Algorithms

Algorithms.

They’ve just become an accepted part of life, right?

Yet another thing putting adverts in front of our eyes trying to get us to buy more. That unseen force that compels us to add a photo to social media posts as “tax,” so more people see what we have to say.

They even often shape what and how we say what we say.

Take this post, for example. Like the vast majority of blog posts, I’ve tried to write it to make the algorithms happy. I’ve kept my sentences short and have used as much active speech as possible – anything to keep Yoast happy, right?

Twenty words or less per sentence, that’s the standard.

When you really think about it, it’s messed up, but it’s become our norm all the same.

Billions of voices all writing in lockstep with algorithms, all producing a product called content.

You know—that thing I’m doing right here with this post.

Algorithms as Demons

A while ago, I listened to an episode of a podcast called Team Human that discussed algorithms. It was an interesting conversation because it was taking a look at algorithms through the framework of demonology.

No one is saying algorithms are actually demons, of course. Just that, as Mark Pesce argues, algorithms share certain characteristics with demons, or at least a certain view of demons.

To quote the Medium essay I’m using to refresh my memory:

”What might you call a creature that feeds on your energy, knows your weaknesses, and can tamper with your emotional state in ways that compel you to act beyond your best interest? Centuries ago we might call this a demon. As algorithms are programmed to exploit humans in order to do their bidding, perhaps it’s time to interrogate the Faustian bargains we make each time we sign up, log in, and click thru.”


In an age of online occult influencers, this has become a helpful framework for me when navigating matters of authenticity and content. What do we lose when we tailor our content to appease the algorithms enough to be rewarded with virulence? When we aid the algorithms in their exploitation?

A Faustian bargain indeed!

Algorithms and Authenticity

Unfortunately, this bargain is a tough one to break. We live in an economy where the production of such content is often tied to the economic survival of the creator. And herein lies the biggest problem with the commodification of creativity: products are created for customers. Appease the algorithms and your work gets in front of more people. Appease the people, and hopefully that translates to dollars.

Those all-important dollars that keep a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your table.

Those are some pretty hefty motivations, right? They’re downright existential.
But (and this is question I find myself returning to from time to time) what of authenticity?

Because here’s the thing about writing spiritual content (horrible term, but I’m going with it). It is, by its very nature, personal. It’s intimate and subtle in ways that blog posts about chimneys or recipes for cakes are not.

(Please, for the love of Sweet Baby West Virginia Jeebus, Karen, no one wants to read about your fifteen kids! Or your upholstery business. I get there are good reasons why you do this, but please, do the world a solid and add in-page links to the recipes? Sincerely, Everyone.)

Anyway, back to the topic.

For these reasons, one would always hope that content discussing spiritual matters comes from a place of authenticity within the creator. Except I don’t see how it can when survival for so many depends on increasingly getting caught in a trap of uniformity and writing to order vs giving voice to what’s actually in our souls.

But we’ve made our pacts, it’s time to make the best of it.

Walking the Balance

For me, creativity is a whole-making, inspirited thing, and the inspiration that fuels it, sacred. There’s almost an element of horror for me when I consider this issue. Because if creativity and inspiration can be spirit work (and for me, my various souls are also spirits in their own rights), then what of them in all of this? How do they dance with the algorithms?

At times, I think they dance well together. Sometimes the stories and ideas those spirits want to get out mesh well with the algorithms. Other times, that dance is hard. That line of appeasing algorithms and audiences can become a noose while remaining true to those stories and ideas.
Of course, none of that erases any of our existential needs. Bellies still need filling and bills still need paying.

The key then perhaps is being mindful of the dance and striving for balance.
According to Douglas Rushkoff, creator of Team Human, weirdness is our best weapon. So perhaps sprinkling in some authenticity by way of letting your particular brand of freak flag fly is the way to go? (But be careful to be authentic with your weirdness for that too can also be commodified. I know, I fucking hate this world for shit like this.)

Embrace your weird, talk about your fuck ups, be subversively human.
(Just remember to use the active voice and do it in twenty words per sentence or less.)

And if you can, don’t be afraid to ignore the current discourse du jour unless it’s something you actually care about.

Final Word

The purpose of this post wasn’t to make anyone feel bad. It was a call to my fellow authors and creators to think about that line where appeasement and authenticity meet in our work. There are plenty of other conversations to be had here too. Such as platforms and responsibility, social media and mental health, and honoring our comfort levels and authenticity while trying to make that cabbage. Today though, I wanted to talk about the dance we often find ourselves performing for the algorithms. It’s quickly paced and can be exciting at times, and it’s easy to get swept up—especially when people begin to copy you.

But don’t forget you have your own steps too. They also need to be danced if you want to keep yourself whole.

Greg Locke and the Witches

Hello, Witches.

I know this sounds like an old tune now, but things have been busy of late.

A lot busier than usual even. But homeschooling will do that.

So this is going to be quick. (Well, for me, anyway.)

I’ve written about this kind of thing before though. I’ve warned about people taking us–witches–too seriously, and I’ve pointed to the rumblings I’ve seen among the Christian fundamentalists about witches and spiritual warfare.

But I’m posting today because I feel like a definite line has been crossed.

The Book Burners Set Their Sights on Witches


The Pagan blogosphere was full of takes about Greg Locke’s book burning antics in TN, and rightfully so. The act of burning books is a line in and of itself, and historically, often a precursor to far worse.

Most people don’t want to believe that “far worse” will ever happen. But if there’s anything history teaches us, it’s that plenty of people have thought “it” (whatever it is) will never happen only to have it happen to them. The sad truth of the matter is that humans are capable of great evil, but a fear of consequences (where present) generally keeps us in check.

This morning a friend sent me this link. It contains clips of Greg Locke’s preaching. But this isn’t the usual fare of a fire and brimstone preacher. Here, Locke is talking about how he has the names of six witches, three of whom are allegedly members of his church. 

Now, the chances are, there are no actual witches in his church. But that doesn’t really matter now, does it?

It doesn’t change the atmosphere of excitement among the congregation or shouts of encouragement. It doesn’t change his ability to rile them up against witches.

This is bringing the nameless and unknowable “witches” of earlier preaching videos into the realm of the knowable, and gods forbid, actionable.

This is how people wind up getting killed, witches or not.

The Profit and Potential of Hunting Witches in Uncertain Times

And he probably won’t be the only preacher to go down this road either. People often forget that witch-hunting was very profitable. The art of providing spectacle and convenient scapegoats is a tried and tested formula for making that profit. And if there’s anything these preachers love, it’s money, right?

Another factor we need to take into account when considering this issue is that we live in uncertain times and are facing issues on multiple fronts. We live in a time The witch-hunt has never really been a feature of prosperous times. For example, the Bamberg witch trials, some of the most infamous in Germany, began after a series of crop failures against the backdrop of the Thirty Years war.  And Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General, plied his trade during the English civil war. Witch-hunts tend to rear up when people are struggling, violence and division are rife, and resources more difficult to obtain.

