It’s a Moot Point: Pros and Cons of the Solitary Witch Life

covenLitha celebrations have basically been a week-long thing this year. The kick-off came the day before the solstice and was a completely new thing to me; my first Pagan moot*. I was a bit apprehensive, I have to admit. Nowadays I’m a pretty outgoing person (or I’m too stubborn to let my awkwardness stop me from doing awesome things… either way, it gets stuff done!), but I only knew one person in the room. And I’d only met her in person once before – at an anti-fracking rally, a very witchy way to meet – so rocking up to this cute little cafe with a room full of people I didn’t know was kind of scary. Of course, it was lovely. I felt very welcome, and the talk by Maggie Webster on the presentation of witches in fiction was brilliant, especially as she wove issues of misogyny and ageism into her work which made my SJW heart light up! But I have to say, I think my favourite thing about the night was being in a room where we were all collectively referred to as Pagan. It was such a nice feeling not to be the only one in a room for once! That feeling got me thinking about the ins and outs of being a Solitary witch, so I thought it would be a good topic for a ramble.

First, being any sort of Pagan is often quite an isolating experience purely because there aren’t many of us. It may be growing very quickly in the UK, but chances are you’ll be a bit of a talking point in your work/school/uni if you’re open about your practice. This leads to one of the main issues; often being a Solitary witch isn’t a choice. There aren’t places of worship in a traditional sense – you can’t just go to your local Church/Synagogue/Mosque and be among like-minded people. Seeking out people to practice with takes more work, and often you won’t find anything. This is especially true if you’re looking to join a coven; moots are gatherings based on discussion and socialising as opposed to performing rituals and magic. Covens aren’t found in as many places, so often it takes quite frequent travel unless you are in a bigger city. My closest coven is in Manchester; that’s 45 minutes each way, and even with a railcard that adds up!

On the other hand, while sometimes I wish I had a community that I could worship with, I’ve had some encounters with Pagan groups that haven’t been particularly pleasant. I’ve been banned from a few Facebook groups that at one point were my online covens because I’ve pointed out when members have been racist; as with any group, there are going to be bad eggs in covens and moots. However seeing as groups made for Pagans are so few and far between, the ones that exist are often so tight-knit that problems like this aren’t dealt with. I’d imagine that comes from a fear of the whole group disintegrating, which I can understand… but this makes them unwelcoming to marginalised people and presents them with a pretty unappealing choice: putting up with toxic people or being spiritually isolated.

As far as I’m concerned, my craft is something very personal and I’ve never had any desire to perform magic or rituals in a group. I know for a fact that other people’s presence would be a distraction. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want a sense of community in my faith, and it is challenging when you’re part of a minority religion – and I imagine that goes for most minority religions. I don’t think there is really a solution to that problem, unless you plan on converting the masses (which I definitely wouldn’t condone!), but it’s important to recognize the fact that being a witch can be a lonely thing. And it’s okay to feel that way; I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t struggle with the demands of their faith. This is just one of ours.

Blessed Be )O(

* Moot is an old English word for an assembly of people, adopted by Pagans to refer to meetings.

We’re Here, And We’re Lumped Under ‘Queer’ – Lesbian Erasure

Labrys_Pride_Flag

This is the lesbian flag – one of quite a few. There is also one with varying shades of pink that has been categorised as the femme (or ‘lipstick’) lesbian flag, although it isn’t necessarily just for femme lesbians to use, and more recently butch lesbians have added one in shades of blue. Surprisingly, this is fairly uncommon knowledge unless you are in the lesbian community – and I mean specifically lesbian, not just queer/WLW spaces. The vast majority of the time, we are lumped under the rainbow flag with gay men. Which makes sense to some extent. After all like gay men, we experience exclusively same-sex attraction.

