“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?

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.

Law and the Dead

An Encounter with the Restless Dead

The saga refers to what happened as wonders, but I would not call them such. After all, people had died. Oh, it wasn’t just those who had initially died. No, they had returned, others had fallen sick, and more had joined their ranks.law - farmstead

Unlike the dead of other Indo-European descendant cultures, the dead always walked in Iceland. Draugar, they were called, revenants. Other places had them too – the Greeks, for example. They too knew revenants and practiced arm-pitting dead enemies, severing the vital tendons that would allow ambulation should the deceased arise to walk and seek revenge (Ogden 162). But the Greeks also had ghosts; the preference for cremation during the Archaic Era coincided with a diversification of Greek underworld beliefs. The previously faceless dead that existed unaware of the living world above now understood that their descendants poured out and burned offerings for them. The expansion of cremation burial also coincided with the arrival of the psychopomps – a role which would be extended during the Classical Era (F. P. Retief “Burial Customs”).

The Icelanders though, they did not burn their dead, and so their dead walked as you or I do (Davidson 9).

The Court is Convened

But these were not the mindless rotting zombies of movies; let’s not think that they were. No, draugar didn’t rot, and were fully capable of thought and action, passing through the earth of their mounds to visit and all too often harass the law - doorliving. But their visits also brought sickness, and that’s just what they brought to the people of a place called Frodis-water.

So the people of Frodis-water decided to hold a dyradómr, a kind of door-court during which the dead would be judged in accordance with the law, and hopefully sent on their way. Now doorways are significant; they’re liminal places where living and dead can meet. To keep your beloved dead close, you might bury them in a doorway, and the door post holes found before Bronze Age burials could not have been a coincidence (Hem-Eriksen “Doorways”). So they held their door-court at the doorway and called the dead to them to hear their judgement.

Surprisingly, the dead took their judgements and left without argument. But that was the power of the law, and no one living or dead, wants to reside outside of the protection of the law.

The Law is Sacred

You see, law – or at least a certain kind of law – was sacred. It was the difference between order and chaos, between thriving and destruction, and as such, it was valued. It is the ŗta of the Vedic texts and the asha known to the Zoroastrians. These were in turn cognate with the Greek aristos, ‘the best’; harmonia, ‘harmony’; and ararisko, or ‘to fit, adapt, harmonize’. All though, can probably be traced to the same Proto-Indo-European root word, *H²er-, or ‘to fit together according to the proper pattern’ (Serith 30).

The First Rule?

We don’t know that “proper pattern” though, and we cannot claim to know it despite the fact that it would be useful to anyone who follows any traditions inspired by pre-Christian IE cultures. However, we can perhaps infer what law - noosesome of those laws might be. I am going to infer one right now: that our rights to this world are lost when we breathe our last.

This is why the dead must be dragged by fetters or snares from the world of the living. It is why the Rig Veda refers to the “foot fetter of Yama” (the Lord of the Dead); why there are hel ropes in the Sólarljóð; why Horace wrote of mortis laqueis, or “snares of death; and it is why Clytemnestra had a net (Giannakis “Fate-As-Spinner”). The dead do not wish to go, so they must be dragged. It is noteworthy that they only return at the end of all things (Ragnarök), or that their return brings sickness and death. This is one law we can infer; this is part of the proper pattern.

The Rule of Law

Another is that nothing exists outside of this. To be removed to the Underworld is not to be removed from the reach of law. The Underworlds are varied, and descendants would not have made ancestor offerings were those ancestors truly gone and wholly disconnected. We must always remember that a human community has two sides: the living who dwell in the Middle Earth, and the dead who dwell below.

law - gibbetThe story of the door-courts suggests that both living and dead are equally bound by the law. We also see this reflected in the burial customs of those deemed to exist outside the protection of the law. These were often the criminals left to rot at the crossroads, those buried in unhallowed grounds, and those who were too young at the time of their passing to be formally accepted in a community (Petreman “Preturnatural Usage”). Is it any coincidence that the materia magica sought from the human body came most often from these sources? Is it also coincidence that those were the sources thought by the Ancient Greeks to carry the least miasma (Retief “Burial”)? To exist as dead inside the protection of the law is to sleep soundly – or at least it should mean that. Of course, there have always been violations as Burke and Hare could well attest.

