Witchcraft is not Safe (and nor should it be!)

Witchcraft is not Safe (and nor should it be!)

So there was this one time, when I was fleeing down a dark path with two friends. More specifically, we were running from a burial mound where we’d been since before sunset. One of my friends was experienced in the occult and the other, not so much. I was probably somewhere in between at that point. It was dark and it was scary, and the sound of footfalls following us on the path behind us as we moved was nothing short of unnerving.

Or at least it would have been had I not already crossed from ‘terrified’ into ‘pissed off’.

We made our way as carefully and as fast as we could down this old rocky path, trying to get to the car parked at the road, my terrified friend’s arm interlinked with mine as she talked about how she’d never experienced anything like that before and how it had been a wakeup call for her.

It had started off well, we’d arrived before the sun went down and made offerings before heading inside the mound. Carefully lighting tealights in places where they wouldn’t cause any scorchmarks or other damage, we made our offering of ‘silver’ to Weyland as is customary at that site, and got down to work. We tranced and we called, sung invocations and drummed, we enticed, and eventually the spirits paid attention.

There’s that adage that a person should be careful what they wish for, and that’s usually the kind of response this story gets. Usually from the kind of people who’ve never done anything that didn’t involve pushing back the sofa and doing whatever they do. But let’s face it, if we weren’t the kinds of people to wish for *more*, then we probably wouldn’t be doing witchcraft in the first place.

To cut a long story short, things got dangerous in every way imaginable, and I really wasn’t up for being stuck in a burial mound with a half-possessed person sitting blocking the doorway and everything shifting. You see, there comes a point in a mound sitting, at least in my experience, when everything shifts, when you’re not longer in a burial mound per se, but you are definitely ‘on their turf’. I mean, it’s their turf anyway, but it’s kind of like the difference between visiting the embassy of a country and being in that country.

So we ended up fleeing as fast as we could down a rocky path without breaking any bones until we reached the car and it became clear that the troublesome one from the mound had no intention of not following us. One friend was thrown back as he tried to put stang mark in dirt, and my other friend – the scared one – lacked the level of conviction at that point to make any magic work, let alone the kind needed on the hoof against something not-so-friendly. Her faith had simply been shaken too badly by what had happened. There was a time when she would have probably shared that meme about exorcism via banging pans and telling things to fuck off that goes around Facebook, but now she knows better.

You see, when you get out there, when you leave the comfort of your home and go to places that are dark and old and maybe even inhabited by the Unseen, you tend to come across things that are really not impressed by someone banging pans and yelling “Fuck off!”

In the end, it was my anger that put an end to it following us, that beat of adrenaline and high emotion channeled that so often makes for effective witchcraft.

Whenever I tell this story, I tend to get a number of reactions – most of them about ‘safety’ and comments of ‘ineptitude’ by people who have quite frankly never been there or to anywhere like there.
You see, modern witchcraft has an issue – well, it has several – but one of the greatest is that so much emphasis has been put on making it ‘safe’ that many are simply not recognizing the usefulness of fear to a witch, or indeed, what a great teacher it is.

There are dangers that can and should be mitigated when going abroad into the dark and in search of the hidden. Practical measures such as letting someone know where you’re going and how long you should be, having some form of self-defense at your disposal, packing for the elements, carrying adequate survival supplies and a phone – these are all good things.

As is carrying things like salt, hagstones, iron (if your stang isn’t already ‘shod’), and offerings of appeasement. Knowing how to use these things and employ other forms of magical protection is a must, as is knowing the etiquette of dealing with the Other in your area – folk tales are how you learn this.

There are things you can and should mitigate, but witchcraft will never be, nor never should be ‘safe’, and nor should we seek to make it so.

Witchcraft is also not glamorous and sanitized, it’s pissing into bottles full of nails and glass and accidentally getting some on your fingers; it’s blood and bone, it’s using things you’ve come across (or that have come across you); it’s making deals with things you’d damn well better keep an eye on and have a backup plan for; it’s often the mother of cuts and scrapes earned during pitch black hikes with entheogens pumping through your system; it’s not mass-produced and packaged for convenience.

It’s not bland.

