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MagickalARTS

January 1st, 2015

You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Low Road….

 

This month, I would like to have us give consideration to the type of magick we practice. We are entering a New Year and the potential held in crossing those Gates into a new way of experiencing Magick is ripe and ready. Before we can define what we practice, we need to know what some of the definitive properties are and what the effects could be.

 

There is some debate over what the definition of Operative Magick is and the tag lines of Practical, High and Low Magick associated with its definition.  Moreover, the term High and Low does not denote that level of effectiveness or potency, but rather the nature of the working and more specifically the energies and entities that are involved in the process.

 

High Magick is work done with the specific intent of achieving a spiritual, mystical goal. Ceremonial Magick, followers of the Order of the Golden Dawn and Qabalistic Magick are all work with the formality and formularies of High Ritual. The work is done in a ritualistic manner; always with a circle of art being cast, the energies of the quarters called and a statement to the seen and unseen regarding the intent. The work is formal, structured and well planned in accord with the desired results.

 

Operative (or Low) Magick includes Folk Magick, spell work and those workings that look more to effect the mundane world using the tools and energies of the mundane in concert with the spiritual to bring about a desired result. These are the practical workings that we do on a daily basis in accord with our life or communities needs. Those who were the pagans of agricultural society and lived in the lowlands worked from dusk to dawn, had little if any time or need for elaborate ceremonies; therefore the practice of operative magick was straightforward and to the point with little fanfare. Feathers, stones, herbs, flowers and other natural items were the ingredients used to work magick to ensure a good crops, fertility in marriage or protection from those who would do harm.  These needs have transformed to some degree in modern society, but the underlying premise is still the same. That of improving or safeguarding those things we need.

 

Operative magick makes use of very simple and concrete tools, making use of what is available whether magickal or not and then employing the natural laws and principles of cause and effect to accomplish the working.

 

Spell work is perhaps the most commonly known form of operative magick.  The overlays and enhancements of astrology, herbs, candles, colors, crystals, oils and a litany of by products of the natural world support the working and engage the caster in a physical and energetic way.

A common time for operative magick to be employed is at one of the phases of the lunar cycle- New- Full of Dark.  Most often operative magick is not included as part of a Sabbat celebration, but need may dictate otherwise and the celebration and communion with the Deity(ies) of association are called to witness and aid with the working. The spell found at the beginning of this writing was written for the Full Moon in Cancer and was part of a working of operative magick to reveal the deeper meanings of an article I had written to all who read it. Using the Moon’s energies in the sign of Cancer was an additional bolster to the intent of the working as most people engage with written and creative offerings from an emotional heart centered space.  Additionally, I used a sea blue candle for the working and drew from my own emotional and intuitive responses to craft a spell and symbolic working that would be successful.

 

For the magickal worker who maintains the belief that their path is one of 24/7 365 days a year and is part of the fibers of their own life’s existence, operative magick is a daily routine.  We cast spells as we cook. Carefully preparing and choosing the finest ingredients to produce pleasure and nourishment for ourselves and those we love cooking.  Sitting and writing that special sentiment in a birthday card or sharing condolences intended to comfort are crafts of spell work. Prayers offered up for a loved one’s health and the even the simple gesture of a hug and kiss accompanied by words of “have a good day” are spells cast.   These and more are done transparently and largely unknowingly as we move through our daily routines.

Northern Star Rite

As we approach the Yule season, we are reminded that although we have been in the dark half of the season, we will always return to the light. The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the return of the sun. Our days will continue to grow longer, and our nights will become shorter. It is a time of quiet reflection, but also joyous celebrations of winter.

This rite is in honor of the North Star that brightens the winter night and offers its power of guidance to all that accept it. The North Star can be found in many traditional stories of the winter holiday season, so this rite may be a comforting childhood reminder of the power of the brightest star in the night sky.

Gather with friends to perform this ritual on an evening before the Winter Solstice. This rite is written as if it would be too cold to perform outside, like it is here in Maine in December! However, you can certainly do all of this ritual outdoors as weather permits.
Disclaimer

Please use caution when burning candles and incense. Never leave candles or incense unattended or in the reach of small children or curious pets. Also, please use caution when handling ritual blades and burning candles. Inform participants ahead of time about the use of incense, and check on possible food allergy issues.