From these perspectives, the case against the dead at Frodis-water may already seem airtight. After all, we’ve already established that by virtue of being dead they’re not supposed to be in the world of the living, and that they are just as subject to this “proper pattern” law as we ourselves are. However, there is one more legal argument pertinent to the dead that we have not yet examined, and that is the law of possession.

Claiming and Keeping Space

Fire has always been sacred to the various Indo-European descendant cultures, and was considered to have various functions. We’re perhaps the most familiar with fire as a medium through which offerings may be made to law - firethe holy powers, but fire also played an important role in property ownership too. For the Norse, carrying fire sunwise around land you wished to own was one method of claiming that land (LeCouteux 89), and under Vedic law new territory was legally incorporated through the construction of a hearth. This was a temporary form of possession too, with that possession being entirely dependent on the ability or willingness of the residents to maintain the hearthfire. For example, evidence from the Romanian Celts suggests that the voluntary abandonment of a place was also accompanied by the deliberate deconstruction of the hearth. And the Roman state conflated the fidelity of the Vestal Virgins to their fire tending duties with the ability of the Roman state to maintain its sovereignty. The concept of hearth as center of the home and sign of property ownership continued into later Welsh laws too; a squatter only gained property rights in a place when a fire had burned on his hearth and smoke come from the chimney (Serith 2007, 71).

Sovereignty and the Dead

There is more here too – the matter of sovereignty looms large. So too perhaps is a form of imitation of the relationship between king and goddess of sovereignty played out here between men and the wives who keep the hearthlaw - hearth fires burning. To maintain the hearth was to maintain possession of property, and to maintain the hearth, a woman was required. (Or several, if you happen to be the Roman state.)

And here is where I come to my final argument regarding law and the dead: the dead keep no fires in the habitations of the living. Without the ability to maintain a hearth fire, the dead cannot claim sovereignty in the land of the living, and this is an important point to bear in mind. Because while we often joke that possession is nine tenths of the law, thankfully for the people of Frodis-water, it most likely was that which saved them.

Sources

Davidson, H. R, Ellis. The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. Print.
Giannakis, George. “The “Fate-as-Spinner” Motif: A Study on the Poetic and Metaphorical Language of Ancient Greek and Indo-European (Part II).” Indogermanische Forschungen Zeitschrift Für Indogermanistik Und Historische Sprachwissenschaft / Journal of Indo-European Studies and Historical Linguistics 104 (2010): 95-109. Web.
Hem Eriksen, Marianne. “Doorways to the Dead. The Power of Doorways and Thresholds in Viking Age Scandinavia.” Archaeological Dialogues 20.2 (2013): 187-214. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. <https://mariannehemeriksen.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/eriksen-marianne-hem-2013.pdf>.
Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land – Ancestral Lore and Practices. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp, 2015.
Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Petreman, Cheryl. “Preternatural Usage of Human Body Parts in Late Medieval and Early Modern
Germany.” Diss. U of New Brunswick, 2013.
Retief, Fp, and L. Cilliers. “Burial Customs, the Afterlife and the Pollution of Death in Ancient Greece.” Acta Theologica 26.2 (2010): n. pag. Web.
Serith, Ceisiwr. Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ADF Pub., 2009.

Authority and Hierarchies IV: Or “Why Your Pet Isn’t Your Fucking Familiar”

familiar - Boye Dog

Returning to Familiar Ground

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been on an epic journey. We’ve taken a look at the evidence for hierarchies among grimoire spirits and fairies alike, and discussed agency, anthropocentrism, and to a small degree, colonialism too. We’ve also examined the different kinds of reciprocal relationships, spiritual authority, the role of piety, and finally took a brief tour through the history of magic wands.

This week, I’m coming back to a topic that should be a lot more familiar to everyone (pun intended): the witch’s familiar.

