On Being a Beginning Witch, Doing Protection Rituals, and Guarding Against Magical Attack

Live the magical life for any length of time and you will eventually run afoul of someone who would prefer to see you six feet underground.  It’s inevitable; though, the frequency and type of magical throw-downs will vary according to the sort of work you do (and, by extension, the magical groups you frequent). 

For example, spend a lot of time with ceremonial magicians and mystics in the “linear” post-Masonic traditions (Golden Dawn, OTO, Martinists, SRIA, Theosophy, Argenteum Astrum, Aurum Solis, AMORC, etc.) and you’re probably not going to meet many people who have developed magical attack skills.  Those groups are far more interested in mystical states, pathworking, controlling the elements, and developing the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” 

Sometimes, the grimoire traditions are studied in those groups (at high levels and only with a great amount of preparation and care).  But mostly such magical systems emphasize self-development and attaining “harmonium.”  Ceremonial magicians typically know a lot of magical history and theory and are often more comfortable in a study or a library than in the ritual chamber.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is just one way to lead the magical life.

Contrast this with practitioners of the African Traditional Religions (“ATRs” like Kimbanda, Santeria, Vodun, Louisania Voodoo, Curandismo, Umbanda, 21 Divisiones, Palo, and many other traditions and styles), who come from cultures where being a working sorcerer is often a serious full-time profession.  In those communities, your reputation as someone who can do effective work and who is not to be messed with is also your professional standing. 

You have clients who trust you and who often put their lives in your hands.  You can’t afford to lose face and there is a lot of pride involved in these lineages and the magical transmissions they provide to their magicians.  In those groups, magical warfare is an inescapable part of one’s practice.  The stakes are always high.  And rivals can seriously harm you with their malefica.  But such groups aren’t necessarily any more powerful or better than the European ceremonialists (power depending, as always, on the individual in question and not on the system).  They’re just different, coming out of a different cultural background, and serving different cultural needs.

Eclectic witches, magic-doing Wiccans, folk magicians, neo-pagan shamans, hedge witches, and traditionalist-craft witches fall somewhere between these extremes.  The state of the craft is always changing, has trends and popular practices that come and go, and reacts positively or negatively to whichever b-list magical celebrity authors are currently being promoted by a small group of niche publishers. 

Certain deities emerge along with these things (consider that magical energy and magical energy beings primarily follow human attention).  And the amount of depth and scholarship also changes with the times.  Goofy new age pop-magic witch books from the 1970s may seem laughable on the surface but may also really work.  The most gravely serious Scarlet Imprint trad-craft grimoire put out yesterday in black leather, full of spooky neo-Latin invocations, might look cool and be utterly useless (cf. “dark fluff”).

Facing this extremely confusing array of styles, traditions, and practices, the beginning witch can feel really turned around.  Where should one begin?  If you’re on your own, I usually recommend beginning with a simple eclectic Wicca book because that will at least give you a foundation and a way to start leading the magical life.  A great one is Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  DJ Conway’s Wicca: the Complete Craft isn’t bad (but could be much better) and has a lot of information.  Skye Alexander’s Modern Guide to Witchcraft is solid.  And Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft is probably better than all of the above, but is harder than them, too.  If you want a graduated course in the craft, you could do worse than Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: a Year and a Day in the Path of the Wise.  I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that come to mind as I write this.

I say read everything and develop a practice that feels right to you.  But no matter which craft book you read, you will encounter a few things which are repeated almost dogmatically.  One of them is: you must banish, ground, and center.  Banishing means dispersing negative and obsession-inducing energies (and energy beings) from your body and immediate surroundings.  Grounding means taking the excess energy in your body and sending it into the earth where it can disperse.  And centering means gaining an inner balance such that you feel in harmony inside and with what is around you.