Supplies
Black altar cloth
Small bowl of water
Small bowl of salt
Incense burner with trivet
Charcoal tablet
Loose pinon pine resin
Feather
Athame or ritual blade
Chalice of milk
Plate of star-shaped cookies
One white taper candle in holder
Two red and white striped candles in holders
Several tea lights in holders
Matches
Markers
Thin ribbon and scissors
Gentle, instrumental music
Basket of wooden cut-outs of stars with holes pre-drilled for a hanging ribbon
Altar set-up

Spread out the black altar cloth on the altar. Place the white taper candle in its holder on the center of the altar. Place the bowl of salt (representing earth) to the left of the white candle and the bowl of water (representing water) on the right of the white candle.

Add the incense burner to the left side of the altar and place an unlit charcoal tablet on it (representing fire). Make sure to place the incense burner on a trivet to prevent heat damage to your altar. Have the pinon pine resin (representing air) handy nearby.

Also add the ritual blade to the left side of the altar. Place the chalice of water to the right side of the altar, along with the feather. Have the plate of cookies somewhere on the altar if there is room.

Place one of the red and white striped candles on either side of the altar. These candles represent the God (left) and the Goddess (right).

Place the tea lights in their holders and place them safely around the room. Use enough so you can turn off all the electric lights and still see and safely maneuver around the ritual space.  The tea lights represent the twinkling, starry sky. Light the tea lights right before you are ready to begin.

Rite

Lead the group in a grounding and centering breath exercise.

Sprinkle some of the salt into the bowl of water, and stir three times with your ritual blade or athame.

Light the charcoal tablet and place on the incense burner. Wait until the tablet is smoking, and then add a small amount of the loose incense on to it.

Have the first participant to volunteer approach you at the altar. Dip your finger into the water and draw the shape of a star on the forehead of the participant.  Then use the feather to move the incense smoke in their direction. Repeat with all participants (ending with yourself) while repeating:

Charcoal lit and incense burn

Salt and water stirred in turn

Earth, water, fire and air

Blessed in the name of the sacred pair

Once everyone has been cleansed and blessed, join together around the altar and take each other’s hand. Cast the circle by saying together:

Hand to hand, this circle is cast

Be us not in the now

Yet not in the past

From above and below

To dare and to know

Within and without

To whisper, to shout

As the Gods will it

So mote it be

Take a moment to enjoy the energy flowing between you all, and then release your hands.

You can call the four elemental quarters here if you like, but it is not necessary.

Light the Goddess candle (striped candle on the right side of the altar) and invoke the Goddess with spontaneous words.

Light the God candle (striped candle on the left side of the altar) and invoke the God with spontaneous words.
Drawing in the Star Power

Participants should find a comfortable spot to sit or lay down. Start playing the meditation music.  Add more incense to the charcoal, if desired.

Lead the participants through a meditation. Have them imagine themselves standing in a snowy, flat landscape, where are compelled to gaze at the magnificent, clear night sky. The sky is full of beautiful, sparkling stars, yet one stars stands out from the rest. This is the North Star. Spend some time developing the scene for the participants. Don’t rush things. Let the description naturally come to your mind’s eye and then describe it out loud to the group. When you’ve reached a full description, ask them to open their eyes.

Pass around a basket of thin wooden cut-outs of stars and encourage everyone to take one.  Then, pass around some markers.

Now, ask them to imagine themselves back at the landscape again. This time, they should imagine reaching out their hands and drawing the energy gently down from the North Star and into themselves.  Explain to them that the North Star’s energy is a guiding energy. Ask them to think about where they need guidance in their life.

Allow several minutes of time to pass, before asking them to open their eyes again and hold their stars. Ask them to write down on the wooden stars what they would like guidance on. When everyone is ready, have everyone gather around the altar, and light the middle white taper candle on the altar.  Ask everyone to hold their star between the palms of their hands, while reciting together:

Brightest star of the dark, night sky,

And kin to the sun in the daylight hour,

We reach out to you from on high,
And wish to honor your power.

Finding that within and that without,
Which guides our hearts and minds,
We follow you without any doubt,
Beyond the realm of places and times.

We take your strength within ourselves,
Hold fast to your rays of light,

Where our spirit and hope truly dwells,
With the sincerity of new sight.

We look upon your shining glow,
In need of wisdom, a path we seek
Please help us go, we must know,

At this night hour of your peak.

So mote it be!

