Do Your Best

I have a neighbor who looks like the separated-at-birth twin of Slavoj Žižek.  Rain or shine, Monday morning or Friday evening, he looks utterly dismayed at the stupidity of existence.  Perhaps there is some value in that perspective.  But, to me, he just seems consistently miserable.  I passed him this morning on my way to the market and would have said hello if he’d looked up.  He didn’t.  There were dark and gloomy things to entertain on this bright Saturday morning in Southern England.


Ah, I thought, maybe next time.  Maybe, at some vague juncture in the future when things are somehow better than they are right now (and it is possible for him to accurately determine this), he will smile. 

He’s a pretty good neighbor because I never see him.  But, when I do, I’m reminded of that (overused) line from Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  He’s a university professor, lives in a very nice house, has a vivacious young French wife and two bright and healthy daughters.  And still: mordred in the black pit of despair every time I see him.  Well, maybe that’s just his style.

Sometimes, I wonder if his face is merely fixed that way, not unlike Grumpy, everyone’s favorite obsolete meme-cat.

This is actually Grumpy Cat smiling.  And I think we all know people like this.  They’re never happy unless they’re miserable, at least on the outside.  Many such people have a melancholy disposition even in the best of times.  These are the most difficult people to help.  They turn to magic as a solution when everything else has failed because they don’t really believe, deep down, that anything can make them satisfied or happy.   So why not something totally unreal and fake like magic?  It makes no sense when you think about it.  Of course, extremely depressed people are not expected to make sense.

As I walked to the market, my encounter with Clone Žižek got me thinking about conjure and about how aggrieved certain clients are when they contact me, how convinced they are that nothing will be able to fix their complex and insurmountable problems.  They want to believe in a spiritual solution.  But, really, they think they’re doomed.

Therefore, the first step when they contact me is to explore the possibility that other outcomes exist.  I do a short tarot reading, write up my insights and recommendations, then we talk about it.  Usually, that gets to the heart of the problem (which may be entirely different than what the client thinks he or she needs at first).  And if the cards show that work is indicated, I’ll lay out a range of possible solutions, send the client an invoice, set up a timeline and, as soon as payment is received, we’ll get moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I usually give out a lot of free folk magic advice on things the client can do to help him- or herself in little ways.  Folk magic can be immensely useful psychologically (decreasing lust of result, attaining necessary inner calm) and practically (putting yourself, your magical intentions, and the natural world in dynamic harmony). 

But there’s an even deeper piece of advice that I can give you right here.  It comes from one of my 7 Practices, common sense ideas I like on how to lead a tranquil satisfied life: “Acceptance.  I take everything life offers and use it to become smarter, stronger, and more joyful.  This may at times be difficult but, when it is possible, it is the best course of action.”

Ah-so,  you may be thinking, wisdom of the ancients!  A Hare Krishna gave me a free pamphlet on the street corner last week that said the same thing.  And I will agree with you that this principle is neither surprising nor original.  But it’s perhaps more immediately useful than 100 spell books on how to get paid and laid.  If used properly, it is a more powerful formula than any work of operative magic because it constitutes life-changing initiatory magic—as in, you are initiating (beginning) yourself in a new way.  You’re experiencing a new beginning.  And there is no separation between that magical intention and the target (you).  All it takes is desire and mindfulness.  

People think acceptance means making the best of things as they are.  Wrong.  How do you feel when someone says, “Just make the best of it.”  Do you feel good?  I’m willing to bet that you feel worse and probably a bit angry.  Being put in a position where you have to make the best of a bad situation or a problem feels like being trapped, admitting there is nothing to be done, and the problem is never going to change.  It is inherently defeatist and puts you back in Clone Žižek Land where the sky is always falling and everything is always horrible.

Instead, you initiate a new course of action-experience-being by “doing your best.”  Do you see the subtle difference?  “Making the best of what is” is not the same thing as “doing your best”—which has less to do with “what is” and more to do with “what you want it to be.”  “Doing your best” says that maybe you won’t be able to fix the whole thing.  Then again, maybe you will.  You have agency in the situation.  You are not being controlled by all-powerful forces taking away your options.

It goes without saying that you want to do your best in every problematic situation because every situation is problematic, at least in some small way.  Nothing is perfect and if we look hard enough through our grumpy glasses, we’ll see the inevitable defects.  Conversely, even in the worst situations, there are positive transformative elements.  I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his school of psychotherapy (logotherapy) as a method that “focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning.  According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”

With this in mind, the “acceptance” I’m talking about here is dynamic rather than static.  It’s doing rather than making the best of it.  It’s an active search for something that means more.  And if practiced sincerely and mindfully in daily life, it is a profound form of Greater Initiatory Magic—magic that leads to powerful self-realization and happiness.

