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Witch vs. Witch

September 2, 2010 1 comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I found your site in a search for ways to protect my home from a guest who I am going to have to invite into my home, but this woman, who is also a Witch, does not not like me and I do not trust her. I am Wiccan also, my distrust isn’t due to her beliefs. I need some advice on ways to protect my home when inviting an unfriendly guest who could cause harm into it. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Blessed Be,

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

There’s an old saying that goes “guests are like fish, they stink after three days”. Ok, it’s not a very nice thing to say, but there is something to it. Back in the day, maybe our parents generation, folks knew what it meant to be a guest. This included cleaning up after yourself, offering to cook one night, and generally not trying to be much of a burden on the host. Now-a-days, guests expect it to be like at a hotel, where they are waited on hand and foot. Some open communication with your guest could really help–especially establish when she will be leaving.

I assume that since you have to invite this guest into your home, that you are either 1) related, 2) working on a business deal, 3) trying to please your partner who wants them to visit, or 4) taking a charity case and you are the nicest person ever.

In Wicca, we recognize that sometimes people we don’t like are actually very like us. It is what we see in them that we don’t like about ourselves. So what is it about this woman that you dislike so much? Is it her manners? Her attitude? Or just the fact that she doesn’t like you? And does she really not like you? Or do you just think that she doesn’t like you?

I don’t know what kind of harm this woman can do to you that you would allow. If she breaks something like a vase, that harm can often be mended. Even if it is irreplaceable–it’s just stuff. If she leaves “bad vibes”, you can clean them up when she’s not looking, and recognize that it’s probably only upsetting you anyway (you’re the sensitive Witch, after all!). Will she physically hurt your animals or children? That’s unacceptable for anyone, Witch or no, and she should know better (after all, who needs that kind of 3-fold return Karma??). So what kind of harm are we talking about?

Not everyone will like you. Sometimes they are projecting their own past on you. Perhaps you symbolize something distasteful to them. Sometimes they just have the wrong impression. Often their values are different than yours. It doesn’t make sense, but I think you know it is true. Something about you scares them–and that there is valuable information that you should try to find out! With that info, you can work on it and learn to help them have some compassion for you. Here’s the thing: it goes the other way, too: As Above, So Below, right?

Remember that Wiccans work for the highest good for all involved, especially because we reap our own Karma. Is starting a Witch War going to help you do that? Your guest may not have the same values that you do, even if you are both Witches, but hold true to YOUR highest ideals and strive ever toward them (Thanks Uncle Al!).

So, it sounds like you can’t change the situation. But you can change your mind. Imagine this woman is, well, a Witch–she challenges you and rubs you the wrong way and might cast a spell on you. You can’t fight her with sword and shield, so you must defeat her in less obvious ways. You are the hero in the journey and story of self-awareness and personal growth. You will defeat her because you know the ways of magic. You know that you are powerful, and nothing she can do will truly harm you (after all, a curse only works if you believe in it). You listen to her and are kind to her because you know that she can teach you something about yourself and about the world.

My advice in real life? Kill her with kindness. Make food she’ll enjoy. Make her comfortable. If she gets petty, take the highest road. If you think she’s casting spells on you, utterly ignore them. If her vibes are trashing your house, cover them with your light vibes of peace and tranquility (and a little sage or cedar never hurt either). Do not sink to her level and engage in a Witch War. I promise you will both lose.

Perhaps this isn’t the advice you wanted. But I honestly believe that when you cast spells on people, your Karma gets tangled with theirs. And I know I don’t want to be tangled with someone I don’t actually like. I trust that the Gods and the Laws of Karma will even things out in the long run. Until then, I’m free to change myself–and so are you. You have a valuable opportunity for learning here. I suggest you take it and run with it!

Otherwise, check out this article on clearing spaces and keeping magically safe.

Tangled Karmic Yarn.

Eat Me

August 3, 2010 3 comments

I watched Food, Inc. While eating dinner. Then I stopped eating dinner and started crying.

