Proving Grounds

December 1st, 2011


The next thirteen posts of this blog constitute a “course in witchcraft.”  This post covers Lesson No. 1: How to choose your magical goal wisely, and articulate it precisely.

Choosing wisely assumes wisdom on the part of the chooser.  Unfortunately, wisdom is not a commodity easily come by.  To complicate matters, our society doesn’t value it highly. Nonetheless, wisdom is a necessity of witchcraft.

One goes about acquiring wisdom by first becoming self-aware.  There are as many roads to self-awareness as there are people, and there are no shortcuts.  Two of the most-traveled are meditation and/or yoga, and astrology.

Why develop self-awareness?  If you are going to be messing with the extra-physical world, you have to know what your own baseline is.  Then, if things change for you, which they may because of another witch’s targeting (sorry, but it does happen), or the unwanted attention of someThing out there, you will know it, and be able to take the appropriate steps.  A Muggle thinks they’re “just going through a hard patch,” and puts up with it.  That may allow an entity to establish a lifelong grasp on the person, or a curse to take root and take over long after the caster has forgotten about it.

Personal story alert:  Almost a year and a half ago, I moved into a new home.  I cleansed and prepared it in the usual way; noted nasty energy west of me and put some particular wards in that direction.  (The most likely source? An Alzheimer’s patient nearby. That dreadful disease opens a door to all kinds of entities as the person loses psychic energy and self-definition. This fact does not imply evilness on the sufferer’s part.)

About two months ago, new neighbors moved in next door, to the north.  I greeted them politely, but felt no push toward furthering their acquaintance.  Roughly two weeks later, I’d had ten days of losing or mislaying small but important items, having the washer eat my socks, and other general annoyances.

I was in my kitchen when things began to fall and rattle, and I had a sense of Presence not my own.  It wasn’t “evil” – most extra-physical beings are not, just doing jobs which are inconvenient to us.  However, it was apparent from the feeling of it that this one did not mean me kindly.

After almost forty-five years of practicing witchcraft, I can zing up a magic circle pretty quickly, and don’t need any props to do so.  I got some backing from the Goddess Herself for what I was doing, because the entity felt pretty large.  Telling it not to return, I quite literally pushed it forcibly out of my home with an explosive burst of energy, fortified by Her.  Then I went to my wards and strengthened them.  No further problems have manifested.

The next day, and every day thereafter for almost ten days, the police visited the new neighbors after the neighbor on their other side reported noises of domestic violence.  They have been evicted. The Alzheimer’s sufferer is still present; his caregivers, to whom I speak occasionally, say he is a little better, but they are resigned that his is a downhill path.

Were either or both of these people the source of that energy?  I’ve no real way of knowing.  It would not be the first time the Universe has used me in that fashion, nor would it be the first time She’s amused Herself with such coincidence.

And that, my dears, is why you need self-awareness to practice the Craft safely and wisely: not only to do the cool stuff, but to be so settled into the person you are that you can tolerate the uncertainty in that last paragraph.

Meditation, to describe it simply, is assuming a posture or performing a simple repetitive activity while the mind empties, until you can feel your Real Self in there.

To meditate, you need ten minutes.  Zafus, meditation gongs, sandalwood incense, meditation shawl?  Not necessary.

Very young children don’t tolerate their caregiver dropping out of here-and-now awareness, and will mercilessly interrupt meditation sessions.  See if you can swap childcare with another meditator, or time your sessions for naps.

You can meditate while you garden, drum, walk, run, chop vegetables, spin thread.  Any simple, repetitive action which does not involve language can be the road to a meditative state. (If you’ve ever driven for several miles with no memory of having done so, congratulations, you’ve meditated.)

To begin a simple meditation process, light a birthday candle, and put it a little below eye-level: on the floor if you can sit there comfortably, on a table if you’re using a chair. (Do I need to say the words “flameproof candle holder”?  Didn’t think so.) Lock the door, turn off the lights, draw the blinds, and sit in front of the candle, a slightly unfocused gaze on the flame.  Try to empty your mind.

When a thought intrudes, don’t reprimand yourself; simply see the thought evaporate, and begin again.  Begin again as many times as necessary. (The Zen Buddhists have a saying, “You are always at the beginning.”) At the end of ten minutes, commit to repeating the experience the next day.

If a candle is absolutely unsafe in your situation, try a battery-operated LED tealight that flickers.

Yoga is perhaps the best-known physical activity performed to reach a state of meditation.

The Iyengar school of yoga is most deeply concerned with the body’s alignment.  Proper alignment forwards the increase of awareness most quickly, and is safest.

If you are recovering from an injury, try restorative yoga.

B.K.S. Iyenagr’s own “Yoga, The Path Toward Holistic Health” is one of the best books on general yoga.

I also like the instructions by Nina Zolotow on the Rodney Yee deck, ”The poetry of the Body.”

Whether you practice at home or in a class, pay attention to your body.  She or he is your primary teacher.

If you go to a class, choose one whose teacher has certifications.

Discomfort is acceptable; pain is a warning that something is wrong.  If you have pain, come out of the pose, and then attempt it again.  This time, perfect your alignment, and don’t push for maximum extension.

Each body, each mind, and each process is unique. Value your uniqueness by not comparing yourself to another student, your teacher, or photos of regular long-time practitioners when you are starting out.

If you cannot get into a posture, get as close as you can. Sacrifice stretch to alignment; it’s a way to both keep yourself safe, and to make sure that when you do achieve the posture, it’s correct.