Invite participants to come up to the altar, one-by-one and share with the group about how they plan on using their star energy to guide them. You can seal their star tokens by dripping a few drops of wax from the white taper candle onto the tokens and leaving them on the altar to dry. Be careful not to get any candle wax on yourself or the participant.

Allow the tokens to dry before moving them again. Invite the participants to tie a red ribbon on the star for hanging in a Northern-facing window at home.

When everyone is ready, pick up the chalice of milk and hold it out in front of you, saying:

We drink to the Gods, fair and true.
We drink to our kin, those we know and knew.
We drink to the evening sky and the stars so bright.
We drink to the slumbering earth and the cold, dark night.

We drink to honor the moment and times past.

We drink to change the future and help our magick last.

Blessed be!

Pass the chalice around the room and enjoy! Pour the remainder on the ground outside later.

Pick up the plate of cookies and hold it out in front of you, saying:

We partake in the honor our constant companion, the North Star.

Pass the plate around the room and enjoy! Toss the remaining food on the ground outside later.

Give thanks to the God and Goddess in any way you see fit.

Dismiss the four elemental quarters, if you called them.

When you are ready, gather around the altar once more and take each other’s hands, saying:

Hand to hand, this circle is broken.

Let us return to the now,
As our magick has been spoken.
Let us find harmony in the work we’ve done,
With greater good and harming none.

So mote it be!

Felix the Cat had his bag-of-tricks, Batman had his utility belt, and witches have spells.

Hollywood tells us that all a witch really needs is a good book of spells and they’re in business.  Hot, diggity-dang!  I’ll run right out and get me one of those.  Except, aren’t there any useful modern books of spells?  The ones that I can find are kind of out of date and a lot of those spells aren’t of much use any more.  I mean, who needs a spell to keep your yams from wandering over the fence into your neighbor’s yam patch at night?  Or one to get rid of boils on your bum?  (My health plan covers that, unless it’s a pre-existing condition.)

Of course, there are modern spells for love charms and making money.  In fact, that seems to be the main focus of most of the spell books on the shelves these days.  I guess if you want to have a spell for some other purpose, you’ll just have to work it out yourself.  If you’re not an old hand at crafting spells, that might seem an intimidating task.  But, trust me; it’s as easy as pie.

First off, let’s be clear what we’re talking about.  A spell is actually nothing more than a plan that involves magic to get something done.  Most spells are subtle ways of injecting magic into a process so as to make it more successful.  And magic, as we all know, comes in a wide variety of forms.  Most magic workers find they are more adept at one or two forms and tend to stick with them for most of their spells.  This isn’t surprising since specialization happens in every art form.  Magic works in direct proportion to the amount of will power put into it, so most magic requires a good deal of mind work and motivation.  Spells commonly use what most would consider to be psychological tricks.

For instance:  A few years back, a fellow came to me and said he was suffering from writer’s block.  He just couldn’t seem to write anything useful and he was getting frustrated over how long it had been going on.  By the way, this guy was a die-hard typewriter user.  Why, I’ll never know.  But I made use of the fact in my spell.  After a little questioning, I created a spell that got rid of his writer’s block in one week.  Here were my instructions to him:

1. On day #1, sit down at your typewriter.  Clear everything off the desk with the exception of the typewriter and a stack of blank paper.
2. Insert a sheet of blank paper into the roller and put your fingers on the keyboard.  But do not type anything.
3. Sit like this for precisely one minute.
4. Take out the paper and burn it.
5. On day #2, sit down and repeat steps #2 through 4.
6. On day #3, put the paper in the typewriter and sit for two minutes without typing anything on it.
7. Then, type one key, any key.
8. Take out the paper and burn it.
9. On day #4, repeat #6.
10. Then, type a complete sentence… anything.
11. Remove the paper and burn it.
12. On day #5, repeat #6.
13. Type the same sentence that you typed for step #10.
14. Then type, “I am a GOOD writer.”
15. Remove the paper and burn it.
16. On day #6, roll in the paper but don’t type anything.
17. Look at it for ten minutes.
18. Leave the paper in the roller and exit the room.
19. Do not return to that room until the next day.
20. On day #7, type anything you want.

I had no assurance that this spell would work but I thought it would because of what I knew about the man and his habits.  He was what I would call a compulsive writer.  By forcing him to go ‘cold turkey’ about his writing but giving him a specific ‘cure’ for his writer’s block so he’d be motivated to follow my instructions, I felt he would bottle up so much writing energy that it would nearly explode from him on the seventh day.  And it did… right on cue.  He called me up that night and told me he’d written twenty-two pages and wanted to do more but was too tired.  He thanked me profusely and then hung up.  I learned the next day that he’d gone back to finish a paragraph and ended up writing another five pages.