I don’t know when ‘fear’ became considered a bad thing in witchcraft, or when danger became considered a failing rather than one of the ‘occupational hazards’ of the witch, but I think it has been very much to the detriment of the Craft.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been when my back has been to the wall and I’ve swallowed down the fear and worked with the kind of desperation that you never get when dealing with the ‘safe’. At the mound, I learned to change that fear into white-hot rage to work against something dangerous – something which has saved my ass numerous times since. At the mound, my friend learned that things weren’t as safe as she’d previously believed and that magic is much more than simply saying words and performing actions. Those are some very deep lessons, and lessons that none of us would have learned had we not gone out there into the night and in search of the potentially dangerous.

Fear can be a teacher, it’s not something to be avoided but a test to pass. Sometimes passing that test is getting away hale and whole and having a new tool in your skillset for the future. Other times, passing that test leads you to some of the greatest highs of your life.

But you cannot pass if you never sit the test, and you can never sit the test unless you leave the safe and sanitized behind.

Why a Heathen seer does not and can not see ‘The Future’

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Oluf Olufson Bagge’s Yggdrasil

Once upon a time, there was a great Ash – some say Yew, and depending on which culture is talking about this tree, some even say Oak or Birch. It doesn’t matter though, because whether you call it Yggdrasil or Bile, it’s the same tree, the ‘world tree’. Vast beyond imagining, with roots that grow deep into the depths of the Below World and beyond, and branches that grow high into the Above World and beyond, it stands. Proud and strong even as wyrmas gnaw at its roots and deer graze upon its leaves. We live in what might be called the ‘Around World’, but some call it Middle-Earth, or Midgarð. I don’t like to get into names of worlds though, because when you get into names, then you get into counting them, and that’s where things get controversial. I like to keep things simple and I like the number three, so I’m going to talk about the ‘Below World’, the ‘Above World’, and the ‘Around World’, any differentiation within those worlds are just countries…yeah, that’s what they are, just countries. But the point is, the tree is everything, and everything inhabits the worlds that are on the tree.

In spite of the gnawing and munching, things aren’t entirely miserable for the tree, the tree has help in the form of three women that keep it wet with ‘white water’. But that’s not their entire function (thankfully). Eternity would be awfully boring if all you had to do was water a tree.

No, these ladies are special, and moreover, it’s because of them that a Heathen seer does not and cannot ‘see’ the future.

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Ludwig Pietsch’s Nornir

The first thing to know about these ladies is that they have names, of course they have names, and like many old names, they give us a clue about what these ladies did or the forces they may represent. They might not even be their ‘real’ names, the ancient and sacred often hides behind kennings, but the names they have serve us just fine. The second thing to know is that time and happening don’t work for them in the same way that it does for us, chronology takes a back seat to context. Lastly, because of this, the third thing to know is that they’re not in any ‘order’ that we would recognise. In other words, they aren’t working on some assembly line of ‘fate’.

It’s not even really ‘fate’ that they do either. Fate implies a set future that is not one of many possible futures but a ‘The Future’. There is no fate for us, there is simply ‘what was’, ‘what is’, and ‘what is owed’. Moreover, because the layers we lay down aren’t only laid down by us, but our ancestors and those we interact with too, then unless we live our lives in bubbles, there is no way to lay layers without ‘our’ layers interacting with the layers of others, whether we realise that at the time or not. Just as the tree holds all, wyrd’s well holds more than just our own personal wyrds.

But back to the ladies…Collectively known as ‘Nornir’ in Old Norse and ‘Wyrdae’ in Old English, the ‘first’ of the three is ‘Urðr’, or ‘Wyrd’, she is that what was, that which is set down layer by layer, and her partner is ‘Verðandi’, or ‘becoming’, in other words, ‘what is’.

Together they are bound in a constant interaction in which Urðr is the past and Verðandi the present continuous. ‘What was’, and ‘what is becoming’. ‘What is now’ lays down the future layers of ‘what was’, and the layers of ‘what was’ often lead to the creation of the ‘what is’ – but not always. You see, sometimes the ‘weird’ in our lives, the things we cannot explain given current circumstances (be those things good or bad) are often the product of ‘what was’ affecting ‘what is’. We rightfully call these things ‘weird’ in English, but most of us have forgotten the root of this word, that once it was Wyrd, and that Wyrd belonged in a well in which context rather than chronology has the most meaning.