Never skip Corpse Pose, the ten or so minutes spent in that posture at the end of a class or home session. It’s a brief meditation session which allows your body to integrate the lessons just learned.

If you can do nothing else, try Tadasana – the Mountain Pose is both simple (you stand straight, hands at sides) and extremely demanding to do correctly. Ten or even two minutes in Tadasana will show you how you habitually misalign your body, and lead you into correcting your stance. (Don’t forget to do Corpse Pose after, to “set” what you just learned into your body.)

There are other methods of generating self-awareness.

One of the simplest is asking the question, “Why did I think that?”  Carry a small notebook, so that if the question occurs to you in one of those boring work meetings you’re forced to attend, you can write down what generated the thought, and take it apart later (makes the boss think you’re taking notes).

Journaling is another: as Julia Cameron has proven, hand-writing three pages a day will straighten many kinks in one’s psyche.  Even if you are not an artist, I highly recommend the self-acceptance techniques found in The Artist’s Way.

These are the long walks of self-awareness: they cost very little, they take a while, but they get you there. The race car is, of course, psychotherapy: expensive to run, but you arrive at awareness much, much faster.  If you work at it, which can be a very uncomfortable process.

Master a form of divination, and perform regular daily and weekly divinings.  Journal on the results.

Astrology is the royal road to self-knowledge.  It is humanity’s first science.

Many websites will cast a chart free; some provide basic delineations as well. Take advantage of one, or contact a local astrologer; most will cast and print a chart for very little money, though delineation is extra. Specify or ask for the Koch house system.

Once you get your chart, find some delineations: go on the web (try “Café Astrology”), or go to the library.

Don’t waste time using Sun sign books.  There’s much more to the science than simply one’s Sun sign.

Seek out correlations of both the positive and negative traits described in your life. If you have Jupiter square Mercury, do you lie, exaggerate, write dystopian fiction, rebel, or some mixture of all three?

Avoid both getting so lost in self-admiration you forget your weaknesses, and so lost in self-abasement that you forget your strengths.

I require my students to pick up enough astrology to be able to spot Big Events in their charts – transits and progressions which could prove problematic, or provide opportunities.  There is always a work-around when trouble presents itself, although it can be a lot of work and a loooooong way around.  There’s a great deal to be gained from the exploitation of good conditions when they exist, as well.

Think that sounds too much like “letting astrology run my life”? Think again. Astrology is not to be approached as a set of orders, but rather as a set of directions which read, “Right now, this issue is being presented to you.  If you do nothing, your birthchart predisposes you to this outcome.  If you engage with the issue, other outcomes are possible.”

In the Craft, timing is everything, and astrology can help you to know the date and time of the Full and New Moons, and the precise date and time of solstices and equinoxes, as well.

Why bother?

For one thing, the Moon is only full visually for three days.  In December of 2011, the Moon will reach fullness on the tenth, at 9:36 AM Eastern time, which is also 6:36 AM Pacific.  After that moment, she is waning, although she will continue to appear full for another 36 hours.  Can this negate your spell if you perform a waxing-moon ritual after the moment of fullness?  You betcha.  You’re working against the Moon, and she’s a lot bigger than you are.

Drawing Down the Moon after she has begun to wane can be extremely deleterious to one’s health. (After the moment of Litha, it is as dangerous to Draw Down of the Sun as it is to Draw Down a waning Moon.  Wait until after the moment of Yule.)

The same precision of timing applies to waning moons, although I have formed the habit of doing Dark-moon work no later than the day before the Moon becomes invisible (and if I am doing a waning-Moon spell which requires seven or nine days, I like to end it on this day as well).  In my experience, there is almost no power available for spellwork while the Moon is dark.

Try performing a ritual at the exact moment of full moon, solstice, equinox, or cross-quarter day just once, and you’ll see that the available power at the moment is immense.

The culminating ritual movement of a seasonal rite should take place at the precise hour and minute of the solstice or equinox.  For instance, this is the moment when the Yule log should be lit, or the Bride and Stang be thrown into Brid’s Bed.

“Before” is miles better than “after.”  Even a week before is better than an hour after, as the energy declines steeply after the “perfect moment.”

You’ll have to do a bit of digging to find the time of cross-quarter events, the moment when the Sun reaches 15 degrees zero minutes zero seconds of the fixed signs.  This year (2011), for instance, while Halloween was celebrated on October 31, the actual cross-quarter day was the seventh of November. The Samhein power built up slowly until 9:56 AM (Pacific Time) on November 7; thereafter, it dissipated quickly.

Learn enough of astrology to steer your life’s course and time your rituals.

Choosing wisely requires that you know yourself sufficiently well to be able to forecast what effect a particular spell will have on your life.  It also assumes that you have thought the possible effects of the success of your spell through, and after that you still desire the spell’s outcome.

If you cast a prosperity spell and it is successful, what will happen as you become more prosperous?  Will you change friends, home, job, spouse, pet?  Are you willing to live with the consequences to those you leave behind?

If you cast a love spell and it is successful, what will happen as you commit to this person?  Will you be asked to move a long distance from family, to change jobs, to commit to a lifestyle you are unsure of, to be a stepparent? Are you willing to? If you do so, will the cumulative changes make you happier, or less so?

In general, if you cast a spell and it is successful, are you willing to accept both the effect you are casting for, and the unanticipated changes that effect will bring you?

Effectively performed, magic does not merely change the world around you.  It changes you, too.

Reason enough for acquiring wisdom, don’t you think?

Until next time, when we will discuss choosing or crafting a spell effectively, blessed be.

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