It can be expensive being a witch, especially if you work with more historic forms of magic. Materia magica and tools like goat fat, spindles, and the bodies of hanged men just aren’t as readily available nowadays as they were for our forebears. There is no walking to the gibbet at the crossroads to
harvest goodness knows what from some hanged criminal for us, comparatively few people raise their own animals, and unless you’re the kind of person to hang out at your local sheep and wool festival, you probably also don’t have a spindle.
Or a cauldron.
Or a pitchfork.
And depending on where you live, your foraging options might be limited when it comes to traditional European witch herbs anyway.
So what’s a brokeass witch to do when a working or form of magic requires materia magica and tools that are prohibitively expensive?
Well, you could try out the following hacks.
1. Keep An Inventory
The first and easiest cost-saving activity that any witch can do is take an inventory of the magical supplies that are already in stock. As a group, we tend towards being pack-rats. We accumulate herbs, rocks, journals, random bones and raccoon dick bones as we practice, and it becomes all too easy to lose track of what we have. So if you’re looking to cut the cost of your craft, you need to reduce the risk of buying unneeded items, and that is where your inventory comes in.
Go through your stuff, make a list, keep the list somewhere easy to see, and refer to it when making your nefarious, magical plans.
2. Cost It Out
When you have a specific working in mind, take the time to research the cost of supplies. Shop around, fill shopping baskets on random sites and see what totals you get. Sometimes things will work out much cheaper than you initially expected and are actually affordable with a bit of budgeting work. Conversely, things may turn out to be a whole lot more expensive than you thought, so it’s good to cost things out to avoid any nasty surprises.
3. Figure Out Substitutions (And Make A Purist Cry)
In some cases, substituting some tools or ingredients can make things a little more doable financially. However, you need to be careful with any substitutions you make. After all, there’s a certain logic to magical workings, and some of that logic has pretty deep roots.
But while it’s clearly beyond the scope of this listicle subsection to teach how to ‘read’ and deconstruct magical workings in this way, I can give you a down and dirty hack to at least get you thinking about it.
Over the years, I’ve found that the easiest way to think about magic is in terms of story; and leveraging stories in order to change my own story, and the story of others. From an animist perspective, everything has backstory, and these backstories are what build the greater story-arc that you form when you create a spell. So the next time you look at a spell (or consider creating your own spell), try to think of it like a movie in a series of movies and deconstruct the various plots. Those bits where you find yourself thinking “Oooh wouldn’t it have been cool if (character name) did that instead of (character name)” are where you can possibly make some decent substitutions.
Just bear in mind that some spirits care a hell of a lot more about substitutions than others. I have done workings with some real sticklers, and workings with other spirits who are fine with you using whatever you have. So if it doubt, perform divination. Sometimes you can get some leeway from promising better when you’re doing better.
4. Make Your Own (Tools) if Possible
There can be a lot of magical and economic benefits to making your own tools. Because aside from the (usually) cheaper cost (again, cost this out first) of making your own tools, there is the added benefit of being able to birth your own tools into the world. You get to be there at the point of creation, and begin their stories. Yes, you get to be momma to some sketchy knives, spindles, staffs, and whatever the fuck else you need to produce in order to get on down with your magical selves.
Go have some magical tool kids! It’s like the only time you get to reproduce prolifically while poor without society looking down on you.
There’s also a certain niche value there too. I mean, no one else will have a table of art quite as shitty-looking as yours (or mine…speaking from experience here).
Table of “art”. Ha!
It’s artisanal, not shit.
5. Look For ‘Free’ Or Thrift
Finally, despite our lack of early modern witchy resources (oh, the irony), there’s still a lot to be said for foraging locally, especially if you can figure out some decent substitutions in your local plant life. Thrift stores can also be gold
mines for witches in need of tools, and you can still observe planetary timing in your purchases! Knives, candle holders, offering dishes, and fireproof bowls are not all that hard to find in a lot of thrift stores.
Of course, the only downside here is that you’ll probably never know the backstory on those tools, but can you ever really say that about any tools bought from local occult stores? So what if that knife you picked up was used by a little old lady called “Evelyn” to eviscerate her Canasta nemesis? Free spirits, bonus.
Witchcraft has changed a lot since the days of our early modern counterparts, and so has poverty. However, one thing that has not changed is that witchcraft was, and still remains, the tool of the poor and marginalized.
So regardless of what you end up missing, or the cool shit you don’t get to own, just know this: By being poor as crap, you’re continuing a true witchcraft tradition. Like I said, witchcraft has always been the tool of the downtrodden, and most of those were also poor as crap. Poverty just looked different then. But don’t forget, it’s your economic counterparts (give or take a few hundred years) that the folks who can afford all the swank stuff are trying to emulate.
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.
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 rundown 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.
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
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 unseen 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.
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.
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.
#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.
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’.
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!)
When I first saw the whole Sephora “witch kit” thing on social media, I had roughly three thoughts:
“Huh, that’s not a bad price! Wonder what those perfumes smell like.” “Ugh, white sage…” “I bet this is going to piss some people off.”
Now 2018 might be an utter shitshow in that “Hold my beer, 2016!” kinda way, but it’s sort of nice to know we still have some constants, you know? And a tacky ‘witch kit’ created by Pinrose and being flogged by Sephora enraging a whole bunch of people for largely nebulous reasons has been that constant in this case.
(Thank you, Internet. I love you too.)
But that’s not to say that there aren’t real reasons to give a shit about this Pinrose/Sephora foray into (Basic?) Witchcraft. For starters, there are valid criticisms surrounding the inclusion of white sage in these kits from both appropriation and sustainability standpoints. Then there was the booklet (which I haven’t seen), apparently it also contains appropriative bullshit (because I guess they were going for a theme here?).
So you know, real reasons.
But also a lot of nebulous feelings based in “exploitation” and even “appropriation” (which is a little rich considering how much white Pagans take from marginalized peoples and you know…appropriate the shit out of it).
Some of it, undoubtedly, also comes down to gatekeeping, which is handy, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about today!
Gatekeepers and Gatekeeping
Louis: I am The Keymaster!
Dana Barrett: I am The Gatekeeper! Ghostbusters 1984
It’s a dumb thing, but it’s still a thing for them. Those are the gatekeepers we’re downright infamous for, but they’re far from the only kind.
Recently, The Wild Hunt covered (badly, like really badly), the story of the “Pussy Church of TERFy doom” (or whatever the fuck those lot are called). This again, is another form of gatekeeping. genital gatekeeping. With doxxing, and what looks like a nascent tithing system.
