Starting up work once again . . .

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Well, my six-month hiatus away from conjure is coming to an end.  I’m feeling the itch, feeling called by my spirits to get back in the game.  As my dear friend Brother Moloch said not too long ago: it’s good to take breaks but don’t let too much time go by.  He’s right, as usual.

Sometimes, you need to clear your head.  This kind of work is so serious and intensive that after every 15-20 client cases, I tend to need a decompression period if I want to stay on top of my game.  So it’s been a good one.  I’ve moved twice in this last period—to southern France and then back to the USA for a while.  Now I’m in Europe again, my workshop is reestablished, and I’ve been doing tarot readings locally to get warmed up.  

You can find me moderating on Studio Arcanis most days or contact me here via my secure email: friendlyoccultist (at) protonmail (dot) com. 

If you need some work done or you need a reading, check out How to Hire Me, my Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, and What I Won’t Do for Money on this site.

While I’ve been away, I’ve gotten a plethora of requests for spiritual work.  To those who emailed me during that time, I can only say that sometimes the world of Spirit calls you to do this kind of work.  Other times, you are explicitly called not to work but to be introspective and care for yourself.  Since I have a full-time mundane income, I can afford to listen carefully to those messages.

When it Looks Like a Curse, Don’t Go to a “Lightworker”

The only thing more pathetic than the term, “spiritual entrepreneur,” is the individual who describes him- or herself that way. It may seem a bit ironic that I’m saying this, given that I practice public sorcery and charge for such services. But there is definitely a difference between a “spiritual entrepreneur” and a “spiritual worker” as the terms are commonly understood and used.

A spiritual worker is a magical individual (rootdoctor, sorcerer, Reiki master, herbalist, card reader, etc.) who provides a set of spiritual services to a community. These days, that includes an online community. This person may work through various established spiritual traditions and usually tries to educate and counsel his or her clientele. For example, my Black Snake Conjure is not only dedicated to conjure, evocation, and Reiki. It’s also committed to fostering multiculturalism, tolerance, and sharing across ethnic and spiritual boundaries. I do this work not just for my own monetary benefit but also to teach the art of magic and, in the process, to make the world a better place.

Conversely, a spiritual entrepreneur may or may not be a magical individual but will try hard to seem like one (using the most trendy suburban Wiccan* or new age styles, keywords, and assumptions). This person promotes a spiritual technique, product, or service, relying heavily on e-marketing, focused spam via “newsletters,” usually a content-lite YouTube channel, and niche customer targeting to generate as much passive income as possible. A spiritual entrepreneur’s focus is on his or her multi-platform business first, then content, then the clients. For this person, it’s all about the “brand.” If you go to YouTube and type in one of the key words associated with spiritual entrepreneurialism, “witchy,” you will get a veritable phone book of unimaginative cliché examples. After watching one or two of those videos and looking at the linked websites, you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder whether we need another post entitled “Six Signs You Might Be a Witch” or “Crystals Dealing with Toxic Family Energy Over the Holidays” or “Working with Angels and Spirit Guides.”

In the 1990s, more serious (or at least more style conscious) magical people coined the term “fluffy bunny” to describe Wiccans who pretend that they only work with love and light (with an equally pretentious subsequent reaction, “dark fluff”). And many spiritual entrepreneurs still believe that a generous helping of fluff will more easily part a certain type of customer from his or her money. But spiritual entrepreneurialism isn’t about love or “ascension” or, actually, anything at all beyond branding. It’s the most cynical commodification of spirituality available in the West and we see it everywhere. It’s the reason why occult publishers like Llewellyn and Weiser have taken so much criticism from real practitioners over the last 20-30 years, even though they’ve published quality work along with poorly researched, padded, repetitive trash.

Most of what I’m saying here is obvious and anyone who spends time looking through social media and reading Tumblr will quickly come to these conclusions.  As in all things Theodore Sturgeon’s “garbage theory” applies: 90% of a given set of things is crap to support the 10% that isn’t. All well and good. However, it’s not so good when we need spiritual services that actually work.