Standing a little off on her own is ‘Skuld’, or as I will call her here, ‘what is owed’, and for the most part that’s where she stays. However, she may also be a Valkyrie, so the perception by some that she’s linked to death is not unfounded. In my experience, you also very rarely see her at work, most rough times that people have are down to wyrd, to the layers they set down in the past.

Whether these three ladies are personifications of forces as intrinsic to natural laws as gravity, or distinct beings that actually exist to manipulate these forces is not clear. The image of the Nornir gathered around wyrd’s well though, is stirring to say the least, and whether you choose to ‘journey’ to the well to look within to peel back the layers on your client, replicate the waters by use of skrying bowl or mirror, or pester various unseen beings for answers, as Heathens we have to be clear on what is actually being done.

For the most part, when a person approaches with a question, what he or she is really doing is asking the seer to take a look at ‘what was’ and ‘what is now’ in a targeted way, and then with wisdom, construct the ‘most likely outcome’ for the questioner if there are no attempts to change course.

But with this in mind, how is a seer still a seer?

ruinsOften, when we are in a situation, it’s hard to see all the angles because we’re too close to it, or we’re protecting ourselves emotionally from coming to the conclusions we really need to come to. Moreover, while a seer cannot see a set future (because there is no such thing – at least not in the sense that is usually meant), he or she can see the layers of both ourselves, our ancestors, and other involved parties, and see factors hidden to the querent at the time of questioning. A good seer can then identify the layers in the querent’s past that continue to be problematic in the becoming, and counsel the querent on how to change that pattern that the future becoming might be better. Of course, we can all question and explore the layers of another in order to help them create better layers, but one way to think of a seer for ease of differentiation, is as a person with the facility to perceive wyrd (or the ability to question the unseen about ‘what was’ and ‘what is’).

In some ways, modern science is even coming to reinforce these ideas. Recent research in DNA has shown that we can not only inherit the health of our ancestors, but their phobias too. Entire disciplines in counselling rely on the idea that one must explore the client’s past and work with changing their current behaviour and perceptions in order to create a better future for the client. We are counselled that you can make new habits by doing them at least twenty-one times, in other words, by laying new layers to begin the process of offsetting Wyrd, and evolution teaches us that we are related to every single living thing on this planet.

But regardless of whether you’re looking for more scientifically or ‘magically’ based wyrd-counselling, as always, it’s important to choose your counsel well.

High Seat – Introduction (Excerpted from ‘Out of the Waters Beneath the Tree’)

“I’d never seen a high seat before. Well, not a high seat for the purposes of Hrafnar-style Seiðr at least. My own preference is always to use my mother-in-law’s rocking chair in the privacy of my own home, but I was here to view how *they* did things. Those people that I’d heard and read plenty about over the years. By dimmed lights and with the wind howling outside, we huddled in our chairs. Around the edges of the audience were stood four people to ward and watch over both the audience and seers with one of their number carrying a horn that I would later learn was filled with water. Before us, initially seated at either side of the high seat were the seeresses that would eventually take the seat. In that darkened room that would one day become a hall, the seat stood out, a cultic object in its own right, as though all the previous usage had imbued it with its own energy and sense of presence. Bauschatz’s proverbial ‘space as container for action’.

The rite began with purification, in which we were asperged with water and then a sacred space set up enveloping all. The mood was expectant, the ritual cues already working as intended on a community that was already well accustomed to the rite. Songs were sung, songs that were mostly hypnotic in nature; repetitive, utilizing scales usually associated with altered states. The whole thing was a well-constructed psychodrama, designed to induce an altered state in both seers and audience, and unashamedly so. Indeed, the guest seeress and originator of the rite, Diana Paxson is very clear on this matter in her book ‘The Way of the Oracle’ in which she details the entire process, research and reasoning behind it.