But gatekeeping isn’t just the domain of fuckernutters who essentially just want to discriminate under some pseudo-spiritual guise. There are other, more well-intentioned forms of gatekeeping too. You know the kind of thing – the preventing or discouraging of people from trying forms of magic that are considered (either rightly or wrongly) to be dangerous.
Will the Real Gatekeepers Please Stand Up?
Now, my views on danger in the Craft are probably well known by now. This shit isn’t safe. I would even go as far as to say that if you’re doing something real then this is all managed risk anyway. Forget “safe”. When you’re dealing with numinous beings with agency that are actually *real* (as opposed to being some feel good imaginary friends), “safe” isn’t really a guarantee.
Which brings me to who I consider the real gatekeepers to be.
When we think of a tradition or practice, we often only think of it in terms of the human side of things, and forget that there is also the numinous side of the equation to take into account. But what is any tradition or magical practice without its numinous powers?
Those of you who’ve tried scrying both with and without summoning the spirits into the water will know the answer to this one.
The answer is “lacking”.
The Other (regardless of what form it takes) is integral to the practice of witchcraft. And for as much personal power and raw talent as we can bring to the game, it’s nothing compared to what they can gift us.
Here is where we come to the crux of the matter.
Because ultimately, it’s the numinous beings who matter, these are the real gatekeepers here, and ideally, we humans work in concert with them. It’s not for us to do the accepting based on whether or not someone has the right training or got their start via some tacky ‘witch kit’. (Or from watching The Craft! What up, 90s witches! I see you!) The real test is when we bring them, or they themselves stand before the powers with whom we work.
Burned Fingers and Adult Pants
For some people though, the gatekeeping they practice is a matter of responsibility to the wider community. They believe in restricting information to certain practices in order to keep people safe. However, this tends to have the unfortunate side effect of stifling growth and keeping people in the shallow end of the pool.
Let me explain a little.
The vast majority of us come from broken or simply newly created traditions. Now let’s be honest here, our magical technologies need an assload of work, and the bar for what we believe magic can do needs raising. Don’t see what I’m saying here? Check out the kind of operations contained in the Greek Magical Papyri and grimoires! Check out reports from cultures from outside our WEIRD society! Are we anywhere near that level?
I don’t think so. Again, I can’t help but think of what I’ve seen from “Core Shamans” here in the States versus what I’ve experienced at Mudang shrines in Korea. And if you’ve ever gotten off a mountain path to allow a God-as-solid-block-of-wind to pass on his way to a shrine to possess a Mudang, then you’ll understand what I’m saying here.
But you see, we’re not going to get there if we’re hiding people’s adult pants and dousing them with water so they can’t get their fingers burned. At some
point, once the caveats have been given and understood, you just have to get out of the way and let the chips fall where they may.
That’s not to say you can’t take out forms of ‘insurance’ though. Think the person you just taught that curse to might use it irresponsibly? Why not take some of their hair in exchange for the knowledge and let them know just what you’ll do if you ever hear of them flinging it round like cum in a bukkake session? Got a tradition you want to protect? Why not enlist some spirit protectors? See what I’m saying? There are things that can be done that don’t douse or steal pants, and I think they’re worth doing.
Because we live in interesting times now. Okay, so it may often feel like we’re dancing upon the edge of a great precipice, but we shouldn’t forget that these are also times of great potential and growth. How many of us are having more common and intense experiences with the Other now? How many folks have you come across that don’t normally encounter anything but are telling wide-eyed stories of things that “couldn’t possibly happen”?
I would suggest that perhaps we are living in a time when things are becoming steadily re-enchanted (and how many of us have been wanting that to happen?). And if that is the case, then surely that re-enchantment would bring with it the potential for greater magic? We just need to remember what it is ‘to dare’ first.
I’ve sat on this post for a long time. It’s a post that started with a dream that became a maelstrom of thoughts. And since the morning of the 27th of October (which was when I entered the dream into my journal), I’ve been turning it over in my head. You see, I want to be clear about this, because this topic is important.
But it may also be difficult for those of you who share my melanin-deficiency. I do however, ask you to set aside your initial feelings, read with an open heart, and then turn this topic over in your own mind some before reacting.
Because it is not white skin that is under attack here. I do not deny the realities of white privilege or the different lived experiences of oppressed peoples – those things are as plain to me as the nose on my face. But this is about whiteness, why we must not buy into it, and why we must work to free ourselves of it.
Before continuing though, I should probably define what I mean by “whiteness” in this post. When I speak of “whiteness”, I speak of a construct that sits in our society like a gated community that limits its entry to those who fit certain criteria. To reiterate, this is not a post about the the intrinsic and innate, of melanin and ancestry. It is a post about a social construct which actively excludes, harms, and which I believe to be completely incompatible with Witchcraft.
A Brief History of the Concept of Whiteness
Before the 17th century, “whiteness” as a concept or racial category didn’t exist. Laws both in the early colonies and Barbados instead focused on religion, setting aside freedoms for Christians and relegating non-Christians to servitude and slavery. However, as times changed and more people of color (both free and enslaved) became Christians, that legal language was changed. The goalposts were moved in order to retain power among the white landowning elite. 1697 saw the passage of the first law that restricted voting rights to only the white [Source].
But whiteness then was not the whiteness we know now; the membership requirements for that gated community have changed again and again, and ethnic groups that are now automatically considered white often found themselves on the outside. They were, according to the thinking of the day, varieties of “lesser” white [Source].
The construct of whiteness as it exists today is inherently a modified version of WASPishness.
You must have the right skin. You must have the right tongue. You must have the right faith. You must have the right worldview.
And should you catch a glimpse of another worldview, you must not rock the boat.
In short, it should be considered the very anathema of witchcraft. The gated community of whiteness is not a space in which Witchcraft can truly exist, and any attempt to root it within those manicured lawns is not without its betrayals.
People of color are well acquainted with this tactic. It has, after all, been a matter of survival for them. The more a person of color endeavors to make themselves more “respectable” from the perspective of the whiteness construct, the more “acceptable” he or she is considered to be. POCs routinely report code-switching around white coworkers and friends, dressing more ‘white’, emulating white seeming hairstyles, and a whole host of other behaviors that are ultimately designed to coddle white feelings in the hopes of getting thrown a bone.