Uh-oh. Maybe you’ve been cursed. What then? If you think only members of certain ethnic communities worry about curses, you’re dead wrong. Every culture has them. And I can tell you confidently that if you haven’t been the target of a curse or some other form of psychic attack at least once, you will be someday. It’s part of life.

Now imagine you find yourself in a situation where a highly suspicious chain of nasty events is taking place in your life. Maybe you’ve also come down with a case of heavy depression and insomnia. You’re having reversals and problems at work and at home. And all of this happens to coincide with a falling-out you’ve recently had with someone or with some envy-inducing advancement, like a raise or a new relationship or a financial windfall. You say to yourself, why would anyone want to curse me? I haven’t done anything wrong! But curses don’t just work for justice. You can get crossed up by any individual who resents your happiness enough to do something about it.

Most of us, if we’re leading adult lives and not living in a cave, have a sprinkling of enemies who want to see us suffer. Often, a few of those people will either have some metaphysical aptitude or will be willing to go to a sorcerer-for-hire. And many times those people will be very close to us—ex-lovers, family, or coworkers. If you’re a decent person, like most people are, you won’t want to believe it. Jane from accounting?! She’s still bitter about me turning her down but, really, is that enough for her to pay a hoodoo worker to fuck up my life? Sure. Why not? You have no idea what’s going on in her head. She may just frown at you and avoid eye-contact when you pass her in the hallway, but maybe she’s lurking on your Facebook page, spending a lot of time fixating on why you turned her down, etc. With that in mind, do you think it’s so far-fetched that if she has a few books on magic, she might try something? Maybe she starts searching for “love spells” and comes across a professional’s website. And the rest is, as they say, academic.

In a situation like this, do you want to go to a spiritual entrepreneur who charges you $300 to change your vibration with a $10 quartz crystal and some essential oil? Do you want to go to a cute-as-a-button Wiccan girl on YouTube who says she can sage the bad juju away? Really? How about getting a reading from a teenager on Tumblr who snaps it out in just 20 minutes? Because I’ve been contacted by people who’ve taken that route at first. They nearly always write the following: I’ve gotten burned by workers before. Paid a lot of money and nothing happened. Or got a tarot reading and it made no sense / was totally vague. Or so-and-so cursed me and now my life is in tatters and Jenny the Lightworker told me my chakras were just out of balance. And then I have to clean up both the mess that their lives are in and whatever half-baked work the spiritual entrepreneur did (if anything).

All the new-age stuff, all the Wiccan stuff, all the watered-down pop-occult techniques and Law of Attraction and “abundance manifesting” can work. I don’t want to give the impression that “my way is the only way.” The problem is not actually with the techniques. It’s with the branding and the people who think they can make a living off of others by doing very little beyond curating their feeds and smiling into the camera. Most of the clients I get are desperate and sometimes locked in life-or-death circumstances. Many of them have been victims of baneful magic or a deep run of crossed-up luck or some force, whether human or otherwise, holding them down. They have been unjustly harmed and they feel like their options have become very limited. Understandably, they have no sense of humor about this stuff. They’re not playing. They need help and they need it yesterday.

My recommendation is that if you are one of those people in need, do not waste your time on someone surrounded by a lot of slick e-commerce because that’s where all the energy is going. Instead, look for three qualities in a worker: (1) reasonable rates; (2) professionalism (i.e. scheduling, doing a small diagnostic reading in the beginning, providing updates, not seeming money hungry, ethical); and (3) doing more than just protecting and curating their brand / internet presence. It’s important to keep these things in mind if you want to avoid throwing your time, money, and emotion away on someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

 

 

* I actually love Wicca. I’m not putting it down. I’m putting down those who cynically use it to hook customers in support of a superficial brand.

Broke Occult Masters and Other Poseurs

So many occult societies amount to nothing more than goth day at Disneyland.

It’s all well and good to claim that you have esoteric knowledge (or even that you have improved your life through a particular occult philosophy), but the proof is in what you have done all on your own, absent inheritance or a trust fund or a high-earning spouse. This is also a problem I have with YouTube witches going on about their practice and offering classes / e-books on various topics. I think to myself, that’s great but you are clearly a suburban housewife with sources of income that do not come from your occult work. So don’t tell me you’re a success because of your witchcraft. You’re a success because hubby works 60-80 hours a week at the firm. If you think you have a clever way of improving your lot, that’s good, but you have to practice it openly and not hide behind e-marketing facades. 