However, there is a problem with this. While we share several experiences with gay men (as we do with all LGBT+ people), lesbians have our own culture, our own history and our own issues. All facets of the LGBT+ spectrum do, which is why bisexual, trans, intersex, ace, genderqueer, pansexual, etc. have their own flags. The recent Pride Month post from Tumblr staff showcased some of these – but completely left out the lesbian flag. Last Pride (and this was the Manchester Big Weekend, not a small-town affair), the only piece of merch I could find that had the lesbian flag represented was a fabric rose – and I was told by friends that Leeds and Liverpool were the same. Most people (even other lesbians) aren’t aware that we have our own flag. I didn’t until another lesbian pointed it out to me. And to be honest, that makes me sad. Like I said, we have our own history: Rita Mae Brown, Gladys Bentley, Patricia Highsmith and of course Storme DeLarverie who threw the first punch at Stonewall and patrolled the streets to prevent other lesbians being attacked… Lesbians have paved the way for the rights not only of gay people, but of women in general. Lesbians fought long and hard for queer women to be included in the women’s movement in the first place.

tumblr_oqwek5lMDR1rtj1wco1_1280
Art by : terrabellum.tumblr.com

In a similar vein, it is important to have a flag separate from the rainbow flag as lesbians not only face homophobia but also misogyny. Of course, all queer women do deal with that intersection, however a lot of lesbophobia comes from this insidious belief that men must play some part in a woman’s life. Lesbians more than any other group subvert that ideal, which is why lesbian intimacy is so often marketed as existing for male pleasure (see basically every lesbian porn vid ever created). Lesbians are seen by straight men as nothing more than a challenge; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been harassed and groped in clubs when I’ve been dancing with and/or kissing another girl, to the point when I’ve had to fight to get away because no one was listening when I practically screamed at them that I am 100% gay and no, they aren’t going to change my mind and no, they can’t watch me have sex with a woman. I’ve been filmed and photographed without my consent while I’ve been dancing with other women, drunk and just trying to enjoy my night. And this isn’t a rare occurrence; this is basically every time I go out.

If there’s one thing I know from experience – and from the experiences of the very few lesbians I know personally and the few more lesbians I follow on tumblr – it is that being a lesbian can be a very isolating experience. More and more people identify with ‘fluid’ sexualities, and while there is absolutely no problem with that it does mean that there are very few spaces for women who are exclusively attracted to women (or women-aligned folk). Which is why I hope the lesbian flag gains more momentum. I don’t know the figures, but I would say that we are a smaller subset than orientations that are attracted to multiple genders – but we are still here, and we deserve a symbol of our culture, our struggles and our identity to be visible in the community rather than just be lumped under homosexual, just like any other group under the LGBT+ umbrella. Oh, and this is DEFINITELY inclusive of trans lesbians. TERFs can stay away.

Blessed Be )0(

My Drop-Out Experience

As I found out in October 2015, the internet is awash with uni drop-out success stories. For these people, dropping out was the best decision of their lives – they ended up with dream jobs and none of the debt. At this point, I was having a miserable time at university. I wasn’t getting on with my housemates, I barely slept or ate, I skipped countless seminars and felt completely overwhelmed. Or maybe underwhelmed is a better word. I had expected my uni experience to be amazing – again, largely because of endless buzzfeed posts about first year being one huge party. I had been struggling with mental health issues for years and things were coming to a head in my final year of college. Getting to uni, a whole new city with a whole new group of people, was my promised land. It sounds ridiculous, but I realise now that I was expecting it to solve all my problems. After years of family and friends telling me that with my grades and genuine interest in academia uni would be the making of me, I got there and it was very nearly the breaking of me.

I dropped out in late November, a week after I was prescribed anti-depressants. The whole process was horrible. I look back on it now as a blur of panic attacks and arguments, constantly trying to justify my decision to people who would bemoan how I was wasting my intelligence. Not to mention my Personal Tutor was an utter bellend and nearly made me cry when I was finalising the whole thing. Oh, and I somehow got an ulcer in my left eye. Honestly, everything that could possibly have gone wrong managed to do so. Anyway, long story short I moved back in with my parents, got a temp job at M&S and started looking for apprenticeships, intern work, work experience… I applied for the Sky Academy, I contacted museums, radio stations, publishing houses, law firms, anything that vaguely appealed to my interests. Then when my contract with M&S expired, I immediately got another job. In fact, another two jobs. And I kept on sending out CVs, filling out applications, practically bending over backwards trying to make myself into a success story – not a dropout loser, but someone who had gone against expectations and came out on top.

And it didn’t happen.

That’s really what this post is about; I think it’s great to have these inspirational stories about people who have done well without uni. It isn’t for everyone. But while they can be encouraging, they can also leave you feeling like a failure when that doesn’t happen to you. Being realistic, in this day and age with a flooded job market and when an unpaid internship or work experience just isn’t practical for many lower-income people, it is ridiculously difficult to find a promising career even with a degree. Realising that made me resentful at first; I came to the conclusion that to get to the sort of job I wanted, going back to uni was basically my only option. But why should I be forced back into something I hated because I didn’t have any other opportunities? It seemed deeply unfair. In fact, it is deeply unfair.