The magic in this spell is obvious.  I relied upon the person’s own compulsions to break the barriers down that his mind had put in place.  I knew that most so-called writer’s block was because the unconscious was telling the writer that they had to change something in their lives and/or story before the creative juices would flow again.  I just gave him the time necessary to make those changes while providing something that he believed would make that change for him.  The spell didn’t actually make those changes; he did.  But while he was doing that, I gave him a reason to accept a change in his normal routine.  I gave him a distraction as well as making him hopeful that the change he wanted, the breaking of his writer’s block, would happen and happen at a specific point.  Just an old Jedi mind trick.

A lot of spells are like that.  They use the predictable changes and energies around a situation and give them purpose and direction.  How was I able to come up with this particular spell?  Well, the formula is actually something I learned years ago when reading The Art of War.  The solution to a problem usually lies within the proper description of the problem.  Remember that the so-called ‘writer’s block’ was something that the man was producing himself.  And I knew that most of the time, a ‘writer’s block’ is nothing more than the unconscious trying to adjust things so the natural creativity of the person can work better.  All I did was use that knowledge and make up a spell that gave his unconscious enough time to do its thing without the guy feeling frustrated all the time (which undoubtedly would have hampered his unconscious from doing what it was supposed to do).  In other words, I used what I knew about his condition and provided a reason for him to allow the problem to take care of itself.  And it worked.  I found out later that he’d taken the time he would have normally used for writing and spent a good deal of it with a lady he’d met a few weeks before his ‘writer’s block’ had appeared.  Their relationship blossomed and actually turned into an intense romance that lasted well after he was done with the book.  He told me that one of his female characters had to be rewritten so she acted more like his girl friend and that had been what the story really needed.

A good part of most spells relies on psychology.  Understanding how people think and what kinds of things motivate them is a key factor.  But also knowing how other things function is necessary in making successful spells.  Much of the time, spells appear not to have anything that connects them to the purpose or goal of the spell.  How would burning a candle help find a lost pet?  Why would white rose petals worn in your right shoe help you find a lover?

As magic users, one of the first things we learn is that everything is connected.  Simply because something appears not to be connected doesn’t mean that it won’t make a difference in how things work down the line.  Just as every parent knows, what is done with a child at the age of two has a great deal to do with how they behave at the age of twenty-two.  Knowing how a small change here can make a big change there is the kind of thing needed to craft a good spell.  Of course, such knowledge requires a good deal of education.  Witches (and, for that matter, all magic workers) are always curious… about everything.  But I believe the biggest thing that sets magic users apart from others is that one concept, everything’s connected.  Anyone who works magic believes that concept is true.  And because of it, we see the world differently from how much of the population sees it.  For us, thinking that there is a connection between the rose petals and finding a lover is not outrageous.  We can’t always justify or explain how something is connected or how it influences things, but there is no doubt in our minds that it is so.  For us, this is not bad science or crazy thinking; we like to think of it as ‘wisdom’.  Whether it is wisdom or just a different way of viewing the world, it works for us.

Hollywood and the entertainment media in general tend to portray spell crafting as some super mysterious way of causing fantastic events.  While that might sell movie tickets or books, the truth is that most spells are rather bland.  No big flashes, no swirling smoke, no freezing time… sorry.  Just getting stuff done.  But I don’t discount the importance of mystery.  Sometimes it’s necessary for things to work properly.  Take the spell mentioned above about getting rid of the writer’s block for instance.  If I’d told the guy, “Hey, give it a rest for a while; get out a little more and have some fun,” he probably wouldn’t have taken the advice and certainly wouldn’t have found some needed distraction so his unconscious could work out the kink in the story.  I purposely camouflaged what I was doing so it would work better.  Like I said: old Jedi mind trick.