Ya’all may not know this, but I have an aversion bordering on phobia of animal carcass. This includes chicken, beef, pork, etc. that you would get in the grocery store. I know that meat contains many bacteria that can harm me, and am extremely careful of cross contamination. I don’t like to eat meat off the bone and prefer to see it ready to cook and eat. I do eat sushi and rare meat only because I know it has been handled well and am educated in food safety practices.

So watching animals get slaughtered was a bit much for me. Knowing where the meat came from, and how it got there, and how awful it is –it made me sick. The worst was the pigs. And the screaming. I honestly couldn’t tell if they were screaming or if I was.

There is absolutely nothing humane or honorable in our production of meat. That animal is not a creature of the Gods, but a product–nothing more than an arrangement of biology. That’s what a factory system believes.

Our food is being genetically modified and patented. Big corporations are suing farmers out of business or keeping them like slaves, always owing the company to keep up with upgrades. It is inhumane to people as wages are minuscule and people are taken advantage of until they are useless, then thrown away. Upton Sinclair is still relevant in the way we process foods.

I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. So how does a small person take on a giant corporation? We vote. With money. I will no longer spend my money to support this disgusting system. I will vote for representatives and legislation which shares my values. I’m going to do my best to eat local, whole food–food that was treated with honor–food that is nutritious, not technological.

If you’ll excuse me, culture, I’ve got a planet to save.

Does your religious beliefs influence the way you think about these topics?

Sacred Images?

July 8, 2010 2 comments

I’m always looking for creative ways to celebrate the Gods. In particular, I have altars around my home to invite that energy in, so there is an altar to Demeter, Hestia is in the kitchen, and Aphrodite at the door so naught but love shall enter in. Athena, of course, is next to me at the computer. You get the idea. But the other day, I ran across these: Aphrodite Barbie and Athena Barbie.

And I thought to myself…are these sacred images? Or are these images profaned by becoming so commercialized? I mean, BARBIE of all toys!

I can imagine myself, as a little girl, absolutely LOVING these toys. I wasn’t big on dolls to begin with (I think I had one Skipper doll and a New Kid on the Block as the entirety of my personal collection). But I loved stories, and Greek mythology, and would have enjoyed playing with these dolls. It is only as an adult that I came to believe in the sacredness and truth that the Gods bring to our lives. As a kid, I would have kept my dolls in my toy box, amongst the lost marbles (ha!), Jurassic Park toys and stuffed animals. Only as an adult would I consider putting a toy on a shelf and never playing with it.

And these aren’t exactly toys. You see, they cost upwards of $300, as highly desired collectibles.

Here is the artistic conundrum, then: if pop art is profane, then putting sacred images into pop art should thus profane the sacredness, right?

I dunno. I’m sort of intrigued by this idea of using a toy on the altar. Maybe we’ve gotten too serious about this whole sacred image idea anyway. Who better to loosen it up but Barbie, the fun-loving spoiled perfect beauty. When it comes down to it, isn’t Barbie really Aphrodite anyway? Isn’t the act of playing with a beautiful woman, dressing and undressing her, doing her hair and picking out her shoes just worship of Aphrodite?

And then we have Athena. Isn’t Athena what Barbie isn’t? Athena, like all Goddesses, is beautiful, but she doesn’t use it, even as a tactical advantage. Athena is what Barbie wishes she could be, but can’t. I mean, Barbie can be a Vet or a Pediatrician, but she’s not President, or a Tenured Professor. But the act of playing with Athena Barbie to solve problems and outwit your opponents (that Ken! Always wanting a date! Whatever will I do?!) could potentially be a worship of Athena. I dunno. I’m troubled by it.

Still, I want it for my altar, or for when I have children (let them be girls!) I would let them play with these sacred images instead of the pop culture perfection that is Barbie. They’re a little out of my price range, so I might have to settle for this instead:

From "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Theif" Toy Zeus

What Would Zeus Do, indeed. I bet he’d have a go at Barbie Aphrodite. And I guess I don’t have a hard time believing that a hot Goddess Athena would pop out of his head…

What do you think? Does having the Gods as action figures intrigue or disgust you? Is it sacred or profane? Can you mix the pop culture with sacred culture? Would you put toys on your altars or use them in magical work?

