

And I’m not saying that folk practices involving the otherworldly didn’t still exist, of course. We know they did. But as I’ll hopefully make clear in the next section, consensus (like all stories) is a powerful and often binding thing.

This process wasn’t limited to Western Europe either. If Cotton Mather is to be believed in his Wonders of the Invisible World, early colonizers in what would become the US also drove out “devils.” He even goes on to blame the apparent preponderance of witches in Salem on a counterattack by the devils, thus retaining that link between witches and the Otherworldly in his interpretation of events.

The otherworld is bleeding through, the devils are coming back, and they’re bringing us witches with them?

However in some places, maybe the Otherworld didn’t need to bleed back in from anywhere else at all.

Reality, Consensus, Possibility, and Feedback Loops

Another story now. Back in the mid-2000s, I came across an interesting interaction at a Pagan Conference in England between a gentleman from an African country (I didn’t get chance to ask him which), and a vendor who was selling these tacky, crystal-encrusted “wish books.” For her, even as someone who considered herself a witch, these books were just a bit of fun and to be commonly understood as such. There was no real expectation that writing your wishes in them would yield any concrete results. But her potential customer clearly had far greater expectations of the “wish book” than her and kept asking her in a deadly serious voice if it really worked.

As you might imagine, this became increasingly more uncomfortable the longer it went on.

To me though, as an observer, I couldn’t help but be struck by the wildly different expectations of magic that were revealed through this interaction. Again, this is something I’ve written about before, but much of what we commonly call “reality” is more accurately described as consensus. We take in far more information through our ordinary senses per second than we can even be conscious of, let alone store in our memories. Moreover, studies have shown that we’re more likely to become conscious of/retain the information that aligns with our existing beliefs and biases.

This is impossible to separate from consensus. I believe that consensus, in a sense, both delineates and limits the boundaries of possibility.

From this perspective, the more people that experience and/or interact with the strange and Otherworldly, the more the consensus that THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN “REALITY” is challenged. And over time if enough people start to have these experiences, the consensus of a culture shifts to include them in the realm of possibility. This in turn, creates a kind of feedback loop in which that consensus is progressively widened. (A process that is not so different from what you find in a propaganda campaign.)

This is theory, but I would argue we have historical proof of the reverse: the binding effects of consensus.

I’ve written about this before, but we can see this in how concepts of dreaming change in Northwestern Europe after the advent of Christianity. People went from considering dreams a place where they could encounter the dead and otherworldly in a concrete way, to a state of consciousness in which people only experience nonsensical or anxiety-driven scenarios.

(Again, another way of driving out the otherworldly, I might add.)

This is all very exciting to think about, but I think we need to also be cautious here too.

The Other Side of the Coin

Within the Pagan and Witch communities, I think there is a tendency to assume that we are the only ones out there working magic. We forget that Christians also have their magic, and that a more forgiving consensus is also going to benefit them as well.

Unfortunately for us, they tend to be very much against our kind of magic, and they still largely label the Other as “demonic.” They also have an established tradition of weaponized “prayer” in the form of “prayer warriors,” who often work together in groups and are capable of a level of faith and zeal very few Pagans and Witches can muster.

Another area of concern is that I suspect a lot of the more “fringe” Christians are feeling the same uptick in activity as we are. I’m far from an expert on this subject, but I keep an eye on some of these groups as part of my omen-taking, and this is something I’ve noticed. There seems to have been an uptick in videos of “demonic possession” over the past few years. And talk of spiritual warfare against demons and witches seems to have become more common. (Here’s a recent example.) There have also been large events such as the Jericho March earlier this year. Participants of the march blew shofarim and marched around the Capitol building seven times while praying- a clear imitation of the Israelite siege of the city of Jericho. The next day was 1/6, in case you were wondering about their intentions.

If there’s anything we can learn from history when it comes to religious fundamentalists of a certain kind, it’s that this usually doesn’t go well for us. The more people believe in the possibilities of magic in general, the more they tend to blame magic (and practitioners) when things go wrong. So, the Otherworldly may be more present, and “currents of magic” may be rising and growing in strength, but they’re not without a brewing backlash.

I just hope we don’t wind up in a place where humans meet the same fate as books.

Unweaving a War of Walls

walls - fantasy

Recognizing the War

We live in a time of walls. We always have of course, but there are periods of history in which those walls become more restrictive and in which newer walls are far too easily built. In an attempt to disprove the existence of these walls, the skeptic would point to the promise of the Constitution. “See, it’s all right here. There’s nothing to worry about.” Except there is, because often the most effective walls are those that aren’t enshrined by law but in culture instead.

That is a war that the less conservative among us have been failing at badly. Let’s face it, most non-conservativeswalls - sunrise outside of minority groups didn’t even realize there was a war until relatively recently, even though more socially conservative groups have been fighting it for years.