This is essentially what we Pagans and Witches also do when we reassure the Christians in our lives just how “normal” and “harmless” we are; when we hold up the threefold law as a kind of “See! We’re not really dangerous!”; and when we get into that mindset of seeing it as some kind of “win” to be deemed acceptable enough to be invited to Interfaith meetings.
But what is lost when we do this? What is traded away for the scraps we’re thrown? And what of the value of these scraps? Do we truly believe that these would protect us should the law change tomorrow and allow our active persecution? Gentle people, this is what is known as a “forlorn hope”.
Witches and the Other
It is here though that we come to the real crux of this matter: Witches belong far more to the Other than to any inner, and not only do we belong to it, but we are also driven to interact with it.
The image of the hedge rider is a powerful one here. We do not belong fully to any one world, instead going between and negotiating many, and we’ll always have far more in common with those without than those within. As my friend Morgan says, “the Other is the soul of witchcraft”. They are absolutely correct in this, and for more than one reason.
We’ve always seated our cults and practices in both the between places, and among those who society fails or allows to fall through the cracks. The ancient groves of Diana with their diverse adherents comprised of those who would traditionally be excluded are an old world example of this (Green 53-54), but as Peter Grey demonstrates in Apocalyptic Witchcraft, witchcraft has ever been the tool of the oppressed. To then exclude others in our modern cults because of sexuality/gender/social status/ethnicity – the values of the gated community of whiteness – rather than what they have shown through their actions, is to betray that heritage.
Moreover, when we subscribe to whiteness, we hinder our own interactions with the Other. When you exist within a paradigm within which other humans are not fully human depending on arbitrary and innate qualities, then you have little chance of forming the kind of relationships with non-human persons that are the fuel and soul of Witchcraft. I have already written a little about how our attitudes towards other humans affect how we interact with the Other, and some of the common assumptions that that has led to. You can read about that here, but hopefully my point is made.
There is no Witchcraft without the Other, because no matter how much Witchcraft is made increasingly safe and removed from its beating core of inspirited dark nights and heart-pounding experiences, that is what Witchcraft has always been and always will be. It will always be about partnerships with the Other, be that Other the elves spoken of Isobel Gowdie, and referred to as far back as the Old English magico-medical manuals, or the Ov of the Witch of Endor. You cannot replace that with whitewashed bullshit that exists to make the practitioner feel good as a form of edgy self-help.
Witchcraft is service. It’s not safe. It’s hard. It takes work. And it sure as shit isn’t compatible with whiteness.
If anything, whiteness and the respectability politics it demands for bare scraps of “acceptance” is a Witchcraft-killer, and that is by design rather than accident.
So please, dear people, think about where you stand and what you espouse. Think about the voices you listen to and the voices you give space to and elevate (here’s a good video by the amazing Benebell Wen about that very thing). Rock that damn boat, use your voice to argue for destroying those gates, make an effort to learn about how things are outside those gates, and make damn sure you don’t erect the same gates in your Pagan and Witch communities. In other words, return to the groves, the Other, and your human siblings.
1. Green, C.M.C Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia 2. Grey, Peter Apocalyptic Witchcraft
In all honesty, I quite like this conversation. As a group we have this ridiculous tendency to act like we know more than we do, or don’t fuck up as often as we do. A good chunk of us could also do with laughing at ourselves more (but that’s another conversation and another rant).
So in the interests of adding to this conversation, here are the witch things I’m utterly shit at.
Bad Witch Fail #1: Remembering What to Say
This is my biggest issue right here. I can craft some really beautiful ritual but
can I remember it? No I really fucking can’t – and that blows. I’m that person in ritual who has to read from the book/paper because she can’t remember what the hell she’s supposed to say. In my defense though, I have memory issues. My thyroid shat the bed a few years ago and now I have a real hard time remembering things like I used to.
And yes, I know there are some of you out there saying “Pshaw amateur! I just make it up as I go along!” Well bully for you, Keith! I don’t, and that’s largely down to knowing the fuckery of my own brain.
You see, I believe that when I’m in ritual I’m interacting with numinous powers. That may seem like a no-brainer, but again (for the kids at the back), these are beings with agency. Which means they generally have their own plans and they aren’t necessarily plans we’d particularly like.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years (and especially since my memory became less useful), it’s that you can cut some really shit deals if you don’t go in there with a plan. Writing it all down before stepping into a circle is kind of like going to the store with a shopping list: it helps to keep you on track. It helps to keep you out of trouble, and even better, you don’t have to rely on your post-ritual memory to have a record of just what went down – it’s already there!
Which is adaptive and logical. But some folks can still get pretty dogmatic about it all.
Bad Witch Fail #2: I Suck at Growing Useful Gardens
I lose both Heathen and Witch points on this one, but for the past two years I’ve had shit gardens. I think I must have had a lucky year the first year I moved
here. We had lettuce for pretty much the whole summer, tomatoes that wouldn’t stop coming, zucchini, summer squash, okra, jalapenos, and green peppers. It. Was. Wonderful.
But last year we only got two loads of tomatoes and some lettuce (largely because a groundhog ate everything), and this year…
Yeah. I fail at this.
Ok, so my gardening isn’t a total loss. I’ve somehow kept an elder bush alive for a few years now (and it’s *huge*), a pile of wormwood is taking over the lower end of my garden, and my henbane seems to be happy. I just wish I could get fresh edible foods!
I know people who seem to just leave a trail of plants in their wake – almost as though they’re pooping them out or something. And it seems like almost everyone in my kindred has amazing gardens that they feed their families with. Except me.
But I’m not giving up! In fact, I’m going to go for a fall crop next. Because you know, why limit your failure to summer?!
Bad Witch Fail #3:Forgetting Tools/Offerings
Have you ever had that thing happen where you think you’ve got everything you need and you start the rite only to realize once you’re halfway through
whatever you’re doing that you’ve forgotten something and it’s actually pretty key?
Because that’s me. No joke, but I’ve actually had spirits do something to stop the right and then tell me to do it again and do it properly.
This is why you will see a ‘You Will Need’ section at the beginning of any rituals I create – because I literally make that list for myself to try and mitigate that whole thing.
Bad Witch Fail #4: I Often Miss Moon Observances
I know a lot of (if not most) witches observe the full moon, but it’s hit or miss for me. It largely depends on factors like how tired I am, when I have to get up the following day, and if I’ve lost track of the month or not.
I know, those are all really lame reasons. About the only thing I can say in my defense is that I deal with some pretty chronic exhaustion between my thyroid issues and a kid that hates sleep.