Casting Spells For Others

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

DEAR WT,

I have been asked to cast. I use some for of Magic in my everyday life, little utterances of protection, serenity, and feel most of my power comes naturally. feeling that if i do try to channel outside forces, it almost always backfires. I never cast for someone else unless implicitly asked and, for a specific reason. I.E. protection, clarity, or if someone needs help getting through a darkness. I feel the strong calling to protect those around me, or far away, those that need little more help than usual. I give them what small tools I am able. It’s not always enough, but it usually helps calm the waters.

My problem lies in a friend, I have been called to help a woman who is after many years of trying, finally able to conceive. the family has asked me to cast circle of protection, on her and the unborn child, as its a high risk pregnancy. But I find myself frozen, frightened of the consequences should my casting backfire. This is the biggest thing I have ever been asked to preform, even if I use my own brand of magic, its the most taking, I feel the need to call in reinforcements even though I have always practiced solitary. Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom?

Your concerned Witchful Believer

Dear Witchful Believer,

There is a lot going on here! A sign of a mature person is knowing when to ask for help, and I want to commend you for taking the time to consider the ethical and practical implications of your magical practice.

It is my belief, and feel free to disagree with me, that ethically speaking, we can only do magic (that is, make change) to ourselves. Practicing spellcraft is as much about changing our minds as it is about changing our fortunes. But we do impact everything we touch. Our attitudes, beliefs and actions ripple out and have consequences, most of which we cannot imagine, correlate or quantify. Magic gives us some control over those ripples.

Yeah. I Grok you too!

The idea that we can control all the effects of all those ripples is, dare I say it, a little egotistical. The Greeks called in Hubris, and mortals who committed such were punished rather harshly. It means that we are reaching too far, beyond our limits. We all naturally have our own power, which is what you are calling on when you do your brand of magic. Working with others allows you to combine your power with theirs, but you do not take on their power, so it is not going beyond our personal limits. When we work with others, and the magic doesn’t work, the most likely cause is that you haven’t created sufficient group-mind. Perhaps they were thinking about something else, or the energy didn’t peak strongly, and the result was unfocused energy that fizzled before it could do any real change.

When friends ask us to do magic for them, it gets ethically sticky. Let’s say you do a protection spell for someone else. Since you can only change yourself, you will see them as being protected, which ripples when you tell them “Wow! You seem so safe! Spell must have worked!” which gives them a little confidence in themselves, which makes them feel safer. If it’s a run-on sentence, then it’s run-on magic. In order to make an effect on them, you have to work really hard on yourself, right? The more channels the energy has to go through to work, the less energy will be there at the end. Not only that, but when you do magic for someone else, you tie yourself to them and the resulting karma. Do you really want to be tied to this person? After all, you don’t have control over them. I would be fearful and frozen too.

There is such a thing as helping too much. Doing a spell for someone else is like doing someone else’s homework–they don’t learn the material! The best discussion of this concepts and how to work with it is probably Robin Wood’s book When, Why, If. Things happen in our lives to teach us lessons, but you can’t learn them for someone else. This is likely why your spells sometimes backfire–they aren’t meant to work!

My advice to you and to others with the same problem is to make it a habit to NOT do spells for other people. But you can certainly help them do it themselves. Not only will the spell work better for them, but they retain the consequences and  you are not tied to it. In a practical way, they can’t blame you if the spell doesn’t work. There is more power in teaching someone else to find their inner strength than to try and carry them with yours. By all means, lend them your energy, create harmonious group mind, and even help design the spell. But the person who needs the magic, in this case, your pregnant friend, needs to get the ingredients, put it together and lead the energy raising. Assist and support them, but don’t do their homework for them.

Scientists say she looks pregnant, but what if that is not her function?