Eventually, the final induction (at least for the audience) took place, and they were led through visualization to the gates of Hel. Wanting to remain the objective observer and not wishing to break a deeply held pregnancy taboo, I stayed behind even though the atmosphere and psychodrama called me to join them. A member of the audience went a little too deep, falling a little from his chair, to be helped up and talked back a little by the warders. The wind outside grew, and I watched as the seeress was veiled and completed her induction to trance.

In many ways, it was like a lot of the scéances I’d been to in the past, audience members stood up and asked their questions in the same way you would a medium, and were likewise answered. Sometimes in the form of a rhyme, and sometimes in the voice of those they would ask on the other side. As with other scéances, some questioners would cry, and some would be confused.

For me though, throughout the rite there was but one thought running through my mind, “I had come full circle”.

And it was strangely apt that this is where I would begin.”

When I first came across the word ‘Seiðr’, it was on a Geocities site in the late nineties. You know the kind, the sites with the obligatory black background common to most sites of a more ‘occult’ nature, ‘gold’ or purple text, and icons that spun and followed you as you scrolled down the page; the kind of site that would be laughed at nowadays but that we all felt very clever back then for being able to ‘build’.

There wasn’t a whole lot of *real* information on that early website that I found, if anything it made it sound like Seiðr was a form of Dungeons and Dragons that you ‘play’ in your own head, and some detractors might say that sounds pretty accurate. In true nineties style though, I copied that ‘information’ into notebooks, and every now and again on visits home to my parents, have myself a good laugh while reading through the various ‘instructions’ given for Seiðr. My favourite being to ‘push an Elhaz rune’ at any ‘dark elves’ that get in your way while ‘journeying’.

I even tried that journeying thing and found it rather easy – I’ve always had a brilliant imagination, always had lucid dreams, and I’ve always visualized stories in my head. But the lack of usefulness bothered me. After all, what was the point in going on these mental journeys and ‘fighting’ those pesky ‘dark elves’ other than it being a form of mental masturbation? What value would that have had to a community, and on the flip side of that, why would a community have found the practice of such a thing to be ‘threatening’?

Unfortunately the real world got in the way, as it often does, and during my various moves between England and France, an internet connection became a rare thing. Eventually though, in a more settled period, I found the Hrafnar Seiðr website and unlike the initial websites I’d seen, it talked of a group of people that not only did something that could conceivably be of use to a community, but looked to primary sources for inspiration.

And sure, although I now disagree with their interpretation of those sources, it doesn’t change the fact that their site, with its account of the High Seat rite such as the one described at the beginning of this introduction, was a welcome find at the time. Both excited and curious, I experimented with this method, and longed for the day when I would meet a community that had people that did things like taking the high seat to see for ‘the people’. And although the idea of finding such a community seemed so very far away for a girl in a backwoods town in Northern England, I got a drum and trained myself to use the beat to enter trance state anyway. Over time, I tried to deal with concepts such as the ‘soul complex’ and practiced ‘journeying’ with the aim of increasing both my concentration and clarity of vision. But the more I did, and the more I researched, the more it all came to feel ‘empty’ to me. Eventually, it felt so contradictory to other aspects of the pre-Christian worldview I’d read about, that I didn’t feel it logical that Seiðr would have existed in this fashion. The magical practices of a culture, while for the most part a kind of taboo in a lot of societies, don’t exist in some kind of cultural vacuum separate from the mainstream culture of a society. There may be subcultures centred around those practices, but generally speaking, it would be fair to say that the people making up those subcultures are still imbued with the worldview of their native culture. In settings where a set of beliefs is so diametrically opposed to the culture a person is raised in, then extreme measures often need to be employed in order to transform those beliefs. A great example of this is the brainwashing that modern day religious cults engage in. Another excellent example of this is that of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Italy, in which participants (albeit willing), took hefty amounts of narcotics and participated in acts in order to ‘free themselves’ from their previous societal values. In both examples, mental illness came/comes as a consequence for some, and as I see little evidence that Seiðrworkers were thought to be outright mad, I have to conclude that there wasn’t any major paradigm shift involved in terms of culture.

