“What’s Your Lineage?”

Before I crack on, did you know that I’m holding an online class about magic circles? It’s kind of like this blog post but with a whole lot more information and discussion. So if you’ve got an hour or so (it’s probably going to be between 1-2 hours) on 9/15 at around 3pm, join me for a crazed exploration of the history, purpose, and ways in which magic circles can be tweaked. Can’t make it? The class will be recorded so participants can listen later!

I’m also producing a bunch of content on Anglo-Saxon magico-medical charms and how the magical tech can be deconstructed and re-purposed over here too!

Now, on with the show!

Do You Have a Flag/Lineage?

It began like so many conversations on magical Facebook groups – admin posts link, person replies, and another person decides that it’s a great time to start something.

The “Jolene Rogers”. Im told this is the pirate flag of middle-aged white ladies everywhere!

“Oldest” story on the ‘Book, amirite?

But it was the input of a third person that I’m going to focus on here. Because it’s something that I’ve seen again and again in Pagan and magical spaces since moving to the US.

“What is your lineage?”

Whenever most people ask this question I see that Eddie Izzard sketch in my head – “Do you have a flag?”

But Eddie Izzard sketches aside, the matter of lineage is a complex one in modern Pagan and magical traditions. For many, the idea of belonging to a lineage conveys a certain legitimacy (regardless of the actual abilities of the practitioner). However, depending on which tradition you practice, the existence of lineage in the sense that it is typically understood today may be completely unnecessary.

Lineaged and Unlineaged Traditions

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that all lineages are bullshit. But lineages are far from universal to every tradition.

Take early modern English witchcraft, for example. Most of the witches in the accounts became witches because they had an encounter with an otherworldly spirit (either a fairy or elf). This encounter was usually by chance,

“Oh Pyewhacket, be a love and steal some butter and shit on old Mabel’s bed, will you?”
“No”

and could either be with the familiar spirit itself, or with fairy royalty, who then gift the witch a fairy familiar if shown proper respect. In this worldview, it was not lineage, but the familiar (which could also be a member of the dead), that made the witch.

Having said that though, there are accounts of these otherworldly familiars being passed on from witch to witch (usually family members), and that could be considered to be a lineage of sorts. However, the otherworldly figure was still probably the king (or witch!) maker in this equation as they (presumably) had to agree to this transfer. Despite many modern ideas about the Othercrowd, they have never been at our beck and call. It simply does not follow that a being who is the source of knowledge and power for a witch would not be in charge. (Wilby 60)

And sure, we could argue that these ideas were the fevered product of tortured imaginations. But as I’ve previously discussed there is a continuity to this particular shape. Alaric Hall, for example, traces the pattern of witches working with elves back to Old English sources. I would even argue that given that one of the Old English cognates of Seiðr was ‘ælfsīden’ (as well as for a bunch of other reasons), elves were an integral part of Seiðr, and that that shape continued into the early modern period.

Kinda makes you look at that story of Freyja as the priestess of dead-Freyr’s mound cult in the Ynglinga saga a little differently, right? If ever there was an Eliade-esque “paradigmatic fix point” for this particular paradigm, that would likely be it.

But none of that takes from the fact that there are lineaged traditions in the world. Moreover, there are a lot of benefits (not to mention safety nets) from being a part of a lineaged tradition that has its shit together.
Notice that caveat there?

Because let’s not try to pretend here – some lineaged traditions are clusterfucks that just happened to have been started because (often) one person didn’t like something long-established about an actual lineage and decided to set up their own tree house. That’s not to say that all breakaway lineaged traditions are shit though. Plenty of breakaway lineages turn into actual lineages, but some…yeah.

Legitimate lineages (however they’re judged) can be excellent for a number of reasons though. Because not only do you have access to a far more systematic way of learning, but you also have the safety nets of more experienced elders as well as the lineage itself. If you are interested in a tradition that has lineages then you should absolutely do the work and enter in the correct way. In some cases, it can actually be dangerous to you if you don’t.
For those of you who are trying to live that early modern life though, keep flashing your sweet fairy/elf bait asses (and good luck)!

Okay, I was joking about the ‘fairy bait’ bit.

(Maybe. Just try to be the right kind of bait, okay?)

Lineage and College Degrees

In some ways, the question “What is your lineage?” (especially in groups of mixed practitioners who come from both lineaged and non-lineaged traditions) feels symptomatic of a far greater social issue in the US. Now I’m not going to get all Mike Rowe on you all here, but I feel like the obsession over college degrees for any old crap has kind of carried over into how we perceive magical capacity in others too.

It was one of the thing that first struck me when I moved to my current area. Where I’d lived before didn’t really have much of a magical community. But where I am now is like a fucking soap opera (possibly addictive horror series) with that shit.