If you still feel nervous about the whole thing and need more support, you can ask the Gods for help. Many Godforms are sympathetic to childbearing mothers. Artemis in particular helps with childbearing, and would understand the challenge of a high-risk pregnancy. A watery Earth mother like Danu would lend her energy to bring a healthy babe into the world. Pick someone with a known track record. I once read about a woman trying to conceive who prayed to the Crone aspect and the Venus of Willendorf. It’s no wonder it didn’t work, especially when we don’t know anything about the paleolithic Venus statues. So you could help your friend make an altar to one of these deities, and light a candle or say a prayer daily to assist with the pregnancy. It need not be a one-shot magical deal, since childbearing is a rather long-term situation.

Sometimes our spells just don’t work. If we are fearful of attempting them, then they will definitely not work. Magic manifests and magnifies, so don’t magnify that fear! Your fear is likely your intuition telling you that you haven’t found the right way to do this spell. Consider using a neutral party to decide about spellcasting. I have a bag of yes/no stones which give me a clear answer. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to accept the answer and not know the reasons why. Spells work or backfire to teach us lessons. Try recording your spellwork and the results to see if you can learn from your mistakes. Occasionally, after awhile, what looked like a failure actually turns out in your best interest. We can’t always get what we want, and that’s damn true of spellcraft too. Sometimes the lesson is just how to deal with failure.

I believe you can do this. Your friends asking for help is a big deal–it means they want your support and believe in you. Do them the same favor by believing in them and believing in a positive outcome that is best for everybody. Teach them how to protect themselves, and lend your energy if needed. Support them with the magic power of love–the truest and purest form of magic. That’s what they really need from you, no matter the outcome of the pregnancy. End each spell or blessing with “the best interests of all and harm to none.”

Blessed Be!

Drugs and Pagan Culture

January 26, 2010 3 comments

Please be advised that I am neither condoning nor condemning the ritual use of drugs in spiritual practice, merely pointing out some things to consider on both sides. This article does not imply my own use of drugs.

You know it happens. You’re getting ready for ritual and some folks come up to join. They may be friends or strangers, and you work to make them feel welcome. But you can tell that they aren’t quite there–that something is off. They are high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Now you have a dilemma. You want to include anybody who is interested in participating, but should you allow them?

As Paganism is an alternate culture, we have different experiences and responses to the use of drugs and alcohol. As many on the path are seeking enlightening experiences, drugs are sometimes used to elicit a mind-expanding opportunity. Alcohol was used by Dionysians to commune with their God. Many native and shamanistic cultures use a variety of hallucinogenic drugs in their rituals. They may use peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, marijuana, etc. These drugs stimulate different parts of the brain, exciting cells in the body. If you are interested in how drugs work, check out this interactive flash animation.

A traditional Wiccan initiation does not use drugs. Rather, incense, ritual binding, oils, and wine are used to put you in an altered consciousness.

Drugs are often used as a form of initiation, causing the initiate to experience things they would otherwise never be able to. They might see things, touch other worlds, and make tangible parts of themselves that have long been buried deep in the subconscious. The ritualistic use of drugs can release deep and enduring pain as the user confronts inner demons. The experience may seem to answer spiritual and existential questions about the nature of existence, often propelling the user farther onto their spiritual path. In some ways, using drugs is a short-cut to individual self-knowledge.

Some people will choose this path. One hopes they choose it to find such enlightenment, but more often, I believe, they are fascinated by the use of the drug, and use the religion as an excuse to use recreationally. Sometimes the use is in imitation of shamanic practices, without actually going through the traditional work and character building that would be required by these religious groups. This is cultural appropriation–not religion.

There is no denying the effects of drug use–obviously as a religious experience, using drugs works, or we wouldn’t have been using them since the dawn of time. But the use is not all positive. Some drugs are chemically addicting, while others are habit-forming. And for some people, drugs that wouldn’t normally be chemically addicting are. There is a danger here. One use of meth can have you hooked for life, and that is not a propaganda exaggeration (although there is plenty of that out there). Huffing inhalants like white-out just once could kill you. Cocaine could be cut with something dangerous, like arsenic. Those with prior psychosis or who are mentally unstable could be irreversibly damaged–this is dangerous territory. Besides the drugs themselves, getting them is difficult and dangerous because they are illegal. You would have to interact with seedy people in seedy places. Often the drugs travel a very long way from underdeveloped countries. They might be concealed about someone’s person, if you catch my drift winkwink.