Bad Witch Fail #5: I Can’t Read Theban
I should probably qualify that: I can’t read Theban anymore. Because if my old journals are anything to go by, I could back then. But now? Nope! It’s the so-called ‘Witches’ Alphabet’ (taken from Trithemius who apparently got it from a possibly mythical character), and I can’t read it.
That’s me, witchy as fuck.
Anyway, those are my confessions. The confessional is open if anyone else would like to have a try!
There’s something of a theme du jour in my spookier friend circles right now. It’s complex – there’s a lot of background strangeness here – but the TL;DR version is that people (myself included) either feel the need to make oaths of fealty to numinous powers, or are witnessing others making similar oaths in either dream or trance. Now that strikes me as being pretty odd, and makes me wonder whether this is something which is confined to my various friend circles, or if it’s more widespread. (Answers on a postcard, please!) It also makes me wonder what on earth is going on at the moment. Because as I mentioned above, there is a background of strangeness here. This is not something that I’m prepared to write about it yet, but some of what John Beckett touches on here is eerily similar.
Either way, regardless of whatever the hell is going on, and whether or not this is a localized or more widespread phenomenon, it’s never a bad time to address the matter of oaths of fealty. After all, oathing to numinous powers is a serious business with potentially serious consequences. Friends don’t let friends oath to massively powerful entities without first giving them some tools.
And by “tools”, I mean this handy five-point list.
(Why a five-point list? Because this is the fucking internet, and everything seems to be a five-point list nowadays.)
1. You Can Refuse
This might seem like a no-brainer. However (as a few skeletons that won’t stay in their cupboards can attest), we seem to have consent issues in modern Paganism. We see this in a number of ways, and thankfully there are movements to work on all of that. But one of the ways in which those problematic ideas of consent
surface (at least in my opinion), is in how oathing to numinous powers is presented in some quarters. There’s this creepy narrative that oathing is like a kind of pursuit by the numinous that the human doesn’t really have any say in, and quite frankly, that’s just plain fucked up.
It’s also wrong to boot, because that’s not how actual reciprocal relationships work. You have a choice, these are reciprocal relationships (read up on those here if you don’t know what that means), you can say no. So if it seems like a bad idea to get in cahoots with whoever, and your gut is twisting with the thought (there’s a clue right there), you can decline – politely.
If you do find yourself in a situation in which you believe you are being pursued by the numinous equivalent of Chris Pratt, then go and get a second opinion from someone you trust. Narrative can frame experience just as much as experience can frame narrative. Just a word to the wise though: not everything is what it claims to be either, so again, it’s good to get a fresh perspective.
2. The Devil is in the Detail
As mentioned above, these are relationships that are reciprocal by nature. In other words, they an exchange of sorts, which means you’re effectively entering into a contract. Now, if you’ve watched that episode of South Park where Kyle clicks the iTunes user agreement without reading it first, you’ll know that blind agreement with a greater power is not a good idea.
Well, it’s the same principle here. You need to be honest about, and lay out what you are prepared to do, and how long for. This is key – you don’t have to oath to a power for life, and you don’t have to give yourself to them after death
either. Temporary alliances for a set period of time or until the completion of certain criteria are a thing, oaths that are renewed on a yearly basis are also a thing. NOTHING SAYS YOU HAVE TO OATH FOR LIFE.
So make a list of your conditions, and pay special attention to any potential loopholes you find. Because some beings out there (naming no names) are *experts* at finding ways to creatively screw humans over while adhering to the letter of any oaths made. So get good at thinking twenty steps ahead and doing thought experiments with potential outcomes. Also, remember that any oaths will also by extension affect your families, so factor your loved ones into those thought experiments too.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to try and figure out what they actually want from you, and assume that has value even if you cannot see it. And that might sound like the most hubristic shit ever until you remember that some beings quite enjoy consuming humans. It’s good to not become food, it’s like a rule for life.
But before you do *any* of that….
3. Do Your Research, Dammit!
If some sparkly and awesome (or dark and scary, or BOTH) shows up trying to entice you into some kind of oath, your first move is always research. Go find out everything you can about them, and if it’s not available in physical sources, go pester allies for more information. Because there are a whole bunch of things you need to know here. For example, you need to know their MO; if they’re presenting themselves as they actually are; how others have fared dealing with them; and if they have a GSOH and enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset. Because all of that will not only help you figure out *who* you’re dealing with, but also help you better word any oaths you make so that you can do stuff like insert more protective clauses (which is #winning, trust me).
4. Consult Ye the Ye Olde Book of Oaths!
There’s a lot to be said for those old school handwritten pacts. On the one hand, they were utter shit for getting you convicted and burned (poor Father Grandier). But on the other hand, they also helped you remember just who you had pacts with, and exactly what was entailed. So if you’re in the business of holding oaths with numinous beings, it’s a damn good idea to have somewhere safe where you can write down all the details as precisely as you can (if you don’t already). It’s also good to read those oaths regularly – after all, you want to make sure you’re not fucking up your end of the bargain. However, it’s especially important to re-read your prior oaths when in the process of considering and creating oathed relationships with whatever new beings on the block because you need to know what you can agree to without violating the conditions of your other oaths. Sometimes those prior oaths can turn out to be pretty protective in the long run.
5. Phone a Friend
Finally, when you have all your research, and have tweaked the wording for your oath as much as you can, run it all by a friend or trusted clergy. For some of you, this would have likely been a continuous thing anyway throughout this entire process, and that’s fine. Just don’t formalize anything until you’ve had that feedback from someone you trust and who has a good head on their
shoulders. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get caught up in things and hurtle towards a thing at breakneck speed, so it’s good to have someone prepared to remind you that there are such a thing as brakes.
But whether you do say yes to the oath-dress or not, you should record everything in as much detail as you possibly can. Because even if you don’t end up oathing, it’s just always good to keep a record.
If you do formally oath though, consider the creation of a pact-style document that both parties agree to before the oath is formally sworn. This document should contain the exact wording of your oath and clearly outline the conditions of the oath.
Lastly, if you are in this situation, I wish you smooth negotiations. May the odds be ever in your favor.
And I’m here to tell you that if you did that, if you *EVEN* think about cursing anyone, then you’re not a witch. So why are you all pretend witches if you curse then? Let me learn you a thing or two in my handy, serious as fuck, five point guide.
