“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

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.

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.

Bad Witch Checking In!

Earlier today, famous Fairy-firkler Morgan Daimler, posted their blog confessing the ways in which she’s apparently a ‘Bad Witch’. Just to be clear, they’re not talking about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the sense of ethics here. But rather the ways in which they suck at some of the things usually expected of a witch.

In all honesty, I quite like this conversation. As a group we have this ridiculous tendency to act like we know more than we do, or don’t fuck up as often as we do. A good chunk of us could also do with laughing at ourselves more (but that’s another conversation and another rant).

So in the interests of adding to this conversation, here are the witch things I’m utterly shit at.

Bad Witch Fail #1: Remembering What to Say

This is my biggest issue right here. I can craft some really beautiful ritual but

Bad witch - ridiculous magician
This is in fact me.
(No, no it’s not)

can I remember it? No I really fucking can’t – and that blows. I’m that person in ritual who has to read from the book/paper because she can’t remember what the hell she’s supposed to say. In my defense though, I have memory issues. My thyroid shat the bed a few years ago and now I have a real hard time remembering things like I used to.

And yes, I know there are some of you out there saying “Pshaw amateur! I just make it up as I go along!” Well bully for you, Keith! I don’t, and that’s largely down to knowing the fuckery of my own brain.

You see, I believe that when I’m in ritual I’m interacting with numinous powers. That may seem like a no-brainer, but again (for the kids at the back), these are beings with agency. Which means they generally have their own plans and they aren’t necessarily plans we’d particularly like.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years (and especially since my memory became less useful), it’s that you can cut some really shit deals if you don’t go in there with a plan. Writing it all down before stepping into a circle is kind of like going to the store with a shopping list: it helps to keep you on track. It helps to keep you out of trouble, and even better, you don’t have to rely on your post-ritual memory to have a record of just what went down – it’s already there!

Which is adaptive and logical. But some folks can still get pretty dogmatic about it all.

Bad Witch Fail #2: I Suck at Growing Useful Gardens

I lose both Heathen and Witch points on this one, but for the past two years I’ve had shit gardens. I think I must have had a lucky year the first year I moved

bad witch - vegetables
My dreams, literally every spring.

here. We had lettuce for pretty much the whole summer, tomatoes that wouldn’t stop coming, zucchini, summer squash, okra, jalapenos, and green peppers. It. Was. Wonderful.

But last year we only got two loads of tomatoes and some lettuce (largely because a groundhog ate everything), and this year…

Yeah. I fail at this.

Ok, so my gardening isn’t a total loss. I’ve somehow kept an elder bush alive for a few years now (and it’s *huge*), a pile of wormwood is taking over the lower end of my garden, and my henbane seems to be happy. I just wish I could get fresh edible foods!

I know people who seem to just leave a trail of plants in their wake – almost as though they’re pooping them out or something. And it seems like almost everyone in my kindred has amazing gardens that they feed their families with. Except me.

But I’m not giving up! In fact, I’m going to go for a fall crop next. Because you know, why limit your failure to summer?!

Bad Witch Fail #3:Forgetting Tools/Offerings

Have you ever had that thing happen where you think you’ve got everything you need and you start the rite only to realize once you’re halfway through

bad witch - forget elephant
Fat. Chance. Dumbo!

whatever you’re doing that you’ve forgotten something and it’s actually pretty key?

Because that’s me. No joke, but I’ve actually had spirits do something to stop the right and then tell me to do it again and do it properly.

This is why you will see a ‘You Will Need’ section at the beginning of any rituals I create – because I literally make that list for myself to try and mitigate that whole thing.

Bad Witch Fail #4: I Often Miss Moon Observances

Bad witch - full moon
Fucking space egg. You are NOT the boss of me! That’s my 4 year old.

I know a lot of (if not most) witches observe the full moon, but it’s hit or miss for me. It largely depends on factors like how tired I am, when I have to get up the following day, and if I’ve lost track of the month or not.

I know, those are all really lame reasons. About the only thing I can say in my defense is that I deal with some pretty chronic exhaustion between my thyroid issues and a kid that hates sleep.