If you are using drugs for spiritual purposes, consider finding a teacher to help you. Not only do they have knowledge about how best to take the drug, but they can also guide you through your experiences and help you get the most meaning out of it. You’ll need to do your own research on finding someone to help you. In general, they should be trustworthy (since you’ll be in an altered state around them, you need to know they aren’t going to rob you and leave you for dead), have a great deal of spiritual and chemical knowledge, and have a safe place and clean environment and tools with which to do the work. I would not advise associating with criminals for your own safety. As a general rule, they should be the sober one during your experience, for everyone’s safety. This teacher should also be able to recognize when a “trip” has gotten out of hand, and be ready to administer first aid and be willing to call an ambulance if necessary.

Ritual use can quickly become addiction, especially for folks who are predisposed to addiction behaviors, and those who are not balanced people. I’ve already talked about how folks with personality and psychotic disorders should not do magical practice, and this extends doubly to those who use drugs. Take this quick screening to check yourself. Answer yes or no to the following questions:

  1. Have you ever felt the need to Cut Down on your drinking or drug use?
  2. Have you been Annoyed by the criticism of others about your drinking or drug use?
  3. Have you felt Guilty about the amount of drinking or drugs you use?
  4. Have you ever had an Eye Opener drink (or drug use) first thing in the morning to feel more normal?

A yes response to two or more questions suggest a possible alcohol or substance abuse problem. Additionally, use of drugs or alcohol that interfere with normal life, such as school, the law, relationships, etc indicate a problem with substance abuse. Seek help from a drug or alcohol counselor.

Some people can use drugs occasionally and be fine. I post this because it is my ethical duty as a pre-service counselor to advise you and help you make your own decisions about your physical and mental health.

That being said, it is one thing to use drugs for your own individual path, or in a small group working on it together. It is quite another thing to come to a public ritual stoned, high, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated. Doing so puts other people at risk. You do not know what the content of the ritual will be, or how powerful the magical working. The group may be doing some serious internal work which an intoxicated person could react badly to, or ruin the experience for others with their inability to control themselves.

Group ritual is about creating a group mind, and that is impossible if some people are already not with it. Going to public ritual is the same as going to church. Would you come to your grandma’s church drunk? If you would, then you may have a problem controlling your substance use–or you are incredibly rude. Not only that, but it is embarrassing for others who may have to explain your behavior to outsiders. You may be putting other people in an uncomfortable situation if they are mandatory reporters, know your parents, or are members of law enforcement. Etiquette requires you to be in control of yourself. I realize that some may want to get high and go to ritual as a way of trying to get more out of it, but it is rude to the other people there.

May I also say that any experience you have when you are drunk, high, stoned, tripping, etc, can be experienced while NOT on drugs. Meditation techniques can give you visualizations that are as real and valid as anything you experience on mushrooms or LSD. The excitement of a good ritual with close covenmates can make you feel like you are on E because you are in ecstasy. Heck, even a good run can make you feel high. Our bodies naturally produce opiates, serotonin and dopamine, which drugs stimulate, imitate or disrupt. The use of drugs can become a mask to hide what you are really feeling and avoid problems in the real world. I doubt that many people who use drugs spiritually are truly prepared to do so, and probably have issues they need to face sober. You should never be required to take drugs as part of your spiritual training. If your coven mandates the use of drugs, and you do not wish to partake, find another coven.

So before you toke up on the way to the rit, consider the feelings and experiences of others before you do so. Coming to my rituals intoxicated gives you a one way ticket to the door–and likely not an invitation for next time. What’s more important to you?