You know, the times when people really want an easy scapegoat to blame for their suffering.

Today, we’re in the third year of a pandemic that’s killed around a million people in the US alone. We live in a time of intense social and political division and are looking at further possible challenges in the form of a truckers’ blockade. (This was a tactic used by the CIA destabilize the democratically elected Chilean government to install the dictator, Augusto Pinochet, I might add). And Russia is looking set to invade Ukraine, possibly (probably?) dragging us (and NATO) into conflict. 

In short, these are exactly the kind of times when this kind of witch-hunting bullshit happens.

So, what can you do?

Witches Staying Safe

 My best recommendation would be a book that my friend Amy Blackthorn wrote about protection (magical and mundane) that’s coming out in a couple of weeks. But until then, here are some other things you can do to stay safe:

  • Be discreet.
  • Cultivate situational awareness. Know your exits, potential threats, and possible improvised weapons at all times.
  • Get to know your neighbors (if possible) and figure out who could be a problem.
  • Work protection magic.
  • Keep an eye on your local fundamentalists and share anything particularly worrying with other Witches/Heathens/Pagans in your area. (Because let’s face it, we’re all targets to these folks.)
  • If you are comfortable with weapons, get a gun. This may be an unpopular suggestion, but I’m not joking here. If things keep on going as they are with everything that’s happening, debates about who should be able to own what aren’t really going to be a concern. If you do get a gun though, be sure to train with it and store it in a responsible way.

There are probably a bunch more suggestions I could put here, but our lunch hour is almost done and I need to get back to teaching. I welcome and will add any good suggestions sent my way though.

Paranoia?

Now, I realize all of this might sound pretty paranoid, but I’m of the opinion that it’s always better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I’ve also been here before, and not in a “past life” kind of way. 

I’ve been threatened for being a witch and physically attacked. I’ve had photocopied book pages about killing witches posted through my door. And that was mild compared to some of the stories my friends have.

The people who attacked me weren’t even religious or particularly ideologically invested. Most importantly though, they still worried about consequences and I suspect that limited how far they were prepared to go.

But there’s a point with religious fundamentalists, where the fear of consequences is superseded by self-righteousness or belief in divine decree. The other becomes dehumanized and actively demonized, and that’s when things get really dangerous, even without the power of a state behind them. (I think a lot of people are only thinking about this issue in terms of if the fundies seize power.)

That’s what I think we have in people like Greg Locke and his ilk. (Well, in Greg’s case there’s probably also the draw of profit too, as I said before.)  And they are exactly the kind of people who will walk that road to hell one “good” intention at a time.

Worse still, they’ll even convince themselves that what they’re doing is holy.

May this only be paranoia.

 

Otherworldly Bleed, Consensus, and Magic

Otherworldly Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

John’s Rising Currents

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

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

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

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

Magic and the Otherworldly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality, Consensus, Possibility, and Feedback Loops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side of the Coin

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

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

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

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

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

Heathen Magical Perspectives: Creation

To a Creation, Clothes

In my last post, we began with a story of creation on a windswept beach. But today, we’ll begin by following in the footsteps of a wandering god to a field.

The god in question is the same as the giver of önd in our first story. He is Óðinn, a god of many names, the one who I call  “Old Man”. This time though, it’s not trees he encounters, but two “tree-men”. And there is no giving of önd, óðr, or lá and litr here. This time, the Old Man simply gives them clothes (Hávamál 49).

This always reminds me of a story written by the twelfth century poet, Marie de France. In one of her lais, Bisclavret, a man-turned-werewolf is prevented from returning to his shape of birth by an unfaithful lover hiding his clothes. You see, when it comes to masking and its sibling, shapeshifting, there always seems to be an element of dressing for the “job” you want. The person who wishes to become a wolf must do as Sigmund and Sinfjotli did in the Saga of the Volsungs and don the skin of a wolf. And perhaps the tree that is to become a person, must wear a person’s clothes.

So, we have two sets of trees being made people when encountering a certain One-Eyed God. One might call that an M.O.

But what does that have to do with us and the magic we might create?

Mythological Fix Points and Magic

Some of you may have already heard of Mircea Eliade, the Romanian historian of religion who openly supported the Romanian fascist organization, The Iron Guard. He is a problematic figure, for sure.  But when it comes to working with historical forms of magic, I have found some of his work to be quite useful. You see, for Eliade, every significant human activity (as well as acts of creation and foundation) had a mythological “fix point”. They are rooted in myth and we are acting in pale imitation of what the gods are depicted as doing in mythological time.

Eliade can’t really take the credit for this concept though. The idea that humans imitate the gods is quite ancient. There are texts in the Yajurveda (a veda which concerns ritual practice), that specifically mention this concept. In the Satapatha Brahmana, the reader (presumably a budding ritualist) is instructed to ”do what the Gods did in the beginning” (VII, 2, 1, 4). And the Taittiriya Brahmana further underlines the importance of this idea with the following statement: “Thus the Gods did; thus men do” (I, 5, 9, 4).

Woden Worhte Weos: Animation as Woden’s Magic

So we have a god with an MO of making people out of trees. Some would even say that this is a kind of magic specific to that god (Richard North, I’m looking at you).

There’s a curious passage in the Old English Maxims that is worth a look here.

”Woden worhte weos, wuldor alwalda,
rume roderas: þæt is rice god
sylf soðcyning, sawla nergend”

(Maxims I, II, 132 – 34)

(Woden made idols, the almighty [made] glory,
the roomy heavens; this is a powerful god
himself the true king, healer of souls.)

As scholars have pointed out, this passage is clearly modeled on a line from Jerome’s Psalter iuxta Hebraeos. Maxims I isn’t the only place we find echoes of this line either. And curiously, in some of those other texts that contain reflections of this line, the “idols” are described as “demons”, suggesting that the idols themselves are more than carved wood. This idea of ‘living’ idols is made clearer in Saxo’s Gesta Danorum. In the Gesta, Óðinn (here, Othinus) is shown restoring a desecrated statue of himself, and ”by amazing craftsmanship made it respond with a voice to human touch” (Richard North, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, pp 88 – 90).

There’s a lot to unpack here – the idea of ‘living’ idols is probably quite a bombshell for a lot of modern Heathens. But that’s not the focus of this post – creation is. And once again, we see the Old Man associated with the act of creation.

But if the sentiment found in the the Yajurveda and advanced as a theory by Eliade is true, then we should expect to find some human imitation of this form of magic, right?

Tree-Men

In the Hávamál passage mentioned earlier, Óðinn encounters two tree-men (‘trémönnom’ in ON). But this is not the only example of trémaðr (the singular form of ‘trémönnom’) in the ON corpus.

There are a number of mentions of tree-men, but two in particular stand out for the details they provide. In the Flateyjarbok, a group of men put ashore on the island of Sámsey. There they encounter a ‘tree-man’ who speaks to them of his purpose and origin. He was the product of sacrifice, and had been made to bring about the deaths of men in the southern part of Sámsey. But over the years, he’d become overgrown and his clothes and flesh rotted away.