Luckily I have found a course and a uni that I actually want to do. As I said, I’m a nerd. I love studying. Going back to another uni and a course that is more practical to my interests makes sense for me, and I’ve made enough progress in my mental health to actually look forward to it; something I never thought I’d do! I’m not for a minute suggesting that I shouldn’t have dropped out. It absolutely was the best decision I ever made… but not because it resulted in me achieving a career I love with none of the debt. Dropping out for me made me re-evaluate where I wanted to go in my life. It gave me some distance from the enclosed environment of school or college to think about what I really wanted to do. It gave me the opportunity to pursue other interests – to get more involved in social justice causes, to spend more time on my spiritual growth, to write my novel. It gave me a much-needed break from the constant pressure of deadlines and exams. On a practical level, it allowed me time to work and accumulate a decent amount of money that would help me with the costs of accommodation (and beer tokens, of course). Most importantly, it made me realise that I really wasn’t well and that my first priority should be sorting my head out. The decision to drop out is what made me get better, and now I’m prepared to go back and smash a law degree.

So if you’ve dropped out or are considering it; if it’s what you need, then do it. But be prepared for a hard slog and a long wait for your success story. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I feel like there’s a lot of bullshit surrounding both uni and dropping out (or not bothering with uni full stop). Neither is easy, and neither is a sure-fire recipe for a dream job. It all boils down to keeping your head above the water, making sure you’re as healthy and happy as you can be, and doing what is best for you.

Blessed Be )0(

Tackling Transphobia in Witchcraft

trans witchHappy Pride Month everyone! In celebration of this month, I wanted to write about another thorny subject in the Witch community – transphobia and cissexism in witchcraft. A little disclaimer: I’m not trans, so I’m also going to link some witchcraft blogs run by trans folk if you want more information. I’m also covering this from a Wiccan point of view, so I’m not speaking for every branch of Paganism or witchcraft and there will be things I miss out. I’m always learning myself, so please bear with me!

Wicca has the reputation of being very LGBT+ friendly; seeing as we don’t have any Holy Book written when being queer was culturally seen as wrong, there’s nothing telling us that gay isn’t okay. Also, most Wiccan traditions don’t stigmatise sexuality (whether straight or not) in the way a lot of more mainstream religions do. While a lot of those religions see sex as something purely for procreation, sex for pleasure is a big part of its importance for most Pagans. As I’ve said previously, pretty much the one solid rule in Wicca is ‘do what ye will, and it harm none‘ – which as far as sex is concerned translates as ‘if everyone involved is a consenting adult, do whatever you like’. So it might come as a surprise that in recent years, Wicca has come under fire for transphobia and cissexism. I certainly was – but reading about it, I definitely agree that we have a problem.

One of the most glaring issues is the equation of genitalia with gender. A lot of  imagery of Wiccan rituals involves phallic and vaginal imagery (the most obvious being the Maypole – traditionally buried in the earth during Beltane celebrations to represent sexual union bringing new life). In itself, this isn’t necessarily a problem. But a lot of Wiccans – and New Agers in general – like to refer to ‘male’ and ‘female’ energies when using this imagery, and therein lies the problem. For one thing, not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas. For another, it completely erases the existence of non-binary witches.

Furthermore, I’ve seen criticism towards Wiccan worship of a God and a Goddess as enforcing a gender binary. Again, I agree with that if taken literally. The God and Goddess are two halves of the Divine All, and presenting them as two opposites erases the fact that gender is a spectrum and there are many, many more than two of them. However, I see God and Goddess as convenient terms for two energies that balance each other out. I don’t see them as gendered beings – it doesn’t particularly make sense that they would be, as part of a genderless entity! A lot of imagery in the more traditional rituals equates the God and Goddess with phallic and vaginal, and this is problematic for the same reason as above. Not to mention I personally find it a little bit odd to focus on what your deities’ have in their pants.

