A Witch That Cannot Hex Cannot Heal Pt 2

In the first part of this two-part series on hexing and healing, I wrote about my views on hexing. Now it’s time to look at the opposite end of that spectrum, and the ‘why’ behind the adage that a ‘witch that cannot hex cannot heal’.

One of the things that has always struck me about mainstream Pagan or Witch views is that while cursing is often disparaged, healing is not. Countless words have been written about the dangers of cursing from both spiritual and material perspectives, and yet little has been written about the dangers of healing.

If anything, we encourage people to participate in healing rites regardless of how well trained they are, and view them as being almost harmless. However, I would argue that healing can be a more dangerous activity to the healer – depending of course on how it’s done.

A Family Heritage Of Sorts

As I’ve mentioned about fifty billion times before, I come from a family of Spiritualists – mostly Spiritualist healers – and if there’s one thing I’ve seen from those who do a lot of healing, it’s that they often suffer from a lot of sickness themselves.  I can even name family members who I believe wound up in an early grave because of their involvement in healing practices.

My dad once explained that when it comes to healing, he takes on what they have. I’ve had more people than I can count approach me to tell me about how my dad was talking to them, began wincing, described something they hadn’t mentioned, and then healed them of that pain. These people were often people we didn’t really know too – one woman was a stall-holder at the local market who sold rugs!

Looking at my family’s Spiritualist background, it’s all too easy to turn around and say that that’s something that happens to Spiritualists, and that they’re obviously doing x, y, and z wrong. After all, what else could my father expect if he takes on what others have? And yet, I’ve never seen it be an intentional thing for my father – more like something that is triggered when he comes into contact with the sick.

I also have a friend who is a professional healer. Unlike my father, he’s trained in multiple healing traditions, has years of experience, and yet healing can make him sick if he’s not careful. Sometimes it’s the expenditure of energy, but sometimes, a healer cannot help but have to go and encounter that which is causing the sickness in the first place – especially when working within an animist paradigm.

The point of this though, is that both cursing and healing are potentially dangerous to those who do them. They’re also opposite ends of the same continuum.

Introducing ‘Hælu’

I think a lot of people have a sense of this continuum if not the words and historical evidence. However, there are words and there is evidence for both.

We find our first word in the Old English word ‘Hælu’. It’s a lovely word, the Old English word from which we get our modern word ‘hale’, as in ‘hale and hearty’. But unlike the modern version of the word, the meanings of hælu were much ‘wider’ in scope. To quote Stephen Pollington from p453 of Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore and Healing:

“The quality which keeps a person well is called in Old English, ‘hælu’, which can be translated as ‘health’ or ‘wholeness’, although this is slightly misleading. ‘hælu’ is a derivative of the adjective ‘hal’ which survives into modern times as the words ‘whole’ and ‘hale'; it implies good fortune, prosperity, good health, general benefit and well-being (and in Christian times, salvation). From it are derived also the verb ‘ hælan’ (make whole), our word ‘heal’ and another adjective ‘halig’ (holy) with the sense ‘blessed’, ‘fortunate’, ‘favoured by the gods’. The reverse of ‘ hælu’ is ‘unhælu’ which is a kind of ‘negative health'; to have ‘unhælu’ is both to lack the positive quality of health and to have the negative ‘unhealth’, disease, illness, misfortune.”[1]

As you can see from the above description, physical health was connected with what we would today consider completely unrelated matters, like ‘good fortune’, and ‘prosperity’. By extension it’s also connected with words that refer to a state of being ‘blessed’, or ‘favored by the gods’. The fact that those seemingly disparate concepts are all able to be expressed by one word suggests that at one point they were considered to be all part and parcel of the same thing – a quality inherent to a person.

To restore this quality (by whatever means) is to heal, to take this quality is to curse. This is why ill health often plagues those who are cursed and can even be one of the signs that a person has been cursed (if other signs are also observed concurrently). To manipulate this quality in any way without knowing what you’re doing is dangerous, and to manipulate this quality in any way while sick is eventually deadly.

Never So Simple A Story

But even then, the lines between healing and cursing were not so clear cut. Sometimes you had to curse an illness or growth in order to heal the person as in charm number 162 of the Lacnunga (a book of Old English magico-medical cures). In this charm, which is believed to cure cysts, we are given a story about the ‘nine sisters of noðþ’. Who this ‘noðþ’ is beyond an anthropomorphic representation of the medical complaint is not important (which is good, because we don’t know anyway). What is important is that the charm essentially counts them out of existence, in other words, this is a form of curse.

