With sorrow and sych and meickle care

It has been a very, very long time since I wrote. A lot has happened, some of it good, some of it fair, some of it… well. There’s a curse for that.

Since my last post, I found myself in strange communities, having fallen out of a potential community, and free falling while adjusting to a new job and all sorts of mess. As we all do- we do live in a strange world, and there are all sorts of strangers here. Today, however, I want to talk about how we move forward after community drama and witchcraft “professionals”. And by “professionals” I mean people who “know all the things and are ‘experts’ in this thing called witchcraft”, whatever that may mean.

In my daily life, I work with technology. As a person who most often presents as female, I get my fair share of being told how things are done, and being told what should be done in certain ways. These little gems of information are packaged as “mansplaining”, and it’s something that’s been going on since the dawn of time. Women are not the only people subjected to mansplaining, but those who present as women do get it packaged in a different form sometimes. Our expertise is often in doubt, and, we are often expected to be either wowed or cowed by the delivers of such news. When I started to branch out to try and return to a more public facing occult practice, I was surprised to encounter the same attitude amongst pagans and witches. Of course, as someone who had studied germanic craft for as long as I have, I had been prepared for the lore thumpers and the general tone of “If you haven’t lore or archeology to back yourself up, then you are ignorant and wrong!” What I had not anticipated, having opened myself up to learn from the traditional witchcraft community and grimoire communities, was the strange way it manifested in that world.

It kept creeping up- from my fetch was obviously an imposter because it didn’t fit a certain individuals world view (who then, when they realized that I was not going to placate them, used my conception of fetch against me, lying and essentially trying to destabilize me), to more subtle forms: where I was being told how to run my business because Big Important Occultist didn’t know what the kind of work I do was, because they have never studied germanic craft and therefore it must not be a term ANYONE knows. Because Big Important Occultist is the master of all crafts, and if they don’t know it, then no one will.

I bring these two up for a really important reason: those Big Important People are not always in the know of everything. And, in both cases, they had flaws that were important for me to keep in mind. In the case of the Fetch Doesn’t Match guy, they were a narcissist, who felt that they could package cultus sabbati practices as UPG, without citation or sources listed, and generally believed that they could build a practice that looked more like D&D than a functional, expandable, breathable witchcraft practice. If they were questioned, then the questioner was made to feel stupid, and then be berated because their experience didn’t match their very limited rule based system. As I’ve distanced myself from this person, I’ve watched a lot of people reveal the damages that they have done. I had found my peace with it, but I see others who have not.

In the case of  Big Important Occultist, I decided do more research into them. There’s nothing inherently damaging in what they do. Their perspective is of a complete and total adoption of Neo-liberal financial practices, and their occult practices are modeled on a colonialist perspective of neoliberal growth. They adapt and adopt any practice they see fit, and then package it up for sale as quickly as possible. This is their practice, and where I find it sad that this is a brand of magic, in the end after I realized that it’s okay that my ‘package’ doesn’t fit their neoliberal mold (and why would I want it to?) I moved on.

But, social media being what it is, moving on is really freakin’ hard.

Binsfeld,_witches(Peter Binsfeld, 1592 drawing, available in public domain)

So, how do we move on?

Both of these are small events in my life, where there have been far worse things occultists have done to effectively undermine and hurt me.  But here’s some thoughts on this:
First, we have to give ourselves space to feel badly about these things. We have to give ourselves space to feel betrayal, angry at being led to feel stupid, and being upset about being ‘put in our place’. These are very real feelings, and they don’t just go away because we want them to. We have to let them be what they are, even if they are small betrayals.

Second, we have to walk away from these people. We have to hide them, unfriend them, and do whatever we need to to insure we aren’t exposed to them on a regular basis in our social media feeds. This is a really hard thing to do, because sometimes it means letting go of online communities that we got a lot of support from, have friends in, and generally don’t want to leave behind. I’ve had to do this a few times now, and it’s hard, but the payoff is so very worth it. I usually retain a couple of friends from these communities that I leave- those people I just can’t see not being in my life- and then just cut everyone else associated with these people out. It’s brutal, it may even look immature, but I don’t care any more.

Years ago, a teacher told me that they practice good magical hygiene when they threatened to stop being friends with me online because of an internet association I had made. I thought it was petty at first, and now I don’t think it’s as petty as it seems. We have to do what we have to do to be okay, to not deal with toxic energies and terrible people. These threads drip down in unforeseen ways, and we have to be okay with letting things go. If every time you turn on social media you are reminded of people who suck and drag you down, it filters in and hurts you, even if just a little bit. It’s okay to let go. There are other people to know in this world.

After I started to “let go” virtually, I felt better. And I was reminded of the writings of Dion Fortune on Psychic Self Defense. She suggests getting away from communities, taking breaks from magical practices, and all sorts of things to rebuild yourself after these terrible encounters. I see her ideas as quite useful now, where at first I thought they were arcane. But it’s true: you have to let yourself heal, and sometimes, that means making tough choices.

I’m lucky that I’ve retained good friends from all of the communities I’ve been a part of and left. The encounters above are mild compared to some of the witch wars and general stupidity I’ve had, but it doesn’t discount the reality that even minor encounters can be damaging- especially when the person doing the damage to us are Big Names.

Oh, and one last thing:

The spirit world is real, and when you encounter these people who do damaging things, just remember that you’ve had an encounter with profound unseen things (or you can still, if these wounds are happening before you’ve learned to trust).

You don’t have to lose your spirit friends, allies, and familiars just because some asshat witch/warlock/priest/occultist says so. They don’t get to take your magic away from you. Don’t give them that power or satisfaction. This is yours, you worked for it, and you are entitled and allowed to have it and keep it.