I think having a day job is an important aspect of being an occultist. It’s not a requirement. You can rely on money magic and gambling and all that and I believe make things work. But that’s not an easy life. In A Dark SongJoe Solomon, the antagonist of the story, is a real jerk. But to me that just resonates with the public occultists I’ve met who try to support themselves with their art. It makes you hard and bitter because it is so damn difficult. Sure, it can be done, but if you want to lead a posh suburban lifestyle, don’t think your money magic is going to be there like a steady income. It’s going to be up and down with no safety net forever.

The problem with many occult groups—from bullshitty prosperity new thought all the way to gravely serious initiatory stuff—is that you still have to put your pants on one leg at a time and go make a living. I believe Law of Attraction can help. I believe in most forms of occultism and magic, from the superficial to the scholarly. Magical things can definitely give you an advantage. But the material world makes its demands and we have to answer unless we want to live in a tunnel with the other Temple of the Vampire members who bought into that philosophy and mailed in their subscription payment.

I pick on the ToV a lot because I see them as the quintessentially hypocritical style-over-substance occult organization. It’s all well and good (and great marketing to a certain frustrated type of seeker) to say, “We believe in dayside mastery (i.e. getting your life and finances together) as well as nightside (occult) mastery.” But if you meet ToV members, and I know several former ones, you quickly see that they have developed a level of fake doubletalk about how great their lives are because of their mastery of dayside-nightside techniques. The reality is that they’re getting their egos fed from membership in the group and that is all. It is fundamentally important, for anyone looking to improve their lives through esoteric philosophies and groups, to look at the members carefully. They are the products of what their groups can create—if they have even benefited at all and not just misrepresented their privilege. All the fancy talk in the world will not change this fact. If the group was started by two guys in a trailer and they are now receiving a passive income from membership fees, think about that.

I’d like to feature this blog post from Ray “Dr. Hawk” Hess.  I’ve enjoyed his book, Backwoods Shamanism, quite a bit and think he makes a lot of sense here when he’s talking about the idea of paying for spiritual services.  Obviously, I agree with his conclusions, but sometimes it’s good to present a perspective that comes from a different voice with different experiences.  To that end, I suggest you click on this link and see what he has to say: https://doctorhawk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/on-monetary-compensation-for-spiritual.html

I also highly recommend his book, which can be purchased here: http://a.co/9gb6JU3

 

Source: On Monetary Compensation for Spiritual Services…

Seeking Initiations

I’ll start with a hoodoo story.  About 10 years ago, I was in California and I went out to the Lucky Mojo shop to get a lodestone and some Black Arts oil. They were all out of the oil but, since I’d driven about 4 hours to make the visit, Cat Yronwode was kind enough to mix up a bottle of it while I waited.  It was very inspiring to actually watch her work.  While she mixed it up, I asked her for the recipe—not really expecting her to tell me, but aware that if you don’t ask the question, you’ll never get the answer.  She said, “If you want to know what I know, you have to do the research I did.”  Period.  That was exactly what I thought she’d say and I took no offense at the response.  Her point: in magic, as in anything else, you have to put your time in to actually get real skills.

I mention this because it applies to an even bigger issue.  I inveigh pretty loudly against gatekeeping in magic and, I think, for good reason.  I believe we should honor what makes us all unique but we should also accept that we are one and that love, exchange, and understanding crosses all boundaries.  

With that in mind, I want you to teach me what you know and maybe I have something to offer you as well.  When we share with each other, we both grow stronger.  Everything beautiful is the product of two other different things coming together.  Think about that.

But you can’t buy your way into a spiritual system, even if you have the best intentions.  That includes hoodoo, Wicca, or even very open practices like spiritual yoga or Reiki.  Let me repeat that: you cannot buy your way into these things.  When Cat said that if I wanted to know what she knew, I had to pay my dues, this was the lesson.