Introducing the Early Modern Witch’s Familiar

The witch’s familiar is an ancient phenomenon, though the most commonly held ideas surrounding them seem to owe more to Early Modern Britain. Simply put, a familiar was a form of spirit helper with which the witch or cunning person held a certain kind of relationship. The kinds of familiars possessed by both cunning folk and witches differed too, with the familiars associated with “Cunning Folk” being more of fairy, and those associated with witches being

Familiar - Hopkins
Prize prick Matthew Hopkins with some witches identifying their familiars.

more demonic. It is the latter form that is the most recognizable today (Wilby 2005).

For witch or cunning person, the acquisition of a familiar was for the most part by chance. Accounts of encounters recorded during the witch trials, paint these encounters as happening spontaneously, as the witch or cunning person went about their business (Wilby 2005). Often the witch or cunning person would also be impoverished, or recently subjected to some kind of further hardship or tragedy. There is an undeniably folkloric feel to these encounters, and not unlike the kind of deal made by the girl forced to spin straw in Rumpelstiltskin (for example).

Unlike period descriptions of encounters with the dead, the fairy or demon familiars are described in stunningly naturalistic terms – they’re as real-looking as you or I. They were of vivid color, and animation and sound. But that’s not to say that they were “really” just the pets of people who looked a little “witchy”; it’s one thing to assume the shape of a thing, and quite another to actually be that thing. Familiar - BoyeHaving said that though, there were cases in which the pets of people suspected of witchcraft also shared the fates of their owners. But witch crazes are nothing if not illogical, let’s not mistake misplaced bloodlust for authenticity.

However, while the majority of accounts depict a person coming across the spirit that would become their familiar in a spontaneous way, there were ways in which familiar spirits could also be acquired. For example, one might petition a condemned person to return and serve as your familiar as in the case of Mary Parish’s familiar, a one George Whitmore (Cummins 2017 “The Rain Will Make a Door III”). In other cases, one could gain a familiar by somehow encountering fairy royalty and showing them the proper respect thus acquiring a familiar as a gift. Alternatively, you might acquire a familiar as a gift from another witch – most commonly a family member (Wilby 2005). And lastly, if none of those methods were available to you, you could always try petitioning a demon such as the Verum demon Sustugriel who was reputed to ”give good familiars” (Stratton-Kent 2010).

(About that fairy and devil/demon crossover? You might want to read this piece by Fairy in a Human Suit, Morgan Daimler.)

Tracing an Older Pattern

As I said above though, the Early Modern familiar is simply just the most well-known form of spirit helper. The fact of the matter is that magical practitioners have been finding helping spirits and making pacts with them for a very, very long time. And like wands, familiars traverse a wide range of different cultures (albeit under different names – obviously).

The earliest account of what might be recognized as a familiar is the ob (pronounced “ov”) of the biblical Witch of Endor. The ob was both a spirit “of the dead or minor underworld deity that “speaks from the earth in whispering voices”, and an object of worship whose spirit can enter into a human and reside within them (Barrabbas 2017). In other words, to have a familiar is to be possessed by a familiar (something which I will speak of more towards the end of this post).

Among the Greeks, we find the parhedros who fulfills a similar function to that of the ob and the familiar. Given that the Greek Magical Papyri begins with ways in which to acquire a parhedros, we have to assume that they were considered an integral part of performing magic (Skinner 2014). Moreover, like their Hebrew counterparts, there is also the aspect of worshiping objects associated with the paredros. For those of you who are interested in the idea of performing one of these paredros rituals, it bears mentioning that those early methods of acquisition require blood sacrifice. Far less bloody to summon a demon in this case!

Moving over to Heathen period Northern Europe now, we find evidence that witches partnered with elves in order to perform their magic. Alaric Hall argues that rather than being the result of attacks by elves, the phenomenon of elfshot was more likely curses thrown by elf-empowered witches (Hall 2001). This is where we find our way back to familiar - burial moundWilby’s period of study. Hall traces a pattern of witches working with mound-connected elves from the tenth century Old English magico-medical charm Wið Færstice and term ælfs?den (literally “elf-Seiðr”, or “elf-magic”); to Martin Luther’s account of being “shot” by a neighborhood witch; and finally to Isobel Gowdie’s accounts of encountering the Queen of Elfhame in a mound and seeing elves fashioning the shot. I personally take it somewhat further and point to the portrayal of Frey and Freyja in the Ynglingasaga. Freyja as the sacrificial priestess (and as we know, goddess associated with the form of magic known as “Seiðr”) ends up overseeing the cult to her brother, Freyr (who is associated with elves), even as he lies in the burial mound. The people bring offerings to the mound for peace and good seasons, and so even in death, he possesses a power that his sister does not.