Medieval rabbits

 

 

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When you forget some of your magic

Today, in my meditation practice, I was reminded of some things. I was reminded that I have learned much great magic, magic for healing, magic for repairing, magic for mending- not just myself, but others and the world. It’s magic I had laid aside as I took up other practices. Both of these paths are important to me (the Bonpo, and the cunning), but sometimes I lay one aside to look at the other more closely.

This morning, as I sat in my shrine room and meditated. I envisioned the refuge tree, their words and beings resonating in my body, reminding me that I have the tools to heal myself, to help myself, to move forward with strength and dignity. That I can weather the times ahead in strength while bringing others with me into a better place.

Of course, I was told a year ago that this was a foolish pursuit of mine, that this path was dumb. That my buddhist practices were dumb because I should only worry about me and mine and well, f*&k the world. It was sad, really, because there was no warranted cause other than my thoughts threatened the very stupidity of an argument that there is no reason to work towards making a better world for everyone. I’ll carry that pain for a while. I shouldn’t, because it is an argument that disenfranchised men use often, especially when their disenfranchisement is a product of their own making, and even more so when they can benefit financially from undermining the spiritual practices of others. (Beware the “teacher” or “author” who feels the need to denigrate your spiritual and magical practices as ‘useless’ when it is of benefit to them personally to tell you so.)

And today I sit, in what feels like ashes of my dreams, finding deep comfort in both houses- in the forests of my elders, and in the refuge tree.

I was given the prescription of my own healing, and though it is not an easy medicine to take— it will take time, and patience, and daily action— I will find a place of ease, and a place where the pain of my daily life can subside.

Sometimes, we can’t quickly ‘magic’ something away.

I find that those who believe that magic-ing our pain away are those who have packed themselves away from the world, living in a house of dreams and lies of their own telling. Of course they have solved their problems via magic, as they have secluded themselves in a world of their own making without any consideration for anyone else in the world but them, and those they can coerce into seeing the world from their mindset alone.

 

 

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Herbalism

Recently, I returned to the green world.

 

I hadn’t quite realized it was a return, but it was. I had long ago walked the poison path, or worked towards walking on it, but grad school and life got in the way that it does. But even before then. I did my own little bits of herbalism, working closely with plants and trees and growing green things.

My first knowledge of an ally was when I was a child, it was an Aspen. but of course, I was in the mountains, so I also had mountain harebells and chamomile, though I didn’t really know what they were at the time just that they were friends and that they were sometimes delicious to eat as I roamed the woods.

As I grew, my mother taught me small things and little home remedies, what worked for cuts and what worked for stomach problems and what to put in food to help one feel better and heal faster, what kinds of teas to drink for whatever was needed to help.

As a young adult, on my own I began to grow closer to some things, attaching myself to ginger and chilis for various reasons.

I knew my herbalism, but I was, and am, a bit of a kitchen witch. I knew this, and my friends knew this, but as grad school came on and my life shifted and I started to meet real herbalists and plant people, I began to believe I might not know what I knew. I mean, I didn’t know my latin names, after all! I must not be real.

And then, this summer, the greenery spoke to me, and I felt I needed to become more ‘real’ in my knowledge base, to have facts and knowledge and such to back it up. And as my studies have become more serious, I find that I am where I’ve been before, that this isn’t new even though much of it may be.

I’ve walked this path before, even in this lifetime, in my kitchen almost every day. Plants that taste good together are often allies, and foods that compliment health are part and parcel of the herbalists arsenal. I dream now of teaching a cooking class from the perspective of herbalism- because I know now that my cooking method is a method of herbalism, and when I prepare my foods the way I prefer, I am engaging in the healing practice of herbs.

I’ve always had a knack for working with plants in magical ways, but only now, do I see that it’s always been more traditional from a healing perspective, than I’d known.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for the previous knowledge.

 

 

 

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Two paths: The witch and the buddhist

As someone who walks both the crooked path of the witch and that of a bonpo buddhist, sometimes I find myself wondering if I can do both- are these things compatible?

This question arises for me when I find myself in conflict about ideas of doing actions that impact others directly. Of course, the conflict that could arise if I felt the need to curse someone- that seems a clear and obvious moment of “Um, maybe I’m not that much of a buddhist”, and then the other time would be more subtle “If I influence these events, I will be interacting on someone else need and then maybe this is bad.” I don’t think these questions are actually that unusual for people who practice various forms of witchcraft- and I think that the first problem arises here with some of the very words and weights of the words we use.

The type of buddhism that I practice does not say that there is no magic or even witchcraft in the world. As bonpo is a tradition that has it’s roots in Tibetan shamanism, it would be wild for it not to have a magical component. Within that tradition, something becomes witchcraft when it starts to be about hurting others. In traditional western witchcraft, this would be maleficium, or harmful witchcraft. This includes things like stealing the life-force of others, deliberately causing harm to others, and blighting others and other kinds of things. Healing work is seen less as witchcraft, and more as healing and part of the other types of magical practices. There is also rumors of other kinds of ‘black magic’ that mimic very closely some of the ways that black magic, particularly satanic magic, is spoken of and thought about within christian beliefs.

The witchcraft that I practice isn’t one that comes with an ‘an it harm none clause’, and is very much more of a ‘do what needs doing’ kind of craft. It isn’t a high morality practice, and in many ways it is much more about practical witchcraft and not very big on religious dogma or input. As I mentioned already, I see it and use it more of a ‘If it needs to be done, it will be done.”

So, how do I, or even how can I or someone like me reconcile the two?

buddabaphomet

At first, when I started to wrestle with this question, it wasn’t as easy for me. I’d even been pressured by other witchcraft practitioners to abandon my buddhist ways, because the didn’t see the idea of saving all sentient beings as either possible nor useful as a human, much less a witch. I mean, it’s not like we can’t live without hurting others, so shouldn’t we just mind our own and take care of our own, and just let that be good enough?