Various Names and Guises of Witchcraft

January 26, 2010 2 comments

Dear Witchful Thinking

Greetings, I have been exploring Paganism and Wicca for a few years now and am still searching for the path that feels right. One of the reasons I was drawn to Wicca is that there are no hard and fast rules other than, of course, the Wiccan Rede which I follow carefully.  About Nocturnal Witchcraft. I have read about it a bit an it seems to be another form of Wicca, simply practiced at night, with night Gods and Goddesses. Am I right? I am most definitely a night person, always have been. I find the night to be more gentle, I feel a great sense of freedom at night, and also one cannot see all the “cracks in the pavement” if you will at night. The negativity in this world is all too visible in the light of day.  Anyway, what are your thoughts on this? I know that Wiccans do NOT worship Satan, do not even recognize his existence so I don’t believe that this type of Witchcraft has anything to do with Satanism.  I would very much like to explore Nocturnal Witchcraft and the only author that I seem to find is Konstantinos. I will understand if you aren’t comfortable recommending a particular author but any input would be most helpful. Also, thank you for your piece on Magickal names. I am searching for one that feels right to me, but don’t find having one necessary. I would use it for identity protection. I find that many folks who are new to Wicca and Paganism get caught up in the trappings.  Look forward to hearing from you.  Blessed Be

Emi M.

Dear Emi,

From "The Goddess Oracle" by Amy Marashinsky. Art by Hrana Janto. This is one of my favorite decks.

Welcome to Wicca! May the Gods bless your path and may you find what you seek.  The world of Witchcraft is a wild one, and it is very much like a landscape. There are many paths already made through lots of terrain, but one could easily create one’s own path. In the end, it’s a question of “where are you going” and your own choices that will dictate the direction you travel.

I dare say I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to some definitions. Please do not think I am chiding you, for I’m not, and respect what you’ve already come to know. I only want to be clear in our definitions. I know I am going to get flaming hate mail for saying this (please be aware that I’m coming from an academic background as much as a spiritual one)–but there are certain things you MINIMALLY ought to practice and believe if you are to call yourself Wiccan:

  • Work with a God (often horned) and Goddess (often triple).
  • See all of nature and the cosmos as alive.
  • Include the use of ritual magic or spellcasting.
  • Follow the Wiccan Rede.
  • Celebrate the eight Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year.
  • Celebrate the Esbat rituals which often includes Drawing Down the Moon.

There are, of course, many variations and manifestations of these beliefs. For example, many Dianic Wiccans only worship a Goddess, although they acknowledge the God, and are still considered Wiccan. I don’t think it is right for folks to cherry-pick the parts of the religion they like and call themselves Wiccan–they should call themselves something else, because there is already a definition of Wicca. It’d be like someone going to a Buddhist temple, but never meditating or following the Eight Fold Path and calling themselves Buddhist–it just isn’t accurate, and it is rude to those who actually follow the tenants of Buddhism. If you only like some aspects of Wicca, but don’t follow the others, and do not belong to an established tradition, then please label yourself accurately as a Pagan, or whatever is more accurate for you.

I think some folks feel their path won’t be taken seriously if they simply go by the term “Pagan”, so they use the safety of the word “Wicca” to validate their path to outsiders. “Pagan” is the catch-all word for what we believe, not “Wiccan”. Wiccans do not believe whatever they want and call it Wicca, rather, they worship in however way they want, based on the list mentioned above. The idea is to create your own unique and individual relationship with the Gods. No one can dictate that relationship to you. The ritual trappings, the tools, hierarchy and liturgy are designed to help you cultivate that relationship, grow as a person, and manifest the good from it in the real world. But Wiccans follow a similar path to do that, and end up with similar theology and ideas about the world and the Gods. Their beliefs are based out of experience which is based out of religious practices–not the other way around. Paganism requires no such beliefs short of being one who worships nature–with no dictation about how that should happen, nor does it require or nessicarily believe in a relationship with the Gods. Pagans may focus on nature spirits, the Fey, or work with specific pantheons, but if they aren’t following a Wiccan path they are not Wiccan. Many writers who are not in the community confuse the two terms, so start reading folks who are in the movement to help clear up any misconceptions.

Of course, no one should tell you what religion you are–that is your right to make that declaration. Soap box rant over. Let’s move on.

The author of "Nocturnal Witchcraft", Konstantinos. Cute, yes?