These are all very good fundamental practices for a witch to know, because someday someone or something will want to harm you magically.  But here I want to talk about an obsession with protections themselves.  It’s like constantly washing your hands.  You do it once.  Then you feel like you got some bacteria on your hand an hour later.  So you wash your hands again, just to be sure they’re clean.  Then you start noticing that your hands are getting dirty a lot (compared to how they feel when you just wash them).  So you start washing your hands every hour, then every 30 minutes.  Then you begin to feel nervous about situations where you could get contaminated, and so on.  If this sounds crazy to you, it isn’t.  It’s just a habit of mind that people get into when they become hyper-aware of the shifting line between “clean” and “dirty.”

As with hand-washing, so with magical protections.  If you are engaging in constant banishings, you will resonate (your inner self will “vibrate”) at a very high level.  Your presence will feel very “clean” to people who can sense such things.  And certain classes of spirits, especially those who are aggressive or bound closely to the earth, will not enjoy hanging around.  That is all very good.  Unfortunately, it has a down side: miss a day and you will definitely notice.  You won’t be as lucky.  You will feel energetically unhealthy and grumpy.  You may even feel a strong need to isolate yourself and perform some cleansings because you have become so hyper-aware of the difference between walking in fully banished space and not.  Moreover, there will be some magic you just can’t do because your shields and personal wards will be so powerful that they will block everything.

If all you’re ever going to do is spiritually cleanse yourself (which is a completely legitimate way of leading the magical life), that’s fine.  Stick to your rigid cleansing routine and go about your business.  But if you want to work operative magic, if you want to be a well-rounded practitioner of the craft, you need to get a little dirty from time to time.  You need to let spirits in and take risks.  Witches are, almost by definition, risk takers.

So back to that person who wants to do you in.  Someday, you will encounter him or her and you may not realize s/he “threw on you” until things start going very wrong in your life.  You don’t want to put off learning how to protect yourself until this day comes, but you also don’t want to live in fear of it.  So here is a simple set of texts and practices to enable you to recognize and respond without having to do a hundred Lesser Banishing Rituals of the Pentagram every day.

First, get a magical wash.  I like concentrated “Chinese Wash” but you can get creoline or ammonia (I like Lucky Mojo’s “Buffalo Ammonia” for this).  You can also just use lemon-scented Pinesol and add lemongrass, chamomile, and bay leaves to it.  In any case, get that wash, mix some into water, and wipe down the walls, the floors, and the windows.

Second, make a simple “protection hand.”  Get a black flannel bag or a black bandana.  In it put 3 bay leaves, some lemongrass, and some dragon’s blood resin.  Light a paper match and throw it, lit, into the bag.  Shake it up.  Then say, “Creature of air, earth, fire, and water, I give you life that you will protect me and these premises from all threats.  Be ruled by me in this.”  Feed it with a sprinkle of whiskey once a week on Saturday. 

Third, actually learn a banishing ritual.  If the LBRP is too churchy for you, you can cast a simple shield (Google it) or use the simple banishing rituals given in the aforesaid texts.  Do this about every other or every three days unless you notice something nasty coming at you.  Then do it every day until safe.

Lastly, put a dream catcher up in your bedroom and, when you go to sleep at night (somewhere that kids and animals can’t reach), set out a glass of water close to your bed.  For extra zip, you can add a capful of Hoyt’s or Jockey cologne to the water or a splash of Florida water to it.  That will protect you all night long from being ridden when your defenses are down.

Hammer nails into the corners of your property to stake your spiritual claim.  And if you are attracted to the idea of setting wards and tasking guardian spirits, you can research those things on the internet for some basic practices.

Get and study the following four basic protection manuals: Have You Been Hexed: Recognizing and Breaking Curses by Alexandra Chauran; Protection and Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual by Jason Miller; Magickal Protection by Damon Brand; and Angelic Protection Magick by Ben Woodcroft.  Optional: Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune and The Witch’s Shield by Christopher Penczak.  By the time you finish these books, you will know a lot about how to detect magical attack and how to respond to it.  You will also know the difference between being an obsessive banisher and someone who uses protection in harmony with other forms of magical work.




Introducing ‘Sacred Women: Images of Power and Wisdom’

If you love the Quareia oracle deck as much as I do, then you love Stuart Littlejohn’s art. This looks great.