‘…then the nine became eight, and the eight to seven, and the seven to six, and the six to five, and the five to four, and the four to three, and the three to two and the two to one, and the one to none’

Bye Felicia.

Remember those pesky elves and their shot from the last post?

Well, we also see cures for all manner of ‘elf’ ailments in the Leechbooks too. Some of these can be traced to actual physical diseases, however others may refer to elfshot (curses) by witches, and other elf-related afflictions (which were, with the exception of some identifiable ailments, normally related to pains of the torso or mental ailments producing delusions). And elves weren’t just connected with cursing either – the right offering to the elves could hasten the healing of a loved one or friend as in Chapter 22 of The Saga of Cormac the Skald.

Again, my point here is that these things are not so clear cut, and that by viewing cursing and healing as some kind of ‘good vs evil’ dichotomy, we’re not only missing the point, but potentially endangering would-be healers by not acknowledging the danger inherent in being a healer, nor the necessity of training and aftercare. Because at the end of the day, healers work far more intimately and generally for far longer periods of time with their patients and the ailments they bring than most people ever do with curses.

So if anyone is going to get the metaphorical sticky turd on them, it’s the healers. It’s about time we respected that and stopped encouraging every one and their mother to have a go like it’s some harmless thing anyone can do without consequence.

[1]    Pollington, S. (2000). Appendix 3 Causes of Disease. In Leechcraft: Early English charms, plant lore, and healing (p. 453). Norfolk, England: Anglo-Saxon Books.

Why Witches Who Curse Aren’t Really Witches

So, the apocalypse has come and sundry magic workers are throwing more curses than an episode of American Dad throws shade. There was that one that was supposed to be written by some anonymous person in some super seekrit magical order that got passed around the internet faster than herpes at an orgy. It was problematic – for many reasons (see my rant on my FB page for details).

But worse than that, it was wrong.

Naughty, bad, wrong.

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

poppet - curse

This is just as addictive as crack. #NeverOnceTheHexCrack

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

tablet weaving curse

Viking age hex addicts…morons.

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 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 vil 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

Nidstang-curse

See, nasty. Here’s a dead horse on a stick pointed at the house of whoever they hate. Nasty.

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?!

shoe - curse

More nastiness. A shoe filled with wax and a dead bird. This is what hex addiction does.

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?

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.

Deciphering the Alien Views of the Unseen

This past fortnight seems to have been a time for confronting and dealing with what may seem to each of us to be ‘alien views’. But I don’t want to get into the politics of that here, because that conversation is dominating the discourse pretty much everywhere else.

No, I want to go in a different direction with this post. Instead, I want to talk once more about agency, patterns, and if it is truly possible to understand that ‘alien’, non-human logic of the Unseen.

It all started with a conversation on Facebook (where else?) this morning, with a young man who thought there was nothing wrong with putting on a Native American war bonnet while in the ‘wilderness’ and invoking the energies of a Native American chief. (This is a young man who is from and still lives in the UK, I might add.)

I have to admit, the idea of that – all of it – is just so wrong to me for so many reasons. I can’t even understand the thought process behind it or what this man would hope to even gain from doing so, let alone the amount of false entitlement involved in the use of a war bonnet and expectation that the spirit of a Native American chief would just show up for a person in a completely foreign geographical area.

The conversation went on for a while, but along the way, we got back to the question of agency and spirits of land again. (Ah, that old chestnut!) So here I am, writing another post on the Unseen and agency, only with a little twist.

I’ve talked about the land being like an onion before: this idea that land from a more ‘spiritual’ perspective is made up of many layers comprised of the traditions, beliefs, actions, and magical practices of each people that has ever dwelled upon it. Of course, Magus Unseenthis onion also affects the kinds of Unseen that might be there: the types of Unseen, their attitudes towards humans, how they expect interactions to look, the pacts that were made between humans and Unseen in years past, and the kinds of offerings they like. Sometimes these layers are things that you might expect. After all, who doesn’t expect Native American layers, and other layers made up of mostly Christianity in America? But even in America, there are also often layers that are far less expected – like the layer of occultism derived from Francis Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ that permeated the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism (Horowitz, 23), or the Freemason connections that a good number of the founders held.  And regarding that first American religion, I can’t help but feel it significant in some way that its founder and first American prophet not only participated in the occult for years and scryed a holy book from a shew stone, but met his death by mob while allegedly wearing an incorrectly engraved Jupiter talisman.  (Quinn 1998). Let that sink in for a moment. America may have layers of Native American religions and crosses, but she also has layers of sigils and magic – even among the saints. (As an aside, there’s a book I really want to pick up at some point called Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People that apparently attempts to track the plurality of religious expression, magic, and sacralization of the land in pre-revolutionary America.)