Equally, elves were also associated with possessory divinatory trances that may have resembled or been confused with epileptic fits (Hall 2001), and so here too we find the possessory aspect of the ob.

Familiars and Hierarchy

The themes of hierarchy and spiritual authority also play their respective roles here. You may have already noticed that outside of the spontaneously acquired familiars, a higher power must be approached. This is an important distinction to make: the familiar gifted by fairy royalty will obey you if their royals command it. For those who inherit their familiars from others, one has to assume that the same terms and conditions of whatever pact was agreed upon transfer to the new witch.

Mary Parish’s familiar George is the obvious exception to this. Unlike most other familiars in the accounts, he was a dead human whose service was contracted by means of an oath before dying. This allowed Mary the authority she needed in order to work with him postmortem. However, his story is not completely devoid of involvement by a higher (fairy) power.

At some point, a minor aristocrat by the name of Goodwin Wharton became covetous of George (who he had become aware of through his love affair with Mary), and endeavored to have Mary gift him her familiar. However, a fairy queen referred to as the Queen of the Lowlanders steps in. From Wharton’s journal:

familiar - fairy queen” The transfer of George was further complicated by the queen of the Lowlanders, who demanded that Goodwin stop attempting to have George as his own personal spirit. At first Goodwin was a little resistant, but the queen insisted that if he would not willingly show her this preference, he should never see any of the Lowlanders. She wanted to be his number-one contact with the spirit world. Goodwin had little choice but to agree to her terms. As a consolation, George agreed to answer any questions directed at him as long as Goodwin turned his back and did not look directly where George stood. However, Goodwin could not understand the spirit very clearly, as he spoke in a low, soft voice close to Mary’s ear. So throughout their relationship, Goodwin relied on Mary to communicate with George.”
(Cummins 2017 “The Rain Will Make a Door III”)

It would seem that even when it comes to contracting the familiar services of the dead, the fairies will still have their say.

Pets as Familiars

Now to come to something a little polemic, but that I find weirdly irritating all the same.

I’ve noticed a tendency among some in the Pagan/Witch/Heathen communities to refer to their pets as their “familiars”. At first, I thought it was just a joke being made (and for most people, it does seem to be). However, I seem to be coming across more people who actually think their pets are their familiars.

Now hopefully this blog has illustrated all the ways in which that is just fucking stupid. And I think one of the reasons why I get so angry about this is that after having worked with a familiar for a number of years, the collocation of “pet” with “familiar” is just yet more disrespect and treating the Other like some fun and twee little thing that’s just here for our edification, or worse – our entertainment. I feel like I’m quickly running out of ways to say that it’s not all about us humans.

Let’s just stop this, please. We’re better than this. And your dog/cat/bird/whatever may be cool, but he isn’t your familiar. Moreover, if you actually kept your dog as animal familiars were most commonly kept (in a wool basket, being fed milk, blood, or whatever), you’d be in trouble for animal cruelty.

So let’s just not; okay?

Sources

Barrabbas, Frater (2017) Spirit Conjuring For Witches
Cummins, Al (2017)The Rain Will Make a Door III: Faerie and the Dead
Hall, Alaric (2009) Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Health, Belief, Gender, and Identity
Skinner, Stephen (2014) Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic

Stratton-Kent, Jake (2010) The True Grimoire
Wilby, Emma (2005) Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic

Authority and Hierarchies I

hierarchies - game of boards

Last year, I took the Rune Soup grimoire course.

I’d recommend Rune Soup premium memberships to anyone, because they really are worth the $10 per month. They’re all are well-presented, the content is killer, and the grimoire course was no exception.

One phrase from that course has been going round my head on repeat this week:

hierarchies - lobster
Look at this magnificent bastard! He’s gonna lobster. He’s gonna lobster *hard*.