(Those of you who are well read in the ON corpus will probably recognize Sámsey as the island where Loki claimed that Óðinn worked seiðr.)

The second example is in Þorleifs þáttr Jarlsskálds.  In this story,  Hákon Jarl creates a trémaðr to kill Þorleif Jarlsskáld after Þorleif cursed him with ‘itching sickness’.

Despite the connection between Óðinn and tree-men though, it was to the sisters, Þorgerðr Hörgi’s bride and her sister Irpa – a somewhat mysterious duo of goddesses that feature in a few sagas – that Hákon Jarl made his sacrifices. The process is outlined quite well for us here. First, Hákon Jarl makes the sacrifices until he receives a favorable oracle when he has a piece of driftwood brought in and fashioned into the shape of a wooden man. Then with “the monstrous witchcraft and python’s breath” of those two sisters, as well as the heart of a man sacrificed for the purpose and the proper attire for a man, they sent their tree-man, now named Þorgarðr, into the world to kill Þorleif (North 93 – 95).

But Óðinn’s hands are perhaps not entirely absent from this story. Because after Þorgarðr kills Þorleif (disappearing into the ground once his mission is complete), Þorleif’s dying words mention one of Óðinn’s kennings, Gautr in relation to the tree-man (North 95-96).

Creation: The Bare Ingredients

The parallels between Askr and Embla, and Þorgarðr are quite clear. And more importantly, provide us with a bridge between the mythological and the sagaic. Or in other words: the realm of gods and realm of men.

In both stories of creation, the creator begins with driftwood and imbues the creation with breath, color and vital blood/warmth, and mind/purpose. In the mythological story these are attributes that are magically given. But in the sagaic, the önd remains the domain of deities (at least for Hákon); the blood and heart from the sacrificed man provide the lá and litr; and the incantations/empowerment, the óðr.

Adaptation

So now we have the bare ingredients for creation. Now I’m not suggesting that people begin creating tree-men (assuming that’s even magically possible at this time given the current dominant paradigm). But in my experience, this process of creation is useful for everything from the creation of magical tools, to poppets and magical cures.

This process does require some adaptation though. I most certainly do not advise that any of us engage in human sacrifice as it’s illegal and wrong. Moreover, we’re not trying to animate whole men, so in terms of scale, it’s

From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore artefact private collection owned by Malcolm Lidbury (aka Pink Pasty) Witchcraft Tools

probably not even necessary either.

When I create magically, I follow the order of creation in the myth of Askr and Embla, and begin with my breath. For those of you who engage in possessory work, sessions in which you are carrying the Old Man would be the perfect time to engage in magical creation (with his agreement, of course). For those of you who don’t, you can take a leaf out of the migration period warlord’s playbook and simply ritually assume the role of Óðinn while you work. Remember that dressing for the job you want is a thing – yes, even with this.

Then comes the lá and litr. For me, this heat/blood can be either my own blood, or water and passing over a candle flame. Color can come from sigils, markings, or simply a coat of paint. Depending on what you’re doing, you may or may not wish to use your own blood (and if you do, be safe and sterile about it).

The final step is incantation, which I take to be the giving of óðr to your creation. This is often tied in with the giving of breath/önd in more practical terms. And in my opinion, this was probably the case historically too – at least when it came to herbal infusions and salves. The Old English magico-medical manuscripts give the instruction to “let the breath go wholly in” while chanting galdor. I do not think this to be coincidental.

Depending on what you are creating, you may wish to also give your creation a name. There is a long tradition of named objects in the North, as well as objects with a sense of agency and ‘fate’.

But whatever you create, you must always create carefully. Because this kind of magical creation isn’t just some arts and crafts project to use in a LARP. You are creating, and you will always have some degree of responsibility for (and to) what you create. You may wish to also bear this in mind when you’re writing your wills.

In the next post, I’m going to be talking about how I approach the elements in my magical practice. But until then, be well.

Sympathy for the Devil

I’m going to begin this post with a story about the Devil. And I dare say it’s one many of you already know.

It begins with a young witch in the employ of a local monastic order. Of course, they weren’t overtly monastical when the witch applied – assurances were made.

“We’re a secular company,” promised the interviewer. So the witch took the job and went to work for a monastic order in a hamlet on the moors.

For a while, things were fine. The witch enjoyed the work, the workplace was satisfyingly haunted, and life went on. At no point did the witch hide what they were though, and soon co-workers began to notice.

In the beginning, it was little things. Like the way the witch would argue with the dead people who would make it impossible to open windows and doors. Or the way the witch saw the shadowy figure come to carry off one of the residents when they passed. Then there was that time when the witch divined the delicate marital situation of a co-worker. And well…these kinds of things tend to get noticed, and as that’s when the questions typically begin.

For the most part, I’m happy to answer genuine questions. But there is one question that I find particularly irritating (though not for the reasons you may think).

“Do you worship the Devil?”

Christian Baggage: The Devil Edition

In my younger years, it was almost a knee jerk reaction to disavow any and all connections with Old Nick. I was very mindful of how my response could reflect on other Witches/Pagans/Heathens (and in turn affect their future treatment).

“No no no, not I,” I’d say, half-paranoid that they wouldn’t believe me (while Deviltrying to look as harmless as possible).

But over the years, I’ve found myself thinking about the Devil quite a bit. After all, why do I as a Heathen and witch give two shits what Christians say about a being? It’s not like they’re particularly kind about my (non-Devil) gods! I mean, let’s face it, all of our gods are devils and demons to them.

And yet how many of us find ourselves unconsciously buying into Christian ideas about the Devil? How many of us would recoil at the thought of saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards, or walking counterclockwise around a church at midnight (lest we meet Old Scratch)?

When we typically think about Christian baggage within the context of modern Paganism/Witchcraft/Heathenry, it’s usually more about our issues with their god and church. But I would argue that the way we see the Devil is also a form of Christian baggage, and in these “interesting” times, it’s a form of baggage we’d do well to face.

History is Written by the Victors

“We have never heard the devil’s side of the story, God wrote all the book.”
― Anatole France

Also available in a one-Devil-band ‘Party Satan’ edition!

We’ve encountered this concept before – that history is written by the victors. Yet why do we never consider this when it comes to the Devil? I don’t have the time to give a full history of the Devil here (if you are interested in that though, I recommend reading Lucifer: Princeps by Peter Grey). Perhaps fittingly, the Devil’s story is full of twists, turns, and deceptions.

One of the simplest explanations of the Devil is that he’s aggregate. He is a cloven hoof comprised of Lucifer and Satan (to borrow Grey’s analogy). But there is more to this spirit – especially the Devil of the (witch) confessional record. Per Wilby, this Devil was rooted in ”genuinely popular ideas about embodied folk spirits, such as fairies and the dead”.