1. Rocks and Karma So here is the thing, karma is going to fuck you up if you curse someone. It’s like a cosmic hit-man that goes round getting people who do ‘no-no’s. But don’t get fresh and start thinking you’ll score a huge lottery win if you earn enough karma points! Everyone *knows* that it doesn’t work like that, because karma is a bit shy about giving you really good shit for huge acts of good, but really amazing about giving you epic shit for a tiny bit of bad. It’s like a zero tolerance policy with a threefold return.
One way to explain it, is if you pick up a rock and let go of it, it falls to the earth. Now a lot of people might call that ‘gravity’, but that’s really a demonstration of how karma works, and you can always tell you’ve already fucked up because when you drop it, it falls on your toe. Does this analogy make sense to you? Because if it doesn’t, you should probably stay away from *all* magic because I just learned you the physics of witchcraft right there.
2. Cursing is an Addiction Everyone knows that people who curse turn into power-hungry dickwads and that that power is addictive.
Studies have shown that cursing is just as addictive and as harmful as either meth, or four marijuanas injected intravenously between your toes. It’s a slippery slope, and it doesn’t matter *why* you do it or how ‘noble’ you think your reason for cursing is. As soon as you get out those poppets and pins, you are on a fast track to fiending all the baneful magics, and that is something Real Witches ™ just don’t do.
3. The People in the Past were Amateurs
Now some of you reading this will probably respond with a ‘witches in Britain cursed the nazis’, or that we have plenty of evidence for cursing going all the way back to the ancient world. Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t matter. Those people were obviously rank amateurs who didn’t understand the physics of witchcraft (see: point #1). It’s not their fault though that they didn’t know as much as we do now about the forms of magic they originated/were taught/existed within their culture with about the same level of commonality as hemorrhoids in the over 50s (or post childbirth) crowd. They just weren’t as enlightened as we are now, and we know that if Owd Demdike is giving it def at the other end of the village about you and using image magic on your hovel, the best answer is not necessarily to fiend the vile magics. What they didn’t understand about those situations is that in all likelihood, what Owd Demdike *really* needed was reiki, or some other form of healing, but sadly reiki hadn’t been invented by that point and so people suffered.
4. Famous Wiccan Authors Said Not To Do it This should be a no-brainer but it just isn’t. A lot of people say that what those famous people say doesn’t apply to them because they’re not Wiccans and those Wiccans can only say who is in their in-group or not. But that is simply not true. These people got to where they are because they know, and because of that, they get to decide who is real and who isn’t. Also, they were really really brave for writing about their religion despite their oaths like they did so that we can all know what they really do in their covens and circles (this is important, I was working in an oblong shape before reading some of those books, and once there was that really ill-advised parallelogram). #NeverAgainTheParallelogramTimes.
5. Cursing Often Requires You Do Or Use Gross Things This is one of the worst things about cursing, well, aside from the ethics, sometimes people who curse use dead
things. Ew, how nasty is that? That is NOT the witchcraft I know! I mean, they’re the kind of people to hide partially decomposed bits of animals in anthills to get them ‘cleaned’ so they can then put that shit in a jar or something. Or use things like animal hearts and blood. That’s just nasty, who does that?!
Addicts, that’s who. Like I said above, those baneful magics are as bad as meth, and just like meth, you can literally get your hands blown off cooking it up.
As you can see, none of these reasons are because of Wiccanism or Wiccanatism (except for maybe point #4), they’re about how things really work.
If you have someone you really hate or is threatening your family, you’d be far better off getting a teddy bear (or making a healing poppet if you’re not already a hex addict), and distance-reikying-it-up to give them the healing they so desperately need to advance and become enlightened.
You should also really ask yourself what you’ve done for karma to be giving you such trials and tribulations in putting that person on your path. Lastly, if you survive the experience, you need to ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. /sarcasm
Final Word Whatever you do though, it’s really none of my fucking business what another witch decides is an appropriate response to a situation, and unless you’re involved in the working or the one/s being worked against, it’s likely none of your business either. Also, let’s be real for a moment about all of this business of withdrawing other people’s ‘witch cards’ – on the most simple level, a ‘witch’ is someone who *does* witchcraft. It doesn’t matter if you like what another witch does, if they’re doing it, they are it. They’re just an example of that ‘it’ you disagree with, and that’s ok. Trying to attach an arbitrary set of ethics onto the craft that can then be used as a way to demarcate who is and who isn’t a ‘real witch’ is massively problematic. A religion may have a common set of ethics, but witches have traditionally held a myriad of religious views depending on their native cultures, and have often practiced the craft in opposition to those views. For example, the famous witches from my home county were Christians, we have recorded charms from them, and yet we all know what Christianity has to say about witchcraft. (Clue: it bad.) Wicca and other witchcraft traditions that blend religion with the craft are really the outliers in the grand scheme of things, and it’s cool that it works for them. But to then turn around and think the ethics of those paths are (or should be) common to all witches regardless of tradition, is just plain wrong. It’s also massively arrogant. The real ethics of witchcraft are the ethics of each individual witch alone, and that is that.
So let’s give the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy a break, and I’ll go prise my tongue from out of my cheek, aye?
There’s been a curious post going around on social media this morning. It’s a photograph that was purportedly taken in Arizona of what appears to be a demon dallying in a street. Over and over again, I’ve seen people assert that it’s a palm tree, despite the fact that it’s clearly not. Let’s face it, it looks nothing like a palm tree. Now I’m not saying it is a demon (we do live in the era of Photoshop), but what is curious is the vehemence that people are defending the palm tree explanation. This reminded me of something I heard while in a trance once. In the trance I was walking down the street, but it wasn’t just populated by the living and seen, but by everything from ghosts, to faeries, to creatures of a more mythological nature. Weaving in and around the living and seen, they went completely unnoticed, and I was baffled. How could these people just go about their shopping and *not* notice that dragon? Then came the voice. It was not a ‘head voice’ but external, coming with all the force of an air canon.
“They won’t see because they don’t want to see.”
That sounds like the kind of bullshit thing a shill sells to people in order to blur the lines of their reality and make them more invested in what the shill has to sell; but there is a truth to it.
Because that is how a whole bunch of people can look at a photo of a demon dallying down some Arizona street and argue vociferously that it’s a palm tree. They simply don’t want to see. Even in the age of Photoshop when you can create a demon and add it to a photo to freak people out on the internet, people will still argue for the tree. The bubble is being threatened, and any suggestion that things are not as they seem must be destroyed in the most mundane way possible.
The lines must be redrawn between the possible and impossible and the world reasserted, people must feel safe.