When I first moved here, I was excited to come across so many other

“I got my completely unaccredited qualification! YAY!”

practitioners. But soon, I was relegated to some kind of ‘discard pile’ when it became clear that I didn’t have any lineage they cared about. Nor was I interested in learning from the main teachers in the area (a seemingly necessary ‘qualification’ if one is to be taken seriously regardless of actual ability). They just weren’t selling what I wanted, and frankly some of it felt ‘icky’ and even corrupted to me.

There’s a whole lot more I could say here, but I’m not going to. I think that was enough to illustrate my point. Despite my lack of lineage or connection to local big names though, I’ve somehow become the person people come to when things aren’t just getting bad, but really bad.

I’ve found myself thinking about this curious situation quite a lot over the years too. I’ve found so many talented people in my area who don’t have the qualifications people are looking for, and who get completely overlooked if they try to sell their services despite their talent. For example, I have a friend who is ridiculously talented – especially with the dead – and she has been “negged” by people who just happen to be better known or “qualified”. And part of it reminds me of how some jobs now require a bachelor’s degree despite never needing them before.

But part of it is also undoubtedly down to competition and the psychology of buying services. Services are always a greater risk to a customer than products. It’s far easier to see the quality of a product than a service before purchase. So we’ve evolved ways of making the customer feel better – more certain – when buying a service. (Incidentally, this is where “the customer is always right” comes from.) This is especially necessary for those who sell “less tangible” services, and especially those that go against the consensus (such as spell work, healing work, or exorcisms).

See what I’m saying?

In these cases, belonging to a lineage or having qualifications from the “right” teacher can give a customer reassurance (I say “right” here because I think the very concept of “right teacher”, especially in the context of a whole geographical area, is always debatable).

A Big Dog Party

Now I’m not saying that lineage is bad here, because it can be an overwhelmingly positive thing in a practitioner’s life. And before anyone says “oh she’s just bitter because she doesn’t have a lineage”, I do. (No I’m not telling any of you what it is because frankly it’s no one’s business but my own and that of those in my lineage).

What I’m saying here is that I can see both sides of the coin.

I’ve been that non-lineaged witch who gained a familiar through a chance encounter, and I’m now in a lineage and kicking names and taking ass there too (hopefully – I just wanted a chance to use that quote).

All I’m saying is that there should be space for both.

We’re a modern movement, but we’re massively diverse. Some of our traditions are lineaged and some not, and we need to respect those differences. Because at the end of the day, it’s far more important that we get off the fucking sofa and actually do.

(Just don’t do lineaged stuff if you’re not in the lineage).

And yes, that final subheading was from Dr Seuss ‘Go, Dog. Go!’

References

Hall, Alaric – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Wilby, Emma – Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits

The Land as Witchcraft Teacher

For today’s blog, I’d like to tell you the story of how I learned witchcraft, and some of the best lessons I learned from my first teacher.

Like many people who end up getting into witchcraft, I felt a draw to all things witchy. Most importantly though, the weird and otherworldly was also drawn to me. Which is good, because witchcraft without the dead and/or Other is just a party for one.

I grew up in a town on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England, and I was the weird kid everyone else came to ask about getting the “power of Manon” when the movie The Craft came out.

When I was first starting out at the (stereotypical) age of thirteen, our local library boasted only a couple of books on witchcraft. One was The Witches’ Bible and absolutely out of bounds because I knew the librarians would call your parents for taking it out on account of all the photos of naked Janet Farrar. The other was Z Budapest’s The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, and as it had no photos of naked people or overtly witchy imagery (at least on the cover), this made it the perfect candidate for withdrawal.

Now, I realize that Z Budapest is a TERFY dumpster fire, and I’m not promoting her in any way. Even then, her work wasn’t to my taste and there wasn’t really any discussion about transfolx to even have the language to describe a TERF. In my backwards hometown in the 90s, dumpster fire or not, she was about the only game in town.

But while Z Budapest’s book may have taught me how to cast my first circle, the moors were my real teacher.

My First Teacher in the Craft: The Moors

teacher - moorland
Wild, heather-covered moorland with clouds dropping to kiss the earth

The moors where I grew up are a wild place, windswept and barren with rocks littered across the heather and grass like broken bones. It’s a place where the clouds meet the land and modern people walk on ancient ruins. And it’s as dangerous as it is beautiful.

When the mists drop and you can’t see further than a couple of feet, it’s easy to get lost. The landscape is treacherous, and the weather can go from snowy to warm sunshine within the space of a half hour. Like Gullveig, the moors of my home county have burned and been reborn. Unlike Gullveig though, she’s performed this trick more than just the three times that Gullveig did.

“Gullveig” being reborn after yet another fire.

Then there are the bogs – the reason why a lot of people tend to stick to the paths.