And that part about Lucifer and Satan may sound quite frightening at first. But when you dig into the actual histories of those beings, there’s something undeniably Pagan in a really cool chthonic-astral kind of way. Oh, and let’s not forget those fairies and the dead! That’s familiar territory, no?

Pagan Respectability Politics

Yet this prejudice (let’s be honest about what this is) cannot solely be the product of Christian baggage. A large part of how we react to the question of

Spank-bank worthy Lucifer in a cathedral.

the Devil also boils down to respectability politics. In other words, a lot of us simply don’t want people who aren’t like us to be afraid of us or to think us evil. And so we try to appear “good” and harmless. We swap the whiff of brimstone for febreeze and defang ourselves to “fit in” (along with buying into Victorian ideas about fairies, making covens into private clubs, and tricking ourselves into thinking everything is all about us).

When asked about the Devil, we trip over ourselves denying any and all connection. And when we’re really scared, we modern Pagans historically denounced the Satanists to the authorities during the “Satanic Panic” to keep the wolves from our own doors.

Which is…no.

Moreover, it’s all ultimately useless. Because regardless of how much you deny that brimstone, there is no place within the Christian worldview for Pagan Holy Powers except from within the fires of hell. Those who subscribe strongly enough to those beliefs either consider us deluded, or are simply hoping for the day when they can legally put us to the flames once more.

To Dare, To Keep Silent

Now I’m not saying that we should all start worshipping huge Devil phalluses at our altars and making the beast with two backs with some seriously cold Nick dick (though if that’s your thing, I’m not going to yuck your yum). What I am saying though, is that we shouldn’t buy into Christian propaganda about a spirit/entity/deity. And also that we should remember that we aren’t the harmless people we may present ourselves as (or at least shouldn’t be).

Because we live in the kind of times where the older, more potent forms of magic are needed. By all means, be the kind of person to take tea with the vicar. But don’t forget the mounds, spirits, and stars in that veneer of mutual respect and nicety. The Devil isn’t always the worst deal-broker in town.

Have a nice weekend.

Awe and the Witch

I would like for you to take a few moments and think about the last time you experienced awe.

When was it? And what was the source of that awe?

As a word, awe is used somewhat loosely nowadays. It has become more

According to whoever labeled this photo on Pixabay, this is an example of “awesome”.

commonplace and casual than it used to be. How often do you hear people referring to something quite ordinary as being awesome? Or the performance of an athlete as being awe-inspiring? Perhaps you’ve even told a friend that you’re in awe of them?

But despite these modern uses, awe is actually a powerful (and useful) word. More importantly though, I would argue that an understanding of, and experience of awe is integral to witchcraft.

Defining Awe

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, awe may be defined as an emotion that variously combines “dread, veneration, and wonder”, and “that is inspired by authority or by the sacred and sublime.”

Witches have always held a reputation for transgression and subversion. So clearly it’s not the kind of awe that is inspired by authority that is of interest here. As always, we are concerned with the sacred (at least to our eyes) and sublime.

Awe and the Numinous

In the modern Pagan/Witch/Heathen communities, there is a tendency to consider the numinous in a more positive light than is traditional. As I have written before, we are inheritors of cultural ideas that have been systematically diminished over the ages. For example, dream is no longer commonly considered a place in which one may encounter the dead and Otherworldly. And fairies have been transformed from their original, often terrifying understanding, to cutesy and twee ‘nature spirit’ type beings.
Don’t believe me? Then take some time to imagine fairies as being awe-inspiring and capable of producing that curious combination of “dread, veneration, and wonder”. (If your mind found that incongruous in any way, then you have some unpacking to do.)

In its most archaic meanings, awe is “dread” and “terror”, but also having the power to inspire that dread. And this is where we come to the numinous. Because beings that are capable of inspiring awe in the first place, cannot be harmless and always “good” (at least by human standards). There can be no awe without the ability to cause dread and terror, and no ability to cause that dread and terror without the agency and capacity to either seriously harm you or take your life.

If you have never encountered a being that you have known, on some bone-deep level, could hurt and/or even kill you, then you have arguably never experienced awe or the numinous.

And this isn’t even about encountering hostile beings or having bad experiences. You can have the best and most wonderful experiences and still experience that awe. Because awe is not about what happens on the day, but rather an ever-present potential outcome should you misstep.

Awe and Fear

In 2016, I wrote a post entitled Witchcraft is not Safe (and nor Should it Be!), in which I detailed a nocturnal experience from over a decade ago in an ancient burial mound. To cut a long story short, we encountered a hostile numinous being, got out okay, and it was a learning experience for all.

As one might expect, it provoked a variety of reactions. One of the most confusing of those reactions though, was the notion that witches should only interact with those beings that are “on their level”. Or in other words, “don’t punch above your weight”.

Which is a rather curious response. Because every time we invite deities and/or members of the Other to our rituals, or try to cut deals, we are attempting to “punch above our weight”.

(Yes, deities, and the Other are “above our weight”. We wouldn’t need to bother them if they weren’t.)

Yet few seem to realize this, and if anything, deities (especially) are almost seen as being “safe” to work with. There are of course layers of nuance here. And as many will point out, there is an association between many deities and some form of social/cosmological order. This (or so many seem to believe), makes them less unpredictable (and ergo less potentially harmful) than other types of numinous being.

Witches and the Numinous

However, as witches, those of us working within a Northwest European framework have to recognize that much (if not all) of our magic originally comes from the Other. This is a consistent theme that you find from the Viking Age to the Early Modern Period. In fact, it was the initial encounter with the more mercurial and Otherworldly numinous powers that made the witch. And these encounters were often quite terrifying! For example, one 17th century cunning woman, Janet Trall, claimed to have almost lost her mind with fear on encountering the fairies (Wilby 82)!

Moreover, this is something we see even with a spirit as intimate to the witch

Victorian Arthur Rackham Vintage Old Ancient

as their familiar/s. There is a power imbalance inherent in this relationship too, and one that does not favor the witch. Familiars too are “punching above” the witch’s “weight”! And when you further contextualize that relationship within the wider system of Otherworldly hierarchies, then the witch really ain’t all that and a sack of spuds when it comes to position and power!

That’s not to say that we human witches are like driftwood being tossed by a far greater sea though. If we’re clever, we can make allies, employ risk management strategies, and use our cunning to bring down much bigger foes. If we’re not…well…

All of this is simply part and parcel of being a witch.

Awe with ‘Big’ Numina vs ‘Smaller’ Numina

Before concluding this post, I’m going to make one final point regarding hierarchy and awe. And that is, that in my experience, there is a difference in the degree of awe experienced when encountering a ‘big’ numen vs a ‘smaller’ numen.

Let me explain, the first time I encountered Frau Holle/Holda, I had crept over frozen ice to lay an offering at the foot of a statue. (This is clearly a ‘don’t try this at home, kids’ moment.)