We’re seeing a lot of suburban Caucasian North Americans seeking initiations into African American, Afro-Caribbean, South American, and Mexican magical-religious systems—not because they’re necessarily spiritually called to do so, but because it’s trendy and seems edgier to them than their existing Christian, neopagan, or Indo-European reconstructionist traditions.  

And because the occult merchandising industry aims primarily at those with the most disposable income to spend on books, ritual tools, events, etc., we’re also seeing the commodification of of the ATRs the same way witchcraft got commodified from the 1960s to the present.

But the ATRs are primarily oral traditions and naturally resist this kind of economic colonialism.  I understand this and it saddens me that there can’t be more cultural exchange taking place beyond tone-deaf non-magical academic anthropology on one end and pseudo-spiritual opportunism on the other.  But I keep in mind Cat’s lesson and I have to stress: if you want to be initiated into a tradition that is not culturally your own, you have to assimilate to the host culture first if you want the initiation to be real.

You have to pay your dues.  Since these systems are so closely linked to their cultures (i.e. there isn’t much distance between cultural identity and spirituality), you can’t just walk in, pay for an initiation, and then claim that as an identity.  It’s disrespectful and pointless, even if you don’t realize it at the time.  Just remember: culture and conjure go together.

This may seem ironic coming from a white conjure worker.  But I actually have paid my dues, many times over and have nothing to prove.  Also, hoodoo as a practice doesn’t contain formal initiations like some of these other systems.  So it’s kind of unique in that the dues-paying is a lot more implicit and informal (but still there).  I have been initiated into other forms of magical-religious practice, but those forms were closer to my ethnic origins and weren’t therefore a big leap.  

My point here is actually simple and not so original, but I think I need to make it because I spend a lot of time arguing in the other direction (that we should come together and share what and who we are across boundaries).  I don’t like the term “cultural appropriation” being used as a racial gatekeeping term (people with a certain skin color can’t learn or shouldn’t be accepted).  At the same time, when you approach someone’s house and ask to live inside, be ready to accept their way of life and understand their culture / language instead of trying to buy your way in.

It is my sincere wish that all cultural identities be honored, respected, and preserved.  I also hope that this will never stand in the way of universal brotherhood, love, and growth.

Giving Your Workspace a Witchy Makeover and Other Bad Ideas

Everybody says they want to lead a more magical life.  You don’t often hear people remarking that the amount of magic and wonder in their lives is just right and they don’t want any more of it.  No one ever says, “This is it.  I can’t allow my life to get any more interesting and magical.”  If you’re a witch or some other kind of occultist, you’re always in search of more magic, more meaning, deeper truths, more mystery, more profound connections to the divine, and more powerful experiences with the hidden side of things.  It comes with the job description.  Even so, for many witches and magicians, there is an even deeper, more compelling motivation in their lives: getting paid. 

If you follow my online writing, you know that I’m always advocating having a mundane day job if you want to function in society.  Having income and financial security to maintain the life you want to lead is so important.  It frees your mind.  It allows you to focus on what matters in your spiritual life without making compromises.  And it gives you a sense of emotional stability, a peer group, and a degree of self-confidence you can’t get in any other way.  

It doesn’t matter to anyone but you what you do.  Your day job might be as a tarot reader in the town square—I know a few—making less than minimum wage.  But if that is enough to support the life you want, you’re doing what I recommend here and you are ultimately free. You may want more.  You may want to support a family or own a big nice house.  If that is the case, then you have to adjust your activities to produce that sort of life.  The point is that you have a day job in order to survive the way you want to survive and acquire the level of resources you need.  Moreover, if you like what you do, even if you can just tolerate what you do, you’re a very fortunate person.  But one thing you should never do is try to give your mundane day job a witchy makeover.

This morning, I read a blog post from a self-professed “spiritual entrepreneur” advocating exactly that.  I’m not going to link it here because I don’t want to harm her with my criticism.  Instead, what I’m writing here is more about the ideas, not so much about who I think she is or whether I think she is misguided.  But I’m going to use some of the things she wrote as an example of what I’m warning against.

