A Witch’s Guide to Fountain Pens

It often surprises people to learn that I write my books and blogs by hand. Computers and phones have become so ubiquitous that I think it just doesn’t occur to us that this might be an option that some writers still choose—it sounds so antiquated and needlessly difficult. Maybe even pretentious. I admit that I was inspired to give it a try after hearing that this is how Neil Gaiman writes his novels, and because I once had the privilege to see the original manuscript of Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and I literally wept like a giant nerd (In public! Surrounded by worried colleagues and friends!). I had a similar reaction to seeing Ray Buckland’s beat-up wirebound notebook at the Buckland Museum a few years ago, containing the earliest draft of his Complete Book of Witchcraft (not to compare Buckland to Dickens, but both have been instrumental in the course of my life for very different reasons).

Like, holy shit, friends, people used to have to write everything by hand. I think that’s incredible. I remember learning about monks and illuminated manuscripts in middle school and thinking, “I want that job.” Being a Gardnerian—with our penchant for hand-copying the Book of Shadows and writing our own over the course of our lives—is about as close as I could manage.

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Other People’s Witchcraft

Do you ever think about how little we actually know about each other? Like, how telling you I’m a witch doesn’t actually give you much information at all about what I’m actually up to? And how even words like “Wiccan” and “Gardnerian” don’t actually tell you very much, because lots of people use them differently?

I think about that all the time. When someone tells me they’re a witch, I have to follow that up with, “What does that mean to you?” It’s not much easier when someone tells me they’re a “traditional Wiccan” or a “secular witch,” or whatever other label we’ve got floating around now. I can make reasonable guesses (“Okay, they probably don’t believe in gods,” or “They don’t subscribe to the Wiccan Rede”), but I’m for sure going to be wrong about a lot of things, unless I really can sit down with the person and pick their brain over time.

Though it was triggered by Katie Gerrad’s recent blog post, this video is not about the issue of same sex initiation. Rather, it started with a seeker friend who asked in response, “How do we really even know who’s initiating who? Couldn’t people just practice however they wanted and then just let people believe they were actually doing something different? Do people ever just lie so they don’t rock the boat?” And…yeah. They sure do.

This video isn’t about any single point of controversy in the Craft. Rather, it’s about the weird assumption we all seem to have that we ever know what another witch is up to.

When I Do Spells: Thoughts on Working Magic and the “Craft” of Witchcraft

If witchcraft is a craft (in addition to being a religion, as it is for many of us), then what exactly is the “craft”? And how often do we have to be engaging in that craft in order to really be witches?

For a lot of people–both witches and non-witches–we immediately think of spells. Witches do spells! Of course they do, we think. But what exactly are spells? And how many do you have to do before you know you’re a witch? If someone picks up one of those cutesy turn-your-man-into a toad spell books and tries something once, or writes a wish on a bay leaf and burns it because they saw that meme on Instagram, or blows out their birthday candles and makes a wish, are they practicing witchcraft? And do those spells have to work? What failure rate is allowed before you have to throw in the towel and admit to being a non-witch? What if you never throw in the towel, and you just keep failing at spells your whole life? Is that witchcraft?

…and the questions keep coming.

It gets kind of ridiculous, really, writing it all down. But I think about these things sometimes, and often these are the questions I get asked the most by the witchcraft-curious.

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My Five Favorite Recent Witch Books

AfterlightImageI’ve made a lot of blog posts and videos in the past about favorite books: advanced books, beginner books, books for people interested in taking things in a new direction, classics I think everyone should read, and books that I’ve got in my personal to-be-read pile. But I was recently asked to share my thoughts on which recent releases were important, or would have an impact for people exploring witchcraft right now. In other words, if you couldn’t recommend anything written more than two or so years ago, what would you pick?

We’re lucky today, because there are so many exciting new books coming out all the time. It can often be difficult to choose (and if you don’t have to choose, please read them all)!

I decided to limit myself to four, but then through my own book in at the end as a fifth, because I wrote it to do something very specific, and I believe that thing is important.

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If Everything Changes, What Good is Tradition?