Josephine McCarthy

Sacred Women: Images of Power and Wisdom – the Art of Stuart Littlejohn is a new book that celebrates women through full colour paintings and accompanying texts.

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A Visit from Amiahzatan, Daemon of Tobacco and Smoke


A few years ago, I began an intense period of work with Brujo Negro’s Voodoo Sorcery Grimoire (VSG), aware of how controversial it was in terms of authenticity and provenance and yet caring less about those things than how the practices made me feel and what they seemed to produce.

Over time, I’d given myself permission to get romantic about magic, which is to say I’d come to emphasize what Wordsworth called in his Lyrical Ballads, the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”  I’d reached a point at which the way something felt was far more important to me than its historical or cultural authenticity.  And I am still travelling along that highly permissive magical path.

From the perspective of my practical work, a grimoire or a magical technique either is or is not effective, regardless of where it comes from, who wrote it, or when.  Its effectiveness usually depends on the sense of wonder it conveys, on the depth of feeling I can explore through it.  That is where I go to find true power, but I know it is not that way for every practitioner.

This verges on something like a classical chaos magic paradigm (if one can refer to an aspect of chaos magic as “classical” and keep a straight face), seeing belief as a means of attaining a numinous state.  Belief in the efficacy of a particular grimoire seems to be a tool that has just as much in common with the leap of faith a convert puts in his newly acquired religion.  Some subjective verities and insights have already emerged or at least resonated in the individual, but many have yet to be discovered.  And it’s up to the magician or new adherent to feel his way forward through the material.

For the convert, faith that her religion’s teachings are a valid and useful truth-finding process is a “means to an end” as if she were engaging in a chaos working—a practical way to experience a sought-after, highly personal, transcendent, magical moment.  Like a chaote seeking “gnosis,” one uses the spiritual techniques, symbols, and ideas to bring forth the “magical feeling,” which is where the “power and the glory” always reside.  It’s where demons and angels come calling, where the gates of the underworld swing wide, where the shades of the dead move and appear, and where deity speaks.

Having had more than a few experiences like this with Papa Legba through the work of the VSG, including an invitation to travel a long distance and begin formal study in one of his more traditional systems (an invitation for which I was appropriately grateful but chose not to take up), I felt deeply fascinated with the grimoire and knew it would take me to ever more powerful places if I kept using it.  It remains a treasured part of my work, integral to my magical life.

I should and do intend to write more posts about my VSG explorations.  But although this post involves the VSG, it is about a different and perhaps more general magical experience: the time in every magician’s work when a powerful spirit who has not been called arrives on the altar and introduces itself.

This will happen more than once, especially if you do a lot of necromancy and spirit evocation.  Things will sometimes follow you home from the graveyard or appear in your scrying apparatus, whether or not you’ve sealed the premises and taken other precautions to guard against close encounters.  Often these spirits will be messengers or simply just curious beings drawn to your inner light—something they enjoy and can see clearly.  Your wards and protections may not affect them because they mean you no harm and are therefore outside the scope and intention woven into those barriers.

There are spirits everywhere.  Just because you banish the area and set up metaphysical countermeasures doesn’t mean you are then operating in a metaphysical “clean room,” as some beginners assume when they get to the point where they can feel the force of their pentagram rituals and circle castings.  Banishing and cleansing are a lot more complicated and subtle than that, especially if you’re working in a spirit-based paradigm.  So, although my personal protections come in many different layers and styles, I am never surprised when a spirit taps me on the shoulder; though, this is not something that regularly happens.  If you are right with your ancestors, your guardian spirits, and your gods, you have nothing to fear from such visitations.

Some systems and practices leave you more open to this than others.  And it would be worthwhile for me to someday compare the various magical approaches I’ve studied in terms of the breadth of the perceptual fields they establish in the practitioner.  For now, it’s enough to say that long use of the VSG techniques has enhanced my ritual necromancy and hoodoo graveyard work to the point at which I have become extremely open to spirit communications.

