‘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(

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.

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

 

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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(