Remember that many people ascribe powers and attributes to us that are absolutely untrue.  They may think we’re strange (well, that might be a little true), some think we’re even evil.  They might believe we can fly on broomsticks.  Then again, they might think we’re totally bonkers.  But they also believe… or at least want to believe… that we can twitch our nose and make things happen.  (I’ve tried for years to learn how to twitch my nose that way, but so far…)

Anyway, a bit of drama or skillful misdirection can be useful sometimes, especially with non-magic workers.  It could be argued that this doesn’t help dispel (Get it…dis + spell?  Ha, ha.  Well, anyway…) the idea that we are aligned with ‘evil forces’ but I think that is another whole subject.  It’s a way of using the person’s own energies for empowering the spell.  They can’t expect us to do everything.  Besides, many who come to us for spells are frustrated and don’t know or believe that they have the power to make the desired changes in their own lives.  Having them be the source of the spell’s power is one way to give them a sense of ‘ownership’ that will help them in more than just that one instance.

Crafting spells is an art, and a very useful one at that.  Learning how to do it for others is part of our bag-of-tricks.  But remember that whatever you create, you are responsible for.  Whether you work magic for yourself or for others, the rules are the same:

1. Be careful what you invoke.  (You just might get it!)
2. Don’t make something you can’t un-make.  (If you made that mess, you might have to clean it up!)
3. What you do will always come back to you.  (If you’re lucky, it will only be threefold!)
4. Do good.  (Don’t be mean, nasty, ugly,… or stupid!  See #3!)

Finally, just a word about doing spell work for others:  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  You are under no obligation to do something just because somebody asked you to.  In fact, the only obligation you have is to be a responsible magic worker (see the above rules).  Always, always be mindful of what your own spirituality tells you and be true to it.  The best spell is the one that you do on yourself to make you into a better child of the gods.  Blessed be.

Like many others my age, the first witch I saw on TV was Samantha on the show Bewitched. But there was real life witch in my area whom I saw on TV several times. Jeffrey B. Cather RN, better known as Lady Circe of Toledo, OH, was respected by the media when they turned to her as the unofficial representative of the Pagan community. She was well spoken, knowledgeable and had an air of leadership about her. When I saw her on TV in the 70s and 80s, I was not yet studying the old ways, but it was in the back of my mind and the knowledge that such people existed kept the spark of my interest alive. When she passed away in 2004, I read she was a WW II veteran and since this was before the VA decision to add the pentacle as a symbol of belief, I’ve wondered if her headstone was ever changed.

Shortly after I was hired by the Postal Service in 1994, I saw a documentary called “Witches, Werewolves and Vampires.” It was more on the lighter side, but I was intrigued by what the Witches were saying about a magical nature centered religion which included a goddess. This was the moment I decided to see if what the Witches were saying was true and if this was something for me. Its funny how the words and attitudes of someone we never meet and who have no idea we exist can change our lives, so perhaps our words and attitudes can in turn affect people we will never meet and may not even know they exist.

I looked in the library in Port Clinton, OH where I was working at the time and found a book, the name of which I have long ago forgotten. It claimed to be about witchcraft, but with instructions to self initiate that included saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards three times at midnight and making a wand stuffed with a blood soaked cotton ball, it sounded weird even in my naiveté. Fortunately it disappeared never to return before I could check it out. Perhaps someone was keeping me from starting out with misinformation.

Eventually I found a few useful accurate books at the library and bought some at a bookstore in another town. But I yearned for contact with a like minded person, someone I could learn from, ask questions, and gain understanding. There was a woman on my mail route I wanted to talk with as she received metaphysical catalogs, had a stained glass pentacle on her door, stickers on her truck reading “witches heal” and “born again pagan” and had a banner in her window wishing “Blessed Samhain.” One day she was sweeping her sidewalk, so I stuck up a conversation, complimenting her on her Halloween decorations. She replied that it was important to her as she was a Witch. I replied that I was a newbie Wiccan and she offered to be of help.

I learned so much from Soraya. She explained the difference between Witch and Wiccan and elaborated on her path of Hedgewitchery. She was the first other Pagan I had met in person, so being a newbie, I tended at first to hang on her every word, something she discouraged. Instead, she encouraged me to listen to different views, try different things and see what worked for me. There was an author whom I idolized at the time, but my mentor had a rather negative opinion of her. I was able to step back and be objective about that author as well as any other. We were comfortable disagreeing agreeably and I never felt pressure to agree with or imitate her. I was a fan of the TV show Charmed and she thought it was stupid. She thought the movie The Craft insulted our religion but I could watch it over and over although I understood how those not familiar with our ways could get the wrong idea. Practical Magic was a movie we both enjoyed.