I might be as open as a spirit medium, an openness that can prove to be far more dangerous and far less selective than necessary for most operative grimoire magic.  That said, I’m experienced and confident enough that I can handle hostile, destructive, or otherwise unwelcome intruders.  But I never expected a spirit from the “182 Current” to pay a visit.

Part of the beginning VSG work involves obtaining a human skull (like a less dedicated and permanent oboth or yiddeonim) as a doorway to the world of the dead.  Over time, one uses it similar to an advanced crystal ball—less as a window and more as an open spirit house, a magical construct, existing simultaneously on physical and non-physical planes, into which any spirit can be called, be communicated with, and be fed.

The story of how I obtained my skull for this work must remain private.  But I can state that it has served me well and has always functioned exactly as intended.  It has become one of my most useful magical tools.  Still, I’ve come to suspect that it is precisely because of its versatility and power that a strong spirit was able to step right into it unbidden.

This happened a few days ago when Amiahzatan, a tobacco and smoke daemon identified in Templum Falcis Cruentis’ Liber Falxifer, made himself known during my daily before-dawn magical work.  I felt him before I heard him, a heavy, almost leaden, gaze coming through the skull’s eye sockets.  I could feel its stare pushing into me.

Not recognizing the unique “signature” of this feeling, I asked it to identify itself and a voice came into my head: “Amiahzatan.”  The intense power behind that name was palpable, even through the medium of voiceless spirit communication.  We observed the proper courtesies and he offered to help me with certain creative aspects of my work in exchange for (very reasonable) specific offerings.  Intrigued, I assented and a pact was made.

Though I owned the Falxifer trilogy of grimoires, I had not ever seriously worked with them or even opened them in years.  And I should admit that I have been skeptical of the 182 / 218 Current, which originated in the anti-cosmic Satanism of the Misanthropic Luciferian Order and became the Temple of the Black Light.  To me, their inverted 2nd-century gnosticism and overheated dark-fluff kabbalah-Kenneth Grant mashup seemed more relevant to fans of the black metal band, Dissection, than serious occultists.  But I have to reconsider my previous judgements.  I can’t deny the powerful interaction I had with Amiahzatan, a spirit associated with Liber Falxifer’s folk magical component and the cult of Sigñor la Muerte, Lord of the Dead.

Perhaps my years of hoodoo and my work with the VSG (among other things) made it possible for me to form this connection without any sort of initiation into the 182 Current (or its complementary “chaosophic” anti-cosmic Current 218).  To be honest, I have not yet discovered an explanation and can only speculate at this point.  But I can say that I was not actively aware of the name, “Amiahzatan,” having read it, at most, once or twice in the book many years ago.  I have since done some online research as well as getting out the trilogy of Falxifer grimoires and starting to study them again.

In another magical twist, an old friend recently (and unexpectedly) gave me a copy of The Book of Sitra Achra, which he said he was instructed to do by Thoth, his patron deity.  I have known him long enough not to question that.  And, in my experience, one does not overlook such synchronicities.  The reader may also be amused to learn that the reeds outside my window have been visibly and unnaturally bending into an unmistakable “X,” which is a key symbol in the “Ablution Ritual” for the altar statue to Sigñor la Muerte (as the Master Qayin).  The symbol also carries a tremendous amount of meaning in my hoodoo work as the liminal crossroads where one meets the Black Man (or, in the VSG work, Papa Legba), who opens the roads.  Make of this what you will.  The point is that, contrary to my skeptical assumptions and expectations, an area of spirit magic has now opened to me in a way I haven’t expected and would not have otherwise pursued.  This is rare and I take it seriously.

That said, I do not know where this path will lead but, like a chaote or a novice believer, I am making that “leap of faith,” keeping an open mind and focusing on the subjective insights that have already emerged in my work.  I write this post not only to document the experience but also to recommend a similar approach in the reader’s magical studies.  Follow your sense of wonder and see what happens.  Anything is possible.

Conformist Culture and Magical Initiation

What is the System?