But for all the danger and creepy stories, I loved them and would spend hours in the wild places up on the tops away from the paths with my little dog.

Some of my first rituals were worked up on those moors, and I’ve seen things up there that few would believe.

There I learned to map the hidden dimensions of a landscape, committing to memory all the places where the Good Folk lived when I found them, and building up relationships as I went.teacher - burial mound

There I learned to sit out on burial mounds.

There I learned to enjoy my own company and be happy observing the shadows of the clouds moving over the valleys below.

There I learned that no matter how badass you think yourself, some places are still best avoided after dark.

Teacher, Counselor, Friend

I haven’t had many teachers during my time, but the best teachers I’ve known happen to also have been friends who give good counsel.

When times were hard, I would take my pain and pound it into the earth through the bottom of my boots. Then (usually at the top of a hill), I would fall to the ground to thank the hills when the knots around my heart lifted.

Other times I’d bring her my magical problems, and I’d think about them as I walked until I happened upon the perfect piece of materia magica to work into a spell. Soon I was bringing back things like sheep skulls and working the teeth into amulets. It didn’t matter what she threw me either. When I got the sense that I was supposed to use a thing, I instinctively knew what to do with it.

From there, I began to think about questions I needed an answer to, and I would pick up nine straight (ish) sticks at random as I walked. Then when I had

Moorland ruin: Victorian era

my nine, I’d hold them between my hands to whisper my question before casting them to be read as runes.

At some point though, I began to think about the ‘why’. Why did she throw me those things and why did they work for what I needed to do? Why did I work in that way when working those spells and why did that work?

This is how one of my greatest magical interests was born – deconstructing magical workings in order to discover the underlying “mechanics”. And that kids, is how I got started taking historical accounts of magical workings and trying them out.

The Four Main Lessons my Moorland Teacher Taught

When you learn witchcraft from a land, much of it is going to be heavily localized and possibly even useless outside of that land. But the moors taught me four main transferable lessons that have stood me in good stead no matter where I’ve been.

1. Take a Place as You Find It

The first lesson is one that embraces impermanence. Places change, as do the beings that inhabit them. And a place and its inhabitants may be one way on one day, and completely different on another day. Even if you’ve been somewhere before, never assume that a place is going to be or feel the same when you go back there. Keep on top of your basic witchy skills, and always have your apotropaics and best manners to hand.

2. Avoid a Feeling of Ownership

This is a big one, and it’s something we humans (at least in Anglophone culture) generally suck at anyway. This idea of ownership of land (and all the non-human people on it) goes to the animism thing all the cool kids are talking about. And if we’re being real, as a group we’re still pretty crap at that there animism. I mean, how many of us actually respect the agency of non-human persons? How many people still see them as basically being some twee little vending machines for favors (in exchange for some pretty subpar offerings)?

(Clearly I’m using “us” in the macro sense here. I’m referring to the modern Pagan movement as a whole, so hold your knickers, Beryl!)

The truth is, we all come from a culture obsessed with individualism. A culture in which selfishness and cruelty are lauded as a twisted form of morality – and that kind of fucks us when it comes to the animism thing. Because when everything is already about you and you getting yours, that puts you on a terrible footing for interacting with the not-you. But when you bring a sense of ownership into the equation (of both the land and by extension the sentient beings who also live there)?

I mean hell, we can’t even get it right with other humans. Feeling a sense of ownership over anyone or anyland is one of the first paving stones on the road to hell.

Moorland ruin: Neolithic edition.

And this is not me saying ‘don’t buy property’ or that I’m coming to take your toothbrushes and make you use some communal, opossum-managed toothbrush (holy shit but I love opossums). No. Own on paper if you need to, but recognize that it’s just a formality for the stupid humans. Instead work to become a part of your land and grow the understanding of belonging to in your heart.

3. Try to Figure out Your Place in the Big Picture

Speaking of belonging to – this mindset sets you up to contextualize yourself within the bigger picture of the place you inhabit. You’re no longer an individual over but cohabiting with. Where are you in your “neighborhood”? Who do you need to avoid pissing off and who do you need to give a little more care and attention to?

If you consider yourself an animist, try putting yourself in the shoes (or roots) of a tree or plant in your community of lives. What do they experience on a daily basis? Who do they interact with the most? What problems do they have with their nearest neighbors? How do you help them (or harm them)?

An interesting thought exercise, no?

Every Land has its Stories and You Should Learn Them

When we were kids, we passed stories like schoolkids pass nits. Stories about

“Yes officer, I believe it was Granny Greenteeth, in the tarn, with some kind of eldritch magic.”