Soraya encouraged me to interact with other Pagans. She started a local meet and greet called Pagans in the Pub and invited me to come. I was too reluctant to do so and unfortunately after two meetings, it stopped due to lack of interest. She was a member of a Cleveland, OH based group and drove to their monthly meetings. We talked about me riding with her sometime but again I was reluctant. Considering the problems I have now finding the time to participate in Pagan groups, I wish I would have went.

I did manage to find other Pagans online and she pointed the way. She recommended the Witch’s Voice and a few other quality sites as well as setting up her own Pagan message board, Soraya’s Witch’s Tavern. I was one of the first members at her invitation and as I sat at the library internet computer pondering a user name, it came to me, Postalpagan, a name I still use 12 years later. It amused me when she said that some of the other members asked her if it was a reference to the term “going postal”, and she replied that I was her mail carrier. When someone asked her how she changed her hair color like one of the girls in The Craft did, she replied that she started by going to the drug store and buying a box of hair color. One Imbolic morning I knocked on her door because I had been feeling like I had way too much coffee since an early morning ritual. She went through a checklist of the steps of ritual and when she got to grounding and centering at the end, I realized my omission. Once I followed her advice to perform the missing step, I felt myself calm down. One thing she would not do was let me join her in ritual as she said she was strictly a solitary.

Her proudest moment during the time I knew her was the front page story on her in the local newspaper. She had called them about ten days earlier to point out the error in a Halloween article that claimed the Celtic god of the dead was Sam Hain and Samhain was named after him. After she replied yes to a newspaper staffer’s question if she was Pagan, she agreed to an interview at home. The article with a photo of her on her porch swing was published October 23, 1999 in the Port Clinton News Herald. It was spot on both in regards to her personally and our religion. Only one of my coworkers at the Post Office criticized her as eccentric and I defended her even though I was still in the broom closet. In spite of her fears, she did not receive any threatening phone calls or hate mail. I walked into the newspaper office to praise both the article and their willingness to be open minded. Sadly, I found out a few years later from another newspaper staffer, who was Pagan, that they received so many complaints that the editor decided that they would never run another piece on anything Pagan.

A little over two years later, I transferred to Clyde, OH and said goodbye to Soraya thanking her for her help which had meant so much. She encouraged me to keep learning and practicing as well as remaining active at the Tavern. But she soon closed the message board and I heard she moved to North Carolina. I saw her on the membership listing of Witchvox under that state for a while, then she disappeared and repeated web searches have found nothing. If perchance she is reading this, I would like to give her a big thank you for being my mentor and my dream is that someday I could be as helpful to a new Witch somewhere.

No one person can teach all of the Craft.  No one person can learn all of the Craft.  The Craft is too big.  Every witch specializes in something, and acquires proficiency with three or four other things.  This is why the saying declares “You cannot be a witch alone.”  It is best to be in a coven, from six to twelve persons plus the high priestess.  But people move around the world and it is not always possible for covens to keep together.  The next best thing is to associate with one or two witches and keep in touch with others over the internet.  Witchcraft and Neopaganism could not survive in the world today without the internet.

No one can compile an exhaustive list of topics covered by the Craft, and everyone’s personal list will be prioritized differently, according to that witch’s practice.  For me the Craft includes herblore, traditional handicrafts, farming and hunting lore, divination, dreamwork, trancework, meditation, spellwork, study of ancient religions, study of indigenous religions, local study of nature, ritualwork, and covencraft, but I am proficient in only a few of these areas.  I am not proficient in herblore, and moreover I currently live in a country, Norway, where people do not enjoy herbal freedom.  It is very difficult to obtain certain herbs here, and people are not supposed to import them.  For my herbal knowledge I must rely on friends who live elsewhere in the world and who can advise me over the internet or by telephone or letter.  Sometimes these can be obtained in the woods.  Except in the cities, there are small stretches of forest throughout the lowlands.

Local study of nature can only be carried out locally.  If you have one or more partners in the Craft, you should acquire some guidebooks to local flora and fauna, geology and topography, and go out together in different seasons of the year for camping trips and hikes, to study the locale and familiarize yourself with the animals, plants and minerals of the area.  For this topic one must combine book-learning with personal familiarity.  I am aware of the animals and plants in my neighborhood, though I am not given to long hikes or to camping anymore.

