Tips For A Broke Witch

I don’t know about you, but I would love to have that dream Witch Aesthetic™. I’m talking apothecary jars, ancient tomes, wooden carved everything, foraged and home grown food. But unless you have an abundance of time, energy and money, that isn’t the reality for most witches. However in recent months I’ve definitely got closer to the goal and there’s a couple of ways around whole time, energy and money issue.

  1. Recycle :
    Glass jars from sauces are ideal for herbs. To sterilize them and get rid of any smells give them a wash then add bicarbonate of soda and boiling water. Leave them to cool down, give them a shake and rinse out before putting them in the oven at about 100 degrees C until they are completely dry.
    My altar is an upcycled make-up box. Again, this can take a bit of time but it’s pretty cheap and easy to do – it can be as complicated or simple as your artistic skills and time allows. Just sand it down and paint it with whatever you like.
    When your candles have burned down too low to use, melting down the stumps and pouring them into molds with wicks will make you even more. They’re really easy to spruce up with glitter as well!
  2. Forage:
    This is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Even in an urban environment, herbs like plantain and pineapple weed grow just about everywhere. You don’t need a lot of expertise to start – obviously double check that what you’re foraging is safe, but this is fairly easy to do with access to the internet.
    I’ve found the best place for drying herbs is by the boiler – warm and dry, it’s the perfect environment to dry herbs quickly and it keeps them out of the way.
    Failing this, a great shop to buy spices is Tiger.  I’ve got full bags of cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, thyme, rosemary, lavender, even Himalayan salt for £2, and they last a long time.
  3. Cheap sourcing:
    Shopping online for basic materials and books has saved me so much money. I got a huge roll of muslin cloth for a few pounds that has last me all year and is looking like it’ll last another year! I use it to strain herbs when I’m making syrups, cordials, and extracts, and I’ve made bath teas with it. Don’t be worried to be a cheapskate when it comes to the basics.
    For more elaborate things like altar tools, second hand shops are your best friend. My athame is second hand, my Goddess incense burner is second hand, my chalice is second hand… and they are all beautiful. With second-hand things I like to cleanse them in salt water to get rid of any old energies lingering, and they’ve served me very well. My local Moot also does a swap at many meetings which is ideal if your craft is evolving as it means your old stuff isn’t clogging up your space.

This is all pretty basic advice, but often the issue is where to start. Hopefully this has given any newbie witches a helping hand!

Blessed Be )O(

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‘Positive Vibes Only’ – It’s Not As Good as It Sounds

blehBelieving in the power of the energy that we put out into the world is a pretty standard belief to find in most neo-pagan/New Age practices. As a Wiccan, I believe in the Rule of Three and that – as well as just not being a shitty person – directs me to try to be kind and generous. On the surface, you’d think believing in these sorts of principles (the Rule of Three, karma, like drawing to like, whatever you want to call it) is the most harmless thing in the world. However in New Age circles I think it has lead to a kind of ‘sunshine and rainbows’ mentality that shuts down any kind of criticism. And this can really hinder conversations about social justice and how New Age and pagan communities can be more inclusive.

The pre-occupation with being positive all the time and not releasing any negative energy into the world lest it come back on you has meant that justified anger from minorities is shamed and ignored. I’ve been banned from a facebook group because someone had posted something racist (talking about feeling scared because a ‘group of coloured youths’ were near her car) and when she was called out for it apologized. I wasn’t even involved in the original post but commented on her second one: this was my comment. bs 1

This was about a year ago; back when I had a lot more patience for things like this. But even back in my baby-activist days when, I had to point out the ‘I wasn’t meaning to be racist so therefore it wasn’t racist’ defence doesn’t really fly. But I tried to be gentle with my criticism, thinking that would be it. I wasn’t expecting responses. Boy, was I wrong.

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So that was in the space of about half an hour, if that. And it went on for a lot longer – I’m talking about three hours. These are the only screenshots I got before I was banned from the group, along with the two others who were agreeing with me from the start. This has happened another couple of times; a memorable one being when I suggested doing a protection charm for those who felt unsafe after Trump’s election (with an addendum saying that if the post was too political I would understand if the admins chose to delete it) and was similarly jumped on for spreading negativity and division. I don’t have screenshots of that as I was removed yet again. I wasn’t abusive in any of these situations, but being faced with uncomfortable truths apparently is enough to get people very riled up. But they’re riled up because I’m being negative. They wouldn’t ever be caught thinking like that themselves, of course.