When I first stepped out onto the ice, I thought I was just going to look at a cool statue of a folkloric figure. I wanted to get a photo from up close. But as soon as I got there, I was hit with such a sense of awe that I instinctively fell to my knees. Looking up to the eyes of the (modern!) statue, I knew I wasn’t just seeing the statue of a folkloric figure. Flashes of deep, ancient roots going back through time ran through my mind. And though it was my first time “meeting” her, I felt love, wonder, terror, and yes, dread.

Oaths, Offerings, and Omens

Oaths started to tumble from my lips – to dig into those roots and put information out into the world about her true origins. There was a strong sense that I should give her some incentive to not take me on my way back over the ice. I gifted her a small berkano pendant I’d been sent by a silversmith friend out of the blue, buried it at the foot of her statue in the snow to run off into the pond with the spring melt.

Then on my way back over the ice, I heard this indescribable sound. It sounded as though it was rushing up from depths and whirring all at the same time. I rushed back to the banks of the pond and into my husband’s arms.

Tense moments passed as we stood and waited for an omen. Then suddenly the atmosphere changed. The fog cleared and bright sunshine broke through the trees to bathe the statue and us in golden light. When we went to walk back to our car, we found we’d been parked less than five minutes walk from the pond though it had taken us around two hours of wandering over a frozen mountain to get there.

Awe and the Degree of Potential Harm

Other beings have produced awe to a lesser degree in me. Instead of outright terror, there’s an edge of caution. Over the years, I’ve noticed that these tend to be the beings who seem less capable of harming me, or at least can only harm me to a lesser degree. And so I’ve learned to listen to those feelings. When not obscured by bullshit ideas garnered from Victorian nonsense and scientific materialism, those feelings can be a useful guide to who you are dealing with and how careful you should be.

So I ask you again. When was the last time you felt awe?

Mother Holda, the Hel(l) Road, and Magic

Like many people, my first introduction to the witch goddess Holda was through folklore. I don’t remember if I ever read Grimm’s fairy tale Mother Holda before I moved to Germany. But one of my first purchases in Germany was a book of folk tales local to where I lived. My reasoning was that I could translate the tales as a learning activity, and then my husband and I could go and visit the places mentioned in the tales.

The book, Es Spukt in Franken by Michael Pröttel begins with a tale about FrauHolda Hoher Meissner Hulle set not far from Wintersbach. And this is the tale that led me down the rabbithole so to speak. First came the spinning, and then more research and a pilgrimage of sorts to the Hollenteich up on the Hoher Meißner. There, on a frozen pond before a modern statue, I had a deeply holy (and unexpected) experience.

Experience led to more research, and my experience upon that mountain sparked roughly a decade of research. In many ways, my forthcoming book, Elves, Witches, and Gods: Spinning Old Heathen Magic in Modern Day is the fruit of that decade (and more).

But the tales I encountered in Franconia and Hessen aren’t the most famous. That distinction goes to the tale retold by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and it’s this tale and its deathly themes that we’re going to take a look at today.

Down the Well with Mother Holda

Perhaps you’ve heard this tale before?

It begins with a girl and a cruel stepmother who is forced to labor while her step-sister sits idle. This girl is industrious and kind, conscientious and good. But one day, while spinning at the side of a well, she accidentally drops her spindle into the well after pricking her finger.

Her stepmother is consistent in her cruelty, and orders her into the well to retrieve the lost spindle. Terrified and filled with despair, the girl jumps into the well expecting to find death in the dark watery depths.

But there is no death for the girl (maybe). Instead, she finds another world in which she is asked to complete a series of tasks. After completing these tasks, she encounters the scary-looking figure of Mother Holda. Unlike her stepmother, Mother Holda is fair and treats her kindly. She gives her a home and the girl performs her chores with diligence.

And that is where we’re going to leave the retelling of this tale – at least in this blog post. The rest is not necessary for our discussion here.

Mother Holda’s Origins

A lot of words have been written about the origins of Mother Holda and her related beings. (If you’re interested, you can find some of them here.) But those are not the origins I’m going to look at today.

The portion of the tale recounted above can be found in Kinder- und Hausmärchen gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm. And although it may appear to be the “king’s road” to Holda’s origins (as German scholar Erika Timm puts it). As Professor Timm concludes, that is unfortunately not the case. In all likelihood, Grimm’s Mother Holda is the Germanic version of a fairytale that originated in the Middle East (Timm 7).

So you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about this tale then?
The answer, friends, is that symbolism and story are far more fluid and complicated than ‘who came up with what first’. And just because a thing came from outside your usual scope, doesn’t mean there aren’t important lessons to be learned.

Spindles, Water, and the Dead

As the girl’s adventure to Holda’s meadow begins with a spindle, this is where we will also begin. Because in many ways, the spindle acts like a key to Holda’s realm. Would the girl have found that meadow had she not followed a spindle and simply thrown herself in? We cannot say. But the fact her step-sister made sure to cut herself and throw a spindle into the well before she herself took the plunge is perhaps telling.

Spindles are symbolically rich across the Indo-European world, often connecting the living with the under and/or other worlds. European folklore is full of tales of otherworldly yarn and ghosts appearing as bloody balls of wool. For the ancient Hittites, a group of beings known as the Kattereš were said to spin the fates of kings from the underworld. For the Greeks, the dead were pulled down to Hades by means of the ‘snares of death’. And there is one mention of ‘Hel Ropes’ in Norse literature (Giannakis, “Fate-as-Spinner” I&II)

Whether snares or ropes though, it should be noted that both forms of ligature were the end product of something spun.

Water is also suggestive of a transition from the ThisWorld of the living to whatever lies beyond. As Norwegian scholar, Eldar Heide points out in Holy Islands and the Otherworld: Places Beyond Water, stories of the dead departing over water to their final destination are not uncommon in Northwestern Europe. And even where the journey to the afterlife takes place along some kind of Hel road, there is still typically a body of water that must be crossed.

Finally, we must consider the symbolism of the well itself. Most obviously, the well is a passage that leads down into the depths of a watery place. Some see parallels here with the birth canal. But the well has also served as a site for human sacrifice throughout the ages too (“Human Sacrifices?”).

Trials of Character

So whichever way you cut it, the girl was both symbolically and physically plunging to her death. But we do not see her die. Instead, she wakes up in a meadow and finds herself subjected to what might be thought of as trials of character. And it is here that I see a parallel between the afterlife journey of the girl in Mother Holda, and the journey described in the old song A Lyke Wake Dirge

A Lyke Wake Dirge is an old song, designed to be sung over a corpse. Thematically, the song both guides the dead to the afterlife and describes the tribulations along the way.

First the dead pass over a thorny moor (‘Whinny muir’) that will prick them. Then they must pass over the ‘Brig o’Dread’. And then finally, because this is a Christian song, they must roast in Purgatory for a while. But at every turn, these tortures can be mitigated by one’s behavior in life. Those who gave the charity of socks and shoes (‘hosen or shoon’) will find socks and shoes to protect them on the thorny moor. Those who gave the charity of food and drink, will not be shrunk and burned by Purgatory’s fires. (The Brig o’Dread is its own challenge, and I’ll be taking a look at it in the next section.)