The best way I know to practice “doing your best” comes from the modern Stoic philosopher, Dr. William B. Irvine, in his book, A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joywhere he talks about setting internal rather than external goals:

I think that when a Stoic concerns himself with things over which he has some but not complete control, such as winning a tennis match, he will be very careful about the goals he sets for himself.  In particular, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals.  Thus, his goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control).  By choosing this goal, he will spare himself frustration or disappointment should he lose the match: Since it was not his goal to win the match, he will not have failed to attain his goal, as long as he played his best.  His tranquility will not be disrupted

. . . . . 

Although they value tranquility, [Stoics] feel duty-bound to be active participants in the society in which they live.  But such participation clearly puts their tranquility in jeopardy.  One suspects, for example, that Cato would have enjoyed a far more tranquil life if he did not feel compelled to fight the rise to power of Julius Caesar— if he instead had spent his days, say, in a library, reading the Stoics.  I would like to suggest, though, that Cato and the other Stoics found a way to retain their tranquility despite their involvement with the world around them: They internalized their goals.  Their goal was not to change the world, but to do their best to bring about certain changes.  Even if their efforts proved to be ineffectual, they could nevertheless rest easy knowing that they had accomplished their goal: They had done what they could do.

In other words, by looking inwards and focusing on internal goals, which is to say, personally meaningful things, one does one’s best.  This is the way to initiate a new way of life.  It’s a reset button for bad situations.  And it works.  It’s not simply trying to use a New Age affirmation to convince oneself of something that isn’t the case in reality.  It’s not just “the power of positive thinking.”  It’s more like creating a new reality for yourself, in yourself, through an active search for meaning.

Just remember: don’t make the best of it.  Do your best.  And you will avoid the fate of Grumpy Cat.

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[Courtesy SOL]

Some people are born to paint, to sculpt, to create engines, to sing, to farm the land, others are born to think, wonder, invent, hope and strive for the unknown. Why should everyone be the same? There have always been those born to “see beyond” and who can bring back echoes of what they see. Not everyone has the ability to draw, paint, fix an engine write, a novel. We need each other’s skills.

There have always been priests and priestesses. There always will be. If you are not one of them in this life, be the best you can be at what you do and, maybe next time round, who knows. If it is within you, it will show up sooner or later; no one can predict such a thing. If you are a novice, then wait. If your talent is true, someone will turn up and guide you. Put out a wish for a guide and they will come. But if you want it for the wrong reasons, be prepared to pay a price. It’s not a cake walk. You will be expected to work hard and train your memory.

Read anything and everything. Learn night and day. Don’t do it for titles; do it for the love of the work. Advice? I still consider myself a student. There is always something to learn. So how can I advise? Someone came to me and showed me the way. If it is in you, someone will come.

—  Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki

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.

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…

Recommended Spiritual Worker: Madame Pamita

I’m been enjoying Madame Pamita’s insights and comments for a long time.  She’s great.

I like to recommend magical colleagues who I think are particularly talented, smart, and / or skilled.  I am approached by more clients than I can take.  And so, rather than being competitive (a negative characteristic of many public occultists, especially conjure workers), I try to serve the Art by bringing people together.

Begging Does Not Reflect a Strong Magical Practice

Granted, emergencies and unforeseen costs come up when we least expect it.  But when YouTube witches beg for money to do some project or just because they feel like their followers are numerous enough to now hit them up for a contribution, it’s a bit disappointing.  We all need to get paid.  I understand that.  And I support Patreon and all those other crowdfunding sites.  But let’s take a step back and think about what it means when a YouTube witch—someone giving out advice and making videos for a large number of viewers—says she won’t be making videos anymore unless everybody pitches in.

You’re a witch.  Do you think it would be possible to draw some money without rattling your donation cup?  I imagine the answer is yes.  Otherwise, I suggest that you stop giving out magical advice.  Successful and capable witches: (1) can hold down a job; (2) can draw money through magical and mundane means; and (3) give out advice because they’re successful in their magical and mundane work.

Asking for help is a good thing in most cases.  Asking for help when you have set yourself up as someone who can provide help suggests that you need to go do some self-work and improve your skills.  I say this as someone who has been working in the field of public sorcery-for-hire and divination for a long time.  You have to be a specialist if you want to be paid for what you know.  You have to have powerful chops when it comes to making changes—for yourself before you expect to do it for others.