This is my issue with the ‘nothing but positivity’ attitude; if your idea of positivity is to ignore injustice and silence those who speak up about it, then who exactly benefits? Considering pagans had to – and still do have to – fight to have our religions recognised and get rid of the stigma around our practices, so many are exclusive and even abusive of those doing the same thing for social justice nowadays. It’s the same as the issue many left-wing people have with liberals; just a heads up, this blog runs firmly on the belief that punching neo-Nazis and the like does NOT make you ‘as bad as them’. Yes, I believe in doing no harm and the Rule of Three. But I also believe that evil prospers when good people do nothing. In the context of social justice activism, doing nothing actively causes harm. Systematic oppression operates on people ignoring it – even more so when they are ignoring the uncomfortable truth that we perpetuate it.

I’m hoping this post will be a bit of a wake-up call for people in the New-Age and/or pagan communities, especially online where it is so much easier to argue with people. I don’t believe that this kind of silencing is done maliciously, but intentions don’t make it any less harmful. Sometimes being positive means confrontation; and it’s up to us as individuals to judge when that is necessary.

Blessed Be )O(

Writing About Writing, And Advice No One Asked For

Hi I’m Ella, and I’m a writer.

We need some sort of support group with the amount of complaining we all seem to do. Especially about not writing, which is about 80% of what being a writer is about. The rest of it is about 10% squeezing your brain and writing something even with the very distinct lack of motivation to do so, and 9.5% editing. Which leaves you with 0.5% of actual inspiration to write. As I said in a previous post, writer’s block is less of an occasional problem and more a consistent state of being. I’m by no means qualified to give tips, but seeing as writing is in the title of my blog I might as well write a bit about… well, writing.

Since my last post about creative writing, I’ve finished my first novel Enclosure (including extensive editing, proof-reading and all the particulars about font sizing, spacing and what-not that publishers want you to do) and am about 23,000 words into the sequel. I’m trying to get the first published – trying being the operative word. I’ve lost count of the amount of agents that I’ve sent Enclosure to, which has received about two rejections with some actual feedback, then a handful of plain old rejections, and somewhere between ten and fifteen that just ignored me. I’m not going to lie, no matter how much I told myself that it was going to be a hard slog and reminding myself how many times J.K Rowling herself got rejected, it gets pretty disheartening. If there are any creative writers reading this post, you’ll understand why. If not, I’ll try to explain the ridiculous levels of attachment we have to our characters. I  bawl my eyes out when I’m writing scenes in which my characters are in distress. Any one who knows me will back me up that I talk about them like they are real people; like they are friends I’ve known all my life. I frequently – and this is embarrassing, but I can’t stop myself – refer to them as my children. So it’s not a pleasant feeling when people clearly just aren’t into it.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The feeling when I finished Enclosure was awesome. I mean awesome as in I danced around my house blasting ‘Celebrate Good Times, C’mon’ at full volume. Scared the window cleaner to death. Finishing one novel also pushed me to write more. I got in such a habit of writing nearly every day that I missed it when I wasn’t. That’s not to say I don’t have days when I seriously can’t be arsed. But I’ve been powering through the sequel far quicker than the first one because now it doesn’t seem like too much effort to write 500 words a day. Doing it in small chunks is definitely the way to go for me. And if I miss a day, I’ll do 1000 the next. That still isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things – typing at size 12, that’s about a page. Writing every day is one piece of advice that I see thrown around a lot, and in theory I agree with it. Yes, even if you don’t have much motivation. If you wait around for motivation, you’ll never get anything done. But equally, don’t beat yourself up if you have a day off. For one thing, you can always catch up the next day if you keep your goals reasonable. For another, even if you don’t catch up it’s fine to have a day off every now and again, just like you would with anything else. It’s important to be disciplined if you’re serious about writing, but if you stop enjoying writing then what’s the point?

Like anything that’s worth doing, writing is difficult. It’s time consuming, it’s often frustrating and unless you make your millions from it there’s not a lot in terms of financial reward. That’s why my ultimate piece of advice in this little ramble parading itself as a blog post is this: if you’re writing for any other reason than being really and truly passionate about it, then don’t bother. Because while I’d love to get Enclosure published, it was never my end goal. I wrote it because I wanted to. And even if all it does is gather dust, I’ll still be proud of it.

Blessed Be )O(

Spiritual Journeys at the Tea House

dhikrI’ve already touched on my experience at dhikr in this post but to recap; a group of local Sufi Muslims run dhikr as an interfaith community space for prayer and meditation at my local teahouse every month. I’ve been attending for over a year now, and I wanted to write a bit more about it and how important it is to me. I can site going to dhikr as the turning point in my life in terms of my improving mental health and my increase in spirituality. It has honestly changed me.