Jupiter Unseen

The alleged Jupiter talisman of Joseph Smith.

But that’s not the end of it.  Now imagine that onion has a pattern running through it. Something scored on each layer that has built up into a larger and more coherent pattern over time.

For those of you that bought my book (thankyouthankyouthankyou), you may recall the essay called Sources of Power, Layers of Action and the explanation of how what we do now affects what we have to work with in the future. For those of you that didn’t, a Cliff Notes version of that would be to say that every action a person undertakes sets down a ‘layer’ for that person that goes into a kind of universal store of events and that the accumulation of those ‘layers’ over time, affects what you have to work with in life. In other words, it all builds a pattern, but more about that later.

In ‘The Well and the Tree’, Paul Bauschatz wrote that “For the Germanic peoples, space, as it is encountered and perceived in the created worlds of men and other beings, exists, to any significant degree only as a location or container for the occurrence of action.” (Bauschatz 86). This is a pretty significant concept in of itself. After all, I think most of us have been to places that have had a certain vibe or lived in homes we’ve felt were ‘luckier’ than others. However, we are also told that , “Every action calls to itself other actions to which it is significantly linked.” (Bauschatz 64), and that “They would bring factors from beyond the immediate to work and predicate events, returning them, as it were, to the great universal store of events from which all power came and in which all meaningful action returned.” (Bauschatz 113).Nornir - Unseen

In other words, if space is a container for action, actions set down layers (which call other similar actions to themselves), and there is a force that ensures that those contexts are revisited, then it would stand to reason that spaces have ‘patterns’ or contexts that get revisited again and again. Not only that, but these patterns don’t just affect humans; as the first Bauschatz quote says, these spaces-as-containers-for-action also seem to apply other beings too. Or at least that’s the best guess of what Germanic Heathens thought about the matter during the Heathen period.

As a caveat, Bauschatz does limit these space-containers to spaces that are enclosed, but I think they can apply to outside spaces too. After all, if we believe in the existence and agency of Unseen beings, then why wouldn’t we believe them to be capable of creating and delineating their own spaces and enclosures that we just cannot see?

When you really think about these ideas, ideas about layers and patterns, even just as a Ribble Unseenthought experiment, it’s really no surprise that you have oddities like the freak accident that kills every seven years at a river that was once connected with a Romano-British goddess. Or that you have geographical areas that seem to have more murderers born within their boundaries than in other places. Or, as one of my favorite podcasts has been exploring of late, that there are places in which more people just seem to go missing (in the creepy ‘just disappear’ sense of the word) than others. Or why some houses seem to be a curse for those who live in them. Or…or…

Bauschatz’s work may be theoretical, but I do find a lot of practical application in his ideas, especially in light of my own experiences and UPG.

Does any of this give us the keys to these ‘alien views’ of non-human intelligences though? No, but there’s a lot to be said for drawing closer to an understanding of some of the (even theoretical) ‘rules of play’ so to speak. As always, the best way to understand as much of that non-human logic as much as possible, is to go back to the fairy and folk tales. These ‘rules of play’ further reinforce the importance of knowing the old tales, and the warnings and rules of etiquette they contain. To know the past and the things yet unknown to you in the present, is to have the best guess of how to proceed in the present. The future will be made when we get there.

I’ve written about understanding the previous religious, magical, and folk traditions held in the layers of the land onion before now. However, I think these layers are also patterns, groupings of actions that call out to actions that are similar to themselves and which are more likely to reoccur.  For many people, the great religious story of the US is that of Christianity, and yet for people like you and I, the far greater story is in the Joseph Smiths, the Fox sisters, the many homes in which a copy of Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ sat, and the myriad of other long-standing religious traditions that cluster in this land somewhat off the beaten path of the Nazarene.

Because it’s a story in which the Unseen were somewhat more seen, and that’s not something they’re likely to forget.

Sources
Mitch Horowitz – Occult America
Paul Bauschatz – The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture
D. Michael Quinn – Early Mormonism and the Magical Worldview

Of ‘Gatekeeper’ Spirits and the Western Esotericism

Liminal Gatekeeper Spirits

I have a thing for liminal gods and spirits. Not in some weird ‘sexy times’ kind of way, but gatekeeper spirits - hermanubis statuethere’s definitely a draw there for me. The same goes for places too. I love those liminal in-between places in which the Other almost feels close enough to reach out and touch. The kind of places where you wouldn’t be all that surprised if it reached out and gave you a quick grope either.

