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.

 

 

 

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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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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.

 

The Ability to Choose

You get to choose, every day. It’s depressing when it feels like the world is choosing something for you, like you have no control over your life. But you do. You decide what has been, what is, what will be. Human life is startlingly short if we’re worried about whether we can retire on a million dollars, which is a stupid question. Right now is all we really have. How many times do we have to hear this before it sinks in and we make art? We get to tell ourselves what every “now” means. Why aren’t we telling ourselves more often that we’re amazing?

On Reversals of Fortune

We all experience them. The measure of your success is not how much is going well—whatever it is, it will change eventually for better or worse. It’s whether you endure those ups and downs without losing your mind. Nobody “wins.” Nobody gets out of here alive. The trick is to be able to stick around as long as possible and make the most of it all, make it mean something. And how you do that is completely your business.

Grimoire Insecurity: the Gift That Keeps on Giving

It’s lovely seeing posts from people who discovered Goetia last week and who have now, in their great experience and wisdom, embraced a grimoire purist attitude because anything else would be “ineffective” or “dangerous” or (gasp) “all in my head.” It’s equally wonderful to read smug responses to that from the opposite extreme: “I do it all in my astral temple, bro. I’m beyond tools and rules.” 

It seems to me that both of these extremes are similar and originate in insecurity. The first guy is terrified that he’s going to make a mistake. Maybe an even deeper underlying fear is that none of it is real and he’ll never know if he’s deluding himself unless he follows a strict rule set, which is the closest he believes he can come to an objective success-failure standard. 

The second guy is also afraid he’s going to make a mistake, but he believes following the grimoire purist approach is only for rich people with degrees in metallurgy and their own towers. Since he, like most people, got into magic because he wants things he doesn’t have (especially that tower), he circumvents his horrific doubts by making everything take place in his imagination.

There are many subtle gradations between these extremes, but stick around on magical forums (and on some of the ceremonial magic groups on FB) and you’ll notice the grimoire insecurity before long. It’s how Dr. Lisiewski and Steve Savedow marketed their Goetia methods. They sold a lot of books by exploiting the purist urge with horror stories from their own UPG (Savedow, in particular, reads like Book of Revelations fan fiction). There are also a bunch of Llewellyn and Weiser joksters who put books out in the other direction, some including a “Cicero method of magical tool creation,” but tending seriously towards the all-in-the-head approach.

I’m writing this not to say that purist approach or the all-in-the-head approach can’t work. What works for you may not work for someone else and there are some excellent purists who have a great, beautiful, grimoire practice. The opposite is probably also true, though harder to convincingly document because it’s so subjective (cf. “transvocation”).

But the insecurity, the angst, the defensiveness, the uncertainty is always easy to spot and that is what I’m inveighing against. It is often harder to keep an open mind, to say “maybe,” than it is to get red-faced and loud about your pet method of reassuring yourself that magic isn’t a waste of time.