Granny Greenteeth, “Bannister Dolls” (don’t ask), black dogs, ghosts, and the occasional boggart tale all ran round our groups. Especially on the dark nights when we couldn’t find anything really to do but lurk on the streets and tell each other creepy stories (in winter it’s usually getting dark by four in the afternoon where I’m from).

But these stories are important because they’re what help you to fill out the hidden dimensions of a land when you first arrive. This is how you build your witchy map of a place and figure out where to start attempting to build relationships. Not only that, but they can also give you clues as to how to survive should you encounter some of the nastier parts of the local unseen.

For example, I now live in Maryland. There is an alleged cryptid here called the Snallygaster who is apparently the mortal enemy of the Dwayyo – a kind of huge, monstrous, wolf-like being. I’ve also noticed some interesting parallels between some of the circumstances surrounding the mysterious National Park disappearances and Jinn lore, and I know that wolves are also associated with causing Jinn to vanish. So now I include ground down (legally obtained) wolf bones in the black salt I make to carry in my bag of tricks.
See what I mean?

The Gold in Heathenry

heart - gold

I haven’t had the chance to blog for a while. I was going to do a whole Q&A about the dead and ancestor veneration. But sometimes, a topic comes up that is just so front and center in the old noggin that you just can’t ignore it.

I’d like to talk (rant?) today about Heathenry. Or rather the bullshit that drags Heathenry down and sullies its gold.

I’ve been a Heathen for a long time. Honestly, I’ve been Heathen longer than some of you good folks have been alive. I’m married to a Heathen too, and magical adventures aside, our collective hearth cult is predominantly Heathen.

For me, Heathenry is, as my friend Andrea would say, “a heritage of gold”. The stories you find in the Old Norse and Germanic sources hold true beauty and wisdom if you have eyes to see it.

But the problem is, not everyone has eyes to see that gold, and all too often, those stories become tainted by the toxic filters we ourselves can bring to those texts.

The Eyes and Hearts We Bring to Myth

In many ways, these stories can be like a Rorschach test that reveals the inner insecurities and fears of a person. This is what is really at the root of the incessant fapping off over Vikings, and toxic ideas about tribe and ancestry. The people who fall into these traps want to feel anything but what they actually feel. They don’t want to feel all those insecurities and fears, and so they try to mask it with what they perceive as “strength”. This is the core of what is at stake for a fascist. This is why they fight so hard against anything resembling sense.

In doing this though, they only achieve the opposite. It’s no kind of strength to run or hide from one’s feelings, or to hate people who look different to you. Hate isn’t strength. The ‘separate but equal’ nonsense that’s often dressed up as ‘I just want to be with “my folk” (but don’t really hate others)’ isn’t strength either. ( Hot tip: If that’s an explanation you’re going with, you’re just in the phase where you’re still trying to find “polite” ways of saying “POC scare me and/or give me an inferiority complex”.)

Whereas my Heathenry is expansive and wondrous, theirs is reductive and cuts out anything that discomforts them. Where they only see trees in tree - goldisolation, mine sees each tree as it is: connected through roots and mycorrhizal fungi to other trees. Trees that have been found to provide mutual aid to each other regardless of tree ‘type’.

In Völuspá, the story goes that people come from trees. This isn’t scientifically true but we could learn a lot from trees all the same.

Just don’t try to give me that tired old adage about how ‘a tree without roots will fall’, and act like it somehow sensibly explains the obsession with DNA and skin color. Because the Hávámál the far right Heathens like to quote so much says nothing about tree roots and ancestors.

You know what it does talk about though? Having people who love you:

The withered fir-tree which stands on the mound,
neither bark nor needles protect it;
so it is with the man whom no one loves’
why should he live for long?
Hávámál 50, Larrington trans.

Without love, every person falls.

The Groaning Tree

Yggdrasil shudders, the tree standing upright,
the ancient tree groans, and the giant is loose.
Völuspá 47, Larrington trans.

In all honesty, I’m tired of trying to keep the gold clean, but it’s important to keep trying all the same. This is a sacred duty, and for too long we Heathens have allowed the ill to define us. Worse still, when we form communities, we often do so by defining what we are not as opposed to what we are, and in this way they shape us too. I don’t know that this is the same in other parts of the world, but this has very much been my experience in the US Heathen scene.

However in my opinion, this is entirely the wrong way to build community and/or counter the far right elements in our faith.

We need to begin by naming these people for what they are.

These are not people who are hale and whole. They’re damaged and broken on the inside. They are not inheritors of that gold, and no amount of DNA-testing, ‘pure-blood’ anything will make them so.

the ancient tree groans, and the giant is loose

giant - goldThe word Jötunn is thought to come from the Proto-Germanic *etunaz, which is in turn thought to be semantically connected to the Proto-Germanic *etanan, or ‘greedy’, ‘voracious’, ‘gluttonous’, ‘consuming’. Although the above snippet from Völuspá pertains to Ragnarök, it is also relevant here.

