Witchcraft is Not Safe (Redux)

A Demon and a Palm Tree

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).

Redux

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.

Unweaving A War of Walls

Recognizing the War

We live in a time of walls. We always have of course, but there are periods of history in which those walls become more restrictive and in which newer walls are far too easily built. In an attempt to disprove the existence of these walls, the skeptic would point to the promise of the Constitution. “See, it’s all right here. There’s nothing to worry about.” Except there is, because often the most effective walls are those that aren’t enshrined by law but in culture instead.

That is a war that the less conservative among us have been failing at badly. Let’s face it, most non-conservativesmorgenrot-1585566_960_720 outside of minority groups didn’t even realize there was a war until relatively recently, even though more socially conservative groups have been fighting it for years.

The election was the dawning of a new era, because not only was it the beginning of what is looking to be a drastic change in direction for the United States, but because a good many people finally woke up to the war and saw the strength of the opposition.

Walls That Protect, Walls That Imprison

So we now find ourselves in a time of walls, but more accurately, in a time of walls that are beginning to encroach on the meagre areas we’d previously kept while believing ourselves to be free – ironic when one considers that our president-elect included a promise to build a wall in his election campaign promises.

But this post isn’t about those physical walls that are built, immigration law, or the election. There are plenty of places that are discussing all of the above ad nauseum and only adding more noise to the cacophonous furor that is social media. Besides, what would be the point of that on a magic blog?

This post is about walls from a magical perspective, the kinds of walls, their origins, and what we can do to tear them down in our own lives and practices.

Most walls are erected against the unknown dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the hearth. Since the beginning of human history, mankind has created enclosures around his dwellings in order to delineate ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’, and more importantly ‘safe’ from ‘potentially unsafe’. From this view, not all walls are bad. However, a wall can just as easily be employed for constraint as for protection, and that is the kind of wall I’m writing about here.

How A Foundation Was Built

'Lilith', by John Collier

‘Lilith’, by John Collier

In the beginning, after some clarting about, the Bible tells us that the Jewish god created a man by the name of ‘Adam’, and a woman by the name of ‘Eve’. The Alphabet of Ben Sira places Eve as Adam’s second wife, a kind of replacement for Lilith who, made of dirt as Adam was, refused to obey and become subservient to him. After all, why should she if they were made of the same materia magica? Lilith then left and refused all attempts to compel her to return to a life of drudgery with Adam.

To circumvent this with woman 2.0, Eve was created from a piece of Adam so that she would have no claim to equality. It would be her lot in life to obey. This would form the foundations of one of the first walls. However, that was not the only foundation found in the myth of utopian Eden. Eve, or indeed every woman she represents, would play a far more damaging role in the mythological history of humankind.

The Garden of Eden is described as a paradise in which its inhabitants neither wanted for anything, nor knew the kind of trouble that disturbs the mind. It is the perfect place created by a loving father god for his children, but with one significant catch: eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden.

When you pare down this myth, when you remove the language of paradise and lack of want, what you are left with is an enclosure of sorts that is inhabited by people who are kept naked, ignorant, and obedient. From this perspective, the Fall of Man looks more like a jailbreak from an unethical science experiment than the disastrous curse upon humanity that it is often presented as.

What of the serpent, though? It seems impossible to extricate the serpent from Eve adameveherself, the name ‘Eve’, or its Hebrew form ‘Hawwah’ being possibly related to the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’. Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes. Were it not for the serpent’s temptation, Eve would have never eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, nor would Adam, and mankind would still apparently be living it up in the garden of Eden.

Just ignorant and naked, with no right to one’s body or mind.

Since the Fall, women have been held to be the disobedient and destructive sex, our wombs and vaginas passageways to filth and depravity, and our only salvation to be found in obeying men. In other words, our salvation is to be found in becoming the property of and putting ourselves firmly under the control of men.

“In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. -Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, chapter 1

This is the foundation of one of the walls in our society, and a wall that for all of our advances in women’s rights, remains one of the strongest to this day. If anything, this wall is being rebuilt in the places where it was torn down, fortified, and new construction sites opened up. We see this in everything from the rise of MRAs, the increased attacks on reproductive freedoms, to the renewed popularity of the insult ‘cuck’ (a word deriving from ‘cuckold’ meaning ‘husband of an adulteress’, in other words, a man who was not able to control his woman – his property – well enough to prevent her from disobeying). On more subtle levels, we may even see the maintenance of and reinforcement of this wall in the censure of opinionated women in communities that might otherwise extol their own perceived egalitarian nature.

This is not the only wall either, I’m sure we could all think of more walls in our lives. Walls that affect how we see and deal with people of color, walls that affect how people of color must move in the world in order to do so with less harassment, walls that mandate that only one kind of sexual relationship is valid, walls that enforce gender binaries that harm people who simply just don’t fit in those boxes…well, you get the idea.

And all the while, we’re told that without those walls there would be chaos, anarchy, the destruction of order. The people of color will want revenge will come and get you without that thin blue line. Men won’t be able to control women and will end up in some 70s B-movie scenario in which men are enclosed in the same walls women are now. The gays will gay up your kids and people will invent new genders. People will marry outside their own cultures, no one will be able to say “Merry Christmas”, and it will probably also rain. We need the wall, the katechon, that which holds back all of those things they’ve taught you to fear.