As I mentioned in my post on Solitary witchcraft, as a member of a minority religion I don’t have much opportunity for community prayer. I’m profoundly grateful that I have found a space that welcomes me despite being a completely different belief system; not only that but celebrates the differences of the people who attend. There was a moment at dhikr months ago when it really hit home what a special community we have; afterwards we all share a meal together, and I turned my head to see a row of four men sat talking and laughing. One was a Jewish Rabbi, one a Wiccan, one a Sikh and one a Muslim Shayk. Different religions, different backgrounds, different races – I’m fairly sure the Wiccan man had never met the others before that night – just relaxing with each other. I’ve learned about so many religions and cultures from the dhikrs, especially as I usually help set up beforehand so I have plenty of time for nattering. I’ve also taught people a bit more about my own faith.

In terms of its spiritual impact on me, I always come away from the tea house feeling such a deep sense of peace. Without fail, there is a moment during dhikr when I almost cry; my spirits feel so lifted, and I feel closer not only to the God and Goddess but the world around me. It doesn’t seem so bleak anymore. What I’m going say next is very idealistic and probably very naive, but the community of people who consistently come to dhikr are a microcosm for what the world should be like; accepting, inclusive, always wanting to learn. I’ve seen groups (notably Gays Against Sharia) claim that you can either support gay rights or Muslim rights – that the two are mutually exclusive. And honestly, I wonder if any of those people have ever spoken to a Muslim before. Because I am as out and proud when I attend dhikr as I am in any other situation. No one has ever raised an issue with it. If anyone there has a problem with it, they have never made me feel uncomfortable or tried to push me out. If seen hate groups like the EDL claim that Muslims want to annihilate anyone who doesn’t follow their religion. Again, still very proudly Pagan, still very much part of this community. Oh, and of course Muslims are all out to radicalize you… seriously, need I go on?

I’ve got to the point when I need to come to dhikr. I feel myself slump spiritually when I have to miss one. It’s such a release from all the spiritual debris that can attach itself to you in such a negative world. It gives me so much strength. It’s probably the thing I will miss the most about my hometown when I go downside to uni, and all the people there that have become such good friends. That’s the only downside!

Blessed Be )O(

Witch Essentials: Book of Shadows

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I’m not by any means a purist when it comes to practicing witchcraft, but there are some things you just can’t do without – one of those is a Book of Shadows. More traditional witches will prefer a literal book, often choosing something extravagant. Which is fine – in all honesty if I had the budget to get a huge leather-bound tome, I definitely would. But writing things by hand isn’t for everyone and online Books of Shadows are a growing thing, either as an online journal, a word document or a public blog. Or if you do enjoy writing by hand (as I do), ther20170702_124039e’s nothing wrong with just setting aside a notebook to write down spells and rituals. Mine is a handmade one bound in fabric that I found in a beautiful shop in Whitby called Gutsy Gingers at my first Goth Weekend – if I remember correctly, it was about £14 and worth every penny. Whatever you choose, I think it’s important to keep a record of your craft.

At the very least, spells and rituals should be written in your BoS. From a practical point of view, it’s handy to have them at hand if you ever need them again. Spells for things like good luck, healing, success etc. are going to be spells you go back to throughout your life. Also if you use rituals to honour days of power in the Wheel of the Year or any other annual celebrations, using the same rites each year is a lovely way to establish a feeling of tradition. That’s how I started my BoS, also including smaller charms (things like pouches that I made). 20170702_123937

Since then I’ve expanded on it; my BoS has become more than just a record of spells, but a reference to pretty much everything I learn in relation to my craft. I’m a little bit eclectic but tend to refer to myself as an Earth witch – basically somewhere in between hedgewitch and kitchen witchery with bits and pieces of other things thrown in. My BoS reflects this, and it’ll be different depending on what kind of craft you practice, what elements you prefer to work with, whether you work more with spirits and so on.  For example, I incorporate runes in a lot of my rituals and have a set that I read from time to time, so I have runes and there corresponding meanings drawn in the back cover. From then I have a few pages set 20170702_123958aside for writing herbs and their properties (both magical and medicinal), and a few more for pressing leaves and identifying which tree they are from. I add bits as I learn them, so these are less neat than the front pages – for rituals I tend to write them in rough first so I can scribble out and alter things as I go. Writing out the final version in my BoS not only is more aesthetically pleasing (which I have to admit I’m a sucker for), but it’s easier to read if you do use it again in the future.20170702_123946

 

Long story short: if you’re a witch, some form of BoS will make your practice one hell of a lot easier!

Blessed Be )O(

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

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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.

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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(