Fascism is inherently greedy. It always requires an ‘other’ to sacrifice, then turns on people in the in-group who are not quite “in” enough to appease that greed. It is an evil Thurs, a ravenous spirit, and those in its thrall are equally ravenous.

This is how we should be naming this evil. They are, or are possessed of greedy, greedy, spirits who will never be sated and who can only be driven out.

Jotnar.

Þursar.

‘Þurs of wound-fever, lord of the Þursar! Flee now! (You) are found. Have for
yourself three pangs, wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, wolf!
III ice (runes). These ice (runes) may grant that you be satisfied (?), wolf.
Make good use of
the healing-charms!’

Runic healing charm from Sigtuna, Sweden.
‘Runic Amulets and Magical Objects’ by Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees

Have for yourself three pangs, wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, wolf!
These ice runes may grant that you be satisfied, wolf!

It’s not often we get usable models. We should probably take advantage of them when we do.

The Stone Turns at the Command of an Unjust King

There’s a story in the Poetic Edda that I’ve found myself thinking about quite a lot recently. It’s called ‘The Song of Grotti’, and in it a king takes two female slaves and puts them to work endlessly at a magical millstone, forcing them to grind out endless wealth with little thought for their welfare or basic needs. He is beyond all shadow of a doubt, an unjust king.

We too live in an unjust society in which workers are increasingly expected to millstone - goldproduce with little concession to human wants or needs. Productivity and profit have become king now, and people work like cattle but then struggle to survive regardless of their labor.

This is exactly the kind of environment that produces fascists. With the help of some already extant racial biases, it produced fascists in the 30s, and is producing them now.

Wealth let’s grind for Frodi, grind out happiness,
grind many possessions on the wonderful stone!
Let him sit on his wealth, let him sleep on a quilt,
let him wake to happiness! That is well ground out.

At first, the women sang their songs and ground out wealth for Frodi. But again and again he denied them pleasure, rest, and warmth. Over time, the women became angry, remembered their mighty deeds before being forced to Frodi’s hall.

Now we have come to the dwellings of the king
without mercy, and live as slaves,
mud eats away at our feet, the rest of us is chilled through,
we drag the calmer of strife; it’s dull at Frodi’s house.

But what do you think they did next?

Did one blame the other for the king’s greed and lack of compassion? This is essentially the option offered by fascism and does nothing to address the underlying issues that make people so miserable in the first place.

No. The women worked together and turned the magic millstone against Frodi, churning out woeful fate for the unjust king. (The Marxists among you will laugh at how they seized the means of production in this tale.)

Hands shall grip the hard shafts,
the bloodstained weapons, wake up, Frodi!
Wake up, Frodi, if you want to hear
our songs and ancient tales.

I see fire burning east of the city,
warfare awakened, that must be a beacon;
an army is coming here very shortly,
it will burn the settlement despite the prince.

You shan’t hold onto the throne of Lejre,
the red-gold rings, nor this magic grindstone.
Let’s seize the handle, girl, turn more swiftly!
We are not yet warmed by the blood of slaughtered men.

By the end of the tale, the king is dead and millstone destroyed. The women are now free from their endless labor

There are lessons to be learned here too, but it is the central lesson you find over and over again in these texts (along with punishments for bad or violated hospitality): stick together, work together, fight together.

And that for me is what Heathenry is about. It is a religion of relationship and relationality with human and otherworldly people alike. Of gifting and story. Of rainbow bridges made of fire, and a shared world alive around us. It’s a religion of magic too. In which people may send parts of themselves forth, speak prophecy, ensnare and bind, and break weapons with charms.

It’s a religion of beauty, the most precious of gold, and I’m asking you to help me keep that gold clean.

heart - gold

Free Your Magic!

magic - community

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

Work to Recognize the Patterns

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

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

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

Sounds like a lot of work, right?

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

Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real compassion takes courage.

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

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

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

‘We’, Not “I”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Community

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

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

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

Stay With the Trouble

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

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

“Reality”

reality - cat

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

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

Examining Consensus

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

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

up, that sound scientific, but really are not.

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

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

But how does this all work?

From Senses to Storage

Our senses take in a lot

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

So what does the brain do?

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

Or does it?

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

The Editing Room

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

Hacking ‘Reality’

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

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

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

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

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

Unpacking Realities

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

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

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

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

But what is this absolute reality?

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

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

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

Thank goodness for that psychic censor, right?

Witch Wars: Diagnosis

witch wars - magnifying glass

Finding the Right Balance

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

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

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

So how do you find the right balance with this?

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

Luck

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

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

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

See what I meant when I said “unbelievable”?

Dreams

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

And other practitioners…

See the problem?