Because if we do live in a world in which there might be a demon that saunters down some street in the South West, then that means that there are a whole load of possibilities and dangers that people don’t know how to counter, and nobody likes that. Who among us doesn’t like feeling like we’re the one in charge?
In the same vein, it would seem that my post ‘Witchcraft is Not Safe (and Nor Should it Be!)’ has resurfaced after almost a year of floating in the depths of the web after the initial furor. Now, as then, I’m facing a whole bunch of criticism for having the audacity to actually go to a burial mound and call up the dead.
However, in an almost-year of reading and countering criticisms about something I did back in 2005/2006 by people who obviously know far better than I did in my twenties, I’ve learned a thing or two about that criticism.
First of all, this criticism is neatly avoiding the point of the post, but also proving it in some ways. It seems to come from certain groups more than others, but all essentially boils down to the same thing: if you place the blame on the practitioner, nothing is changed. Witchcraft remains that benign, misunderstood thing that is sold as part of the shitshow that is modern identity politics, and there’s nothing that could *really* harm you – except maybe breaking that ‘rule of three’ (and don’t get me started on that one).
Often it starts out with a ‘this wouldn’t have happened had you (not) done _______’. But the curious thing I’ve noticed about participating in these discussions and countering that criticism (because I do really want people to get what I was saying), is that when you counter with how you did do that, then you end up with a litany of similar pronouncements. The more you counter and detail the measures you took, the more the goalposts widen, and in the end it feels as though you’ve gone well into the territory of clutching at straws.
Challenging the Status Quo
People in Pagan magical communities, especially those who are considered authorities (or would like to be), hold up things going off without a hitch as being some kind of gold standard of their skill. But I don’t think that’s anything anyone should be proud of – no sword was ever considered strong or even usable without being tempered first. If anything, this adherence to making out like your magical shit doesn’t stink is contributing to the moribund state of magic in modern Paganism. Moreover, if you are actually out there, pushing boundaries, working at leveling up, and you don’t have at least some stories of when things went tits up. Well, you’re either lying your arse off because you don’t want to look unskilled, you’re not as experienced as you claim, nothing is happening for you, or you’re staying where it’s safe.
There’s a point to be made about this idea of safety too. We humans like to be safe. Ever since the beginning of humanity we’ve been running risk assessments and mitigating the dangers in our lives. For the most part, we’ve got the physical side of things down. Science tells us how things work, we have some measure of predictability, and we generally sleep at night without worrying about things like changelings, revenants, and goodness knows what else.
So when something comes along that challenges that sense of safety and predictability in a visceral (as opposed to the more typically cerebral) way, we fight back. We lash out at it in the hopes that it will go away. We try to find ways to explain the scientifically unexplainable in ways that are more acceptable to our worldviews. We scream that the denizen of hell in fuck knows where AZ is a palm tree.
We try to convince ourselves once again that we are safe and that anything vaguely threatening can be put down to some fucking amateur on the internet. In other words, we convince ourselves that nothing like that could ever happen to us. That kind of thing only ever happens to other people, and probably because they didn’t follow (insert piece of worldview that further reinforces a sense of safety here).
Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because if it is, then we’re not pushing things forward. An element of risk is a part of this game, and if you look at that risk and ask yourself why anyone would do that, then maybe it’s not the game for you.
Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because the unseen doesn’t come with D&D-style stat sheets that we can compare with our own and make the decision to keep away. They do come with a fuckton of agency though, you know, as you might expect for independent beings that aren’t just figments of the imagination. And sometimes, you don’t get to the ‘goodies’ until you’re a few hours into ritual.
Witchcraft is not safe (and nor should it be!), because now more than ever, we need to see the world for what it is and deal with it on that basis. We need to break down our mental barriers, hate fuck the Demon Palm Tree Bubble out of existence, and reclaim what we actually lost. People talk a lot about re-enchanting the world, but to me, that sounds like a goal-idea set further down the road that people can get behind as being interesting but without actually really changing anything in the now. It remains safe because it’s not so much in the now, and we are apparently the ones to be doing the re-enchanting. Well, have you ever considered that maybe the world never stopped being enchanted but we just learned to not see it anymore (lashing out whenever we’re given a hint of it)?
Witchcraft is not safe, for a whole host of reasons, but it should never be unsafe because the people you’re working with don’t appreciate the agency of what they’re working with, have an unrealistic view of what could potentially happen, or a lack of ability to roll with it when shit goes down. Because if we’re to break down that Demon Palm Tree Bubble and live in this ‘reenchanted’ world, it is far better to be the tempered blade than the good-looking, shiny one that was never tested.
Have you ever wondered why witches are always so bloody minded? Why we fight so often with each other and get into all kinds of crazy adventures?
I mean, let’s face it, we’re kind of like magnets for weird things and not just weird things that are decidedly other either. No, over the years, I’ve attracted everything from very, very short people with guitars, to that Aryan Brotherhood guy who did pull ups on the grab bars of a moving bus while trying to talk to me.
I often use the analogy that I’m like a pile of turd attracting flies. A super sexy pile of turd, obviously…well, as these things go at least.
Being the proverbial pile of turd can complicate life somewhat in that no matter where you go, because you will always encounter what is there. That shit will pop right up and introduce itself to you on moving-in day/walking through the park/doing whatever it is that you’re doing that isn’t even remotely magical.
Like this one time when I was volunteering to help clean gravestones in my then-town and I felt something very bony tap me on the shoulder to see what I was doing. Or that other time when I was standing in another town with a friend and kept getting shoulder taps and “psst”. Or then there was that time we…never mind, you get the idea. In other words, if you’ve been dealt in by the ‘cosmic croupier’ I referred to in my last post, you will always have to interact with your landscape (both Seen and Unseen). There will always be this process of you getting their attention and them getting yours for various reasons.
Traditions Based In A Land
This is why more traditional currents of witchcraft hold that it’s entirely natural for witchcraft (like Heathenry) to vary from place to place. After all, if you are working with the liminal, local spirits of the land where you live, then your witchcraft cannot help but be localized in some way.
When you see your local land, what do you see? If you haven’t already experienced the Unseen in your location, how do you imagine it to be? Now think about the history of where you live: the various peoples that came through there (if any) and the circumstances of their migrations. What about the religious movements that the area is known for? And lastly, can you point to any occult traditions that you know to have operated in your area? Because these are the kinds of things that affect not only the kinds of spirits that you might come across, but the most effective ways of dealing with them should you need to.
If you live anywhere like where I live, your land – even just by imagining – is a veritable ‘onion’. Or in other words, layer upon layer upon layer of peoples with different beliefs and practices interacting with local spirits and bringing their own spirits and practices with them.