Look at the media today, how much of it is focused on emphasizing the things that must be held back? How much of it justifies all those barrier construction projects? We need to do better than we are at recognizing it all, at taking a deep breath and deciding what to listen to and what to ignore. How many of our friends are complicit in this on social media? How many have swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker? The first step for all of us is recognizing where the lines are drawn in our outer lives.

But this would not be a magic blog were I only to speak of the outer and political. Here is a place to discuss the inner too.

Or more specifically, once more the realm of dream.

The War on Dream

“Dream, I will argue, is made. The metaphor that first needs to be grasped is one that bears repeating, that of a war on dreaming. The decisive action here is the one embarked upon by John of Patmos, another exile bound to a far flung isle. His was a deliberate action which set out to not merely loose chimeras in the garden of the mind, but to bar the gates of dream itself. So this is where we decant our vitriol and dissolve the locks that John applied, which State and church imposed. This is by no means the end of the process, but the point at which we choose to begin.” – Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey

Dream is a special state of being, one we tend to think of as a place of infinite possibilitiesberlin-840174_960_720 in which we may do or experience any number of things that we cannot during waking life. However, from the work of scholars like Lisa Bitel and Jacques LeGoff, we know that our inner dreamscapes are in all likelihood artificially limited. That there are walls there. These are not walls that we can necessarily see from within dream for ourselves – after all, how can we know about the walls if they were set there long before we ourselves even had a chance to dream? However, there is a paper trail that can be followed that shows how clerics attempted to control dreamers and restrict the dreams themselves.

If that very idea doesn’t make you angry, I don’t know that anything can be done for you.

It wasn’t enough to control the waking world, they had to try and find ways to control and restrict the dreaming world too. Dreams came to be labelled as ‘devilish illusion’, and true dreams the sole domain of an elite of saints and Christian kings. Oneiric diversity withered, and the dreams of the common man evaporated from record like the dream that flees upon waking. Nowadays, a medium through which one might have previously entered into the Otherworld of one’s cultural and physical landscape stands weakened by ridicule, pop-psychology, and petty dream dictionaries that tell you nothing.

But we need to be able to dream, and we need to be able to dream fully, because it is through dream that we have some of our most effective communications with the Other. Without that, we will never fully pull down the walls of Christian worldview in our minds, or have those better ideas for new ways of doing things that our world so desperately needs.

The Fight

When I first started to perform the Stele of Jeu ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), it was, like for many others who begin this work, initially for the purpose of attaining the knowledge and conversation of a ‘holy guardian angel’ (in my case, more a daimon in the Greek sense). However, the more I performed it, the more I noticed that it was far more important than that. The Stele of Jeu is a freeing ritual, a ritual of unbinding and empowerment. It’s a ritual that tears down walls.

“Holy Headless One, deliver me from all restraining daimons and misfortune”

In Chaos Protocols, Gordon White observes that “One thing I will say with every confidence is that your dreams will certainly get a lot more interesting” as a result of performing the ritual, and I’ve found this to absolutely be the case. My dreams are now far deeper and coherent. They feel far less random and more like I am dealing with other intelligences and indeed, another world.

Yet it does not seem to be an effect that lasts perpetually. There is a drop-off in dreaming quality if I do not perform the rite on a regular basis. My dreams become shallow once more, punctuated only by the rare shining gem of a dream that happens to break through the morass of whatever unseen effects are at work in dream. The wall is resurrected once more and must be torn down anew in order to continue.

A Hidden Front In Plain Sight

We are very mistaken if we think there isn’t some kind of metaphysical war aspect to all of this too. How many of you have ever heard of Christian ‘prayer warriors’? Have you ever read their prayers, or what should more accurately be called spells? Just because they are addressed to the Judeo-Christian god or Jesus does not mean that they aren’t spells; the Grimoires are full of spells with similar language. What of the pope’s decree that Catholics only now store the ashes of their dead in special church-approved places? The dead are mighty, and such a place might be viewed as a source of power for a church that historically hasn’t been exactly shy about using its own magic. And what of the power of meme? We don’t often think of meme as being a potentially magical thing, but when you think about the ways in which memes are similar to sigils in Chaos magic, then they take on another aspect.

“Does not matter, need not be.”

How many of us see a meme, invest emotion into it (usually anger or amusement), and then either scroll on or engage with the discussion around the meme before scrolling on? At least sigil magic is done with intent. See, it is really that nefarious.

There is much to be unwoven here, a lot of unnecessary things that need to be paredberlin-1250861_960_720 away, and walls to be torn down both in our outer and inner lives. Becoming aware of those walls, and how they are built is only the first step. The next step is working consciously to bring them down through deliberate action, but we can only do that if we first free ourselves, and most importantly our inner worlds. Lastly, we need to counter the magic that enslaves dream and mind, finding ways to appeal to the hearts and minds of others – the Berlin wall was not torn down by the hands of a few, but by many. If there is anything this past election should have taught us, it’s that haughty cold logic and the mere presentation of that which holds back all that is bad is not enough. We need symbols and messages that appeal to not only minds, but hearts and souls too.

There’s a war on, it’s about time we fought back.