This pressure to walk away never even stayed with me- walking away from my buddhist practices wasn’t even an option, especially because they were intertwined in ways that I couldn’t expect anyone to believe. Who would believe that it was a death goddess herself who said I should go practice Bonpo buddhism, and then the Bonpo deities helping me to find and reclaim myself as a witch? That kind of personal gnosis seems awfully suspicious, doesn’t it? But it didn’t matter if people disparaged my methods, beliefs, and ideals. I knew what I had experienced, and I knew and was constantly reassured by my allies and spirits and gods that I was doing the right thing and that this was the path I was supposed to be on.

My rational mind took longer to catch up than the rest of me. I struggled with this bear for  while. I couldn’t reconcile a few aspects of the practices: First, how was my witchcraft of benefit to all sentient beings, much less to anyone or anything than myself? And second, How could I reconcile things like actively cursing others if I saw need to do so?

For the first: How does my work benefit all sentient beings? It might not. It might only benefit one or two beings, maybe even just myself. But here’s the thing: Within bonpo buddhism, taking care of your needs is not really a bad thing. There are a lot of rituals and practices that address the needs of daily life, from divination practices to magical ceremonies to large shamanic scale rituals that take days and weeks to complete, just to benefit one practitioner. As they work, however, the person running the ritual also looks to include other beings in the benefit of the practice. It’s a bit like saying “I want to increase wealth in the world, and in particular, lets focus on person X”. It may seem to be a bit of mumbo jumbo and handwaving, but it isn’t. It does work.

I also think, of I were to go down the path of “how does this magic benefit others?” we can wrap meditation into this as well. How does daily meditation benefit other people than just the person meditating? That is actually much easier to explain than the whole magic thing, but it’s really no different. If we take care of ourselves, of our own needs, if we take the time to give ourselves space and nourishment and all the things we need to survive and be happy, we have more space in our hearts and more energy to give to others we encounter. So, if I cast a money spell and, when it succeeds, can eat well, pay my rent, and then have a little extra to donate to others- not only can I contribute to the financial and physical well being of others, but I can also give them more time if they need company because I am no longer freaked out about my own survival.

Taking care of yourself helps you take care of others.

Now to the pesky part, that of cursing and less ‘kind’ practices. There’s a lot to think on here, a lot to chew on. It’s possible to think that we are entitled to use our witchcraft in any way we see fit- we should be able to use it to take whatever we want by any means necessary. Where this is a possibility, I do wonder about this in practice. What benefit do I get if I am a nasty person who spends all of my time working to send unhappiness and misfortune to others? Moreover, why would I want to spend my time doing that? In practice, that kind of action- were I to undertake constant and continuous malice in daily life, would probably make me a mean, nasty, irritable person who had a lot of physical ailments like ulcers to deal with. My blood pressure would be so high because I spent so much time being nasty. It would go beyond catharsis and into strain. Magic takes work, and to hold my attention to things that are mean for a prolonged period is going to wear me out and wear me down. Forget the happiness of others for a second: would this bring joy to my life, to behave in such a way?

I look at this like the magical equivalent of walking down the street and punching everyone who so much as looks at me funny. Sure, that would be fun for a while, but it would wear me down eventually. That’s a lot of energy to expend every time I leave my house. Why do I need to do this? Plus, I wouldn’t do it, so why is this a fear I have in my magical practice?

But then there is the simple fact that sometimes you have to do things that are ethically questionable and definitely not buddhist. It would be quite difficult to actually succeed in a true buddhist lifestyle. The five poisons of anger, attachment, ignorance, pride, and envy/jealousy are near impossible to avoid, and because of this, they often lead to doing things that go against buddhist ideals. But what happens if you find yourself in a position where the best way forward is by using something that definitely harms another person? Maybe you are living in an abusive household, a tyrannical government system, or even in a position where your boss has put you in a bad position with no way out that can be useful to you?

Sometimes, you have to do a ‘bad’ thing to benefit yourself and others the most. In a strict buddhist sense, you might accrue negative karma by doing this. But in reality, sometimes unsavory actions are needed to impact suffering the least in the world. Sometimes, you have to do a little maleficium to get done what needs getting done.

As I’ve been moving forward with a more integrated practice, I’ve started to become a little more at ease with this. I’ll always encounter folks who hate the fact that I have this dual practice. It makes sense- I am a threat. It’s easy to see where they might think that I’m engaging with foolish new age practices and then playing a little bit of watering down of my magic or even polluting my buddhist practices with selfish desire. I’m also a threat because I challenge the idea that we can actually be pluralists, that we can engage in a variety of modes of action within the world.

I’m also a threat because I ask those of us who see ourselves as witches or sorcerers or vitki’s or what have you to actually contemplate on the result of our desire before acting on it. Of course, even if I weren’t a buddhist, I’d still ask the same. I’d ask the same because desire, which is based on an idea of perceived lack, is an idea that can never be satiated. True desire can never be fulfilled. That’s not the buddhism talking, that’s Lacan.

 

 

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As things change, they return in unusual ways

It’s been a long while since I made a major post here. I’m hoping to return to it this summer. I’m sorry that I’ve been so absent!

Over the past few months, I’ve been working very closely at methods to work with and counter to christian currents. My reasons for doing this are not because of some conversion moment (shudder),  but because as the political climate has become what it is in this world, it is important and critical to understand and counteract the very structure of dominant religion. One must understand the magical nature of ones opposition in order to negate and deflect their actions.

Of course, this understanding on my end has come about since I started to delve more deeply into traditional and historical witchcraft practices. From a northern european perspective, it only takes a few looks at the notebooks of galdrastafir to find intermixes of Odin, Thor, and christianity.