The election was the dawning of a new era, because not only was it the beginning of what is looking to be a drastic change in direction for the United States, but because a good many people finally woke up to the war and saw the strength of the opposition.

Walls That Protect, Walls That Imprison

So we now find ourselves in a time of walls, but more accurately, in a time of walls that are beginning to encroach on the meagre areas we’d previously kept while believing ourselves to be free – ironic when one considers that our president-elect included a promise to build a wall in his election campaign promises.

But this post isn’t about those physical walls that are built, immigration law, or the election. There are plenty of places that are discussing all of the above ad nauseum and only adding more noise to the cacophonous furor that is social media. Besides, what would be the point of that on a magic blog?

This post is about walls from a magical perspective, the kinds of walls, their origins, and what we can do to tear them down in our own lives and practices.

Most walls are erected against the unknown dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the hearth. Since the beginning of human history, mankind has created enclosures around his dwellings in order to delineate ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’, and more importantly ‘safe’ from ‘potentially unsafe’. From this view, not all walls are bad. However, a wall can just as easily be employed for constraint as for protection, and that is the kind of wall I’m writing about here.

How A Foundation Was Built

walls - lilith
‘Lilith’, by John Collier

In the beginning, after some clarting about, the Bible tells us that the Jewish god created a man by the name of ‘Adam’, and a woman by the name of ‘Eve’. The Alphabet of Ben Sira places Eve as Adam’s second wife, a kind of replacement for Lilith who, made of dirt as Adam was, refused to obey and become subservient to him. After all, why should she if they were made of the same materia magica? Lilith then left and refused all attempts to compel her to return to a life of drudgery with Adam.

To circumvent this with woman 2.0, Eve was created from a piece of Adam so that she would have no claim to equality. It would be her lot in life to obey. This would form the foundations of one of the first walls. However, that was not the only foundation found in the myth of utopian Eden. Eve, or indeed every woman she represents, would play a far more damaging role in the mythological history of humankind.

The Garden of Eden is described as a paradise in which its inhabitants neither wanted for anything, nor knew the kind of trouble that disturbs the mind. It is the perfect place created by a loving father god for his children, but with one significant catch: eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden.

When you pare down this myth, when you remove the language of paradise and lack of want, what you are left with is an enclosure of sorts that is inhabited by people who are kept naked, ignorant, and obedient. From this perspective, the Fall of Man looks more like a jailbreak from an unethical science experiment than the disastrous curse upon humanity that it is often presented as.

What of the serpent, though? It seems impossible to extricate the serpent from Eve herself, the name ‘Eve’, or its Hebrew form ‘Hawwah’ being possibly related to the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’. Watch out for the snakes, it’s all walls - eve snakeabout the snakes. Were it not for the serpent’s temptation, Eve would have never eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, nor would Adam, and mankind would still apparently be living it up in the garden of Eden.

Just ignorant and naked, with no right to one’s body or mind.

Since the Fall, women have been held to be the disobedient and destructive sex, our wombs and vaginas passageways to filth and depravity, and our only salvation to be found in obeying men. In other words, our salvation is to be found in becoming the property of and putting ourselves firmly under the control of men.

“In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. -Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, chapter 1

This is the foundation of one of the walls in our society, and a wall that for all of our advances in women’s rights, remains one of the strongest to this day. If anything, this wall is being rebuilt in the places where it was torn down, fortified, and new construction sites opened up. We see this in everything from the rise of MRAs, the increased attacks on reproductive freedoms, to the renewed popularity of the insult ‘cuck’ (a word deriving from ‘cuckold’ meaning ‘husband of an adulteress’, in other words, a man who was not able to control his woman – his property – well enough to prevent her from disobeying). On more subtle levels, we may even see the maintenance of and reinforcement of this wall in the censure of opinionated women in communities that might otherwise extol their own perceived egalitarian nature.

This is not the only wall either, I’m sure we could all think of more walls in our lives. Walls that affect how we see and deal with people of color, walls that affect how people of color must move in the world in order to do so with less harassment, walls that mandate that only one kind of sexual relationship is valid, walls that enforce gender binaries that harm people who simply just don’t fit in those boxes…well, you get the idea.

And all the while, we’re told that without those walls there would be chaos, anarchy, the destruction of order. The people of color will want revenge will come and get you without that thin blue line. Men won’t be able to control women and will end up in some 70s B-movie scenario in which men are enclosed in the same walls women are now. The gays will gay up your kids and people will invent new genders. People will marry outside their own cultures, no one will be able to say “Merry Christmas”, and it will probably also rain. We need the wall, the katechon, that which holds back all of those things they’ve taught you to fear.

Look at the media today, how much of it is focused on emphasizing the things that must be held back? How much of it justifies all those barrier construction projects? We need to do better than we are at recognizing it all, at taking a deep breath and deciding what to listen to and what to ignore. How many of our friends are complicit in this on social media? How many have swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker? The first step for all of us is recognizing where the lines are drawn in our outer lives.