“Lobsters are just gonna lobster.”

You’re probably wondering what I mean by that. After all, it is a pretty weird (yet self-evident) statement when presented without context. (Because what else are lobsters going to do but lobster as hard as their little crustacean selves can lobster?)

I would hazard a guess that no one has any issues with that concept, and would think anyone strange who expected dog or human behavior from lobsters. Yet when it comes to the world of the Unseen, we seem to lose the ability to understand that, and our expectations become entirely contemporary and human.

In the first part of this mini-series of posts on authority and hierarchies, I’m going to take a look at the way modern human ideas about numinous beings run counter to more traditional ideas. I’ll move more explicitly into discussing the implications for practice in the following posts.

Perceptions of Spirits, Fairies, and Other Non-Human Persons

We humans engage in anthropomorphism often. We do it with our pets, with senators, and even with numinous beings. However, this is a deeply problematic approach, because when you try to ascribe a certain set of characteristics to something, then you miss what they actually are.

Unfortunately, we humans are often not content with simple anthropomorphism; our perceptions of these beings must also match our very human politics too. We see this bias the clearest in the consideration of spirit and otherworldly hierarchies.

Otherworldly/Spirit Hierarchies

hierarchies - fairy queen“Whether or not there are two set courts of Fairy, one thing that is clear is that the social structure does seem to operate as a hierarchy ruled ultimately by kings and queens. When we look at the bulk of the folklore it is usually a Fairy Queen who holds power, often with an unnamed King at her side or else ruling alone. In only a few Irish examples do we see solitary Fairy Kings. In the later folklore and ballads the Fairy Queens and Kings are often unnamed, going simply by their titles, but in older mythology and some local folklore we do have examples of named Fairy Queens and Kings, often beings who we know were once Gods.”
                                                                                                                                          Morgan Daimler, ‘Fairies’, p61

“The Kinds of Spirits.
In regard to spirits, there are the superior and the inferior. Names of the superiors are: Lucifer, Beelzebuth, Astaroth. The inferiors of Lucifer are in Europe and Asia, and obey him. Beelzebuth lives in Africa, and Astaroth inhabits America.

Of these, each of them has two who order their subjects all that which the Emperor has
resolved to do in all the world, and vice-versa.”

Grimoirium Verum, from here.

Hierarchies are a feature among both the spirits of the grimoires and traditional fairy lore. As we see from the examples above, the Fairies have their courts and royalty, and superior spirits reign above the legions of inferior spirits of the Grimoirium Verum (and others).

However, an adherence to hierarchical social structure is not the only common trait shared by both Fairies and grimoire spirits. There is also the matter of power, and where that being lies on the scale of power in relation to its position within the hierarchy; these are dominance hierarchies after all. For example, in the above quote Morgan ties the older Fairy royalty with previous godhood. This is also a factor with the superior grimoire spirits cited above. Beelzebuth, as Jake Stratton-Kent reveals, is none other than one of the Ba’als of the ancient near East, and Asteroth none other than the goddess Astarte/Ishtar/Inanna (depending on time period and culture) (Stratton Kent “The True Grimoire” Pp. 136, 185-189 ).

So we kind of have to assume that the reason why those who sit at the top of their respective hierarchies do so hierarchies - chessbecause they are the most powerful. Power is a universal passport to authority other others, and it doesn’t matter if a spirit or fairy belongs to a particular court or hierarchy, inherent power is always recognized. Especially by those who appreciate the ability to size up and not antagonize those who are stronger as an excellent means of ensuring continued existence.

It can be hard for a modern person to get their head around the concept of these kinds of hierarchies, and I believe this to be especially the case with modern Pagans (who tend to lean more towards the liberal end of the political spectrum). A lot of us tend towards ideas of equality, and some of us may even find the very concept of hierarchy distasteful. However, we cannot just simply decide that we somehow know better despite the literally thousands of years of precedent in multiple cultures. Because like the lobsters (who also interestingly form dominance hierarchies), those spirits are going to do what they’re gonna do despite our silly human feelings.