Looking at these types of documents that begin to surface after conversion in Iceland, and considering the opening chapter of “Cunning Man’s Handbook” by Jim Baker where he mentions the a priori nature of God and Christianity, I really started to realize that I have to change my perspective. Of course, Peter Grey has also influenced this turn, but in reality, the biggest shift came from a realization that we cannot overturn what is currently existing by pretending we can live without that as part of our mindset.

We can never escape the influence of the dominant culture in which we live.

We can try, sure, but then we exist in a microcosm of living outside, of living in an environment of exclusion. Even then, we cannot engage in absolute exclusion without disengaging fully from society and economy. Because of this, there are seemingly few options left: go as far off the grid as you can, and hopefully survive, or learn to adapt, modify, and co-opt the tools that guide the lives that thrive in the dominant culture of christianity.

This realization, coupled with the befriending of a particular spirit that would only engage with me so long as I did not disparage their own magic— which is by and large a byproduct of christian oppression — left me in a position where I knew the way up and out was to engage with the terrain I was already standing in. I began to access and engage with the magic that had been so deeply influenced by christianity, only to see that it is such a strange hodgepodge of styles and beliefs. The deeper I dug, I realized that by engaging with magical philosophy from a more holistic perspective, where I was able to pillage and co-opt the magical trace of christianity, I began to see the non-christian roots of much of it and engage with it as a tactical system to enact change for myself, my family, my friends, and even the larger system at play.

Of course, to the community that engages with Traditional Witchcraft this is mostly nothing new. Having come from a background that was based in trying to separate from christianity to find something that was pre-christian in it’s practices, this was a difficult practice especially given my own strong dislike for christianity. As I began to really think it through and begin to engage in hybrid practices that didn’t 100% discount the works that engaged with some christianity, I found that my practices were more effective and came to fruition faster.

Which brings me to the last point I want to share:

If we do truly wish to counter christianity, it will be more effective to use their own magics, their own methods. They are not so powerful that other methods cannot work, but it is far faster to use the weapons they’ve made for us rather than manufacture our own.  Continue reading

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Should I read this book? pt II

Should I read this Book? pt II

This is a second installment on a series of posts about researching new texts and ideas in occult and metaphysical traditions. Rather than providing reading lists, this series aims to help people make decisions about what are good or bad texts to choose to read. You can read the first installment here.
Should I read this book? part II

In our last segment, we discussed how to get started and how to pick a book. In todays installment, I’d like to talk about publishers, and how publishing companies can help us in figuring out if a text is good or not.

One of the ways that I find helpful when figuring out if I should read a certain author is to look at the publishing company for the book. When I pick up a book or title, I usually check to see who prints the book- is it a large publishing house? Is it a small company? Is it from a magical order or tradition directly? Is it self published? These are all important questions, and the answer to each of these has different implications in the decision to read the book.

If you a student in school, studying for a degree or diploma, these questions are actually a matter of credibility of the source itself. In academic settings, the ethics of the publisher help you to figure out how well the material has been vetted- meaning how well the facts inside of the text have been verified, whether or not the author cited their references or maybe even plagiarized (something a publisher catches), and how well the text has been edited for clarity and grammar in the writing itself. In a metaphysical situation, these areas are blurred a bit. Occultism and the paranormal are by their very nature unverifiable- we can’t ‘prove’ a spell works in written material any more than we we can prove the existence of gods and ghosts. In addition to this problem of unverifiable truths, we have the problem of unverifiable practices. There is no proof that any methods will work for everyone, even if it is a recipe that has worked for the author and their friends time and time again. Metaphysics is a tricky business, and so it’s not always easy to choose a publisher or an author using the same criteria you might in an academic setting. Each of the publishing styles listed above, however, do have different positive and negative qualities.

You can find academic texts on magic. They are dense, written more as historical analysis of events or materials. These will be published by larger publishing houses, and the authors most likely will have graduate degrees of some kind, most likely in a related field to the topic. The issue with these texts is not historical accuracy, but lack or practical application, and often they are missing the subtext of magical culture surrounding it. Most of the grimoires are in this state, as are other texts that outline anthropological artifacts and some religious texts. They also have the added complication of being a bit harder to read, as they are written for a specialist in the field of study rather than your average reader. I would recommend these types of texts for advanced practitioners, history fans, and people who are patient and like to parse out information and maybe even discover and create formulas of their own. To a beginner, some of these texts can be daunting, to say the least. Without some experience under your belt, it can be tricky to navigate the practices in these tomes.

The next level of publishers I’d like to consider are the large to mid-range size publishing house. These would be publishers like Lewellyn and Weiser, and others, but these names will be easy enough to find in your travels. Both of these companies have been around for a long while, and they each have baggage and flavors of their own. Lewellyn, in particular, receives both praise and criticism. Over the years, they’ve published thousands of books, and some are not as good as others. Many are very ‘soft’ in their rigor, and tend to read like recipe books. You’ll hear a lot of people disparaging their publications, though in recent years they’ve begun to publish the occasional excellent book that fits most of my ‘awesome book’ criteria: well researched, well edited, has a bibliography, an author that cites references, and a writer who took the time to really consider what they were putting down into print. I actually think what Lewellyn suffers from is not being a bad publisher, but being good business people. They closely follow the trends in the magical community, and work hard to bring books that benefit the current climate. When I first discovered them I was quite young, but found myself in a good starting place. There were goals provided, exercises, and the methods provided were solid. Over the next 20+ years, they seemed to get too methodical, and a bit watered down. That seems to be shifting, now with texts like “Chaos Protocols” by Gordon White and other more interesting authors. Because of the scope of larger publishers, you need to take time to investigate the authors a bit more than you might with smaller presses. Weiser is another large press, and their works tend towards more historical practices steeped in 20th century lodge practices, as well as some strong new age tendencies. Personally, I tend to prefer Weiser over Lewellyn, largely because they are more rigorous in their editing and writing styles than Lewellyn. Again, however, you can’t rely on either press to give an exclusive ideology through all of the books they publish. It is this exclusivity of perspective that is available through boutique publishers.