I haven’t read the book you mentioned by Konstantinos, so I couldn’t give it a hearty recommendation (but on your suggestion, it is now on my ever-expanding “to read” list!), but I did do some research about it. It looks like you are correct in your assessment that it is a Wiccan primer that focuses more on the “dark” aspects (literally, in the dark, not evil–which he makes a big deal about not being). In a sense, it gives a guide to those who are more attracted to the moon and stars and the cover of darkness. When you think about Wicca 101 books, they always talk about Lunar Esbats being at the Full Moon, but as you expand your practice, you might choose to do Dark or New Moon Esbats, and you may come across Deity that prefers to be underground or only comes out at night.

Although it is true that you can’t see the “cracks in the pavement” and the negativity that exists during the day, different dangers appear in the night which, to me, are much scarier. The darkness is where monsters live. Not only the literal crime and seedy underbelly of the city, but our own nightmares and fears. The challenge of working Witchcraft at night is to face those fears. I believe it is a much harder path, but one that well-rounded witches will come to at some time or another, whether they want to or not! So really, Nocturnal Witchcraft is….. (drum roll) Witchcraft!

Two things are happening here: 1) because we don’t have established rules or doctrines beyond the basics I mentioned above, our religious vocabulary lacks descriptions of specific kinds of paths. 2) because we do not have a class of those who are religiously trained in said non-existent doctrines, there are very few ways for those talented in the ways of the Craft to make money except for writing and selling books, which, as you know, are marketed by people who want to make money.

A gifted Craft teacher may have a path that they have well-traveled that is different from other peoples, and want to write about it and share it with others who might travel behind them. So they write a book, knowing the information will reach a great many people, and allow them a paycheck so that they might continue on with their service to the community (yay!). Then the editors look at the book and talk about how to sell it. They have to create a brand and protect the intellectual property of the author, whom they hope to make more money on in the future, so they give it a fancy name, without considering if there is already a path like it. Sometimes the name sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t.

But all religions have movements and denominations that come and go, or go by different names and actually believe the same thing. If you don’t believe me, check out the book Which Witch is Witch. I found a pattern when I plotted the regions the different denominations of Paganism did their work: in the Pacific Northwest, for example, there is a big Druid group, a hearty Heathen population, a Scottish family trad, reconstructionists, Dianic wyminns circles, Fairie trad, Wicca and Gardnerian covens, traditions started by solitaries, and a few off-branches of Gardnerians that go by various names–you will find this exact same list of types in each area of the country, but they go by different names and are run by different people. Of course, none of them would dream of conglomerating under one name! The groups have their own names, though they often have the same beliefs and similar paths–but they all have different histories and members, which vary by region.

Getting back to your question: Nocturnal Witchcraft is just one of many paths you can take. Personally, I don’t think you need to specify if you are practicing light/white or dark/black witchcraft, as it just confuses people, and a well-rounded witch works with both. If you like the phrase of it, you can choose to call your practice that. But I suspect the author has the name branded, so unless someone has read his book, they may not understand what you practice, so be ready to explain! I can definitely recommend the book The Dark Archetype for delving into ritual for “darker” gods. This book will guide you in where to get started for a handful of deities like Hekate, Anubis, the Grim Reaper, Baba Yaga and Lillith, among others. What I think you’ll find in your practice, however, is that most Godforms have a light and a dark side, but I suspect they start us out easy, and only show us their darker nature when we are ready to see it.

Hail, Diana!

Want an example? Pick any Greek God or Goddess and you’ll soon see their wrathful side. Zeus has more lovers than he can count, much to his wife’s chagrin, even solemn Athena once punished a girl who was raped in her temple. These Gods aren’t here for us to imitate–they absolutely do not model perfect behavior, especially not for mortals. But they do show us the whole spectrum of human relating, emotion and depth.

Most often, Wicca 101 books start with the easy light stuff, just like the Godforms do, to ease us into a new religion and not scare our parents. If you are already interested in finding out what goes on in the darkness, perhaps you are ready for the challenge of this kind of Craft. But remember to come into the light, too. Wicca is about balance, after all.

You are dead-on in your assessment about Satan’s place here–he has none! He is part of Christian (and a little bit Muslim) theology, of which we are outside. His terrain is not on our map, if you will. Satanism as a movement, too, belongs on the Christian map, and not lumped with us…no matter how hard some Christians try!

