The Agency of the Unseen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hi, I'm a tardigrade."

“Hi, I’m a tardigrade.”

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda like this, but BIGGER!

Kinda like this, but BIGGER!

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

Love and Magic

As anyone who’s the parent of a young child knows, it’s hard to get some alone time.

Society pressures us to not see it that way or feel like that, our children are supposed to5bfb6ee784bc1ab3e7d1fd5eefdd7671 be the centers of our respective worlds, our little treasures who never tire us or make us angry; friends of mine refer to this as ‘the cult of the child’. However, regardless of how much we love our children, we all *need* time to replenish ourselves, to do things that recharge the batteries we draw so deeply upon when dealing with the fifteenth tantrum of the day, or the horror of heavy-handed black crayon on carpet. Like the analogy of the parent putting their oxygen mask on before that of the child, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of them to the fullest of our abilities.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to have some time to engage in some of that glorious, glorious self-care, and after a particularly rough week, I leaped at it.

And let me tell you, an afternoon stroll by the river with friends followed by a gathering in the evening was just what the apothecary ordered.

And of course, between the stroll and the gathering, there was the near-obligatory trip to the local pagan store. I usually enjoy trips to this store, like most stores of its kind, it’s interesting to just sort of hang out in there and people-watch a little. They also have a decent selection of herbs and the oils I use to scent my house, which is handy. Most trips to the store though, for all the people-watching potential, pass without incident; but sometimes, sometimes you get that one person who wants you to help them with something even though you’re not staff.

On Saturday, it was a young woman who was looking to ‘draw’ a man closer to her.

Now I don’t touch love stuff and so I let the woman know I wasn’t going to get involved and walked off. However, my friend remained and valiantly tried to explain her ethical reasons for not getting involved. Any time I came into this young woman’s line of vision, she glared at me. From my friend’s exchange with the woman, I later found out that this young woman had had previous relations with the man in question, that they’d apparently moved too fast, that he’d gotten cold feet, and she’d decided to get with the witchcraft although she’s a Christian.

Knowing all of that in hindsight, I’m glad I ducked out when I did.

Putting aside the ginormous issue of attempting to mess with love for a second, those don’t seem to be the actions of someone who is particularly stable – at least not at this time. After all, this is a woman who belongs to a religion that condemns witchcraft and yet she went looking for witches in a Pagan shop – complete strangers – to try and get a man back as opposed to cutting her losses and trying to move on. That to me is insane, and if previous experience is anything to go by, getting involved in that is potentially inviting trouble for the future.

You see, when I was in college, I had a housemate who was really going through the mill with her boyfriend. Things seemed to be unraveling, she wasn’t sleeping much, and when she did her dreams were less than good. At one point, she asked me if I would do something of a more magical nature to help her, and I agreed to do some work to help bolster her rather than try and manipulate her love life. However, when I went to go into trance to ‘find her’ and do what I was planning, I found myself getting sucked into one of her dreams because as ‘luck’ would have it, I was working on one of the nights when she was actually sleeping.

Her dreams were pretty grim, lots of imagery about churches and brides discarding bouquets, my housemate crying, and a burgeoning distance between her and her boyfriend. I pulled myself out as soon as I could and resolved to be up front with her about it the next day.

When the next day came though, although she’d been the one to come to me for help, my (as it turned out) accurate description of her nightmare was a little too much for her, and by the time afternoon came, she’d fled back to her parents’ house. She wasn’t gone permanently though, but the suspicious glare and Catholic blessed metals were permanent. Months down the line, she and her boyfriend – a man who had become her fiancé shortly after the dream incident – were through.

As with our young woman from the store, there were two issues at play here: The desperate grasping to prevent an ending, each woman even going so far as to engage with something they believed to be sinful, and an appeal to somehow fuck with love so that it would go down more in their favor.

Doing things, even when asked, for someone who holds your craft in contempt is a fool’s work. At best, you can be mocked, and at worst, blamed for anything that happens as a result of any meddling. From what I’ve found, many people that ask these favors don’t really believe that what they’re asking is even possible, and when things happen that suggest that it is real, tend to become very scared and fall back on their religious beliefs. Sometimes things happen as a consequence of the stuff they try because of your advice, and again, you get the blame. Witches and magicians are very aware of the truth of the saying ‘the devil is in the detail’ when it comes to magic, but this is not something a person who is not involved in magic really keeps in mind. We know that words are important, and more so in ritual space. Most people do not. Most people grow up being told that ‘god will know what they really mean in their heart’ and so do not ever really consider the possibility that words badly woven while working magic can mean magic not doing what you want in the way that you want.  Either way though, this blame can lead to some pretty nasty social situations, and any altruistic intentions on the behalf of the practitioner are meaningless in the court of public opinion.

Secondly and most importantly, can we have a moment of time to discuss love and how goddamn powerful love is?

"Bah, the fucker ate all the chocolates already and here's me standing here for this photo like some kind of mug!"

“This heart is nice, but it really doesn’t make up for the giving me herpes thing.”

We live in a society that minimizes love, we say we LOVE certain music, we LOVE a type of cake, or even LOVE a color. Once a year, we have a tacky-ass holiday dedicated to paying lip-service to a shallow love of Hallmark cards and shitty little pink heart decorations.