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

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

So pay attention to your dreams!

Feelings and Foreign Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the old adage says, “know thyself”.

Health

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

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

Dying Plants and Eggs

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

Being Off-Balance

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

Witch Wars: Minimizing the Damage

Witch wars - tarot devil card

Which Witch War?

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

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

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

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

An Evil of Ego

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

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

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

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

Reciprocal relationships

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

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

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

Cleanliness

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

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

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

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

To Gift is to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Concerns

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

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

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

Final Words

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

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

A Magical Go-Bag Tour

magical go-bag - hag stone

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

My Magical Go-Bag: A Backstory

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

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

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

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

Making the Bag

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

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

magical go-bag - crane bag

magical go-bag - pockets
Custom knife pockets ftw.

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

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

My Essential Items

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

Hag Stone

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

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

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

Black Salt

Function: Hardcore apotropaic.

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

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

Spindle and Fiber

Function: Tool and offering.

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

Railroad Spike

Function: Apotropaic and tool.

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

Red Yarn

Function: Apotropaic, tool, McGyver goodness.

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

Offerings of some kind

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

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

PSA: Make Your Oaths Well!

There’s something of a theme du jour in my spookier friend circles right now. It’s complex – there’s a lot of background strangeness here – but the TL;DR version is that people (myself included) either feel the need to make oaths of fealty to numinous powers, or are witnessing others making similar oaths in either dream or trance. Now that strikes me as being pretty odd, and makes me wonder whether this is something which is confined to my various friend circles, or if it’s more widespread. (Answers on a postcard, please!) It also makes me wonder what on earth is going on at the moment. Because as I mentioned above, there is a background of strangeness here. This is not something that I’m prepared to write about it yet, but some of what John Beckett touches on here is eerily similar.

Either way, regardless of whatever the hell is going on, and whether or not this is a localized or more widespread phenomenon, it’s never a bad time to address the matter of oaths of fealty. After all, oathing to numinous powers is a serious business with potentially serious consequences. Friends don’t let friends oath to massively powerful entities without first giving them some tools.

And by “tools”, I mean this handy five-point list.

(Why a five-point list? Because this is the fucking internet, and everything seems to be a five-point list nowadays.)

1. You Can Refuse

This might seem like a no-brainer. However (as a few skeletons that won’t stay in their cupboards can attest), we seem to have consent issues in modern Paganism. We see this in a number of ways, and thankfully there are movements to work on all of that. But one of the ways in which those problematic ideas of consent

oaths - chris pratt
Kinda like this creepy ass movie, only with gods and ungods – yay!

surface (at least in my opinion), is in how oathing to numinous powers is presented in some quarters. There’s this creepy narrative that oathing is like a kind of pursuit by the numinous that the human doesn’t really have any say in, and quite frankly, that’s just plain fucked up.

It’s also wrong to boot, because that’s not how actual reciprocal relationships work. You have a choice, these are reciprocal relationships (read up on those here if you don’t know what that means), you can say no. So if it seems like a bad idea to get in cahoots with whoever, and your gut is twisting with the thought (there’s a clue right there), you can decline – politely.

If you do find yourself in a situation in which you believe you are being pursued by the numinous equivalent of Chris Pratt, then go and get a second opinion from someone you trust. Narrative can frame experience just as much as experience can frame narrative. Just a word to the wise though: not everything is what it claims to be either, so again, it’s good to get a fresh perspective.

2. The Devil is in the Detail

As mentioned above, these are relationships that are reciprocal by nature. In other words, they an exchange of sorts, which means you’re effectively entering into a contract. Now, if you’ve watched that episode of South Park where Kyle clicks the iTunes user agreement without reading it first, you’ll know that blind agreement with a greater power is not a good idea.

Well, it’s the same principle here. You need to be honest about, and lay out what you are prepared to do, and how long for. This is key – you don’t have to oath to a power for life, and you don’t have to give yourself to them after death

oaths - devil
“Hi, I’m goat-devil and I like to hang out in the details!”

either. Temporary alliances for a set period of time or until the completion of certain criteria are a thing, oaths that are renewed on a yearly basis are also a thing. NOTHING SAYS YOU HAVE TO OATH FOR LIFE.

So make a list of your conditions, and pay special attention to any potential loopholes you find. Because some beings out there (naming no names) are *experts* at finding ways to creatively screw humans over while adhering to the letter of any oaths made. So get good at thinking twenty steps ahead and doing thought experiments with potential outcomes. Also, remember that any oaths will also by extension affect your families, so factor your loved ones into those thought experiments too.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to try and figure out what they actually want from you, and assume that has value even if you cannot see it. And that might sound like the most hubristic shit ever until you remember that some beings quite enjoy consuming humans. It’s good to not become food, it’s like a rule for life.