As I’ve already mentioned, using phallic and vaginal imagery in itself is fine – it’s a handy way to represent fertility, union and a host of other things. But what Wicca – and a lot of New Age religions – need to abandon is imagery that supports the conflation of genitals with gender, and enforces the idea of gender as a binary structure. Transphobia and cissexism are already very present in our lives, and getting rid of these ingrained opinions is difficult. But if Wiccans truly believe in doing no harm, then we need to collectively let go of these practice that alienate trans members of our community.

Blessed Be )0(

Trans Witch Blogs:
sapphic-witches.tumblr.com
lgbt-witches.tumblr.com
magicalboyslovingboys.tumblr.com
trans-cendentalwitch.tumblr.com

 

The Controversy of Curses

If we go by spells being a way of directing power and energy to achieve a certain end, then curses are specifically spells that cause some kind of negative effect, usually aimed at a person. This is a pretty controversial subject among witchy circles, largely between Wiccan and non-Wiccan witches. There are two reasons for this;

  • Wiccans as a rule believe in the three-fold law – the belief that whatever energy/intentions you put out into the world (through spells or otherwise) will return to you three times as strong. By that logic, if you curse then it will come back to bite you on the arse.
  • There aren’t many hard-and-fast rules to Wicca, but one most of us abide by is ‘Do what ye will, and it harm none.’ Again, fairly clear why this would make someone against cursing.

However, as I went over in a previous post – not all witches are Wiccans. So while you may choose not to curse, that doesn’t mean you should be policing what other people do. If your concern is someone cursing you, there are lots of methods to protect yourself (herbs like basil and black pepper are particularly good at exorcising negative forces), but that’s for another post. What I’m writing about here is why people might choose to curse – and why I support that, even if I don’t curse myself.

One reason is that if you don’t believe in the three-fold law or karma, then if someone wrongs you it is up to you to take action. I’ve come across a few witches who found that cursing helped them regain a sense of control after some form of abuse, especially if they have been failed by the justice system. I can only imagine how infuriating it is when people who have been through that hear Wiccans preaching at them about a concept they don’t even believe in! Even if it isn’t something as serious as long-term abuse, if someone does something that upsets you, I don’t particularly see a problem with cursing them if it is in proportion to what they have done. Curses don’t always have to be life-altering things.

Another reason is that even if you believe in ‘harming none’, sometimes cursing can be a way of supporting the greater good. There was of course the story of covens of witches banding together to curse Hitler in the forties – while this story hasn’t ever been proven, in more recent years witches across the world have organised mass-cursing of things like the Dakota Access Pipeline via social media. My belief is that in certain situations, you have to take a side – and doing nothing always supports the oppressor. Now, I did spells to support the protesters and offer them protection and strength, but cursing is also an effective way of helping a good cause.

Over time, the more discourse I’ve seen around the morality of cursing, the more I think I am very pro-curse. I don’t know if I could ever curse anyone. I also think, like anything else, there are times when people curse for no good reason. Cursing someone out of sheer malice is something I would never support, and I’ve never seen any other witch support. But it isn’t as black and white as some people have been led to believe.

Blessed Be )0(

Casting Spells

 

witch
Hubble bubble, toil and trouble…

 

I’m relatively new to writing my own spells. I’ve been making charm pouches or doing small scale candle rituals for years, but as far as spells with multiple components done with the works (as in casting a circle and doing them at my altar) I’ve stuck to ones written by more experienced witches. Since the New Year I’ve been trying to write my own.

There’s nothing wrong with using other people’s methods; think of it like following a recipe. However, there are so many different ways of casting spells and so many different things you could use. I’m most comfortable working with runes and herbs so I incorporate those into most of my rituals and spells, whereas I’m less comfortable working with crystals so I tend to avoid using them. I feel very attuned to the element of fire so I do a lot of candle magic, whereas some people prefer to work with water. There’s also practical issues; I do my spells in my bedroom and my circle is about a metre across so there’s only so much movement I can incorporate into them. I’d also love to do more spells outdoors, but living in the third rainiest city in England doesn’t lend itself to outdoor rituals. Not to mention the neighbours.

A pretty solid structure for ‘spell building’ is to first know what your intent is. Say you wanted to do a spell to help you with an English exam – break that down into what you need to do well. Some key things would be communication, confidence, and a bit of good luck! Next choose what you prefer to work with; going with my preferences it would be things like runes, herbs and candles.

So first, some runes:

In order we have uruz (for overcoming challenges), kenaz (for knowledge and inspiration), fehu (for success) and ansuz (for communication). All good things for an exam!