Here, as in the story of Mother Holda, the dead must pass through trials that test their character. In both A Lyke Wake Dirge and Mother Holda though, it is their charity and generosity that is tested. The girl pulls the bread from the oven and shakes the apples from the tree because they cry out for relief. It is not merely a task to be done.

Bread, Apples, and the ‘Brig o’ Dread’

But what of bread, apples, and this ‘Brig o’ Dread’?

Bread (or the key ingredient, grain) has long played a part in offerings to the dead, both in England and continental Germany. It was a staple food for the living, so we should perhaps not be surprised to find it offered to the dead. The Penitential of pseudo-Egbert and Carloman’s Capitulary of 742 both indicate burnt grains as an offering to the dead (Griffiths, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, 113).

We may even see a similar transformation to that of the spinning and spun here. The grains offered by the living are the raw material. But it is in the realm of the dead that they reach their final form (just as we do).

This connection with the dead is one that apples share as well. The 11th century Icelandic poet Þórbjörn Brúnason made a curious mention of the ‘apples of Hel’. And apples also featured as grave goods in both Scandinavian and early English graves. But apples are not only associated with the dead in Norse lore. The apple seems to be both a food for the dead and a substance of renewal for the gods.(Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, 165-166).

Finally, we come to the Brig o’Dread. This was the bridge that the deceased had to cross on the way to the afterlife. Curiously, given our spinning theme, this bridge of dread was described as being “no broader than a thread” in English folk songs. A similar bridge exists in Slavic lore, only here it is made of hair. Yet as folklorist Mirjam Mencej points out, there is little difference between hair and thread in folk tradition. Lithuanian legends tell of ‘spinning goddesses’ and witches who are wont to spin hair when they run out of flax (Mencej, “Connecting Threads”).

And here, despite our foray from German fairytale to a 14th century English dirge, we return to goddesses of spinning and witches. Funny how that happens, yes?

Uncovering the Imaginal in a Folktale and a Dirge

As we have seen, the themes of these two very different sources share some striking similarities. We tread here, I believe, in the imaginal.

For those of you who are yet to encounter the concept of the imaginal, perhaps the best way of introducing the mundus imaginalis is as something akin to Gaiman’s “The Dreaming”. This is the example that Rhyd Wildermuth gives in his amazing post The Imaginal World over on Gods and Radicals. Though not perfect (as Rhyd goes on to acknowledge), this analogy is both accessible and relevant to our discussion here:

”Readers familiar with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series might find some parallels here: the mundus imaginalis is like “The Dreaming,” a realm populated by the dreaming of every being, living or dead, god or human or plant, where each “place” has a geography only inasmuch as it’s necessary for those who visit to travel within it and find the same place again (or visit a place another once visited). In fact, Gaiman likely stole the entire idea for his cosmology from Corbin’s essay.”

As previously mentioned, Rhyd does go on to acknowledge some important differences between the imaginal and the “The Dreaming”. But none of those differences affect the point I wish to make here about the nature of the imaginal.

A Revisited Place, A Liminal Place

The road between the land of the living and that of the dead is one that has been encountered and journeyed many times (arguably repeatedly depending on your afterlife beliefs). As with all things imaginal, it is a place none of us have ever seen concretely, but once we catch a glimpse of its representation in song or story, it feels familiar despite its strangeness.

This is also an inherently liminal road – an intermediary state in all senses of the term. And as such, it seems fitting to connect it with the imaginal given the liminal nature of the imaginal itself. To quote Rhyd once more:

“…the imaginal realm, intersects the others (and exists, according to these mystics, at an intersection of all other realms) and is accessed through the imaginal (not imaginary) capacities of humans.

So we have tales of a liminal passage undertaken by people in a liminal state, being glimpsed in a liminal space.

Most of us who practice magic know the imaginal already. We just tend to call it UPG, SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis), or PVPG (Peer Verified Personal Gnosis).

The Magical Imaginal

When we get down to it, regardless of whether we seek it out for ourselves or rely on the visions of others, these glimpses and encounters with the imaginal lay the foundations for much of what we do. Take the afterlife journey discussed throughout this post, for example. These descriptions give us a kind of map to this road to the afterlife. First the person dies/passes through water, and then they encounter two different trials. Yet the trials in both sources are far from insurmountable, presenting little problem for the compassionate person.

(Remember how the bread in the oven screamed to be removed from the oven and the apples shook from the tree? Those trials were as much about relieving suffering as they were industriousness.)

Finally, the deceased comes to their destination, which varies depending on the underlying belief system. For the Christian dead in the dirge, it is to Purgatory they must go. But for the girl in Mother Holda, it is to live a kinder existence than she did before. She may have worked, but the work was fair. Mother Holda was kind, and the girl never wanted for food.

For those of us who work with the dead, this story and song can provide a useful model for necromancy and psychopomp work. The song itself is easily adaptable for both Heathen and Christian alike, and the symbolism of the bread and apples in the tale of Mother Holda leads us to handy suggestions for offerings.

See how easy that was?

We began this post with a story and a song, and we’re ending with the bare bones of ritual for guiding the dead along the road to/from the afterlife.
And this is the thing, when you find those glimpses in poems/songs/folk tales/ the writings of mystics/in that space between wakefulness and dream, the magic usually isn’t all that far behind.

Sources
Davidson, Hilda Ellis – Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
Giannakis, George – The “Fate-as-Spinner” motif: A study on the poetic and metaphorical language of Ancient Greek and Indo-European (parts I & II)
Griffiths, Bill – Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic
Heide, Eldar – Holy Islands and the Otherworld: Places Beyond Water
Mencej, Mirjam – Connecting Threads  
National Museum – Human Sacrifices?
Rumens, Carol – Poem of the Week: A Lyke Wake Dirge
Timm, Erika – Frau Holle, Frau Percht und verwandte Gestalten: 160 Jahre nach Jacob Grimm aus germanistischer Sicht betrachtet

The Work of Our Time: COVID-19 Edition

The world (or at least my part of it) has changed since the last time I blogged. We now find ourselves in a global pandemic facing a tsunami of illness and death. We live in a world of ‘shelter-in-place’, ‘social-distancing’, and ‘lockdowns’, and society has been turned on its head with the “essential” 1% being shown to be far less essential than the healthcare workers, trash collectors, department of public works Work - caduceusemployees, and grocery store clerks (among others, please forgive me if I missed you).

This pandemic has been illuminating in other ways too.

Those of us with chronic illness have learned just how many of our friends and loved ones are okay with COVID-19 ‘just’ killing ‘those people’. (Psst, we are ‘those people’, and sorry bud, but it doesn’t ‘just’ kill ‘those people’ anyway.) Healthcare workers are hailed as heroes even as they’re being sent to the frontlines of this fight with insufficient PPE, and a whole host of gig workers and minimum wage staff are forced to risk their health and maybe their lives to hopefully avoid homelessness and starvation with no PPE.

