Leveling-Up Witchery and “Flexible Covens”

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

The Old Days and Five-Point Lists

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

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

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

#1 Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Keep a Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4 Read Widely – Especially Those Older Texts

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

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

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

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

Cool, huh?

#5 Commit to Experiment, Commit to Practice!

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

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

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

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

You’ve got this.

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

Flexible Covens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoration, Not Reenchantment

restoration -ljosavatn

Hey, you there!

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

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

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

Making the Case for Pilgrimages

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

Restoration - rock face
Here’s Johnny!

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

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

A Tale of a Few Cultures

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

A common enough occurrence, you say?

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

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

The Whole in the Hole

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

Restoration - Godafoss1
It was just awful…so awful

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

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

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

Restoring Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoration > Re-Enchantment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Beyond Re-Enchantment

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

Restoration - Gryla
Gryla says “Hi!”

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

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

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

Our side in this was decided long ago.

Love and tea,


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

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

The Agency of the Unseen

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about spirits, big or small, having something called agency. In other words, they’re capable of acting independently and of making their own choices. Most of the discussion on this has been framed within the context of the perennial Pagan community debate about whether deities should be seen as archetypes or as beings with agency (there’s that word again!), but I’m yet to see any talk about what it means to live in a world populated by countless unseen beings who all also have agency.

Ok, that’s not fair, I think Morgan Daimler spends a lot of time talking about that kind of thing – heck, along with articles telling you how not to get completely fucked over by all things fae and sorely needed new translations of Old Irish materials, I would say that a good chunk of what Morgan does is try to impress upon her readership this idea of agency and the Unseen.

But how many of us truly think about that? How many of us truly appreciate just how *big* that idea is? This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently (hence the lull period in blogs, I mull while I lull), and I’ve come to the conclusion that while a lot of us would agree with the sentiment when asked, that very few of us have really internalized that concept and way of looking at the world.

I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, nobody is ‘lesser’ for it, it’s just that I think we forget that conversion isn’t something that happens overnight, and what is really taking place is a complete worldview overhaul. That shit takes time and it isn’t easy, especially when most of us live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian society in which so much that many of us take for granted is a product of that worldview. When you first start noticing those innocuous little things that you’ve never really thought much about before but that are Judeo-Christian though, it’s kind of like that moment when Neo first sees the Matrix – only thankfully a lot less dramatic.

(Note to reader: Don’t watch the Matrix after drinking a load of absinthe, Morpheus becomes kind of creepy and you’ll never hear him say that long “yes” the same way ever again.)

It’s everywhere: from the cartoon depictions of souls leaving bodies; to the virtues that most of us are brought upunseen - tom and jerry death scene with; to terrifyingly huge chunks of political discourse and so much more. After a couple of decades at this malarkey, I’m finding the differences to be substantial enough that it’s starting to feel like code-switching when talking to people who aren’t Heathen/Pagan/Witches/Druids, and I didn’t even grow up in a particularly religious home. Seriously, I grew up only vaguely Church of England (cake or death) with a mother who graffitied her bible with the names of the Monkees and a Spiritualist father. I also know I still have a long, long way to go and probably won’t manage to completely throw off that Judeo-Christian worldview in my lifetime. Realistically speaking, this is really a generational game, and NONE of us should feel bad or ‘less’ if we struggle to internalize a concept.

So what would internalizing that concept of the unseen having agency really mean or be like for most of us?

Only like going down the best motherfucking rabbit hole of all time!!!

Unseen - tardigrade
“Hi, I’m a tardigrade.”

We’re all used to living on this beautiful and mighty Middle Earth, we’re all used to sharing it with other humans, flora, fauna, insects, and countless other things at the microscopic level. I mean, tardigrades! How neat are they? They’re brilliant, like little bears that were made out of off-cuts from a camp bed factory before being inflated, and that can only survive pretty much EVERYTHING! If those guys had a theme tune, it would be this (btw, you’re welcome for the earworm). Now imagine how much *bigger* that all gets when you include the countless different types of Unseen (of all types and sizes), because where else do you think they live?

They’re all right here with us, and guess what, if we accept that we can build reciprocal relationships with them, then we also have to accept that they have their own ideas and plans about *everything*. Just as we look to interact with them, what if they look to interact with us? What if they go out of their way to do so? What if, like us, some of them are better at it than others?

Now look at history, do you really think they just left us to our shit? What about current affairs? Do they still just leave us to do what we do (which seems to be “mostly fucking up” by the looks of it)? And if they have agency, what about their histories and their current affairs? How much do we affect those? What about the unseen that inhabit certain realms like the sea or sky, do they affect things like the weather? And in the same way that we humans can pick up on the emotions of others and get carried away by mob mentalities, can that bleed through from either them or us?

Unseen - big ball of twine
Kinda like this, but BIGGER!

It all gets pretty big when you think about it like that, doesn’t it? Like a massive, knotted ball of string that is weirdly very important to unravel, but at best all we can do is work carefully so as not to make anything worse.

You know…and then pass it on to our children when we die.

For some good tips on working carefully while trying to unravel that ball and maybe even have some wins, check out this blog post by that Morgan lady; and I’ll be back with a post on elves and witches when I figure out how to condense such a big topic into a blog post.