Bad Witch Fail #5: I Can’t Read Theban

I should probably qualify that: I can’t read Theban anymore. Because if my old Bad witch - Thebanjournals are anything to go by, I could back then. But now? Nope! It’s the so-called ‘Witches’ Alphabet’ (taken from Trithemius who apparently got it from a possibly mythical character), and I can’t read it.

That’s me, witchy as fuck.

Anyway, those are my confessions. The confessional is open if anyone else would like to have a try!

Spinning, Seiðr, and Witchcraft (Part Two)

Adventures in Spun Seiðr

We chanted and danced, our bodies whirling with our spindles, the cords lengthening as the twist travelled up the fibers locking them in place. We chanted in praise of a goddess of spinning and witches, but then the song changed and we chanted differently. This time we *pulled*, the spinning of our spindles aiding us as we pulled what we wanted to pull. A shift fell over the room and it was as though the fan no longer worked within the confines of our weoh bonds, but yet we danced and spun and passed the drum between us, taking turns with both spindle and drum. The dance went on, around the shrine with idol and well, around the candles without tumbling; in trance, these things happen.

When we stopped, we were no longer fully *here* but somewhere between, panting with exertion and sweating from the heat that the fans would no longer touch.

And that’s when the real work began.

In my last blog, I presented the idea that the magic of spindle and distaff is a magic of fate, a magic of pulling, of binding, and sometimes, even a magic of creation. Dealing with what you spin up (f you spin it up) often requires other skills of course, but for now though, I’m going to concentrate on the spinning up.

Seiðr, - antler tablet
Tablet-weaving tablet in antler with curse inscription: “Sigvor’s Ingvar may have my bad luck” – From Viking Answer Lady

The first thing to understand about this kind of magic – or indeed any magic within the Germanic cultural context – is that some types of magic are temporary, and some are far longer lasting. Most of the examples you read of in the primary sources are temporary in nature; the mind ensnared until the will of the witch is carried out, or the weather temporarily made bad until the ship is sunk. Don’t get me wrong, temporary can cause a lot of damage. When it comes to long-lasting magics though, it’s all about setting down the layers, about repeated actions and intent. It’s about the tablet weaving tablet with a curse written on it, so that every turn of the tablet builds on the curse to imbue the victim with the ill luck of the caster. It’s about the spindle whorls scratched with prayers and blessings. It’s about the charms and staves left in hidden places to work continuously. It’s also probably why the SATOR square eventually became so popular in Northern Europe. If you remember that what we do in the now is what is set down as past layers for the future, then repeated actions over a period of time in the now and the not-so-far from now, set down that which a person has to work with in the future.

The second thing to understand here, is that this kind of spun magic, tends to be of a more chthonic nature. In my last blog post, I mentioned the connection between spinning and death, and spun threads made into various tools used to drag people down to the underworld. This idea was continued in various European folklore traditions that held that the dead had to cross over into the underworld over a bridge of thread, flax, or human hair (which actually kind of resembles flax).

When I first started to look at spun witchcraft – or Seiðr, it was most definitely from the point of view of the non-

Seiðr - flax
Flax, see how much it looks like hair.

spinner, or newbie spinner. Spinning is a craft that takes time, practice, and patience to become good at. Before you even begin to try your hand at spun Seiðr, you have to build up the muscle memory that makes it possible to spin without really thinking about it enough to go into trance.

The process of synthesis is often one of trial and error and this blog post is about my process of synthesis when it comes to spun Seiðr.

For me, it often starts with a flash of a vision of how you need to be doing something. But it’s one thing to see something happening and quite another to figure out the mechanics of how to do that thing or the framework within which you need to make it happen. That flash of a vision then becomes research, often years of research, experimentation, and most importantly evaluation before you have something workable. I think we often forget this because people are so reticent in the modern community to discuss their fuck ups, but let’s face it, everyone fucks up.