In trying to find a Seiðr that wouldn’t have required a major paradigm shift of its practitioners, I tried many things on for size as I researched. I toyed with a non-dualist worldview but came to no longer care what happens after death (I figure I’ll find out when I get there, but hope my family and loved ones are involved somehow). I stopped trying to quantify the soul, or make neat little schemata to convince people, mostly because I only ever bother with two parts when I work anyway. And as time went on, I gave up caring about how many ‘worlds’ there are on Yggdrasil. We don’t have any evidence that living human Seiðrworkers, children of what might be termed a ‘world-accepting’ culture operated anywhere but this beautiful Middle-Earth anyway. At some point, Norse-focused Heathenism gave way to an Anglo Saxon/Continental Germanic focus, and so while I may use the word ‘Seiðr’ in this book (mostly because more people recognize it than they do cognate terms like ‘Sīdsa’, or ‘Aelfsīden’), a lot of the other terminology and worldview I use and have reflects this.

Perhaps a better way to explain how I feel about Seiðr, would be if you were to imagine yourself standing on the surface of the moon, looking across to the earth with its vast blue seas, sprawling continents, and ever-moving white clouds. Now imagine that you’d arrived at that place from a distant world, and that on your way into this system, you’d come across a rickety object floating through the lonely void of space, the orphan of an unknown place that was cast out to wander the stars. Of course, it had made you curious, and so you’d taken it on board and studied it. Peeling back the hard exterior, constructed of a material you couldn’t identify, you’d found a most glorious treasure; some disk-like objects, and what you had assumed to be a device of some kind. At first, you’d faltered, not quite understanding that the disk-shaped objects were to go into the device, and had almost written the whole thing off as just being mysterious space junk. But then, quite by accident, you’d placed one of those disks into a long slit-like aperture at the front of the device, and stood amazed as the crude technology had sputtered to life sending images of an alien world and people dancing across the walls of your ship. For a while, you’d lingered with the disks, floating in the black seas of space, letting them teach you about a people you’d never heard of before. Among these images were things were crude star maps, maps that you could follow, and so you’d decided to seek out this place the disks called ‘earth’.

Now you’re orbiting a satellite referred to in the disks as ‘the moon’, looking out at the next step of your journey. At this point, you probably think you have quite a good grasp of what this planet is about, after all, those disks had purported to depict life on earth.

It looks so beautiful, so blue, and so you take that next step, you take that closer look. ‘North America’ was the place most mentioned in the disks, and so you decide to start there. But as you travel, you come to realize that as you travel, things are increasingly different from what you had learned so far, and that’s when it hits – that what you knew wasn’t truly representative. There is differentiation, the east isn’t the same as the west, isn’t the same as the north etc. It’s annoying and confusing, but although it’s harder, it’s far more satisfying. You know this isn’t the only continent, after all, you’ve seen them all from space, so you decide to look to the other cultures of the earth and find yet more differentiation – not everything is as uniform as it initially seemed. Some places are more interesting to you and you decide to look closer and find subculture upon subculture. You think of the records you found in that poor rickety aimless satellite, recording only one aspect of that ‘North America’, and while you feel angry – duped- in some ways, there’s a part of you that feels sad. The information about that one aspect of ‘North America’ isn’t bad, or intentionally misleading, indeed, it was put together with the best of intentions, representing reality for one group of people as opposed to a plurality, but all the same, you’re very glad you made the extra journey and part of you really hopes that there will someday be many satellites for other would-be visitors.

You’re probably wondering what the hell any of that has to do with Seiðr. That poor rickety Geocities site that I spoke of earlier was my Voyager, and my process of trying to figure out how to work it to get the information is perhaps analogous to my search that led me to the Hrafnar site; which became the ‘disks’ that spurred me on to research further.

To put it simply, this book is my ‘golden record’, the stories of my experiences, the conclusions I’ve come to over the years, how I work, and the research I’ve done.

I hope for dialogue, I hope for many more ‘golden records’ out there, and I hope for experimentation, but I really hope that more people take up spinning.

”High Seat – Introduction’ excerpted from ‘Out of the Waters Beneath the Tree: A New Approach to Reconstructing Seidr’. COMING SOON!

For more information regarding ‘Out of the Waters Beneath the Tree: A New Approach to Reconstructing Seidr’, or if you’re interested in publishing my book, contact me at seo.helrune@gmail.com

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