Centering the Silly Human Feelings

While we’re talking about those silly human feelings, we may as well address another key issue here: anthropocentrism. As a culture, we have a horrible tendency to center human feelings and human experience in all interactions with the Other, and it’s laughable. We act as though everything non-human out there is there for us in some way, when that is simply not the case. This is a large part of what it means to have agency. A being with agency doesn’t exist for others, they are not the means to another’s ends, but ends unto themselves.
Moreover, I can all but guarantee that they don’t see us as the special snowflakes some of us seem to think we are, and if any of them seem to, it’s generally best to assume they probably believe you to be delicious in the culinary sense. (Oh yes, some of them are known to eat people.)

Like I said earlier, “Lobsters are just gonna lobster”.

Birds of a Feather

hierarchies - alien breakdancer
Breakdancing alien, clearly.

Lastly, you know how humans tend to all stick together in alien encounter movies? It seems like a natural response to something so different from ourselves, right? And that’s not even taking into account the many ways in which we privilege our own species over others on this earth. Again and again, we put the needs of humans over those of the flora and fauna of this place, and we generally see nothing wrong with it.

Now think about that, and ask yourself why any spirits or race of otherworldly beings should feel any differently? Perhaps it is also anthropomorphism to ascribe this human trait also to fairies? However, that is not what we see in the centuries of fairy lore involving interactions between Fairies and mortals. If anything, the implication that there is a loyalty between Fairies that is not extended to humans (Daimler “Fairies” Pp 34-38).

Avoiding the Perils of Perception

Hopefully if there’s anything this post has made clear, it’s the importance of questioning our perceptions of the Other. Because not doing so, can lead to some very dangerous (if not deadly) situations depending on who you’re dealing with.

However, there is also a greater lesson here that can be applied to our human-to-human interactions in everyday life. You see, much of the way in which many of us consider the Otherworldly, is a reflection of how we consider other humans who are different from us (albeit on a different level). And I don’t believe it to be any coincidence that we mostly belong to cultures that were and/or are still colonialist powers. The cultural backgrounds within which most of us originate, are steeped in taking from and commodifying the “other” among our fellow humans. This is an important point to recognize and think upon, especially if you find it hard to get away from this mindset. Because if you still carry that baggage, you are not fully considering the “Other” (be it humans who are “other” to your cultural or racial group, or otherworldly beings/spirits) as persons with agency and worthy of genuine respect.

And of course, it has to be said that there is something very fitting about a discussion on the agency of the Fair Folk – who are known for their glamours – pulling the sins of humans towards each other into sharp focus. Sometimes the greatest horror is in the revealing.

In the next post, I’m going to look at the importance of authority when dealing with spirits and the otherworldly. This is quite a large topic, and so it will be sub-divided to save you from slogging through a 3000 – 5000 word post (including an excerpt from my upcoming book). Then finally, I’m going to look at how matters of authority and hierarchy play into the process of acquiring a familiar. So watch this space, and in the meantime repeat after me:

“I am not king shit.”
“Favors may be gained through relationship or reciprocity.”
“Others have agency too.”

Further Reading

For more in-depth coverage of fairy hierarchies and royalty, check out Morgan Daimler’s book ‘Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fairy Folk’.
For more information about the True Grimoire (which contains detailed discussion of hierarchy), check out Jake Stratton-Kent’s ‘The True Grimoire’. If grimoires and goetia in particular are your thang, be sure to check out the rest of the works in his Encyclopedia Goetica (available from the same link).

Local Spirits and Witchcraft

Have you ever wondered why witches are always so bloody minded? Why we fight so often with each other and get into all kinds of crazy adventures?

I mean, let’s face it, we’re kind of like magnets for weird things and not just weird things that are decidedly other either. No, over the years, I’ve attracted everything from very, very short people with guitars, to that Aryan Brotherhood guy who did pull ups on the grab bars of a moving bus while trying to talk to me.

Terrifying.

I often use the analogy that I’m like a pile of turd attracting flies. A super sexy pile of turd, obviously…well, as these things go at least.

Being the proverbial pile of turd can complicate life somewhat in that no matter where you go, because you will always encounter what is there. That shit will pop right up and introduce itself to you on moving-in day/walking through the park/doing whatever it is that you’re doing that isn’t even remotely magical.