And yet, the entitled Chads and Karens of this world are still bitching about the ‘injustice’ of being unable to go boating on the bay on nice days.

As the meme goes, ‘if COVID is a black lamp, America is a cum-stained hotel room’. This public health crisis has illustrated the weaknesses of the inherent iniquities in our society like nothing else.

The deaths are climbing, but this is still the calm before the storm. This is the boiling sea before the deluge that sweeps away lives and tosses them aside like broken driftwood.

The Storm and Tower Time

When I was younger, I used to wonder if people had sensed the coming of major disasters, or killing times like WWI and WWII in a way that went beyond political analysis. It just didn’t seem possible to me that there hadn’t been dreams, visions, or some kind of extrasensory ‘tip off’ about these things given the level of resulting mass trauma. Unsurprisingly, when you dig into the stories around these events, it’s not uncommon to find premonitions of impending doom.

People have been writing about ‘The Storm’ and  ‘Tower Time’ in the Pagan blogosphere for a while now, and many of us have privately confessed our intuitions to each other that ‘something is coming’, that ‘something’ is ramping up and going to happen.  The thing about prophecy and intuition though, is that timing is often quite hard to parse. How much of what we declared to be ‘Tower Time’ before was preview, and how much of it was us actually existing within that temporal space?

Moreover, where did ‘The Storm’ come into it all? Was ‘The Storm’ the preview to the Tower as we see in the card? After all, it’s a bolt of lightning that brings the top of the tower down.

Tower Time has been on the cards for a while now, but it’s always been a feeling of ‘not yet’ for me. Now though, I’m getting the ‘yes now’ ringing clearly. The die has been cast, and if my cards are to be believed, this is but one thing in a chain of fundamentally changing events.

Doing the Work

Which brings me to the work of this time.

Before now, the exhortation to ‘do the work’ has always been annoyingly vague to me, and the examples cited have often just been the things I do anyway. If anything, it felt like we were weathering the circumstances similarly to how one weathers a storm. But of late, ‘the work’, and what it entails, has come sharply into focus along with The Tower.

These are the activities I consider to be the most important parts of the Work of our time.

Offerings

The biggest work I’m seeing the need for right now is making offerings to the hale and holy powers. This is complete UPG, but there is a sense that the gods are also fighting something in my part of the ThisWorld, and that they need Work - offeringofferings.

If this is a vibe you’re also feeling, then I invite you to join me in making offerings to them on the full moon (4/7). Make them before then too – but make the full moon date special. Tell your friends. Turn it into a thing. Have Zoom rituals if you want. Just show those hale and holy powers in your life some major love, (and especially those with the ability to renew and regenerate).

In addition to this, I am also making offerings to the local spirits. Because if we have pissed them off (and possibly provoked them to inflict a virus on us as some traditional healing modalities suggest), then it’s just common sense to apologize and try to appease them. It can be as simple as a stick of incense in your backyard, or milk poured at the base of any trees or bushes you have. Please do not violate any stay at home or shelter in place orders to do this. The best way we can protect each other is to physically stay away from each other in times like these. So be considerate in how you make your offerings.

Healing Work/Supplication to Healing/Disease Subduing Deities

Work with any healing deities or deities that are known for subduing disease? Great! Make offerings to them! Do healing work in their name. Pray, pray, and pray some more for them to step in and help the folks who are sick and dying, as well as their family members and the frontline medical staff working to save them.

Pray for protection for those healthcare workers too (and harass your congress people about that PPE). If they fall, things will become immeasurably worse for all of us. And shit, but they deserve to come home safe to their families.

Singing the Dead

In my opinion, this is by far one of the most important parts of the work of our time. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to have a lot of dead people. And these are people who are going to have passed in terrifying, lonely circumstances.  I already personally know one person  with the story of only being able to say goodbye to a dying relative over FaceTime because they could not risk allowing family members to be with the dying because of the risk of infection.

That is going to make for a lot of hurt dead who aren’t necessarily going to get to where they need to go. The thought of this is absolutely heartbreaking to me, and so I’ve started praying for and singing the dead every night. At the moment, my songs are improvised. My usual psychopomp song (A Lyke Wake Dirge) seems insufficient for this purpose. But if I come upon something particularly good, I will share here.

Because I cannot go to the places where the dead are, I am relying on songs of enticement to pull the dead in and guide them home, and I advise you to make that your focus too. So please, again, stay home, find ways to work from home in your tradition, and stay the hell away from hospitals.

Loving the Living

As a few bloggers have remarked, the term ‘social distancing’ is something of a misnomer in the age of internet. What we are really talking about when we say ‘social distancing’ is physical distance. We can still support each other even at a distance.

These times are hard, and a lot of people are struggling with the enormity of the challenges we face. Many of us are also experiencing anxiety and going through some form of mourning, and that will only become keener as death closes in on us. So, part of the work needs to be checking in with each other, leading community worship/online events, and creating systems of support. These systems do not have to be solely religious in nature either. Religion should not be the only justification for gathering together (in cyberspace). What about your local community where you are? What about your neighbors? What about the folks you happen to share passions with? The more community networks we have the better.  The way our society previously worked was detrimental to communities and was isolating. There are reasons for this, shitty reasons. We don’t need to fall back into that again. We’re stronger when we’re together.

The Tower Made Stone

Three days ago, on the 28th of March, many of us were confronted with the literal image of The Tower in the city of Baltimore. Lightning struck the steeple of the Urban Bible Fellowship Church causing it to partially collapse and

Work - tower
Credit: Baltimore Sun

damage the adjacent Institute of Notre Dame. (Another year, another Notre Dame?)

As far as omens go, this one is loud.

We weathered the storm, the lightning struck, and Tower time is now. But how much will burn, how far the steeple will fall, what the wreckage will look like, and how we’ll recover is anyone’s guess. So do the work as you see it, choose as wisely as you can, and grow community like kudzu. Our survival in whatever comes next may depend on it.

May as many of us as possible live to see it.

Be well, my friends.

The Week-Long “Witch” and Clickbait Media

Yesterday I saw an article written by a British author about how she apparently tried being a witch for a week. It was offensive and stupid in a way that would have made the Daily Mirror proud. Today (and sadly all too predictably), seemingly anyone and everyone who’s ever gotten their witch on is mad about this article.

But (and please don’t take this the wrong way), why do we care what this individual thinks?

Not All Challenges Are Worth Fighting

This article wasn’t some amazing takedown of anyone’s lives. It was little more than clickbait masquerading as a so-called ‘enlightened’ and pro-science point about wider society. It was a collection of cheap shots against groups of people who already face discrimination in society. Rather than emerging as a ‘defender of science’, Ceri Bradford cast herself as the ‘mean girl’ that would be more at home in a schoolyard picking on the kid she hopes can’t fight back.