So as you might imagine, the concept of ‘gatekeepers’ (or beings connected to boundaries in general) holds a high level of fascination; after all, you don’t get much more liminal than a gatekeeper.

But whenever we talk of gatekeepers, especially within the context of Indo-European Paganisms, there is this sense that they’re a borrowing from outside and don’t belong.

It all started with a book review…

Recently though, I came across a blog post that discusses the role of the gatekeeper spirit within the Western Occult Tradition and its possible uses and origins. Well ok, the post wasn’t *really* about that, it was a book review of Jake Stratton-Kent’s Encyclopedia Goetica. The post is a very concise and well-done review of a series of five books examining the origins of the magical tech and spirits of the Grimoires, and even though the combined cost of all the books together would be around $140, I have a mighty need to buy them like you wouldn’t believe.

I’m a big believer in figuring out the origins and meanings of things, in deconstructing things like old charms in order to figure out the underlying mechanisms. I’m not a fan of simply copying and taking the (arguably) easier route of having a tradition handed to me. I like to do the work, and then take that work and try it out ‘in the field’ so to speak. So it goes without saying that I find all of this work being done within the occult community to dig for the meanings and underlying mechanisms very, very exciting.

Of Pagan Origins and Christian Veneers

From what I understand from the review, Mr Stratton-Kent’s general argument is that the grimoires represent a survival of ancient Pagan religious and occult practices. But you know, with this covering of Christian and Qabalistic stuffs. The main of Stratton-Kent’s work in his Encyclopedia then, is in stripping away that covering, and revealing those ancient practices as much as possible. At the root of it all, Stratton-Kent argues, are the Greek goetes, those wandering magicians of the pre-classical period from whom we derive the word goetia. Which, if Stratton-Kent is right, has massive implications for not only Western esotericism, but for any magically inclined Pagans in general. (Again, I haven’t read these books yet so I’m being cautious with my language here. Like I said, I have a mighty need.)

Scrying and Survivals

Gatekeeper Spirits - Lady scrying with bowl of waterIn the first book of the Encyclopedia, The True Grimoire, Stratton-Kent examines the use of a gatekeeper spirit as intermediary between the other spirits and us. More specifically he focuses on the ‘Armadel’ method, a method of scrying in which spirits are called into the surface of the water. It is this method of scrying that Stratton-Kent argues (at least as I understand it from reading the review), is our tie back to the scrying methodology of the Greek Magical Papyri and the Pagan world. For Stratton-Kent, the ‘Armadel’ method reflected in the Greek Magical Papyri of calling a spirit into the surface of whatever you’re scrying with, is a piece of magical tech reflective of the decline of the Pagan period. It was a particularly clever work-around for the problem of how to interact with the old gods without all of the traditional Pagan religious apparatus. The magician or seer would call an intermediary spirit into the surface of the scrying medium. This intermediary spirit is then tasked with setting up a ritual scene in preparation for the arrival of the bigger spirits. The reviewer Kadmus, points out that often the request is focused on setting up the right number of chairs for a kind of banquet for the spirits. This is reminiscent of some of the earliest methods of religious ritual among the Indo-Europeans. After this feast, the magician or seer is then at liberty to ask for a boon; do ut des and all that. By shifting the celebration of a Pagan rite to the Other that lies beyond water, the practitioner can fulfill the exigencies of ritual in a far more discreet and less dangerous manner than if he or she were to set up such a ritual scene in the physical world.

Papyri and Lines

When dealing with the Greek Magical Papyri (or PGM), there is always the question of Gatekeeper spirits - PGMwhat comes from which tradition. The PGM date from between 200 B.C.E and 500 C.E, and are the product of intense cross-cultural interaction and blending in the Mediterranean. Kadmus sums this up best when he writes in his review that the PGM are “just as much Egyptian Magical Papyri as Greek ones”.

This is where things become complicated and where we must not only ask ourselves which part of that PGM heritage the use of a spirit intermediary or gatekeeper draws from, but also where we draw the line when it comes to consideration of which sources are ‘ours’.  If Stratton-Kent is correct in his assertion that the grimoire tradition has its roots in these origins and that there is a high degree of conservation when you scrape away that Judeo-Christian veneer, then the level of complication is compounded. Perhaps more so for groups who have an expressed IE focus like ADF, for then there is the added task of teasing out the IE influences from non IE – and as we have seen with the Armadel method, that is not always so clear (especially when it comes to magic, Greece, and Egypt).