I think of all these names and traditions as places on a map. For those at home in one area might share a deep affinity with a place, even as they explore different locales, yet others might know it by a different name. Of course, there is night and day in all places. As Pagans and Wiccans, we are all sharing the same map, but we aren’t all going to the same place, and we definitely don’t take the same path to get there. That’s what makes it so different, so individual and wonderful.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(and then check out this interesting interpretation)

Essential Magical Tools

January 15, 2010 2 comments

Dear Witchful Thinking,

When you are new to the Craft, there is so much stuff to buy! Incense and besoms and athames…it’s all a little over-whelming. If you could only have a few items to practice with, what would they be?

Sincerely,

K-Jo and J/K

Dear K-Jo and J/K,

Ok. I’m going to tell you an arcane secret. Something you don’t learn until years and years of studying magic…a secret that will astonish and amaze and surprise you….

You don’t need a single thing to practice magic or do ritual, except the will to do so.

Here’s the catch, though: it takes a fair bit of practice to get to that point. Most people don’t pick it up the first time they try.

The purpose of magic and ritual is to commune with the Universe, manipulate the energy in our favor, and to create change. All the tools used to do that, all the spell components, arcane words and formalized gestures are psychological triggers to help us move the energy in alignment with our will.

Science tells us that once something has been done, it makes it easier to do again. By repeatedly using the same symbolism over time, it makes a kind of path that the energy recognizes. So for new magical practitioners, they can access these pathways and have more effective magic. The Lesser Banishing of the Pentagram, for example, has been done the same way by thousands of magicians for a hundred year. You can bet that it is effective at grounding the practitioner and banishing negativity. In the first place, if it didn’t work, no one would do it again, let alone hundreds of thousands of times.

But the tools and paraphernalia work, or else we wouldn’t need them and encourage others to use them. They give us something tangible to work with and look at, which sends signals to the brain and activates certain parts of it. Slightly less than half of the population are kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn by doing. Only about a quarter of us prefer to think entirely abstractly–these are the folks who probably don’t need tools.

One of my old altars. Look at all the stuff!

That being said, I love the paraphernalia. The quest to make that perfect blend of incense, finding that beautiful besom, or symbolic athame, is a meditative and magical joy in itself. When you first start, you’ll probably use what you have around your house in a kind of “kitchen Witch” way. So you’ll use an actual broom for a besom, and an actual steak knife for an athame…that sort of thing. Or you’ll find that you accidentally have magical things around the house. My first athame was a little boot knife I bought at a Renaissance Fair for $5. At the time, I liked the stag motif on it, never knowing it symbolized the Horned God.

If I could only have three things, I would have an athame, my tarot deck, and a lighter. Why?

  • The athame puts your will out into the Universe. You use it to cast a circle, make doors and open and close gates. For me it is a mental trigger that I’m about to do some magical work and need to focus my will. While I could use anything to assert my will, I prefer the power symbol of the double-bladed knife. It is like an avatar of myself. The style and decoration of the knife show my personality and my power.
  • The tarot deck allows me to have long conversations with the Universe over tea. I can ask questions and get answers. Sometimes I’m not feeling too sharp or receptive, and the tarot deck helps me focus my questions and helps me make decisions. I know about myself that I’m not a good enough omen reader or psychic to do it without them.
  • The lighter means I have the power to create sparks, and thus fire. I can often find a piece of cedar around here that would be good as clearing incense, but without a lighter, it’s just a bit of bark, and the aromas are trapped inside of it. I can also burn paper to banish or transform thought. Or I could light a candle. Fire is change and transformation. There is something deep in our psyche which connects us to fire. It would be essential to me that I could cause that change.

I think that’s all I would need. Everything else, I could visualize or make do without. But I do keep ritual kits around, especially in my car, so if I wanted to do a spontaneous ritual, it could easily be done. I often do ritual in an inter-religious setting, so the tools and paraphernalia are important to help others figure out what we are doing. And as much as I don’t require them, they really do.

What are your essential magical tools?

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