Every witch will practice some physical discipline and engage in some form of work developing manual skill, in addition to more mental pursuits.  Every witch seeks balance, both within and with the environment, including inner and outer spirits.  Witches seek freedom in all its forms, and for this reason will not use addictive substances, and will either abstain from habit-forming substances altogether, or at most will use them rarely.

Witches follow the Sun-wheel in all their practices, seeking balance in their use of the powers of elemental Air, Fire, Water and Earth.  They align these practices with the directions of East, South, West and North, respectively.

Air contains the power to know.  Thought is breath.  Every process is begun by increasing knowledge.  Witches always seek to know rather than hide from knowledge.  A witch is nothing if not practical, and will always seek to make use  of knowledge in some way.  Knowledge that is purely negative will be buried by a witch, who can draw on its power without letting its negativity emerge.

Fire contains the power to will.  Will is inseparable from action.  Witches cultivate strings of actions which require regular effort.  They take oaths before the gods to fulfill these strings.  Some strings, such as learning a language, are ongoing and have no foreseeable end.  Strings are cultivated through two forms of action, practice and praxis.  A practice is engaged in at particular times and for particular intervals of time.  A praxis is engaged in at random moments, whenever one thinks of it.  Practice and praxis support each other, and every string involves both forms of action.  To establish a string requires some form of sacrifice, for space must be found in one’s life for the new activity.  The sacrificial fire was always built traditionally in the south, and it is the means of communication with gods, demigods and ancestors.  Witches begin by sacrificing very small things, such as minor habits, which generally tie up large amounts of energy.  The ancestors approve of such sacrifices and will send the witch a special form of vigor as a sign of their approval.

Water contains the power to dare.  Witches dare to go beyond their current limitations.  They examine their assumptions and question them, seeking to think outside the box, as the saying goes.  They explore other possibilities, of awareness, of living.  They change habits to experience living in other ways.  This can also take small forms, such as taking a different route to work on occasion.  But they also seek initiation, psychic death and rebirth, and, when it is the wise choice, they will follow their passions.

Earth contains the power to keep silence.  Silence is inner as well as outer, and involves physical stillness as well as control of speech and thought.  In order to be physically still one must exercise regularly and stay in shape.  A witch will practice some form of meditation in order to be inwardly still. Avoiding unnecessary talk is important not just to preserve discretion (very important during the Burning Times and still important today), but as a way of conserving energy.  A witch conserves energy and only uses it to accomplish a worthwhile purpose.  For this reason, witches are enjoined to overcome and suppress nervous habits.  Unnecessary talking, especially expressing negative emotions, qualifies as a nervous habit.

A witch has several names.  His or her innermost name is known only to the gods, and the witch uses it in silent prayer or when praying and offering to the gods alone.  If a witch is in a coven with a tier of initiations, he or she will have an inner court name, used only among fellow initiates.  Among non-initiates or non-coven fellow witches or pagans, he or she can use an outer court name.  My outer court name, which can be read above in the byline to this paper, is Quicksilver.  This means that one of my gods is Hermes or Mercury; it also means that I tend to spread myself thin in my interests and jump around a lot from one thing to another.  I celebrate this weakness light-heartedly and by naming it I keep it within bounds, thus converting it into a strength, or at least into an element of personal style in my practice of the Craft.  The inner court name, if one has one, and the innermost name should likewise be meaningful, with the innermost name in some way expressing where one is at in one’s current incarnation, and where one is going.  An innermost name can often be the name of an animal or bird.

Witchcraft is both serious and joyful, in this way resembling the play of children.  We witches believe in reincarnation, and also periods of rest and recuperation in the Summerland  (a pleasant place in the Underworld) between lives.  Thus, we are not in a hurry and can afford to enjoy ourselves.  At the same time, our play and restful recreations generally involve some form of learning or practice.  We are children of the gods practicing being grown up, with a view to eventually engaging in some form of work helpful to the demigods (daimones) and elementals, and through them to the greater gods and goddesses.  Laughter and light-hearted glee or zest is an important part of play.  Witches come together at Esbats (generally held at the full Moon) and Sabbats (eight per year).  ‘Esbat’ is from a Middle French word, esbattier, meaning to frolic.  ‘Sabbat’ means a rest.  This implies that the real work of the Craft is done between these occasions.

Witches regard all forms of life as equal and worthy of equal respect.  Humans are not regarded as higher than animals, and even stones are thought to be conscious in some way.  Personal evolution involves harmony within and without, and faculties shared with animals and other forms of life are considered just as important to cultivate as those that seem unique to human beings.