Continuities and Threads

We all tend to gather in our respective boxes and behind our respective labels, we like to think of cultural traditions as being handed down relatively unchanged for millennia –  after all, the world is easier to think of that way. But even without the benefit of reading the Encylopedia, I think that if there’s one thing the grimoires teach us, it’s that the world was Gatekeeper Spirits - Norwegian Cyprianusnever so simple. Cultures interacted, people traveled, aspects of the ‘not us’ found their way in to the ‘us’, and the world marched ever on. Traditions grew, metamorphosed, and sometimes even died. The Armadel method was transmitted, spirit lists persisted (reportedly showing a high degree of conservation), and a newly controversial saint from Antioch found his way into Scandinavian grimoires where he was cited as the author of numerous black books of magic. Going back to those gatekeepers, maybe they *don’t* belong in the strictest sense of the word, but their usefulness can hardly be denied within these settings.

In many ways, magic is like those fleeting shadow figures that disappear when you focus upon them – those liminal figures that are often spied out of the corner of your eyes. This butterfly seems to defy attempts to systematize and classify it, but it makes little sense to ignore what we do have because some parts of it may look a little ‘moth-like’. Because as has been demonstrated time and time again, you can often learn a lot about the bits of something you do like, by looking at those you don’t.

Gatekeeper Spirits -Gynandromorph Butterfly

Christian Magic and Pagans

It’s funny how things seem to coincide sometimes, isn’t it?

When I wrote my last blog about local spirits, adaptability, and not being afraid to learn different types of magic, I had no idea that a blog had surfaced on Patheos that was calling into question the whole idea of working with St Cyprian because he was a Christian.

Christian Magic - Cyprian

“They all say I burned my books, but those fools don’t know shit!”
St. Cyprian, circa 250 AD

Just to give a bit of back story here, but Cyprian was a pagan magician who converted to Christianity after getting into a magical barney with someone who used the sign of the cross on him and won. Well, it was a bit more complicated than that (and you can read more about it here), but essentially that’s what it boiled down to. Eventually, old Cyprian was martyred (as the prefix ‘St.’ suggests), and now people are all about that Cyprian shiz because a couple of books have surfaced about Mr Saint’s grimoire.

I feel like I’m saying this a lot at the moment, but so what?

So what if people want to get on down with St Cyprian and work from his grimoire?

The only reason I’m writing this blog is because of the, quite frankly, ridiculous assertion that using the grimoires of Christians – or working with ostensibly Christian spirits is somehow ‘cultural appropriation’.

Yeah, you read that right. ‘Cultural appropriation’.

There are so many reasons why this accusation is ridiculous that I barely know where to start (or how to do so in a coherent manner without sputtering all over the place because of a surfeit of flabbergast).

First of all, as a friend pointed out on her post about the blog post in question, the person who made the accusation worships Egyptian gods; how is this somehow not cultural appropriation but pulling anything from Judeo-Christian culture somehow is? (You know, if we’re going to go there…)

Neither case is cultural appropriation IMO as the necessary power dynamic that makes a thing culturally appropriative is absent in both cases. Judeo-Christian culture is the dominant culture, there is nothing taken in terms of power or wealth from their culture by Pagans who happen to decide that they’ve got a swanky-looking spirit and that a bit of magical interfaith diplomacy might not go amiss. The same goes for the Pagan Egyptians because…well, they’re dead, and unless you’re in possession of some bones and are bullying some spirit, you can’t really oppress people who are dead. The cultures of Pagan Egypt are gone. Still, one would hope that if you worship Egyptian gods, you’d try and find ways to give something back to the culture and country they became eventually. (Not going to get into arguments about who the ‘real’ Egyptians are here.)

Secondly, seeing as most of us are from a Judeo-Christian background, in a sense this is a part of our cultural heritage. As Pagans/Heathens none of us seem to have an issue with looking into whatever Pagan heritage (no matter how far removed by time) we feel we maybe belong to (usually because of cultural or sketchy DNA test result reasons). This shit is a part of who we are. The vast majority of us have at least a thousand years of Christian ancestors at our backs – are we to ignore them too because they were Christian and have Christian cooties that automatically taint one’s pure Pagan soul? Are we now going to decry the simple act of lighting a candle in a church for a deceased Catholic relative as ‘cultural appropriation’, or are we going to see that act for what it actually is – an act of respect towards one’s beloved dead?