Some herbs that might be useful include:

  • Cinnamon – success
  • Bay leaves – luck
  • Nutmeg – luck
  • Rosemary – improves focus
  • Cloves – success
  • Eyebright – confidence, wisdom
  • Bluebell – communication

As for candles, I try to find one with a colour that represents what I need. At a pinch white can be used to replace any colour (after all, white contains the whole colour spectrum), but for continuing with this example I’d use yellow (for confidence and intellect) or red (for success).

Now to make all this into a spell you need to find a way to put it all together. You could carve the runes onto your candles and chant their names while visualising receiving good results, or write your own incantation praying for good luck and success. You could incorporate herbs by putting them into a pouch and keeping it in your pocket during your exam. As I say, it’s all about finding something that feels right. All spells are an amalgamation of different components to create certain energies – again, just like a recipe. You start with your individual ingredients then put them together in different ways to make something!

So there you have it. Spellcasting really isn’t all that difficult; it’s all about using what you have at your disposal and focusing your intent to get what you want. Following other people’s rituals are a brilliant place to start but don’t be afraid to tweak them, or if you can’t find one that works for you then write your own! There are a lot of fantastic sources online on the magical meaning of herbs, and Soraya’s Witch’s Companion has a detailed section on different components and their meanings that can be used in rituals. I will be doing a post on my tumblr account of some handy witchcraft blogs, so be sure to check that out if you want some more sources!

Blessed Be )0(

Nazis: Don’t Ruin Our Runes

Appropriation of religious symbols is unfortunately neither unusual or new – a particularly prominent example in recent years is the appropriation of Native American religious attire at festivals. While the damages of this kind of ignorant appropriation are well worth discussing (I’ll provide some links below of informative articles on the topic), this post focuses on appropriation of a more sinister kind; one that affects me very personally. That is the racist appropriation of pagan symbols by Neo-Nazi and other fascist groups.

This isn’t a new thing either. Most, if not all, symbols now associated with Nazism were pilfered from religious traditions. The swastika itself is originally a Hindu symbol of good fortune, and was used in religions worldwide. In some traditions, it is a sun symbol, in some it is a symbol of eternity. Never, until the Nazis claimed it, was it used to represent racial superiority. I wish I had known this when I went past a house near mine belonging to a Hindu family that had small swastikas designed into the glass above the door! The Iron Cross also has Celtic origins; the equidistant cross represents (among other things) the meeting between the material and the ethereal, and the main four festivals of the Wheel of the Year (which makes it particularly relevant to Wiccans and other modern pagan traditions that celebrate traditional Celtic festivals).

However, in recent times Neo-Nazis are more discreet than having a swastika-emblazoned armband. Which leads me to the main matter – the more symbols become well-known, the more these groups appropriate them to their cause. Many modern groups have taken to using runes as symbols of their hatred. Two in particular jump to mind:

Tyr-Rune-e1310015319981

This is tyr, which is a symbol of honour and justice. I think it’s pretty obvious what a perversion it is for literal Nazis to use any symbol associated with justice.


elhaz

This is elhaz (also known as algiz or the Life rune). It denotes protection.

 

There are many more runes sneaking into white-power circles – othala (meaning the home/family), nied (meaning determination), fehu (abundance, power)… Runes in particular are a problem as pagans from many traditions use runes in their magic. Reading runes is a form of divination (I have a bag of runes myself that I use to answer questions), and as potent symbols of desirable things many wear them as charms. Some even have them tattooed, which can cause a whole lot of problems during things like screening for the armed forces. I had very seriously considered having runes tattooed on my fingers until I became aware of this.

I’d imagine the reasoning behind using predominantly Celtic and Norse symbolism stems from these being largely white countries; white power groups have tried to make the heritage of white-majority countries synonymous with white supremacy. There are two parts to the message they are trying to get across with using ancient symbols rather than creating their own; firstly, this is our culture. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with that. The real issue comes from the second part – it’s better than yours.

And honestly there’s nothing anyone can say to that other than ‘Get fucked.’

Blessed Be )0(

 

Posts about cultural appropriation:
https://www.thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-and-why-iits-wrong-2834561
https://thetab.com/2016/04/05/dreadlocks-white-people-83996
http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/08/honor-native-americans-without-appropriating/