She says, “You don’t have to leave your magic at the altar. Magic should go wherever you go—your magical practice is a living, breathing extension of you, something you create with your hopes, dreams, and intentions as you interact with your environment and the universe.”  This sounds good, right?  It’s what we all believe or at least aspire to in our spiritual lives if we’re magical people.

But how we do this is the issue. And her suggestion is possibly the most damaging I have seen.  She talks about turning your cubicle or office into a “witchy retreat.” Essentially, she is proposing ideas for giving a pseudo-magical-emphasis to a non-magical-emphasis space by manipulating light, including subtle magical tools, herbs and teas, essential oils and candles, etc.

Imagine a cubicle farm: the gray nub carpet, the florescent light bars in the ceiling, the sound of people tapping on their keyboards or cell phones, muted voices, the faint whir of the air conditioning, the cloud of human despair.  Do you seriously think that putting a crystal on top of your paperwork, putting herbs in your desk drawers, and making a sigil on a Post-It note is going to dispel the feeling of “dull workplace”?  

What’s stronger, the overwhelming physical presence of the mundane environment or the few magical thought forms you might be sprinkling around your tiny corner?  In a playhouse, what’s stronger, the energy of a place where many dramatic performances are enacted or the energy of the cell phone in your pocket?  In a prison, what’s stronger, the energy of many prisoners packed together or the energy of the tree outside the front gates?  In a school, what’s stronger, the energy of a lot of kids sitting in desks or the energy of the cleaning supplies in the janitorial closet?

Beginners with no sense of proportion, who may not be able to see that everything is energy, may think that this witchy makeover idea is wonderful.  But the truth is that because everything is energy, the energy of a workplace will be very strong, probably stronger than that crystal on top of your stack of reports and your cup of witchy chamomile.  These things will not transform your cubicle into a “witchy retreat.”  They will be transformed instead. This is how to ruin magical tools and how to ruin your magic in general.

Here is the part where I reveal another magical secret: there is a reason the “sacred mysteries” are hidden.  The sacred and the profane do not mix.  Forming sacred space is one of the key activities in most beginning Wicca and witchcraft books because it is essential to make a division between everyday life and the sacred.  

We know that everything is energy.  We also know that everything is ultimately sacred because everything is one.  But in another sense,we also know that creating sacred space helps us push out the distracting soul-deadening intrusions of everyday life so that we can focus on the energy of divinity and magic.  This, incidentally, is why grimoires require protective circles; it’s why “casting a circle” is often highly recommended in craft books; it’s also why banishing and meditation are also taught to beginners.  By giving your work space a superficial witchy makeover, you are blurring the line between the sacred and the profane and actually hurting your ability to create sacred space.

Back to “everything is energy”: the magical items you bring in to do the makeover will seem witchy for a short time and will then become very mundane because that is the dominant energy in your workspace. You are trying to swim upstream against the current and eventually the current will prevail.  Those items will lose their magical charge and then you will have to take them home and either cleanse them or toss them.  Every time you do this, you will be reinforcing the power of your workspace to kill your magic.  Moreover, you will be weakening your ability to create sacred space.

In the end, the witchy makeover idea serves a different purpose than leading a magical life.  It does exactly the opposite by making your magical life seem flimsy and ineffective.  The power of that cubicle, reinforced over you 5 days a week, 9 hours a day, will be far more prevalent than the magic you do on exhausted weeknights and occasional Saturday evenings.

It might make you feel slightly better to try to blur the lines between the sacred and the profane, but this just serves as a coping mechanism, making your day job a little less boring for a short period of time.  As such, it serves your need to get paid at the expense of your spiritual life. And if that is the point, just invest in some good meds and leave the occult life behind.

Don’t play with magic like a toy.  At best, it will leave you.  At worst, it will mess you up.  Definitely do job magic and workplace magic at home when you’re in your magical space.  But when you’re physically at work, be completely there.  Work hard.  Make peace with your mundane life.  And see your day job for what it is: the way you support yourself.  If you can do this, you won’t have to come up with some scheme to bring witchcraft into your cubicle.  If you can’t do this, you won’t be completely at work and you won’t be completely in sacred space.  And that’s a shame.