And you really think even SAINT Cyprian was fully Christian in terms of his worldview? Yes,

Christian magic - grande livro

“I told you Justina, I gave up that necromancy shit, no lie!”
Saint Cyprian, 251 AD

he converted, but as many of you can attest, there is no magic wand of conversion. It takes *time*, generations even, to change a worldview. In all likelihood – just like many of the people clutching their pearls about the man himself – Cyprian probably didn’t manage to shuck even a sizeable percentage of his Pagan worldview baggage during his life time. I mean, let’s face it, the whole “Wow, that worked awesomely, I think I’ll worship the god you do because I want that same shit” thing is pretty Pagan in of itself. In the Heathen period, people would offer to gods and then if their gifts weren’t met with any kind of reciprocity in return, they worshipped different gods. The whole story of Cyprian’s conversion sounds like he had an expectation of reciprocity from the get go (to be even more shit hot at magic than he already was with the help of his new deity). Reciprocity isn’t really a thing in Christianity from what I understand.  I haven’t actually read St Cyprian’s stuff, but I’d be very surprised if a lot of the underlying magical tech can’t be traced back to something that’s a little more agreeable to the Pagan purists out there.

Because that isn’t anything new, a lot of these texts with a Christian veneer have underlying Pagan continuities, and just as you may make offerings to a Christian ancestor in a way that might be agreeable to them, why *wouldn’t* you show a spirit you’re hoping to learn from the same respect?

My mother has an idiom that I think would fit here, “it’s no skin off my nose”. And it isn’t – unless of course, you still think of these Christian things as having any/greater power over you (or like the heroin addict that has to keep away from any sniff of opiates, fear a fall from the wagon). Again, these are the questions that need to be wrestled with. People like to write about doing ‘shadow work’, but why not explore all the negative feelings and fears you hold about your previous faith and try to come to some kind of a peace with it all? It’s only when the chains no longer constrain you that you can really dance freely, and people do so need to dance again.

On the whole, the blog post in question felt like no small amount of sour grapes towards Gordon White (a major voice about things Cyprian) and his current popularity. Gordon consistently puts out quality content, and is advocating for a far freer way of doing things – one in which the individual does not need to look to anyone else’s authority. It is not a worldview in which would-be bishops would do particularly well. And maybe therein lies the crux? People becoming interested in magical arts that need not exist within a hierarchy, is quite threatening to those who would perhaps be that hierarchy. Look at how threatened the church hierarchy was by magic, as Giordano Bruno would tell you, they killed over it. Mr White is simply dancing and showing others that there are many types of dance that are possible. It also felt like there was a bit of the old ‘more Pagan than thou’ tone in there too, but which is more Pagan here: avoiding all things Christian lest you be tainted by those Jesus cooties; or deal with the spirits you come across, as you come across them, without giving more weight to some over others because they happen to be Jesus-y?

‘Cultural appropriation’ seems to be quite an easy target nowadays to get people riled up. And don’t get me wrong – it’s a massively serious issue that negatively affects the lives of many people around the world. We should be calling out the members of dominant cultures who take from more oppressed cultures, make bank off their backs, and give nothing back. But over-applying the term to the point of ridiculousness, in a way that the term does not cover, does not help this. If anything, it helps to detract from the seriousness of actual cultural appropriation.

And with that said, I’m going to go ahead and enjoy my weekend in these stunningly beautiful woods. Christian Magic - tent

Local Spirits and Witchcraft

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. Terrifying. 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, 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 that 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.

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.

Local Spirits - John Dee and Edward Kelly

“Did it work, Ed?”
“Nah. I was trying to get my grandma, I don’t know who the fuck this is!”

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.

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

Local Spirits - Devil and witches

“Oh, babies! I love babies!! Great job, ladies. Now best be off to bed, you’ve all got to be up early for church tomorrow!”

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.

Local spirits Pachyderm

“BOO-YA! Did ya miss me?”

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.

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.

Local Spirits - Osculum Infame

“Lick it! Lick it real good!”

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.

Local Spirits - dancing

“You step LEFT now, Beryl! LEFT!”

Witch-Making

“You cannot simply draw a bath, light a few scented candles, and declare yourself a witch. Take your bath, but you are only a witch after the demons have come calling, which they most certainly will.” (1)

Growing up in Blighty, sometimes it feels as though most of my childhood took place under steely grey skies. Of course, it wasn’t like that *all* the time, but that is my dominant memory – or maybe it’s simply just the way I like to remember it.