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My friend and initiate, Corvus, is in the process of starting a coven, and the other night we got to chatting about what it will mean for her to go forward, both as part of a community and as an autonomous high priestess. What if she does something that pisses off her upline? What if she gets out into the community and decides she doesn’t fit in? What if she has genuine encounters with the gods that take her in directions beyond where she went with me? What if she goes on to initiate someone who everyone else hates, and then no one else wants to hang out and circle anymore? WHAT IF SHE RUINS EVERYTHING.

Clearly, a lot of this is anxiety-driven and not based in our actual relationship. The whole reason she was elevated and given the support to go off and start her own group is because we knew she’d be great at it and would be a credit to the tradition.

A lot of this, no doubt, sounds totally ridiculous to some of you who are not involved in traditional covens, with their lineages and their hierarchies and all that hoo-ha. Maybe this is exactly why you’re not involved. It’s a tricky thing, having to negotiate belonging in a lineaged tradition. It can feel like you’re being watched all the time, and like you’ve always got to answer for your choices. Every one of us has heard horror stories about what happens to people who cause too much offense, stray too far from what’s accepted, or don’t build the connections necessary to ensure that you and yours are recognized at the community table.

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When Witchcraft is a Job

I’ve struggled with this in the past, especially when work gets rough. Wouldn’t it be great to just make a living as an author and blogger? Or maybe be a witchy influencer, because that’s a thing now.

And that’s fine for some people, but here I reflect on how my day job–even when it’s crappy–actually informs my witchcraft and keeps it sacred.

The Nature of the Gods

My personal theological position has moved as my Craft has grown and changed, and I find that it loops around. For a long time, I identified as a hard polytheist. More recent experiences make me less sure. But ultimately, I appreciate the paradox that presents itself in so many magical traditions: one can hold multiple positions without being in a perpetual state of internal conflict. Here, I think out loud about the nature of the divine, how we experience the gods individually (and collectively), and why so many of our questions won’t ever get satisfactory answers.

Working with Personal Cycles

I’ve learned that, like the Wheel of the Year itself, my life moves in cycles. I can remember being a Blue Star Dedicant years and years ago and realizing—courtesy of my very astute teacher who told me I needed to keep track of these things, which sounds obvious now but totally was not at the time—that my interests, moods, relationship with my body, and connection to the gods all ebbed and flowed according to the seasons. I am the happiest and most ambitious over the summer. In August, I have to be mindful of depression, which will set in as school starts. Halloween is fun, but I tend to be sick or injured this time of year. December is a good time to talk to the gods and feel them most strongly in my life. Imbolc always has be gunning to start some new spiritual project that’s usually a little beyond my scope at the time. I spend too much money in May, because all of my Taurus is hanging out and I feel good about the coming time off. And so on.

Years of doing this, and I finally have a reasonably good sense of myself. I used to try to fight it, but I find that it’s easier to just flow and be patient with myself. Work isn’t going away, and neither is depression, tax season, or final exam schedules, so better to just do what I can to prepare and move through these things as gracefully as possible.

My coven has a cycle to it to: times when it’s easier to meet often, times when people need extra support, and times when I feel like the worst high priestess in the world because I have to relinquish much of the coven’s functional work to others for the sake of my mental health. It’s not a problem, but in the past it’s been very frustrating. When you don’t recognize patterns and respond accordingly, it can feel like everything is just happening to you beyond control.

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Conversion and Trauma

I turned in my first short story to my writing workshop last week. I’m new to fiction, and I had a blast writing thirteen pages (haha) about a Wiccan shopkeeper who’s lost his belief in magic.

Mostly, I wrote it to amuse myself and my friends. I knew going in that the biggest challenge would be writing a story that felt authentic without excluding my non-witch audience. How to work in community jokes and contemplations on stuff that really matters to my personal experience while not alienating a roomful of people (one of whom is responsible for my grade) who might have zero experience with any kind of Pagan anything?

The feedback was surprisingly useful, and I was pleased that they seemed to think I’d pulled off something worthwhile (or, at least, not just produced a steaming pile of garbage). As a room, however, one snag sat at the center of the critique:

“I need to know this narrator’s religious background,” said my professor.

I should add, here, that the rules of our workshop prevent the author from speaking. We’re required to listen, take notes, and be thoughtful. I was not permitted to engage and instead practiced my (still bad) poker face.

“A loss of faith narrative could be interesting, but it matters where he’s coming from. Was he raised as a witch? And, if not, what trauma led to his conversion?”

Whoa. Trauma?

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