But before you do *any* of that….

3. Do Your Research, Dammit!

If some sparkly and awesome (or dark and scary, or BOTH) shows up trying tooaths - book entice you into some kind of oath, your first move is always research. Go find out everything you can about them, and if it’s not available in physical sources, go pester allies for more information. Because there are a whole bunch of things you need to know here. For example, you need to know their MO; if they’re presenting themselves as they actually are; how others have fared dealing with them; and if they have a GSOH and enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset. Because all of that will not only help you figure out *who* you’re dealing with, but also help you better word any oaths you make so that you can do stuff like insert more protective clauses (which is #winning, trust me).

4. Consult Ye the Ye Olde Book of Oaths!

There’s a lot to be said for those old school handwritten pacts. On the one hand, they were utter shit for getting you convicted and burned (poor Father Grandier). But on the other hand, they also helped you remember just who you had pacts with, and exactly what was entailed. So if you’re in the business of holding oaths with numinous beings, it’s a damn good idea to have somewhere safe where you can write down all the details as precisely as you can (if you don’t already). It’s also good to read those oaths regularly – after all, you want to make sure you’re not fucking up your end of the bargain. However, it’s especially important to re-read your prior oaths when in the process of considering and creating oathed relationships with whatever new beings on the block because you need to know what you can agree to without violating the conditions of your other oaths. Sometimes those prior oaths can turn out to be pretty protective in the long run.

5. Phone a Friend

Finally, when you have all your research, and have tweaked the wording for
your oath as much as you can, run it all by a friend or trusted clergy. For some of you, this would have likely been a continuous thing anyway throughout this entire process, and that’s fine. Just don’t formalize anything until you’ve had that feedback from someone you trust and who has a good head on their

oaths - friends
“I asked my friend and got accused of dogging her for information!”

shoulders. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get caught up in things and hurtle towards a thing at breakneck speed, so it’s good to have someone prepared to remind you that there are such a thing as brakes.

But whether you do say yes to the oath-dress or not, you should record everything in as much detail as you possibly can. Because even if you don’t end up oathing, it’s just always good to keep a record.

If you do formally oath though, consider the creation of a pact-style document that both parties agree to before the oath is formally sworn. This document should contain the exact wording of your oath and clearly outline the conditions of the oath.

Lastly, if you are in this situation, I wish you smooth negotiations. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Witchcraft, Magic, Religion, and Holy Powers

religion - hare

It would seem that there is something of a “zeitgeist” moving a number of bloggers right now. I have been blogging about the matter of Spiritual Authority and Hierarchies for the past two weeks. John Beckett dropped a post yesterday entitled “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” which basically exhorted people to address their religious baggage. (Yay! Glad to have you on board, Mr Beckett!) And Laura Tempest Zakroff dropped her own take (“One Order of Witchcraft Medium-Rare, Hold the Gods please”), which seemed to come at the same matter from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Like I said, it feels like a number of us are poking at the same nebulous mass (albeit from different angles). I was going to post the third part of my series on authority and hierarchies today, but after reading these posts, I have things to say, and say them I shall.

Religion and Baggage

I’m going to begin with John Beckett’s post, as that is the post I came across first. On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more with his points that Pagans need to get over previous religious baggage, and that there are very definite benefits to religion. However, I have real issues with looking to the framework of other (typically monotheistic) religions for a model of how Pagan religion should look now. Granted, this may not have been Beckett’s intention here, however, I don’t think you can extol the virtues of religion for Pagans without also going into what Pagan religion could look

religion - holy book
Religions have holy books, right?

like.

To my mind, this is an important distinction to make too, because when you use a word like “religion” – like any word – it comes with certain expectations of what that thing looks like. And after something like 1500-2000 years of predominantly Judeo-Christian religion, we really need to ask what that looks like for a good chunk of us. In other words, how does the shape of Abramic religion affect the shape we give to Pagan religion?

Let’s take Christianity, for example. Christianity is universalist, in fact, new adherents are actively sought. It’s also orthodoxic in nature, meaning that having the “correct” belief is of the utmost importance. Relationships with deity require submission, and the end reward for good behavior comes after death.

Now compare this with what we (think we) know of Heathen period religion. Here “religion” goes hand in hand with

religion - orans
The orans posture, common to both Pagans and Jewish people in the ancient world.

community, and is made up of the reciprocal relationships held by that community and the customs by which they are maintained (orthopraxy). Religion is not universal, and though there are common threads between groups that are culturally similar enough, it differs by tribe. There are no active attempts to seek out new adherents either, as it is handed down from parent to child. Joining the religion in these cases, is more of a case of tribal enculturation. Afterlife beliefs vary from group to group.