Boutique publishers are independent publishers who carry a small selection of books, curated by either the owner or a collective of people. These collectives may or may not be affiliated with larger organizations such as the OTO or some other metaphysical community. These smaller publishers offer a couple of great things. There is a resurgence of limited edition books, printed in hardback and/or leather, often with custom artwork and unique bindings and packaging, and most of these are being handled by small companies such as Three Hands Press, Scarlet Imprint, and Troy Books. Another benefit, aside from exclusive and unique products, is that these presses tend to publish from distinct perspectives, with clear editing preferences and metaphysical intentions. What this means is that if you find an author you like from that publishing company, there is a good chance that you will like other authors published by them. I’ve found this to be the case with many publishers on this scale- the name of the publisher becomes the credentials that the book is worth your time and money. In turn, the publisher usually tries to keep up their standards, as they are well aware that you are paying for name recognition of the press. This is also of benefit to an author- an author published by a particular company has a certain amount of credibility and viability, as you learn to trust certain publishers to publish content that is solid and related to what your interests are.

The last category I want to talk about here is self publishing. This one is tricky, because a lot of self publishers are trying to disguise themselves as larger publishers, by having a company name affiliated with their books. In some cases, there are people who self publish who are trying to start their own publishing company- this does happen, and sometimes those become really great. You can tell easily if something is self published by looking at the publisher listed on sites like Amazon, where you will see something like “CreateSpace independent Publishing Platform” or maybe Lulu or some other company listed there. What this means is that the author is sending their text to a larger company and having the book printed for them. Some self published authors may even have pamphlets or small books made at a copy store, and sell them that way.

Self publishing is a bit of a difficult thing, especially in the occult/metaphysical world. In academic settings (college, school, etc) it’s deeply suspicious. In occultism, it is both a good and bad thing- it can be great, because it allows authors an avenue to get their works out with limited overhead and hassle. It can allow some things that are more arcane to be published that would be published otherwise. I do think that in the past decade, where self publishing has become much easier and less expensive, that the disadvantages of self publishing outweigh the exciting benefits for the reader. We live in an era where information is easy to obtain. It’s easy to find grimoires online to read, blogs and various websites with information on what to do, and, much like all of this, self publishing requires no vetting, no professional editing, no external reviews, to see if the work is good and valid.

When I see something that is self published that is not in a zine format or small self made book, I immediately double check the author by researching them online. Have they been published by other companies than their own? Do they have any blog posts or such that explain why they’ve made the move to self publishing? Are they honest about their new venture, or are they hiding behind a shell where they have a publisher name, but no other authors are being printed under the name of the press? And, if they are self publishing, and have other authors on their press, how well do they treat the other authors?

Things that I see as warning signs about the author: When the books they printed previously are written better, with better sources, than what they are printing themselves. When they do not disclose why they have started their own press. Most of the time, I find self published people do so because they don’t want to deal with editors, don’t want their work questioned, seem to think that they will make more money self publishing (they won’t, but that’s a different issue), and finally- sometimes they just can’t get published by a different publisher. I also think it’s important to know how those who self publish or who have very small publishing houses (i.e. them and a handful of friends) treat their authors and employees (if they have them). If they have an apprentice or intern helping them, do they pay them? How do they compensate their fellows in their practices? If they are publishing edited volumes, do they list themselves as the sole author, even though they are publishing other peoples materials? Do they make their deliveries on time? And, do they make sense, are they offering multiple perspectives, or are they just trying to be the leader of their own cult/fiefdom?

I get that that’s a lot to question. But it’s important, and it’s doubly important when dealing with potential teachers and authors (even if it’s just a book- they are acting as a teacher at that moment). In magical practices, it’s important that your ethics are clear, that you pay your debts, and that you are fair in your business dealings. If the author and/or publisher does not show signs of ethics you support, be cautious. I am always wary of learning about magical practices— especially those that involve offerings, paying of debts, making deals and covenants, and keeping balance with the worlds— from people who do not follow those ethics in their daily lives.

The next installment will come out in one month, and it will go in depth about how to read and pick apart difficult passages in texts.

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Initiations

What is initiation or an initiatory experience?

Lets start by talking about general definitions of initiation and initiatory:

From the Oxford English Dictionary, on initiation:

1. The action of beginning, entering upon, or ‘starting’ something; the fact of being begun; beginning, commencement, origination.

2. Formal introduction by preliminary instruction or initial ceremony into some position, office, or society, or to knowledge of or participation in some principles or observances; hence generally, Admission to the knowledge, or instruction in the elements, of any subject or practice.

 And initiatory:
1. such as pertains to or constitutes the beginning or first steps; initial, introductory, opening, first.

 2. Pertaining or tending to initiation; serving to initiate into some society, or some special knowledge or study.

B. Something that serves to initiate; an initiatory rite.

Starting with initiation, we have something that is a beginning, a start. We have a beginning of something new. I’d also like to take this further, and say that it can be a marker, a marking of an event, and though not entirely new, a demarcation of something new that can or will begin.
This point of demarcation, of marking a place or event, is where the role of the initiatory experience happens, the event itself is an initiatory event, a point where a marker is placed, to say that something new or a beginning is happening. It doesn’t necessarily need to be new, but the experience may be this way. It may be a moment of ‘from this point onward’. The initiatory experience is an event that helps mark the moment of initiation. These are important, but sometimes the initiatory experience is quite boring, something of an everyday moment where everything changes.