Like this one time when I was volunteering to help clean gravestones in my then-town and I felt something very bony tap me on the shoulder to see what I was doing. Or that other time when I was standing in another town with a friend and kept getting shoulder taps and “psst”. Or then there was that time we…never mind, you get the idea. In other words, if you’ve been dealt in by the ‘cosmic croupier’ I referred to in my last post, you will always have to interact with your landscape (both Seen and Unseen). There will always be this process of you getting their attention and them getting yours for various reasons.

Traditions Based In A Land

This is why more traditional currents of witchcraft hold that it’s entirely natural for witchcraft (like Heathenry) to vary from place to place. After all, if you are working with the liminal, local spirits of the land where you live, then your witchcraft cannot help but be localized in some way.

When you see your local land, what do you see? If you haven’t already experienced the Unseen in your location, how do you imagine it to be? Now think about the history of where you live: the various peoples that came through there (if any) and the circumstances of their migrations. What about the religious movements that the area is known for? And lastly, can you point to any occult traditions that you know to have operated in your area? Because these are the kinds of things that affect not only the kinds of spirits that you might come across, but the most effective ways of dealing with them should you need to.

If you live anywhere like where I live, your land – even just by imagining – is a veritable ‘onion’. Or in other words, layer upon layer upon layer of peoples with different beliefs and practices interacting with local spirits and bringing their own spirits and practices with them.

In these kind of environments, a certain kind of adaptability is needed, and those of us who live in these onion-like environs need to attain a certain degree of fluency in multiple magical traditions.

Local Spirits - Dee and Kelly
“Did it work, Ed?”
“Nah. I was trying to get my grandma, I don’t know who the fuck this is!”

Because witches, as bloody-minded as we typically are, are usually the type of people to get the things done that we need to by hook or by crook. We tend to take a pragmatic approach (if we’re not the kind of people to pretend that we fart magical success of course).

But when it comes to that success – location and the Unseen we encounter in a place are huge factors. Because for as much as we see this whole image of the all-powerful witch on TV, we’re only really as powerful as the relationships we build with the Unseen (like our local spirits) and our Dead. Sure, we can do some things without them, we do have our own intrinsic dynamistic power, but it’s with the animistic powers – best remembered as ‘the things we can make offerings to or interact with’ – where the greatest power (and our greatest potential) lies.

But there’s always some resistance to this idea of gaining fluency in different magical traditions – at least from what I’ve found. Especially when it comes to people who consider witchcraft as a path or even a religion.

A Different Kind Of Beast…

Both descriptors are problematic. A path is restrictive in that you can only be on one at a time, and while calling something a ‘religion’ grants some kind of legitimacy to a group, there’s a whole lot of baggage that comes with that word. You see, we have very definite ideas of what kinds of things a religion involves, and even if we put it into a Pagan context (erasing words like ‘worship’, ‘prayer’, and anything people feel is a little too Christian), we do still end up in the same behavioral patterns.

We start to think of things like the ‘right’ way of doing something and what can be considered a part of that religion or not. Well, I would say that outside of religious observance, it’s the ‘right’ way if it works, and you absolutely want to be doing it the ‘right’ way if you’re being religious.

But historically, witchcraft was always a different kind of beast, and in spite of ideas of ‘the old religion’ surviving in

Local spirits -devil and witches
“Oh, babies! I love babies!! Great job, ladies. Now best be off to bed, you’ve all got to be up early for church tomorrow!”

witchcraft throughout the ages, the likelihood is that the witches back then considered themselves some kind of Christian. Like the old ladies of Norfolk, who up until relatively recently, still knew and used charms in order to keep the elves from spoiling their butter.

The problem with bringing that kind of religious baggage to witchcraft, is that you always run the risk of becoming a purist. I know that’s a trap I’ve fallen into in the past, because it’s so very easy to think you’re on to some amazing ‘explanation of all the things’ and that you’ve figured out an accompanying system. (For why this is foolish, I refer you to the discussion above on the effects of location) Before you know it, you’re no longer looking at what is actually there and instead trying to slot it all into this ‘perfect’ explanation like some kind of mad historian trying to slot the gods of various cultures into the Graeco-Roman pantheon model. It’s also all too easy to get dogmatic about what sources you use too (again, not particularly good for interacting with what is actually around you).