See what I mean? That’s quite a difference! However instead of exploring that, as a group we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and make weak arguments about “being spiritual instead of religious”.

Along similar lines are the following statements:

“I don’t pray, I chat with my gods.”

“I don’t kneel, that’s a Christian thing.”


“I don’t worship, I honor my gods.”

And it doesn’t matter that the acts of prayer and kneeling is well attested among multiple pagan cultures, or that worship (meaning “to give worth to/acknowledge the worth of”) is the perfect word for what we do, we just keep running.

So I see this issue as twofold: on the one hand, we avoid anything that looks a little too much like the religions we ran from; and on the other, we allow those religions to continue defining our worlds for us.

Don’t believe me on the last one? Consider the Devil for a moment. How do you feel about him? If you’re getting an icky feeling, where do you think that’s coming from? And yet from the probable perspective of someone from the Pagan period, he’d be another animistic power to trade the troll market with (as always, terms and conditions may apply).

Hold the Gods!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Laura Tempest Zakroff’s post argued for the validity of witchcraft without deities – or at least, devotional relationships with those deities.

I’m not going to lie, I think that’s also a problematic approach to take. As I discussed in my last post on Authority and Hierarchies, having reciprocal relationships with higher powers was a part of having spiritual authority. Hell, even the virtue of piety itself was something that could be held up as a form of authority when trucking with the dead.

This is not to completely slate Ms Zakroff’s post (apologies if that is the wrong honorific, I’m happy to amend religion paganaccordingly, as I do respect her). I do think she makes an excellent point about the duotheisms held dear by the earlier Pagan revivalists, and their incompatibility with both modern and ancient ideas on deity. But does that mean that we should once more throw out yet another baby with the water it was bathing in? (Which per this account was a dirty dirty water, possibly filled with spunk and other sexual fluids.) Does that mean that we let (this time) Wiccan ideas on deities in witchcraft define the matter of deities for all witches? Because witch or not, you don’t have to have a god and a goddess. And while it’s true that witchcraft can be practiced without deities, in the old accounts and old charms, there was always the matter of the witch requiring the authority to work her craft (be that authority the Devil or Fairies, or Yahweh).

religion - hareI shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again

Isobel Gowdie, of course.

The most striking thing for someone who spends a lot of time reading both old grimoires and ancient texts about magic though, is how much our expectations of magic have lowered over the years. There was a time when it was perfectly reasonable to have spells for getting your animated divinatory skull back under control. But now what do we have? To quote Ms Zakroff, “magic as an every day practice to change you, your living space, and the world around you. There’s no chapter on “how to choose your patron deities” – but there may be one on finding your inner goddess.”

So were those earlier spells just delusional?

I’m not so sure; let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I was perusing the vendors at a Pagan convention. One vendor was selling (among other things), little sequined books that she was calling “wish books”, the idea being that you write wishes in them and they would come true. Nice novelty, but no one who is magically operant is going to take that seriously. However, as I was looking through her wares, an African gentleman came up and honed in on these “wish books”, wanting to know if they really worked. You see, as someone who had grown up in a place in which witchcraft is a very real prospect that is routinely thought capable of things we might think fantastical, he was as serious as a heart attack. The vendor

religion - enchantment
This came up on pixabay for “enchantment”. IDK…

when faced with this, recognized her conundrum: she could either admit that her products were bunk, or she could lie to the gentleman and potentially face his wrath down the line. Because in his culture, you can bet that bought magic is considered the same as any other product that doesn’t work when it doesn’t work!

So were those older spells delusional? I doubt that gentleman would think so – or any number of people around the world actually. As a community, we talk a lot about “reenchanting the world”, as though the whole world is missing its enchantment, but maybe it’s just our bits of it?

Final Words

I’ve covered a lot of ground here (that’s happening a lot at the moment), but if I were to boil down my points, they would be as follows:

1. Religion itself isn’t a bad thing, but we need to stop running and start figuring out what that can look like for us.
2. We also need to stop throwing out bathwater babies because of how others define things (seriously, we’re creating an army of Útburðir). Don’t like Wicca-esque duotheisms? You don’t need to dump all ideas of forming relationships with animistic powers.
3. It’s about reciprocal relationships, and no matter how awesome your inner goddess is, she probably is going to still be useless if you ever find yourself up shit creek without a paddle with things going sideways faster than the fools at my gym who try to use the treadmills sideways. Plus side though, you can always try shitting yourself, so there is that.
4. It’s also about expectations, and we cannot reenchant the world if we’re not only removing the animistic powers, but also simultaneously lowering our expectations of what magic can do.

So there you go! My Monday ramblings about all the things. I’m still aiming to get the third part of my series out this week (probably on Thursday), but the posts by Mr Beckett and Ms Zakroff were too relevant to ignore.

Have a good week, everyone!