This idea of the mundane/everyday event that changes everything exists throughout folklore and media of today. The moment of “If I’d left a second sooner I’d never have met my future spouse” to picking up that shiny penny that changes your fortune. Or, if we look at historical folk lore, there are many instances where a random moment of generosity- picking up an old lady on the side of the road and giving her a ride home, and being rewarded with three nuts that turn into a fortune in the morning, to giving a stranger food an a seat by the fire when he is traveling, resulting in a change in outcomes for a war. These strange moments in their own way are initiatory. They change our lives for the better, even if we don’t realize what force is at play.
In magical circles, initiation and initiatory experiences are more about achievement and association with groups. We initiate into covens, kindreds, religions, and these are made visible through initiatory rites and ceremonies. Sometimes these events are purely ceremony, marked by costumes and questioning. Sometimes, these events are genuinely difficult: getting through an ordeal and stressful time to move through the rite itself, to prove that you are worthy of the respect and title gained through initiation.
In traditional witchcraft, these initiations can be subtle and not so much. Sometimes, the actual experience of initiation will happen before or after the formal ceremony, when the spirits you work with actually bring you into the fold of the practices. It’s important to keep track of your events near an initiatory rite, as the actual initiation into the unseen is often different than what you may have planned in the physical world. The trappings of here do not always match the trappings in the mundane world.
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Should I read this book?

This is the first in a series of blog posts intended to help provide some basic directions in research and figuring out how to navigate the tricky world of occult and witchcraft books. These ideas are also relevant to paganism, polytheism, and other esoteric pursuits.

 

Over these posts I will provide basic guidelines on how to move forward with how to choose books, research them, and make the best possible effort to learn what you can about your interests and pursuits. My goals with this is to help others feel confident enough to make your own decisions in your research and studies. In this first blog post, I will discuss the difficult decision of “should I read this book”. I will follow it up with posts on how to choose additional books, and go into how to vet materials and analyze the quality of the text you are looking at. I won’t be providing much in terms of reading lists here, though of course specific texts may be mentioned as examples. The intention is to help you make your own decisions on how to go forward.

Section I. Should I read this book?

We’ve all been there, or will be there soon. You’re in a metaphysical shop, or looking online, and you see a book. The title and cover draw you in, and you find yourself looking at the back information or the intro pages and try to figure out if the book is any good or not. It’s not easy- how do we figure that out?

In mystical pursuits, it can be especially challenging. Unlike academic or scientific research, it can be tricky to figure out if an author is good or not. It’s unlikely that you will be able to verify the results that the author claims just by looking it up online or in other books.

If you are a complete neophyte, and you do not know at all what you are looking at, and the topic is new, my immediate impulse is of course, read it, but read it with skepticism well in place. Don’t assume that everything in the text is true, accurate, or real. This is good advice for everything your read, and it’s basically one of the things that will come back again and again in this series. But if it looks interesting, it’s reasonably affordable, and you are curious about it, read it. While you read it, take notes, and keep a good log of things you find interesting in the book. These will be things you can research about after you’re done reading it (or during, if you’re like me). Take notes, underline if that’s your style and it’s not a library book, and pay attention to what the author says. If it’s nonsense, if it doesn’t work for you, then that author isn’t an author you will probably need to spend any time with in the future. The most you’ve lost in this is a little bit of money and some time- believe me, if you get serious about reading occult texts, this will not be the last of books you read that you wonder why you thought it was a good idea.

So here’s the thing: Bad books are just as valuable as good books, especially at the very beginning. You need to keep an open mind at first, but do not fall prey to the idea that because it is in print, you should believe it. This has always been an issue, but now in the era of self-publishing as common practice, it’s especially important to be careful about believing what you read.

The important part about diving into new books and practices you don’t know anything about is to be cautious, and, test out any methods they offer. What they help you to discover may or may not be useful to you. Again, if a technique that is talked about in a book doesn’t work for you, then that book is not a good choice for you. Don’t get invested in ideology of right and wrong, good and bad. That’s kind of a weird decision making process to get into. The most important thing when you start out is keeping an open mind, while being realistic and skeptical.

Lets go ahead into a little deeper research practice. This is for after you start to read a bit and discover practices that might work for you, and you start to cement your own philosophy and world view, but still feel uncomfortable about figuring out where to go next.

Once you have read a few books on a few topics with an open mind, you can start to ask questions to help you find books. To break down a method for this, I’m going to use the concept of Germanic magic as the concept method for how to go about this. It doesn’t only apply to Germanic magic practices, and could easily be used to see how to research any system or idea you are trying to study.

Let’s say that you just read the book “The Book of Runes” by Ralph Blum. You thought it was pretty interesting, and you played around with the rune tiles that came with the book. You bought it at a bookshop one day out of curiosity, having not heard of it before but having had a mild interest in runes for a few months/years, and thought, “why not”? But then you decide to dig a little deeper. You find hundreds of reviews, and hundreds of blog posts disparaging this little book. You didn’t think it was all that bad, but all these people are posting about how awful it is, how it’s spreading bad information, how it’s just not historically accurate. What are you to do?

First, take a breath. It doesn’t matter that you read a book that doesn’t look like it was the ‘right ‘ book after doing a little research. It may have given you something you really needed right then, though. Maybe it was a tool that got you to sit down and open up a little bit, and it opened your door to wanting to learn about using runes. GOOD! This book, which is often regarded as one of the worst things to happen to rune scholarship, did something useful for you. Now, you have read this book, and can go ahead and start digging deeper in the theme of runes. What book, blogs, and articles on the topic you read next will most likely be radically different from that book, but reading a book regarded as quite bad didn’t actually do you any harm. You can start looking for why that book is seen as bad, and start to ask real questions, like “Why is there a blank rune in Blum’s book, but it doesn’t seem to exist in historical texts?” These are important questions, and they are good to approach with an open mind.

Even the wrong books can teach you something, even if it’s only questions to ask about future books and articles.

 

So how do you go deeper?