But none of that is love though. Love is the force in a mother’s heart keeping her going as she pushes out a child, desperate to meet them for the first time. Love is the force that drives parents to put themselves between danger and their offspring. Love is what soothes and nurtures a child as they grow, it’s that look in your child’s eyes that feels like a benediction when they look at you. Love is the force that makes children give up on their hopes and dreams to take care of elderly parents, it’s the force that causes people to uproot their entire lives and move across the world to be with that one person. It’s the force that drives people to take bullets for those they love, to recover from the most incredibly awful injuries to stay with those they love, and to keep on going even though sickness makes life a misery. Love can make a person cling on to life though they barely have anything left, and follow a loved one to the grave.

Love, real love, is far from being easy or cheap. A million Hallmark cards with verses proclaiming to epitomize feelings and love cannot be but the barest drop in the ocean compared with any love felt by a human being.

And that’s why I won’t mess with love, that’s my biggest reason why I won’t help with that kind of magic actually. For love is as terrible as she is beautiful. Love sinks ships, causes armies to march, and can even bring down empires. Love is one of the most powerful forces on this earth, and who am *I* to stand in the face of that?

"We've got ya love right here, bitches!"  - Odysseus

“We’ve got ya love right here, bitches!”
– Odysseus

The Wandering vs the Rooted

A mess, but a mess containing food.

A mess, but a mess containing food.

The squash leaves are huge; big, hairy, plates of green that cover smaller plants indiscriminately. I go through them, uncovering patches of kale, collards, lambs quarters, and dandelion greens, picking off pests and checking for various eggs as I do. It’s dusk, and once again it’s just me, my garden, and my trusty green watering can.

When I first started my garden, my daughter ripped up almost all of the seedlings I’d so carefully started, and I’d despaired. All that time, all that money, and all that work had been destroyed in less than a minute by a determined toddler with a stick. After a few tears and talking to friends about growing seasons in my local area, I decided to start again and began to grow more seedlings – this time outside. Eventually they grew, as seedlings do, and I had enough to fill my two plots. I also had some surprises, for nature is nothing if not tenacious, and a toddler’s harsh stick work is nothing in the face of that.

My garden is doing well, unfortunately so are these guys.

My garden is doing well, unfortunately so are these guys.

When I first started a garden, I imagined beautiful rows of perfect vegetables that were unmolested by bugs and blight. These rows were tidy too, the kind of thing you might see in a gardening magazine. But fantasy and reality rarely match, and my garden became this wild pile of squash, tomatoes, jalapeños, various edible leaves, and an orchard orb spinner I like to call ‘Edwin’.

I move the leaves and wedge them around a little fence so the smaller plants can get some sun too, I water, and I harvest leaves for salad as I go. When I’m done, I invariably end up at the bottom of the garden near the wild patch I keep for the wights. Then stretching myself up, I take a deep breath and look around me at the plants, wooden fence, and forest behind our garden gate. I see the odd flare of a lightning bug in the trees above, and I can’t help but smile. I don’t think I’ll ever stop smiling at those things, not for any big or deep reason, but because we just didn’t have them where I grew up.

13531919_154203564989242_2038819015_nEverything feels so alive, there’s a buzz in the air, a rightness of place, and not for the first time I think to myself that this is what it must be like to put down roots somewhere.

And of course that’s what I’ve done. My travel shrines have become permanent and my idols unpacked for what I hope will be a good long while.

There’s a difference in magic and religion when you’re settled and rooted as opposed to nomadic and wandering where the wind takes you. As a nomadic witch, I would McGyver supplies a lot more, and I would take pains to make my tools and supplies much more innocuous to the casual viewer. Because when you’re an outsider to somewhere, you never know how locals are going to react to things like Witchcraft and Heathenism. I would still practice, of course I would, to be a witch is an active thing – you have to do witchcraft in order to be a witch, but it was different.

I would always begin by walking the local area over and over, taking into account the areas that felt ‘thin’/uneasy/friendly/active/dead and noting what grew where. The lavender that grew across from the supermarket and sphagnum moss I collected from under a tree that helped to heal a hornet’s sting; the wormwood growing out of a stone wall, its roots somehow clinging to the dirt between the rocks; the locations of various tree woods for amulets; the blackberries near the river that I ate one evening with cream – all came from my walks. As I trod the miles, my mind would become a catalogue of what grew where, where I could go to practice my craft, where to offer, and where to avoid.

But it’s different when you’re settled and own the land, both from a Heathen and a Witch perspective. From the moment you walk the boundaries with fire to take your land, you’re granted an agency in that place that you don’t have as a traveler. In your home, you get to create your cosmos, your inner-yard, your most holy of spaces instead of moving between the inner-yards of others and dodging the dangers of the outer-yard. You build reciprocal relationships with the wights in a way that you never did before, like the kind that neighbors make with neighbors who bought as opposed to those who rent. Wandering, liminal gods are joined by gods of ‘peace and good seasons’ in your hearth rites; and the magic you work is less because some scary ‘could kill you’ shit is going down, and more because your family needs a little extra help at times to continue thriving, or even simply just to keep your hand in.

There are times when I miss the outer-yard and being on the road. I think a part of me will always be that itchy-footed kid that wandered the moors as though the miles were food and moved countries at the drop of a hat. But as I stand each evening, stretching up at the bottom of my garden with my trusty green watering can in hand, I can’t help but feel and appreciate the sweetness of it all.

Home is best.