Witch-MakingI remember running wild under those steely grey skies, I remember countless adventures up on the moors and in the hidden places where adults didn’t seem to go: like the ‘ravine’ that was really a small stream down the side of an old Victorian factory that led into a more modern industrial park; or the ruins of Victorian farms built in the shadow of a brooding moor.

We never seemed to be dressed for the weather either; choosing little more than the ubiquitous 90s ‘combat pants’ (you know, those pants with all the pockets on – perfect for adventuring), a t-shirt, and a hoodie for the vast majority of these jaunts.

I think about those times on days like this – days clouded over and raining in a way that my mum would describe as ‘spitting’. You know the kind of rain I mean, the kind that isn’t particularly heavy but just feels as though maybe the sky is spitting at you. It’s a kind of rain I played in often as a kid.

The last post I wrote was about how the summer makes me feel dead inside. Well, not quite, that’s a bit of hyperbole. But there is a draining sensation at the end of the summer, and a dragging, and an “Oh for fucks sake, why can’t it be Fall already?”
But Fall *is* coming. The leaves are turning, the sky is looking more ‘right’, and I am beginning to come out of my slump.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently, reading up on things that are a little bit different than my usual topics, and it has been truly excellent.

It’s from one of those books that I pulled both the quote at the beginning of this post (and the inspiration for this post as a whole).

You ever read something where you find yourself agreeing so much with what the writer is Witch-Making Preachsaying that you find yourself nodding, and mentally giving the author a “Right on, man! You tell em!”? Well, I’m reading a book like that right now. Had this been a church sermon, the entire section that inspired this post would have had me shouting “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lard!”, because it is just so nice to come across someone who writes things that you so completely agree with. That doesn’t happen a lot for me.

The question of what makes a witch is a perennial one in online discussions. Some people think it’s initiation within a specific tradition. Other people think it’s in the doing. For my part, I think initiation is a part of it, and that it is through the doing that you put yourself on the path to that initiation. But it’s not the kind of initiation that comes from other humans (although other humans can set you on that road), but from the Unseen powers.

Today I’m going to talk about the kind of initiation that happens when the demons come calling.

During the course of the summer, I seem to have somehow acquired a couple of students. We had a good first session – covered a lot of ground – and I’m pleased that I have two lovely students with as much potential as they have. I’m really looking forward to seeing them grow (and seeing how much I’ll learn from teaching them, you always learn more from the teaching if you’re doing it right). But at the end of the first session, I warned them that when you set feet upon this path, that there are things that will come a-knocking. When you start doing things, things that garner attention from the Unseen, things that effectively put you in a position for (as Gordon White put it) ‘the cosmic croupier to deal you in’, you will get into situations in which you have to think on your feet and deal with some really fucked up circumstances.

This may sound like I’m rehashing my previous post about Witchcraft not being safe, but if anything, I don’t think I went far enough with that post. Because in spite of what some people think, it’s not about being edgy or ‘dark’, it’s about having the kind of experiences that leave you (to quote Gordon again), “with a lasting, visceral, unshakable knowing that the universe extends beyond what can be physically observed.”

It’s about interacting with the Unseen.

There was a time when witches were considered to learn their craft predominantly from the Unseen as opposed to from other humans. You see this reflected in the Irish beliefs surrounding the Fairy Doctors, Mná feasa, and Cailli – they were all believed to have gotten their powers and learning from the Other Crowd. This same idea was also reflected in the Germanic cultural sphere too, except the Germanic witches were believed to work with the elves – again, members of the Unseen.

It’s about breaking chains.

In Paul Huson’s classic Mastering Witchcraft, the student is advised to light a candle right before going to bed and to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards while visualizing the breaking of chains, a move that Jason Mankey referred to as ‘repugnant’ in his review of the book. But in spite of his distaste for Huson’s methodology, Mankey concedes that Huson’s rationale for this makes perfect sense. And it does.

Because we live in a society in which there are many barriers to even coming across the Unseen, let alone seeking initiation from those hidden powers. Our lives are so busy, so full of noise and distraction, and I’m not decrying electricity or anything (I LOVE living in a place with solid walls and mod cons), but there are reasons why when we do have those soul-shattering experiences they tend to be out in the lonely places.

In the liminal places.

Far from the buzz of tech with its incessant reminder of the outside world.

And that’s even before I talk about the barriers of belief involved here. Like the materialism that says that such things simply *cannot* happen, or the generations of dogma that declares that seeking out or trafficking with such things is a sin.