Here “the System” is used to describe the prevailing structure or organization of society or culture in general.  It is synonymous with “the social or cultural establishment,” as in: to work within the System instead of trying to change it.  Specifically, the System can be defined as a vehicle for “the set of values and beliefs people have about how the world (both nature and society) works as well as the norms of behavior derived from that set of values” (see Gorodnichenko and Roland 1).

Those within the System think with its mind, which is a function of conformist culture.  It stresses obedience to social norms according to the economic class into which a person is born.  If you are middle-class, you are handed middle-class values; the range of your acceptable life choices is middle-class; you earn a middle-class income; you have middle-class fears and desires.  The same holds true for upper-class and lower-class individuals.

The System can be said to create a false consciousness to the extent that it interposes itself between the individual and the endless variety of potential experiences in life, channeling and conditioning the individual’s perceptions and behavior as a means of control.  It is the ultimate panopticon, the ultimate command-and-control hierarchy.  The fundamental benefit of the System is that it organizes human experience and behavior to increase productivity and decrease instability in all areas of society.  But to do this, it must unjustly and violently (primarily as a matter of structural violence) interpolate people into its mechanisms from birth without giving them a chance to opt out.

However, an initiatory shock can cause an individual to question the class values and assumptions that make up the perceptual categories through which he or she has been conditioned to find and invent meaning.  An initiatory shock exposes the System as an artificial construct, a perspective that can be chosen or discarded.  One does not have to accept the class values and assumptions imposed at birth.  In fact, one does not have to make any choices to affirm any part of the System; though, the System will, like any social construct (discourse) seek to defend its existence, its status quo, by alienating and demonizing those who question its legitimacy and its version of reality. 

There is, more or less, a psychological struggle taking place in every person who chooses to think for him- or herself instead of with the mind of the System.  The struggle is grounded in messages of fear: get in line or you will be rejected and shamed.  Get in line or you will starve and suffer.  The fear that this creates in some people can be intense enough to (temporarily) keep even a questioning individual from abandoning his or her preordained role in the System.  If the person does not give in to this pressure, he or she enters into a relationship with the System characterized by having to live in a state of social alienation punctuated by continual attempts on the part of the System to reassimilate the individual.

One cannot exist in this state for very long, even if one has the emotional and financial resources to remain apart.  The instability of living in a state of radical alienation from society can result in mental illness, addiction, and even certain physical dangers that come with isolation.  One reaches the point where it is necessary to create a separate peace, what Hakim Bey, in the Temporary Autonomous Zone, calls a “pirate utopia.” 

The developmental trajectory from the first shock to existing in a pirate utopia is both initiatory and counter-initiatory.  It is initiatory in the sense that one is initiating oneself into one’s own miniature truth system—a system that contains an idiosyncratic set of values and assumptions that reflect the good life one has discovered and created for oneself through introspection and mindful action.  Some of these values and assumptions will coincide with those of the previous conformist System.  However, the initiate’s “pirate utopia” will not exist within or as a function of that.

It is counter-initiatory in the sense that once the person attains his or her “separate peace,” it is impossible to effectively reintegrate into conformist culture.  When one realizes that it is possible to exist and even thrive apart from the System, one becomes impervious to most fear-based assaults.  One has developed a set of eyes that see beyond System-authorized categories of meaning and prescribed fields of System-supporting endeavor.  One has grown in ways that prevent fitting back into the mold.

Having attained this state, one is also able to operate inside the System, entering and exiting at will.  One might be considered dangerous, but only to the extent that one is visible to the modes and instruments of enforcement the System uses to protect and perpetuate its existence.

Only two questions remain for the initiate at this point: (1) What do you want?  And (2) What do you need?  These questions are dependent on each other.  The initiate creates and maintains a “pirate utopia” that satisfies his needs.  From that foundation, he pursues his wants.  He actualizes his wants by building (conceptual or physical) structures in his utopian autonomous zone.  In the process, he discovers new desires.  He augments or rebuilds previous structures, while creating entirely new ones.  This is why schools of the Left Hand Path sometimes refer to such coming into being as the process of becoming more of what one already is

In order to answer the question, “What do you want?” one engages in a lot of illustrative self-work and non-linear perspective shifting (i.e. magic).  But the individual’s progress from initiatory shock to a separate peace (and beyond) is never smooth or simple.  Her preexisting roles within and connections to the System will result in many reversals and contradictions as she tries to develop an extra-System awareness and, by extension, a unique way of living in the world.