I mean, let’s face it. It’s not like any of us clicked on that link without even the tiniest sneaking suspicion that we were going into yet another mocking article about witches. That photo of her in a pointy hat was a dead giveaway; her facial expression reminds me of every drunk woman who ever picked a fight over nothing outside a kebab shop at 2 am.

And that’s what I think she’s doing here. I think she’s attempting to create drama because it will get her more clicks, more likes, and possibly lead to more work. I think she knew her work was going to cause upset, but I think she’s fine with that. Moreover, I suspect that no amount of complaining or appeals to decency will make her apologize or even feel vaguely bad (though it would be nice to be wrong here).

Target Selection for Bullies 101

The fact of the matter is that she could have made her alleged point about the rise in unscientific beliefs (if she even really cares about that) without punching down. After all, it’s not like virgin births, prayer (which is often magical in nature), resurrection of the dead, and transubstantiation are scientific either. Yet aside from the slight mention of religion in a general sense, she reserved all of her ire and mockery for those of us of minority faiths and practices.

In other words, she stuck to the people she doesn’t think can hurt her emotionally, legally, or professionally. She probably knows that rather than garnering a bunch of lol reacts, any article leveling that same style of mockery at Christianity would be met with disdain and/or censure.

And that, in my opinion, makes her a coward.

Oh Hai,Silver Lining!

Hit articles like this are nothing new in the UK press. I’m honestly surprised she wasn’t writing for the Daily Mail considering their long tradition of publishing hit pieces against Pagans and witches. And if anything, in a world of growing

Real photo of me playing ‘Witchcraft: The LARP’. Just kidding. I might print it out and send it to Ceri Bradford and pretend it’s me though!

evangelical zeal, I’d rather more people think us harmless and deluded than able to effect change using magic. Life is safer for us that way.

(I’m seriously considering getting her a card thanking her for helping to reinforce the idea we’re all just weirdos rather than minions of Satan, hellbent on taking down the nation with foul magics.)

So again, why do we care what she thinks? Why is her opinion worth anything to any of us? Perhaps the best responses to this are the ones she’d never see coming.

More Hellier Musings (Heavy Spoiler Alert!)

Two weeks. That’s roughly how long it has been (at the time of writing) since the second season of Hellier dropped on Amazon Prime. Yet since then, it’s become abundantly clear that Hellier is bringing something to the table that other paranormal documentaries do not…something that one might describe as being distinctly other.

For those of us who grew up in areas where fairy lore is still a thing, there’s much about Hellier that’s achingly familiar. However, there’s also a sense of something narrative-breaking occurring here too. When I was a kid, the stories I learned were tied up in the land. To meet ‘Granny’ Greenteeth one had to go to her tarn, and you were always more likely to come across Skriker on the moors at dusk as opposed to when walking to the corner shop to pick up a six-pack of beer. There were of course beings that you were more likely to encounter in the home (like brownies, boggarts, and whatever those beings are that jinx a house with their presence). But in general, the feeorin I grew up hearing about had their hangouts as surely as the local chav kids had a preferred parking lot.

Hellier: Not Your Usual Paranormal TV

I’ve seen a lot of paranormal TV. I’ve basically mainlined it since it first became a thing. I remember the days when Most Haunted’s unintentionally hilarious Derek Acorah repeatedly made the pronouncement that “Mary loves Dick”, and it’s only ever been entertainment to me. I’ve never found it scary or particularly thought-provoking, and I’ve never had a sense of presence in the house after watching a show, nor had the WiFi go out before (for apparently no reason). That was new.

But it was what happened afterwards that really made me think a little more deeply about the effects of Hellier and what it potentially indicates about the otherworld and the ways in which it may interact with us now. You see, I’m beginning to think that themselves are quite interested in the potential presented by modern forms of media and technology, and if that is the case, then it’s something we should all be mindful of.

Sounds strange, right? Let me explain the chain of events that has led me to this conclusion..

Obsessions and Exorcisms

The morning after finishing the show, I found myself constantly thinking about it and fighting the urge to watch it again. The thoughts were to the point of obsession, and something about it made me take a step back. So I did what any normal internet-age person would do: I hit up Hellier Twitter to see if anyone else was experiencing the same urge to the same obsessive degree.

The replies I received astounded me. Person after person admitted to similar levels of obsession. Some were even on their third rewatch of the show. Moreover, I found that others had also experienced some degree of high strangeness since finishing the season. Tweets of strange and sometimes frightening dreams as well as synchronicities began to hint that the phenomena hadn’t ended with the final credits. A friend who had also witnessed the Michael possession I mentioned in my last Hellier blog messaged me out of the blue about Michael, and when I asked her if she’d seen Hellier, she had no idea what it even was.

Patterns began to emerge too. At least a couple of respondents found calling upon solar deities and/or performing rituals potentially connected with solar beings to be an effective remedy for the obsessiveness and as a means to clear houses. Here is where we get to the point of this post.

Hellier and Otherworldly Agency

In Hellier, I believe we are seeing a level of interactivity between the phenomenon/a and the audience that has seldom been seen before. As mentioned above, I suspect that the other have become interested in the potential of electronic media for retaking what I believe they see as theirs. Restoration isn’t just a one-way street, and we’d be fools to think it’s solely human-led. People are invested in Hellier. There is a desire out there to interact with it and continue the work begun by the team. Hell, some of the fine denizens of Hellier Twitter have already expressed the intention to begin their own investigations.

However, I’ve been a witch for a long time, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that magical preparedness is essential when encountering the othercrowd (if that’s who is behind all of this – I clearly think they are). So here are a bunch of resources I’ve put together that if used, can hopefully help to keep any of you fine folks out there safe while going about this work.

Hellier Was Just a Symptom

To look at something as a symptom suggests a wider, underlying cause. This is ultimately the conclusion/interpretation the team comes to by the end of Hellier season two, and it’s a conclusion I share.

For years now, we in the more magical corners of the Pagan and Heathen communities have discussed the Otherworld “bleeding through”. We’ve talked about the increase in encounters that many of us have experienced or been called to help with, and we’ve talked about the effects of this “bleed through” on our magic. Hell, I even got hit up over an actual case of elf shot a few weeks ago!

Some have treated this as a temporary situation – like the high tide of an ocean that will eventually ebb once more. However, many of us see this as the new ‘normal’. Things have shifted and continue to do so, and it feels like new ‘fronts’ of change are opening up all the time. (Admittedly this perspective could be somewhat skewed as I tend to be the kind of person people come to with these kinds of problems and so see more of this kind of thing by default.)

In Hellier I see a new front opening up, and like the meme magic of 2016, it’s democratized and open to any interested parties. The idea that people can be reached through media is nothing new, and so there’s a certain kind of sense that numinous powers seeking to recruit (possibly unwitting) ‘employees’ would use it. It may be utter bunk that fairies are scared of plastic (a claim I

Legoworld: Our last, best defense against fairies. Clearly.

saw this week), but I can easily see them manipulating events and energy transmitted.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Hellier winds up being one among many such symptoms.

So watch mindfully, my friends, and choose your causes wisely.