You start by asking questions. Reading needs to be a conversation between you and the author. The author may have posed himself or herself as an authority, and maybe made it sound like they know all things. The conversation seems one sided, but it doesn’t have to be. One of my favorite things to do as I read a book is take notes. What do I like, what do I not like? What are the terms I don’t know that are coming up? Are any names used or mentioned (of gods, or demons or other things- this is a crucial thing to note when reading texts about grimoire traditions)? Write them down, and then do a web search about these things. Occult authors are horrible at letting people know where they get their information. There is a lot of games of “I have the most esoteric text and you can’t get it” that happens. There are a lot of smoke and mirrors in the writing, usually used as a device to help the author seem more mysterious. Yes, there are hard to find grimoires, there are rare texts, and a whole lot of amazing things out in the world that you do need things like university library access to get. More often than not, however, these sacred and hidden texts people are publishing about so much right now are actually all on esotericarchives or archive.org.

An example of the kinds of things that I mean here, from the Amazon write up of a book by Claude Lecouteux, “The book of Grimoires: The secret grammar of magic” :

“Drawing on his own private collection of grimoires and magical manuscripts as well as his privileged access to the rare book archives of major European universities, Claude Lecouteux offers an extensive study of ancient books of magic and the ways the knowledge within them was kept secret for centuries through symbols, codes, secret alphabets, and Kabbalistic words. “[1]

This is automatically a strange posturing in this review. I’ve not read the book, but phrases that occur in sentences like this one, where the actual grimoires are not mentioned but an elusion to the obscurity of the text, sends up red flags for me. Whenever anyone says they have a super secret text, I get suspicious when they won’t name it or them. Now, I’ve never read the text that has this excerpt- but if I chose to you had better believe I’d spend a lot of time finding out what those ‘secret tomes’ were. But before I walk away from this book because of the posturing in the book jacket, I want to look at the bibliography (if it has one).

Alas, it DOES have bibliography, and the Lecouteaux text does something to redeem the issue of “arcane tome” for me, because he has taken the time to cite his sources. I still don’t know if he’s a decent author at this point, but I do know that he has some interesting books listed in his bibliography, several that do not have English translations available yet. Now this book becomes useful for me, because it means that he isn’t just a blowhard. He may actually have some research chops behind him that may help his book achieve the goal of helping people work through grimoires on their own.

Had he not had an extensive bibliography, I would have taken time to find a sample chapter and start to search names of deities and books listed in the text. I would take the time to cross reference as many of the vague mentions of actual information I can find. It’s time consuming, but I learn a lot in the process.

 

Why do I do this? Why go through the effort?

I go through this effort because it’s worth it. I learn a lot more by devouring a text rather than just accepting what it offers whole-heartedly. I also learn more about the author presenting the information, about what is important to them, which helps me to learn more about the magic they are trying to write about. It also tells me a lot about the author himself or herself. There is power in keeping ones sources near to their heart, but in a day and age when access to these arcane texts has more to do with your ability to use a search engine than privileged access, I find that the authors who choose to obscure their sources to be tiring and dishonest. I, personally, would rather read a book that is open about its findings and source materials, as well as its methods. I would respect the author more because they’ve shown me that they want to share their knowledge with the world openly, not that they wish to control a thing itself.

We could argue that the occult is intended to be secret, obscure, and that the power of hidden knowledge should be maintained. I would counter this with this: If the text and names of a deity are so easily found in a single well worded web search, is it actually hidden and obscure? What did they lose by not at the very least citing their sources?

What about practices that are new and not from historical practices like Grimoire traditions and reconstruction religions?

Good question! This doesn’t change much, but you have to be willing to search through and read through the lines. Read avidly, and use Google. Ask friends who’ve read the book. Look for books that the author mentions in passing, or other books from the same publisher. (More on publishers next time).

When reading about these things, facts, historical accuracy, these are all good and well, but practice is really what it’s about. Don’t let ‘good’ or ‘bad’ deter you. Read what you want to read, research the topics in the books that you like in as much depth as you can, and keep reading. It takes practice, and with time, you’ll learn to discern what works for you and what doesn’t.

Next time: Publishers, and what that means.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/162055187X/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=3TRXSHW2XJ0GY&coliid=I176IG9HA5QL9H

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When Old Meets New

Many years ago now, I was deeply invested in journeywork. The kind that is connected with Core Shamanism. I’m less invested in that type of work now, as my methods have shifted and changed over time. But, back then, I had profound experiences that were quite strange. I published about these before, under the name Lyn Skadidottor. I had these experiences where my journey work just had me work, and I mean labor work, for the norns.

My meditations would leave me in a situation where I would clean for them. Hours of meditation journeying just to wash their floors, clean their home. It seems awfully outlandish, does it not, that my time spent with them would be so unglamorous? So, time’s shifted forward, and I find myself in a strange position. I see how my history has really played over and over and over again, and changed and altered, but yet, remained the same.

My occult skills have often been questioned. It happens a lot actually, where I Do The Magical Thing asked of me, and it’s all good, until no one else can really fathom how I got the results I did given the outcome. One of the most poignant times was when I took a class that engaged with core shamanism practices where we were to go find our animal guides. My found ‘guide’ was unsavory to their senses. They were put off that my guide was not one of the nice things, that it was not a thing that should ever serve as a guide for anyone. Clearly there was something wrong with me. This wasn’t the first time that the magical exercise yielded unrespected results by the community that asked me to do the work. I’m always questioned about my results.

Another part of me that is always brought into question is the work I’ve done with/for the Norns. Back in the earlier days of my practices, it was always rebutted with “no one can speak to the norns! They are a different thing than Odin!” um, yes, that’s true, but we find ourselves on the path we are on. We don’t always get to make the call.