When I first began my experiments in spinning Seiðr I was doing so on the premise that the spindle was a tool for trance induction rather than for the magic itself. But as time went on and I experimented, I found that while you can get into a light trance state while spinning, it’s not necessarily good for deep trance, nor does it really go much beyond that (although it’s possible to have flashes of vision in this state). The breakthrough came when I decided to try changing my premise and taking the meaning of the word ‘Seiðr’ at face value – a ‘snare’. From that point on, I started to consider my spindle a tool that created a kind of snare ‘thought form’ that could be ‘sent forth’ or ‘ridden upon’ and used to ensnare and pull what I wanted or needed. My first experiments working in this way were a revelation, finally I felt like I’d hit on the mechanics of what I was meant to be doing.

Over time, I found that when I pulled and bound things, the spinning would become hard for no reason, that I would have to twist harder and that lumps would form in the spinning as the things I pulled were entrapped. I began to use my spindle when called in to help clear houses to attract and bind any leftover remnants of nastiness. Eventually, as I became more confident in this usage, I began using my spindle to pull and bind the kind of things that go bump in the night.

The more I spun and witched, the more I learned that spinning witchcraft is a magic that moves, it’s a magic that makes you want to sway and stamp your feet; to spin as you spin and work the energy out. It’s a magic that reverberates through your entire body, leaving you shaking and your yarn crackling with energy. Wool carries magic exceptionally well, and depending on what kind of magic you’re working, it can feel sharp and biting or warm and protective. It can be your favorite sweater or scarf that you wear when you know your day will be challenging, or it can be that one item that just feels unlucky. It can also carry stories – histories – and be used for divination for those skilled in psychometry.

Eventually I found others who were interested in working on this, on working to try to breathe life into and enliven that old spun Seiðr – people who were prepared to look beyond the high seat and get away from tidy and formal. We spun weoh bonds that we’d imbued with spells and prayers, and set up sacred space. We recreated our cosmos, or at least the lower half of it, with a ‘well’ to represent both the well of wyrd and the water the Dead must often cross between this world and the underworld. We also developed songs of various kinds; songs for pulling, songs for binding, songs for clearing, and songs of praise. Songs that would fill you with joy and songs that can make you feel as though something is walking over your grave. We found a place for those who couldn’t spin, because the drumming fuels our movements, our ecstasy, and we work to go deeper each time.

There is so much more that we haven’t explored yet and so many more possibilities to be integrated into our rites; such as extra magical steps in the preparation of the wool for Seiðr spinning, or the water with which you wash or wet your fingers with when spinning flax from a distaff. There are also ladders to be spun and woven, and an above world to look to as well.

Nowadays in witchcraft (and in other types of Seiðr group), it’s far more common to present a complete tradition, preferably one that’s been handed down in whatever way it has. I think because of this, we forget that most of us are *all* doing something relatively new, but again this is something we hide along with our fuck ups. As far as I know, myself and the people with whom I do spinning Seiðr are a minority out there. We have no lineages, no how-to books, and we’ll probably have our share of fuck ups too. I think it’s important to be honest about this, I think we do a huge disservice to those that come after us when we are not, and moreover, I think sometimes there is the trap of kidding oneself that what we have is the be all and end all of what there is. How can we get better at what we do if we cannot admit and learn from our mistakes? What has anyone ever really learned from a (fake) image of perfection?

For all the *newness* and experimental nature of this practice though, I *know* we’re on the right path. It’s not an objective knowing of course (when is it ever with this kind of thing?), but I *know* as surely as the air rushes back in when the weoh bonds come down.

Ego and Ritual

Yesterday afternoon was hot and sunny, a day of baked earth and precious little wind. It was also the day that our naissent ‘protogrove’ had chosen to celebrate the high day of Lughnasadh. On a more personal note, this Lughnasadh marks two years since I first went to an ADF ritual and started ‘druiding-it-up’.

That sounds crude, I don’t mean it that way. My people are masters of understatement, and using humor or sarcasm to hide our true feelings about the things that are important to us. It’s why you’ll see sick jokes flying around after pretty much every national disaster. We seem to hide our hurts so they cannot be used against us and treasure our deepest joys to keep them safe.