Parts of the System will eventually become aware of her and react aggressively to her burgeoning awareness, trying to intimidate and distract her back into a state of compliance.  But that sort of norming doesn’t work for long.  Once a mind becomes slightly free, it inevitably seeks greater freedom.  Once an individual breaks away from imposed control, it is impossible to authentically return to the previous state of subjection—no matter how much one may want to go back.

As mentioned earlier, fear and distraction are the two weapons used to keep original thinkers in line.  Not surprisingly, fear and distraction are co-dependent.  Remove one of them and the other will soon follow.  Therefore, it is essential that the initiate turn inward to find his or her idiosyncratic values and focus intensely on them.  If this is accomplished, the “consequences” communicated by the threatened System will have less impact and the System’s attempts to sidetrack the individual will be less effective.

The message that the individual needs the System and cannot make it outside the System’s boundaries will be frequent and inevitable.  This message may originate in the natural human tendency to fear the unknown but, whether it is intentional or instinctual, it is always false.  There may be safety in numbers from predators.  But the exceptional individual, who has learned to survive apart from the herd, becomes an apex predator in his own right.

Sometimes, when the System can’t scare or distract the individual into submission, it will attempt to conscript the person as a high-level agent, offering him or her a high status and the opportunity to be seen as a successful result of the system’s processes.  This is a seductive form of assimilation, which, while it seems to offer relief, still requires a deep-seated submission—the willingness to abandon self-development in exchange for a more exotic form of (distraction) sleep.

At this point, one faces and hopefully passes the final test, that of dedication to the singularity of oneself at the deepest level.  Having accomplished this, one essentially disappears from the awareness of the System and its subjects.  One has become sui generis to the extent that the perceptual categories of the System neither recognize nor describe his or her state of being.

Likewise, the wants and needs created as motivation for the inhabitants of the System are no longer relevant to the individual.  This is the “dynamic solipsism” of the completely idiosyncratic individual.  The person has “crossed the Abyss” in the sense that she no longer relates to culture in a conventional way.  And yet the basic personhood of the initiate remains intact.  He is who he has always been, only more so.

Because fear and distraction seem to get in the way of this development, the competent beginner learns to engage with the mundane aspects of her life in a way that changes them so that they serve her initiatory process.  Shortly after the first initiatory shock, the inexperienced magician evaluates the resources at her disposal—how she can meet her basic needs without capitulating to Systemic pressure. 

The more experienced practitioner takes a different approach.  After functioning in the way of the beginner for a time (and perhaps because of early attempts to repurpose the mundane) she reaches a point at which her basic needs are being met almost effortlessly.  Instead of changing the mundane so that it serves the initiatory, she learns to recognize the initiatory value of things in themselves.  She consequently operates on a much deeper, more profound level, moving through a magical landscape that gives more than it takes.  From then on, she may decide not to interact with the System at all, given that she completely trusts and dwells almost entirely within her subjective universe.  Any additional interactions with the System or its denizens will be entirely at her discretion. 

The emphasis and attention in one’s self-work can thereby shift away from the spectres of fear and distraction conjured by the System in favor of the personal, private, idiosyncratic system that is constantly under development.  The wise magician realizes that the punishments threatened by the System for non-compliance only exist for those submitting to its jurisdiction.  However, because the System contains humans but is not human (perhaps it is inhuman), it cannot conceive of anyone or anything existing beyond its authority.  It resembles a maniacal dictator commanding a distant mountain range to obey. 

Put another way, the System is more like an artificial intelligence than a living person.  It is capable of drawing complex conclusions within established parameters, but it is not original or spontaneous, such that it can design novel ways to reassimilate disaffected, disenfranchised, or otherwise alienated individuals beyond its preconceived boundaries.  Its tactics are always the same: intimidation, then distraction, then seduction.