Progress in the Craft is not uniform in pace; it slows down and speeds up at intervals.  As with mountain-climbing or attending a university, there are certain levels to be attained, and reaching them requires a period of intensive preparation when one is getting close.  In the Craft there are three levels or degrees of initiation.  Upon attaining to a new level, the nature of learning in the Craft changes its form.  One emerges victorious with respect to old struggles but must now assume more mature responsibilities; this is described in the witch saying “First the victory, then the battle.”  Initiations are like promotions in school.  Eventually one graduates, and this graduation, lifetimes ahead, is sometimes referred to as the transmutation or transformation.  Thereafter, a witch need not incarnate but can stay on the Other Side, performing work useful to the daimones.  He or she acquires the ability to visit this surface Earth, at first as a sort of light; later on a material body can be projected temporarily for a particular purpose.  This is what the ka was believed able to do in ancient Egypt.  Transmutation generally takes place on the Other Side, though accounts from stregheria (Italian witchcraft) suggest that it can occur while in a material body on this side, in which case the experience is said to be excruciating.

Witches are not much concerned with transmutation.  It lies far ahead.  One goes to the Sun and receives a body of light.  If you’re interested you can read about it in the Prasna Upanishad.

Being a Hereditary

A Hereditary tradition does not have to be transferred from parent to child. Often it can skip a generation and be passed from a grandparent or an aunt, uncle or other family member. A Linage tradition is passed directly from parent to child and so forth down the generations. Of course, I am speaking from my family’s understanding within our own tradition.

My own line of hereditary witchcraft began with my great, great aunt who was adopted into a hereditary line of witchcraft. Often entrance into a family tradition was through birth, marriage or adoption. My great, great aunt then passed on the tradition to my grandmother and from that time it has been passed on directly from parent to child. I am the fourth generation and my children carry the path forward with my granddaughter being the sixth generation. All in all we have a hereditary path spanning over 125 years. We are by far not the oldest hereditary family path, nor are we the youngest.

I know that I am very fortunate to have grown up in a family tradition as opposed to seeking one out later in life. I am often asked what it was like growing up with a path already set in place. It was magical, like living within warm earth and it was lived every day. My family raises cattle for a living and every day we were surrounded with the cycle of birth, life and death. We grew our own food and butchered our own animals. It was hard work.

While my mother worked a day job, I lived with my grandparents. Grandma was the local healer and a semi-self taught veterinarian. Someone was always bringing a sick or injured animal, domestic or wild, to the house. Sometimes grandma would go to administer healing at someone’s home. There was always some sick person or animal she was tending too. Family and non-family referred to my grandma as ‘aunt’.

We are an oral tradition. The closest thing to a Book of Shadows would have been the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We do not adhere to the tenets of the new religion of Wicca; we have our own codes of conduct and honor. We do not take magical names, let’s face it, we are family and everyone knows who we are. We do not use terms such as Priest or Priestess, but we do have an Elder who is elected by the family. We do not wear special clothing for our rituals; as long as we were clean, pants and shirts were fine. Of course today I can afford to wear something more to my liking for ritual.

Growing up, there wasn’t a local metaphysical shop to drop into to pick up supplies. We either made what we needed or used what we found in nature. Candles were made from canning paraffin and oil lamp wicking. We were lucky to get colored birthday candles on occasion. We grew our own herbs, made our own teas, tinctures, salves. Sometimes we found quartz, serpentine, arrowheads and sea shells in the creek, washed down from the mountain.

Our rituals are rooted in our family land. We work with the land children and the guardian who watches over our land. We differ from some traditions by not calling quarters, casting circles, or worshiping gods & goddesses. Well, that’s not quite so, because the gods & goddesses of my dad’s family claimed me when I was young, but that is for another column. The ritual tools we use are the cauldron, knife, staff, broom, stone, and antler. Our rituals may include healing work, gratitude, communion with the land, journey work, learning a new skill, divination and sharing what portents & signs we observed. We work with folk/sympathetic magic which may include workings for justification.

We celebrate the seasonal shifts and moon tides; however seasonal shifts do not necessarily coincide with a date on the calendar, but rather with the physical shift of the season on the land. We do a spring cleaning and a fall cleansing. We have rituals for honoring the steers before slaughter and when we drive the cattle from the winter pastures to the summer ones.

This is but a small glimpse into my family tradition.

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