A week ago, a friend asked me if I was now ‘dual trad’ because of my involvement in ADF, but to me that suggests a kind of separation, when my experience has been anything but one of separation; it’s been whole-making. Metaphorically speaking, my Heathenry waters one side of my ‘tree’, and the Druidry waters the other. Joining ADF has been literally life-changing, I’ve been much happier, and feel like my worldview is far more coherent than before.

Comparative Indo-European studies will do that for you. When you only see the Norse sources, you only see the tree, the eagle, the deer, and the serpent. When you only see the Irish Celtic sources, you only see the land, sea, and sky. But when you trace it back, eventually you’ll get back to the Hittites and find a tree with the eagle representing the sky, the deer representing the land, and the serpent representing the sea.

So yesterday, I was baking under the hot Pennsylvania sun with people I consider to be genuinely good, celebrating an Irish High Day in accordance with ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.

The Importance of Good Ritual

Good ritual is something I find lacking in many Heathen circles, we seem constrained by the bid to not be too ‘Wiccan’, or too ‘Christian’. We use words like ‘honour’ rather than ‘worship’, we ‘talk to’ the gods rather than ‘pray’, ritual - womenand bending a knee to the Holy Powers is rare. We typically laud simplicity and mostly veer away from scripted rituals , when all the evidence from other Indo-European cultures suggests that not only did ritual involve the recreation of the cosmos in ritual space, but that once that cosmos was recreated, great care was taken over what words were spoken within that space.

“<em>If anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly.”</em>

These were words that were written on the Inguvine tablets, a set of seven tablets discovered in Italy in the 15th century, and dating back to possibly the 3rd century BCE. When you stand at the centre of the cosmos performing actions and prayers with the intent of upholding the sacred contract between the community of man, and the Holy Powers, a misstep can affect so much.

Let it be gone.

Let it be as though those mistakes were never made.

This is one reason why there is such a thing as the ‘Core Order of Ritual’ in ADF, by creating a framework we minimize the missteps. Another reason is because we’re an orthopraxy.

The past few High Days, our little group has been finding our pace, figuring out what works for us, and how best to organise our rites. Some High Days have been almost pulled out of our asses, and the omens have reflected that, others, like yesterday, have felt like we *got it right*.

On a personal level, I often feel self-conscious when I have to speak in ritual. I can drill myself on what I am to say over and over again, for days before the actual day, and I can almost guarantee it that I will go blank around the third line. When I go blank, I typically notice the people I’m around rather than the the Holy Powers that I’m addressing; the focus becomes less on the contract and doing it right in the sacred centre for the good of the whole, and more on petty concerns like, “Oh no, I can’t remember what I’m saying, *think*, I think people are looking at me, they probably know..”

And it becomes a kind of tailspin, when it is the last thing anyone should do or think about in that kind of a situation.

Learning to Focus on the Music

When I was a teenager, I used to play tenor horn/ B flat cornet in a band, I used to perform often, and as the lead, I couldn’t blend in with the background. One day in music class, we each had to stand up and perform with our chosen instrument. As each classmate stood up and performed, I felt myself getting more and more nervous, until eventually my mouth went dry and my heart pounded. When it came to my turn, I stood up, fluffed my notes, forgot what I was playing, and sat down ashamed as my classmates laughed at my ineptitude. The teacher, who had heard me play before and had placed me as lead trumpet in the band scolded them, then pulled me aside and gave me a marble telling me to focus on hearing the music instead of their faces, and suck on the marble so my mouth didn’t go dry; an old bandsman’s trick. The second time I stood up, I played a fantastic rendition of ‘Rock Around the Clock’, to the now shocked faces of my classmates. When I sat down, I sat down to complements.

It’s lesson I’ve been working on resurrecting, sometimes with more success than others. Yesterday during ritual, I remembered how to ‘hear the music’. It’s not about us, it’s about doing it right, being focused, and doing the job at hand. Anything else is as incidental as the complements I got as I sat down with instrument in hand, high off the adrenaline and my soul still buzzing with the dance of the notes.