But this would not be a magic blog were I only to speak of the outer and political. Here is a place to discuss the inner too.

Or more specifically, once more the realm of dream.

The War on Dream

“Dream, I will argue, is made. The metaphor that first needs to be grasped is one that bears repeating, that of a war on dreaming. The decisive action here is the one embarked upon by John of Patmos, another exile bound to a far flung isle. His was a deliberate action which set out to not merely loose chimeras in the garden of the mind, but to bar the gates of dream itself. So this is where we decant our vitriol and dissolve the locks that John applied, which State and church imposed. This is by no means the end of the process, but the point at which we choose to begin.” – Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey

walls - berlin facesDream is a special state of being, one we tend to think of as a place of infinite possibilities in which we may do or experience any number of things that we cannot during waking life. However, from the work of scholars like Lisa Bitel and Jacques LeGoff, we know that our inner dreamscapes are in all likelihood artificially limited. That there are walls there. These are not walls that we can necessarily see from within dream for ourselves – after all, how can we know about the walls if they were set there long before we ourselves even had a chance to dream? However, there is a paper trail that can be followed that shows how clerics attempted to control dreamers and restrict the dreams themselves.

If that very idea doesn’t make you angry, I don’t know that anything can be done for you.

It wasn’t enough to control the waking world, they had to try and find ways to control and restrict the dreaming world too. Dreams came to be labelled as ‘devilish illusion’, and true dreams the sole domain of an elite of saints and Christian kings. Oneiric diversity withered, and the dreams of the common man evaporated from record like the dream that flees upon waking. Nowadays, a medium through which one might have previously entered into the Otherworld of one’s cultural and physical landscape stands weakened by ridicule, pop-psychology, and petty dream dictionaries that tell you nothing.

But we need to be able to dream, and we need to be able to dream fully, because it is through dream that we have some of our most effective communications with the Other. Without that, we will never fully pull down the walls of Christian worldview in our minds, or have those better ideas for new ways of doing things that our world so desperately needs.

The Fight

When I first started to perform the Stele of Jeu ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), it was, like for many others who begin this work, initially for the purpose of attaining the knowledge and conversation of a ‘holy guardian angel’ (in my case, more a daimon in the Greek sense). However, the more I performed it, the more I noticed that it was far more important than that. The Stele of Jeu is a freeing ritual, a ritual of unbinding and empowerment. It’s a ritual that tears down walls.

“Holy Headless One, deliver me from all restraining daimons and misfortune”

In Chaos Protocols, Gordon White observes that “One thing I will say with every confidence is that your dreams will certainly get a lot more interesting” as a result of performing the ritual, and I’ve found this to absolutely be the case. My dreams are now far deeper and coherent. They feel far less random and more like I am dealing with other intelligences and indeed, another world.

Yet it does not seem to be an effect that lasts perpetually. There is a drop-off in dreaming quality if I do not perform the rite on a regular basis. My dreams become shallow once more, punctuated only by the rare shining gem of a dream that happens to break through the morass of whatever unseen effects are at work in dream. The wall is resurrected once more and must be torn down anew in order to continue.

A Hidden Front In Plain Sight

We are very mistaken if we think there isn’t some kind of metaphysical war aspect to all of this too. How many of you have ever heard of Christian ‘prayer warriors’? Have you ever read their prayers, or what should more accurately be called spells? Just because they are addressed to the Judeo-Christian god or Jesus does not mean that they aren’t spells; the Grimoires are full of spells with similar language. What of the pope’s decree that Catholics only now store the ashes of their dead in special church-approved places? The dead are mighty, and such a place might be viewed as a source of power for a church that historically hasn’t been exactly shy about using its own magic. And what of the power of meme? We don’t often think of meme as being a potentially magical thing, but when you think about the ways in which memes are similar to sigils in Chaos magic, then they take on another aspect.

“Does not matter, need not be.”

How many of us see a meme, invest emotion into it (usually anger or amusement), and then either scroll on or engage with the discussion around the meme before scrolling on? At least sigil magic is done with intent. See, it is really that nefarious.

There is much to be unwoven here, a lot of unnecessary things that need to be pared away, and walls to be torn downwalls - berliner mauer both in our outer and inner lives. Becoming aware of those walls, and how they are built is only the first step. The next step is working consciously to bring them down through deliberate action, but we can only do that if we first free ourselves, and most importantly our inner worlds. Lastly, we need to counter the magic that enslaves dream and mind, finding ways to appeal to the hearts and minds of others – the Berlin wall was not torn down by the hands of a few, but by many. If there is anything this past election should have taught us, it’s that haughty cold logic and the mere presentation of that which holds back all that is bad is not enough. We need symbols and messages that appeal to not only minds, but hearts and souls too.

There’s a war on, and it’s about time we fought back.