Don’t be a charlatan and a faker only interested in money.  Get your skills first.  Then people will want to pay you because you will have something of value to offer.  Begging suggests you really don’t know what you’re doing.

Being a Spirit-Led Conjure Worker

A long time ago, when I decided that it would be a good thing to offer reiki and ritual services, I knew nothing about working for clients apart from doing public tarot divinations.  I already had a lot of magical experience, but it was mostly through doing work for myself, close friends, and family.  I had yet to discover the ins and outs of working for positive change in the lives of complete strangers.  But I would soon learn that there are many hidden lessons in this line of work.  It changed my magic.  It changed my outlook on the world.  And it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a crash course in interacting with the human condition as well as in the complexities of sorcery for hire.

The first lesson I ever learned was that everyone is sincere—even the most acerbic doubting Thomas.  Everyone, without exception, who contacts me for conjure or reiki on some level wants the benefit of my services even if they are too nervous or shy to allow themselves to fully admit it.  Strangely enough, the doubters are the ones who want to believe the most.  And it’s really good to doubt if you’re going to give a complete stranger your money in exchange for a spiritual service.  You should be thinking critically about this person: is he acting professional?  Is he clear?  Is he responding intelligently to your situation?  Critical thinking comes from doubt.  But we also know that you can have too much of a good thing in this case—too much doubt gets in the way of the entire experience.  So from the very beginning, the client and I walk a fine line of trust.  The client evaluates me and I evaluate him.  We enter a sincere partnership and do everything we can to create change.  Learning to trust complete strangers meant I had to mature in ways I never anticipated.

Another key lesson I learned was that no situation is simple—every life is hard; everyone’s doing the best he or she can with available tools and resources.  If someone comes to me, they have a problem that they haven’t been able to solve through mundane means.  Their lawyer stole all the money.  Their fiancée ran off with the neighbor.  Grandpa went missing in the park.  Maybe they got assaulted and are having a hard time healing from lingering psychological and physical pain.  Maybe their career is stalled.  Maybe they just need to have a spiritual experience, something completely alien to them because of the way they were raised.  Whatever the case may be, they’re suffering on some level.  Learning to understand and appreciate the suffering of others meant I had to get over myself and learn compassion.

A huge lesson I learned was that the magic doesn’t come from me—it comes through me.  This is the “spirit led” part.  A sorcerer or reiki practitioner who “tries to do things” fails a lot.  Beginning practitioners often mistakenly think that if they just concentrate hard enough, if they just WILL something into being, the world will respond.  This can work sometimes, but grabbing the world by the throat and shaking it more often results in nothing or even in the opposite coming to pass.  Instead, through a lot of grimoire work—by seeking out both human and non-human mentors—I quickly came to understand that the most powerful work has a spiritual origin, not a human one.  I started to relax and let my spirit guides, spirits of divination, familiars, and other contacts do their jobs.  This is the secret to my success.  It’s not me.  It’s spirit working through me.  Learning to trust my connection to spirit meant I had to develop a large amount of faith in a world I could not see or touch.  Paradoxically, doing so eventually helped me see it and touch it, but that took time, belief, and the willingness to be patient and practice the art while not having all the answers.  I still don’t have all the answers.

One lesson I had to learn multiple times in multiple ways was that people in pain are often very unpleasant to be around.  We all know this to some extent.  But doing conjure is sometimes like working in the customer service section of a department store.  People are angry, sad, bereft, despairing, or even suicidal before they even speak to you.  You have to be ready with mundane solutions as well as spiritual ones, keeping a suicide hotline number handy, having online links to addiction recovery centres, women’s shelters, walk-in clinics.  Learning about my community so that I could help others made me a better spiritual worker.  It also meant I had to get out on the street and pay attention.  Now very few things escape my notice in my spiritual or physical environment.

These are only a few of the important lessons that have come from this work.  One of my teachers used to say that “many are called but few are chosen.”  And I wouldn’t truly understand what she was saying until I actually set up my website, made business cards, started doing community reiki, sorcery for hire, and counselling others.  Then I understood what “gifted for the work” really meant.  To be chosen for something like this means you have to have skills that others don’t—not just the ability to perform effective rituals, but a whole panoply of hidden qualities that enable you to thrive in this field.  And if you don’t have them right off, you learn the hard way whether you can find them in yourself.  But I wouldn’t trade those experiences, even the painful ones, for anything.