In these kind of environments, a certain kind of adaptability is needed, and those of us who live in these onion-like environs need to attain a certain degree of fluency in multiple magical traditions.
Because witches, as bloody-minded as we typically are, are usually the type of people to get the things done that we need to by hook or by crook. We tend to take a pragmatic approach (if we’re not the kind of people to pretend that we fart magical success of course).
But when it comes to that success – location and the Unseen we encounter in a place are huge factors. Because for as much as we see this whole image of the all-powerful witch on TV, we’re only really as powerful as the relationships we build with the Unseen (like our local spirits) and our Dead. Sure, we can do some things without them, we do have our own intrinsic dynamistic power, but it’s with the animistic powers – best remembered as ‘the things we can make offerings to or interact with’ – where the greatest power (and our greatest potential) lies.
But there’s always some resistance to this idea of gaining fluency in different magical traditions – at least from what I’ve found. Especially when it comes to people who consider witchcraft as a path or even a religion.
A Different Kind Of Beast…
Both descriptors are problematic. A path is restrictive in that you can only be on one at a time, and while calling something a ‘religion’ grants some kind of legitimacy to a group, there’s a whole lot of baggage that comes with that word. You see, we have very definite ideas of what kinds of things a religion involves, and even if we put it into a Pagan context (erasing words like ‘worship’, ‘prayer’, and anything people feel is a little too Christian), we do still end up in the same behavioral patterns.
We start to think of things like the ‘right’ way of doing something and what can be considered a part of that religion or not. Well, I would say that outside of religious observance, it’s the ‘right’ way if it works, and you absolutely want to be doing it the ‘right’ way if you’re being religious.
But historically, witchcraft was always a different kind of beast, and in spite of ideas of ‘the old religion’ surviving in
witchcraft throughout the ages, the likelihood is that the witches back then considered themselves some kind of Christian. Like the old ladies of Norfolk, who up until relatively recently, still knew and used charms in order to keep the elves from spoiling their butter.
The problem with bringing that kind of religious baggage to witchcraft, is that you always run the risk of becoming a purist. I know that’s a trap I’ve fallen into in the past, because it’s so very easy to think you’re on to some amazing ‘explanation of all the things’ and that you’ve figured out an accompanying system. (For why this is foolish, I refer you to the discussion above on the effects of location) Before you know it, you’re no longer looking at what is actually there and instead trying to slot it all into this ‘perfect’ explanation like some kind of mad historian trying to slot the gods of various cultures into the Graeco-Roman pantheon model. It’s also all too easy to get dogmatic about what sources you use too (again, not particularly good for interacting with what is actually around you).
Take the grimoires for example, while not as numerous as you might think, they are a veritable gold mine for magical practitioners. I mean, how many of us have wished at some point to find some book of great antiquity that shows us how witches back in the day got down? Well we have some books just like that, and yet they seem to be largely ignored by modern Pagan and Heathen magic workers.
Is it because of this dogmatism, because these grimoires are often filled with talk of demons and angels and lengthy invocations using the various names of Yahweh? I think that’s throwing all the proverbial babies out with all of the bathwater.
But this is a topic I’ve discussed before, in my last post even, when I talked about the proverbial (Christian) elephant in the room and the necessity of either dominating it or making peace with it. Because if you’re dealing with spirits who come from the kind of paradigm reflected by the grimoires, it’s going to be far more effective to engage full stubborn, suck up whatever issue you have with the punchy Jesus pachyderm, and crack out those grimoires.
Ask yourself, what do you really have when you strip away labels like ‘demon’ or ‘angel’, what is it that you’re left with at the end of the day?
An answer of ‘nothing’ is too facile. Sure, it may make the respondent feel better (because “we don’t believe in that kind of thing, yo”), but there are reasons why these books and the various spirit lists they contain are as long-lived as they are (some of them have threads that go *way* back), and there are reasons for the notoriety surrounding these books.
I mean, could you imagine most modern witchcraft books becoming even remotely notorious in the future? I mean, aside from Paul Huson’s book (a book which pulls from the grimoire tradition and contains that ‘repugnant’ reverse recitation of the Lord’s Prayer).Could you imagine any of them even enduring long enough to gain the weight of tradition that some of the grimoires have?
Of course not, because there’s little to no threat in the average witchcraft 101 book. Every effort seems to be taken to look as benign as possible, and to avoid any suggestion of the Judeo-Christian elephant. After all, we don’t want to give the impression that we are what they always said we are – that we truck with demons and kiss the devil’s arse after liberally rubbing ourselves with entheogens – we’re a religion after all, right?
And it’s here where my points begin to collide.
Tying It All Together
There’s a whole lot going on in this post: from the importance of localism in witchcraft, to labels and how they affect identity (and some of the respectability politics involved).
But so what if we sometimes do the things that those faceless ‘they’ say we do? So what if we dance with the devil and dally with demons? According to a book I’m currently reading, a thoroughly Heathen god that I worship was progressively portrayed as the devil by Christians, and my beloved Ælfe presented as demons (scandalous, sexy demons even). How many of the demons from the spirit lists have their origins in pagan deities – Astaroth, anyone? And to those who would judge us, none of that matters anyway; for whether we call the powers we truck with ‘gods’ or ‘daemons’, or ‘(insert sanitized term here)’, they will never *not* see those powers as the legion forces of evil. It’s really pointless to try with people like that. I’ll be giving that osculum infame business a miss though.
And so what if some of us take entheogens in order to trip our balls (metaphorical balls in my case) into deeper interactions with the Unseen? We humans have been doing that kind of thing for rather a long time. In fact we probably made beer a long time before we made bread, and it wasn’t as though those early brews adhered to some kind of Reinheitsgebot either – archaeologists have found all kinds of mind-altering additions to ancient beers. It’s only relatively recently that we humans have had any kind of issue with entheogen use, or associated it with slovenly and antisocial behavior. I think there’s even a good argument to be made that the removal of mind-altering substances from sacred context has contributed to the abuse and harm of these substances!
For various reasons, time and again, I see us removing ourselves from some of our best tools for getting to know and interact with the Unseen, for putting down roots in our lands, and becoming a part of it all. And I just find it an utter shame. We live in a time in which the other is so much closer; the church bells no longer sound to keep it away. We just need to learn more than one dance.