Tonight, as I sat with my spirit friends enjoying their company outside and generally having a good time I realized a couple of things, and that this was a trend in my life was definitely at the forefront. My experiences do not match well with the codex of practices and ideas. Because I am not easy to put into systematized ideas and ideals, and because my being runs counter to the idea of Universal Practices, I am dangerous. I am a reminder that the system is not perfect, that the system has other ways of working that we may not understand. I am a reminder that these things are real, and that we do not actually know 100% what is, can, and will happen.

Of course, people think I’m making it all up from time to time, but that’s one that I always find amusing. If I’m making it up, I’m clearly bad at fitting in. If I wanted to have an easy community based on my imagination, it would not be hard to connect, not be hard to have an easy access community by just uttering the right words at the correct time. This is one of the funniest things about being an outsider, about being an actual heretic. We don’t fit in, we don’t conform, and we rarely care about the impact of that non-conformity.

Except that sometimes I do. I care that I’ve been working with similar materials and things for my entire adult life and yet my community is only distant, is only virtual. I care that I am not invited into places because I am not as easily understandable and packaged. I am an outsider because my stuff works differently.bunker_under_the_milky_way

But tonight, tonight as I sat on my porch with my allies and spirit friends, I was reminded that this is my community. That these beings, these wondrous and generous friends of mine are my community. I was reminded that I do this work because I was asked to do this work all those years ago when the Norns asked me to clean their house. I was asked to do the work that I do all those years ago as I did the rituals asked of me by my Lady to join with her in the way that she found most useful. I do this work because I am me, because I have been asked to do what I can in the way that I can, and I do this work for myself and for my spirit allies and for my deities. I do this work because I do wish to work towards a liberation of all sentient beings. I do this work because it is worth doing.

I do not do this work so that I can spend my time worrying about others who marginalize my own experiences and time with the otherworld. Hedge sitters lived outside of communities for a reason. It’s not always the easy answer, but it seems to be the one that is given.

 

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And in walked Odin

I don’t hide the fact that I am a multi-traditionalist person. I work with Norse deities and Tibetan buddhist practices, I practice Seidh and witchcraft, and I work with a lot of various spirits and environmental entities. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it is how things worked out. Much like I live in a multi-cultural community, my spiritual  and magical practices are also a bit multicultural and I do my best to not sully the waters with cross pollination if it is not okay or called for.

In 2008, my world started to shift a lot. I began being pushed by Hela and Odin to look towards buddhism. I had ecstatic experiences where specific Tibetan deities took me by the hand and told me point blank that I needed to walk a path with them.* I thought about it, did a bunch of divination, and then said yes and started to practice. It took me a few years to find the right home for me in the Tibetan tradition, but I eventually did and it’s been really quite rewarding.

It’s an interesting thing, finding yourself in a tradition that says that it’s okay to work with deities and such, one that believes that there are spirits that influence the world, and that teach ways to work with spirits to pacify and help them in their pursuits, as well as banish those that are unproductive or actively harming people and other beings. The tradition I belong to has many offering practices and it’s really quite a holistic approach, acknowledging the dualist reality of mind while pursuing a more integrated self where there is no longer a dualist experience. When asked, the Lama’s always say that it’s okay to work with Gods, but if your God says you can’t work with more than one being or path, then they are not very enlightened. It’s important to make offerings to Gods and to have them help in daily life, too. It’s the same with spirits, but it’s about making a balanced relationship there. The nature spirits and elemental spirits are central and key, and as such, it’s important to keep them happy as well. The happier your environment, the better the results of your practice.

All of this is great. But I drifted away for a short bit after some really nasty stuff happened. I began to grow selfish, and less focused on helping anyone but myself. My magic shifted from being about making the world a better place and towards my personal desires. It became singular, not expansive.

After a while, I looked up and noticed the world had started to go mad. And as I realized I was no longer making offerings for the general dead, no longer sitting in meditation, no longer teaching meditation and other practices, I had drifted from my buddhist intentions. I thought “well, that was an interesting phase!”. I did more magic, and when results were garnered, I had a visit by Hela who asked me “Was this really what you needed, what you wanted? I lead you to this other beautiful path. Why did you reject it for this? If you needed something, you had but to ask.” (for those who work with her, you may understand I why I didn’t just ‘ask’. But that’s another story all together.) A few months passed, and then, lo and behold, Odin walks in.

Odin, a god of war and strife, a trickster, one who is not known entirely for peace— he walks into my home and says to me “What I need from you is to return to your buddhist practices. You can still be a witch, and you can still be mine and those in the nine worlds as well. But what we need from you is to cultivate compassion and work towards buddha hood.”

Why might he say this? It is fairly simple. I’m interested in making the world a better place, a place focused on compassion and love rather than one focused on guns and treating people badly for profit. That isn’t the magic of Odin, but it is the magic of buddhists, and the particular sect that I work with it is absolutely a part of their magic, and of their intent. The liberation of all sentient beings is important. You can say what you like about buddhism, maybe you see it as inactive and useless, maybe you even see it as selfish. Maybe you are only exposed to the monks who have started wars in south asia. I don’t know. What I do know know is that if you want to have access to a long line of magic that is directly about stopping greed, stopping war and violence, and about treating people better, it kind of makes sense to go to the source of a tradition that has spent millennia doing just that. And, if you are like me and seek faster results, the ability to work with local spirits, to work with the elements and environment, there are traditions out there that do just that.

My point in this is to say that if you want to make the world a better place, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Often times, when you try to reinvent you just draw up old solutions that have already been discarded.

*When a deity takes the time to connect personally with you, it’s hard to say no. I do know people who do- in fact, I’ve done it myself a few times. You can’t please everyone, and for some, following a deity isn’t really a great thing to do. Just because they are a god or buddha or what have you doesn’t negate your choice to work with them. I will say that the deities I work with are persuasive, and they also don’t ask that I give myself up to work with them.

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