How many new Pagans and Witches claim to no longer believe in their previous monotheisms? And yet how many would baulk at sitting before a candle and reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards?

“Nema! Livee morf su revilled tub
Noishaytpment ootni ton etc…”

Witch-Making Pachyderm

“Fight me or find a way to get along with me! Ignoring me won’t make me go away.”

How many Pagan paths offer an alternative to Christianity without eschewing it completely, an alternative in which that person can go an entire lifetime without wrestling with that Jesus-y elephant in the room? Because I think that sooner or later, if you practice witchcraft and you truly want that kind of transformation that witchcraft makes possible, you have to find a way to take that motherfucking pachyderm down. (Or at least figure out how it fits in within your worldview. Clue: it’s all just spirits).  You can’t break the chains if you ignore them.

Now I’m not saying that people have to go and recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards tonight or something, but it’s certainly something to think about. Witchcraft is not just unsafe, it is also transgressive. Usually when people talk about that transgression nowadays, it seems to be in very political terms, but I think it’s a lot deeper than that.

This is the kind of transgression in which simply having transgressive opinions isn’t enough. It’s not enough to want to ‘stick it to the man’ (or whatever), you have to step outside of the norm, you have to pass beyond. You have to go from the safe places of the inner yard that everyone else huddles in, away from those electric lights, and the safety and comfort of traditional religion.

You have to cross that boundary, try to traffic with the spirits, get that dirt under your fingernails, muddy up those boots, fuck up, make mistakes, and just have those crazy experiences that are usually highly unpleasant, but that leave you with the kind of clarity that comes with the dawn.

Because it’s often in those times, that the most meaningful of initiations are found.
witch-making dawn

References
(1)  Quote taken from The Chaos Protocols by Gordon White

The Flood Wave and that of Swift Ebb

The Arrival of Ebb

Things have been quiet around here recently – those of you who read this blog regularly ebb tidemight have noticed the lack of recent posts. Generally, I aim to get a post up per week, but lately things just haven’t been working out that way.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing though, I’ve actually gotten quite a bit done on my book over the past few weeks. I found a whole other line of research that supported what I’d already put forth and spent a few days mired in German texts. Another week, I found some new evidence for another theory elsewhere in my book, so on that front of things, it’s been quite productive. It’s like every time I think I’m done, a new piece of evidence just comes my way in the most random of ways, and I have to chase it down. I am getting closer though with this rewrite/initial edit and am currently looking at my publishing options. So that’s the flood part of this post.

Aside from that though (and the various bits of writing I do for work), I really haven’t felt moved to blog here, and that’s been bugging me for that past few weeks. But this morning, it occurred to me that sometimes there’s a lesson in that.

In the first week when I didn’t post I spent days trying to think of a post to write, but it all just felt artificial and forced. Eventually, I realized that most of the ideas I was having were polemic in some way, and I found that problematic in a ‘low hanging fruit’ kind of way. I mean, who *can’t* just turn on a good rant?

But I don’t want this blog to be that. Sure, I rant on here, but it’s about stuff that has genuinely got my fire up, and I don’t want to get into manufacturing that just because those kinds of posts tend to get more views. Don’t get me wrong, I love that people are visiting my site, but it’s important to me that I don’t just use this platform to tear down, but to build up as well.

And that building up, or more accurately that writing about building up sometimes takes time. Sometimes blog post ideas have to ripen; it takes time before they become the itch under your skin that you can’t *not* write about.

ebb cardigan

Exhibit A

There’s also the season too. I find those final dog days of summer to be pretty sapping in terms of creativity. A lot of people find the darker half of the year to be the time when they go into a more inert and incubatory state, but I’m quite the opposite – this is my ebb. Maybe it’s because I come from an island in the North Sea where grey skies and cooler temperatures are far more the norm than where I currently live; but whatever it is though, towards the end the heat and humidity of Maryland become like the final leg of an endurance race for me and I crave the cooler days. (I’ve even started knitting a cardigan in the hope that I’ll get to wear it soon.)

Because it’s during those cooler days when I begin to emerge and take my daughter out on little adventures again. It’s during those cooler days when I do as opposed to hiding my pasty skin from Sunne’s harsh summer gaze like some strange kind of crysalis-dwelling creature.

And if there’s one thing I want people to get from this blog, it’s the value of doing.

But there is no ebb without flood, and I will be back when my cauldron is brimming once more. I just need to wait for the wave.
autumn_leaves_basel

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.