Take the grimoires for example, while not as numerous as you might think, they are a veritable gold mine for magical practitioners. I mean, how many of us have wished at some point to find some book of great antiquity that shows us how witches back in the day got down? Well we have some books just like that, and yet they seem to be largely ignored by modern Pagan and Heathen magic workers.

Is it because of this dogmatism, because these grimoires are often filled with talk of demons and angels and lengthy invocations using the various names of Yahweh? I think that’s throwing all the proverbial babies out with all of the bathwater.

Local spirits - pacyderm
“BOO-YA! Did ya miss me?”

But this is a topic I’ve discussed before, in my last post even, when I talked about the proverbial (Christian) elephant in the room and the necessity of either dominating it or making peace with it. Because if you’re dealing with spirits who come from the kind of paradigm reflected by the grimoires, it’s going to be far more effective to engage full stubborn, suck up whatever issue you have with the punchy Jesus pachyderm, and crack out those grimoires.

Ask yourself, what do you really have when you strip away labels like ‘demon’ or ‘angel’, what is it that you’re left with at the end of the day?

An answer of ‘nothing’ is too facile. Sure, it may make the respondent feel better (because “we don’t believe in that kind of thing, yo”), but there are reasons why these books and the various spirit lists they contain are as long-lived as they are (some of them have threads that go *way* back), and there are reasons for the notoriety surrounding these books.

I mean, could you imagine most modern witchcraft books becoming even remotely notorious in the future? I mean, aside from Paul Huson’s book (a book which pulls from the grimoire tradition and contains that ‘repugnant’ reverse recitation of the Lord’s Prayer).Could you imagine any of them even enduring long enough to gain the weight of tradition that some of the grimoires have?

Of course not, because there’s little to no threat in the average witchcraft 101 book. Every effort seems to be taken to look as benign as possible, and to avoid any suggestion of the Judeo-Christian elephant. After all, we don’t want to give the impression that we are what they always said we are – that we truck with demons and kiss the devil’s arse after liberally rubbing ourselves with entheogens – we’re a religion after all, right?

And it’s here where my points begin to collide.

Tying It All Together

There’s a whole lot going on in this post: from the importance of localism in witchcraft, to labels and how they affect identity (and some of the respectability politics involved).

But so what if we sometimes do the things that those faceless ‘they’ say we do? So what if we dance with the devil and dally with demons? According to a book I’m currently reading, a thoroughly Heathen god that I worship was progressively portrayed as the devil by Christians, and my beloved Ælfe presented as demons (scandalous, sexy demons even). How many of the demons from the spirit lists have their origins in pagan deities – Astaroth, anyone? And to those who would judge us, none of that matters anyway; for whether we call the powers we truck with ‘gods’ or ‘daemons’, or ‘(insert sanitized term here)’, they will never *not* see those powers as the legion forces of evil. It’s really pointless to try with people like that. I’ll be giving that osculum infame business a miss though.

Local spirits - Osculum infame
“Lick it! YEAH!!! Lick it real good!”

And so what if some of us take entheogens in order to trip our balls (metaphorical balls in my case) into deeper interactions with the Unseen? We humans have been doing that kind of thing for rather a long time. In fact we probably made beer a long time before we made bread, and it wasn’t as though those early brews adhered to some kind of Reinheitsgebot either – archaeologists have found all kinds of mind-altering additions to ancient beers. It’s only relatively recently that we humans have had any kind of issue with entheogen use, or associated it with slovenly and antisocial behavior. I think there’s even a good argument to be made that the removal of mind-altering substances from sacred context has contributed to the abuse and harm of these substances!

For various reasons, time and again, I see us removing ourselves from some of our best tools for getting to know and interact with the Unseen, for putting down roots in our lands, and becoming a part of it all. And I just find it an utter shame. We live in a time in which the other is so much closer; the church bells no longer sound to keep it away. We just need to learn more than one dance.

Local spirits - witches dancing
“You step LEFT now, Beryl! LEFT!”