We chanted and danced, our bodies whirling with our spindles, the cords lengthening as the twist travelled up the fibers locking them in place. We chanted in praise of a goddess of spinning and witches, but then the song changed and we chanted differently. This time we *pulled*, the spinning of our spindles aiding us as we pulled what we wanted to pull. A shift fell over the room and it was as though the fan no longer worked within the confines of our weoh bonds, but yet we danced and spun and passed the drum between us, taking turns with both spindle and drum. The dance went on, around the shrine with idol and well, around the candles without tumbling; in trance, these things happen.
When we stopped, we were no longer fully *here* but somewhere between, panting with exertion and sweating from the heat that the fans would no longer touch.
And that’s when the real work began.
In my last blog, I presented the idea that the magic of spindle and distaff is a magic of fate, a magic of pulling, of binding, and sometimes, even a magic of creation. Dealing with what you spin up (f you spin it up) often requires other skills of course, but for now though, I’m going to concentrate on the spinning up.
The first thing to understand about this kind of magic – or indeed any magic within the Germanic cultural context – is that some types of magic are temporary, and some are far longer lasting. Most of the examples you read of in the primary sources are temporary in nature; the mind ensnared until the will of the witch is carried out, or the weather temporarily made bad until the ship is sunk. Don’t get me wrong, temporary can cause a lot of damage. When it comes to long-lasting magics though, it’s all about setting down the layers, about repeated actions and intent. It’s about the tablet weaving tablet with a curse written on it, so that every turn of the tablet builds on the curse to imbue the victim with the ill luck of the caster. It’s about the spindle whorls scratched with prayers and blessings. It’s about the charms and staves left in hidden places to work continuously. It’s also probably why the SATOR square eventually became so popular in Northern Europe. If you remember that what we do in the now is what is set down as past layers for the future, then repeated actions over a period of time in the now and the not-so-far from now, set down that which a person has to work with in the future.
The second thing to understand here, is that this kind of spun magic, tends to be of a more chthonic nature. In my last blog post, I mentioned the connection between spinning and death, and spun threads made into various tools used to drag people down to the underworld. This idea was continued in various European folklore traditions that held that the dead had to cross over into the underworld over a bridge of thread, flax, or human hair (which actually kind of resembles flax).
When I first started to look at spun witchcraft – or Seiðr, it was most definitely from the point of view of the non-
spinner, or newbie spinner. Spinning is a craft that takes time, practice, and patience to become good at. Before you even begin to try your hand at spun Seiðr, you have to build up the muscle memory that makes it possible to spin without really thinking about it enough to go into trance.
The process of synthesis is often one of trial and error and this blog post is about my process of synthesis when it comes to spun Seiðr.
For me, it often starts with a flash of a vision of how you need to be doing something. But it’s one thing to see something happening and quite another to figure out the mechanics of how to do that thing or the framework within which you need to make it happen. That flash of a vision then becomes research, often years of research, experimentation, and most importantly evaluation before you have something workable. I think we often forget this because people are so reticent in the modern community to discuss their fuck ups, but let’s face it, everyone fucks up.
When I first began my experiments in spinning Seiðr I was doing so on the premise that the spindle was a tool for trance induction rather than for the magic itself. But as time went on and I experimented, I found that while you can get into a light trance state while spinning, it’s not necessarily good for deep trance, nor does it really go much beyond that (although it’s possible to have flashes of vision in this state). The breakthrough came when I decided to try changing my premise and taking the meaning of the word ‘Seiðr’ at face value – a ‘snare’. From that point on, I started to consider my spindle a tool that created a kind of snare ‘thought form’ that could be ‘sent forth’ or ‘ridden upon’ and used to ensnare and pull what I wanted or needed. My first experiments working in this way were a revelation, finally I felt like I’d hit on the mechanics of what I was meant to be doing.
Over time, I found that when I pulled and bound things, the spinning would become hard for no reason, that I would have to twist harder and that lumps would form in the spinning as the things I pulled were entrapped. I began to use my spindle when called in to help clear houses to attract and bind any leftover remnants of nastiness. Eventually, as I became more confident in this usage, I began using my spindle to pull and bind the kind of things that go bump in the night.
The more I spun and witched, the more I learned that spinning witchcraft is a magic that moves, it’s a magic that makes you want to sway and stamp your feet; to spin as you spin and work the energy out. It’s a magic that reverberates through your entire body, leaving you shaking and your yarn crackling with energy. Wool carries magic exceptionally well, and depending on what kind of magic you’re working, it can feel sharp and biting or warm and protective. It can be your favorite sweater or scarf that you wear when you know your day will be challenging, or it can be that one item that just feels unlucky. It can also carry stories – histories – and be used for divination for those skilled in psychometry.
Eventually I found others who were interested in working on this, on working to try to breathe life into and enliven that old spun Seiðr – people who were prepared to look beyond the high seat and get away from tidy and formal. We spun weoh bonds that we’d imbued with spells and prayers, and set up sacred space. We recreated our cosmos, or at least the lower half of it, with a ‘well’ to represent both the well of wyrd and the water the Dead must often cross between this world and the underworld. We also developed songs of various kinds; songs for pulling, songs for binding, songs for clearing, and songs of praise. Songs that would fill you with joy and songs that can make you feel as though something is walking over your grave. We found a place for those who couldn’t spin, because the drumming fuels our movements, our ecstasy, and we work to go deeper each time.
There is so much more that we haven’t explored yet and so many more possibilities to be integrated into our rites; such as extra magical steps in the preparation of the wool for Seiðr spinning, or the water with which you wash or wet your fingers with when spinning flax from a distaff. There are also ladders to be spun and woven, and an above world to look to as well.
Nowadays in witchcraft (and in other types of Seiðr group), it’s far more common to present a complete tradition, preferably one that’s been handed down in whatever way it has. I think because of this, we forget that most of us are *all* doing something relatively new, but again this is something we hide along with our fuck ups. As far as I know, myself and the people with whom I do spinning Seiðr are a minority out there. We have no lineages, no how-to books, and we’ll probably have our share of fuck ups too. I think it’s important to be honest about this, I think we do a huge disservice to those that come after us when we are not, and moreover, I think sometimes there is the trap of kidding oneself that what we have is the be all and end all of what there is. How can we get better at what we do if we cannot admit and learn from our mistakes? What has anyone ever really learned from a (fake) image of perfection?
For all the *newness* and experimental nature of this practice though, I *know* we’re on the right path. It’s not an objective knowing of course (when is it ever with this kind of thing?), but I *know* as surely as the air rushes back in when the weoh bonds come down.