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.

Keep reading…

Moving, Materialism, and Finding My Feet Again

58480548420__DCFD3CB4-E232-4B1E-ABF9-EFE9718B1AF7Moving teaches you a lot about yourself.

I don’t know if this is real, or what sort of metric you could even scientifically apply here, but I’ve read several times that in terms of stress moving is on par with a death in the family. I suppose that depends on who’s dead and on how far you’re going. In any case, it’s fucking stressful.

I’m feeling very unmoored, for many reasons.

Seeing all of your stuff boxed up and laying in piles really makes you consider how much it’s possible to acquire being stationary so long. I’m not even talking about the books, because, sure they’re heavy, but they’re at least relatively uniform and easy to explain. The giant pile of old program flyers from Pagan festivals collected in the last twenty years? That’s trickier. Magical tokens gifted from friends over the years, spells remnants, magicked objects that felt very necessary five years ago but aren’t so much now, and an ungodly amount of snake shed collected from outdoors and my own pet corn snake…that’s a lot harder to justify keeping. I have floppy disks containing old book of shadows information, and no way to access their content. What do I do with such things? Not only moving, but downsizing, means that some of it simply has to be let go. Along with furniture and dishes and art and hobby supplies and things that fall into more normal categories.

Read More…

Classroom Witchcraft

IMG_0618It’s the start of a new school year and I’m back in my classroom getting my space ready for students. I’m also bracing myself emotionally. Last year was really, really hard, and I had a rough summer punctuated by some astoundingly alienating professional development seminars that made me seriously question whether I wouldn’t be better off looking for another job. Teachers are just so…extroverted. My coworkers are constantly talking about their “passion for teaching” and putting their “heart and soul” into their work. They spend their paychecks on classroom decorations and school supplies, and every one of them seems perfectly happy to sacrifice evenings and weekends to lesson planning, researching new strategies, and socializing at student events.

I am not that teacher. I’m a good ten years older than most of my coworkers, and I’ve worked other jobs in my life. I care about my students, but I’m not particularly sentimental on the whole. I don’t believe that careers are inherently supposed to have anything to do with callings, and I know that being a classroom teacher isn’t mine anyway (being a priestess is, but that doesn’t come with healthcare). I’m very introverted and guard my personal time fiercely. I don’t use platitudes, play trust games, or abuse exclamation points in my emails.

This makes my job challenging, as you can imagine. I’m good with students, my kids perform well, and I don’t mind the long schedule most of the time. I just feel like I’m constantly being asked to pretend to be someone I’m not.

But this is a new year, and I’ve decided to try to magic my way into not dying on the job. I’m going to woo my way into the skin of someone who Truly Cares, and I’m brainstorming ways to do it. It’s been funny, as I’ve been setting up my room I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Coyote and Fox, two spirits I’ve spent a fair bit of time with in the last two years or so. I’ve been hoarding white paper (a valuable commodity in the school system), making off with unguarded extra supplies, hiding food around my room, snagging copies of keys to rooms I’m not technically supposed to have, and anything else I can think to do to make this year more comfortable. I’m thinking about erecting a discrete shrine to Coyote and Fox in my classroom. (I’m just really into natural history. Yeah.)

There are also old standbys, like spelling the jewelry I wear, incorporating a glamour into my makeup routine (“I give soooo many fucks about today’s meetings. I am burning with passion about thinking maps. I totally understand all the acronyms. I loooove collecting inspiring quotes to hang.”), and placing magical items around the classroom (sigils behind posters sounds awesome). I’m also going to just generally try to be better about self-care (eating like a human being and not a starving coyote, running regularly, not waiting all day to pee, getting a massage so I don’t go legitimately insane because of touch deprivation). I also started a new bullet journal just for teaching. I’ve been bullet journaling for a year, but I’ve staunchly not incorporated my job stuff out of weirdly misplaced spite. I’m going to use teacher washi tape and everything in order to generate enthusiasm. Go me.

What am I missing? Are any of you witches classroom teachers? Send help.

Can you say too much during a reading?

“Should I ask you my question or just keep it to myself?”

First-time clients often wonder whether they should be direct and say exactly what’s on their mind or wait and see if it comes up on its own. It’s not uncommon for folks to think that speaking too much will “taint” the reading by swaying the reader. Sometimes we worry about “bias” in readings, brought on by knowing too much.*

IMG_6154The issue, once again, is how you think tarot works and what you think it can do:

If tarot is a magical device that communicates messages from an external source (like a god, a spirit, an angel, or a guide of some kind), then it can make sense to hold your question and commentary and expect relevant insight to come forth. If the response comes from an outside, mystical force, then the tarot reader becomes a vehicle for communication rather than the source itself. Theoretically she wouldn’t need much (if any) information in order to tell you exactly what you needed to hear, depending on how powerful those external forces were.

If tarot is a spooky, mysterious device with powers inherent in the cards themselves (or unspecified powers controlling the cards), then you also wouldn’t want to give information away, because the results (if they were accurate) would simply be less titillating, much in the way that a Ouija board is less scary if you know your asshole friend Rachel is always moving the damn planchette. It stops being impressive if you can chock things up to a wily reader asking leading questions or sourcing information beforehand.

If tarot is a therapeutic tool rooted in contemporary understandings of psychology (whether well-informed or not), then one of two things might be feasible: (1) Keep silent or vague and attribute accurate, meaningful responses to a collective unconscious, the universality of a human experience, or empathy or (2) be forthright with information under the pretense that a reading functions like a counseling session and the more direct we both are, the better.

The thing is, tarot is all of these things (and more) depending on who you’re talking to. The cards have been used for gambling games, New Age counseling, party tricks, talking to spirits, and scaring the shit out of kids at sleepovers since there have been tarot cards readily available to the public (and some things, quite a bit longer).

It’s hubris (and just historically inaccurate) to insist that the cards are one thing to the exclusion of others.

So when you’re going for a reading (or performing them), what is it that you want to achieve? Do you want to be spooked? Do you want a pragmatic answer to an ongoing question? Do you want evidence that the spirit world is real?

What you want will determine what sort of reader you need to seek out and how (or if) you should ask your question.

I don’t give much credence to angel guides or any inherent power in the cards themselves, for example. My cards are special (because I love them) and imbued with whatever witchiness I might choose to put I them (which I don’t, so none), but ultimately they’re just cardboard. I don’t believe that they store energy beyond the psychological associations I ascribe to them (“I hate that guy who touched my cards, and now I think of him every time I shuffle them.”) and I don’t use them to talk to any mystical beings. So I may not be the best choice for someone who wants to receive a message from their spirit guides. It’s cool if that’s what you want, but I don’t have the fluency to support you in the way that you probably need. Fortunately, there are a million other readers who would be excellent choices (and I’m always happy to point you to a more appropriate reader!).

I know enough about people, reading body language, and making assumptions based on visual cues that I’m pretty confident that I could mystify someone at a carnival. I also know a couple of basic card tricks, so pulling off the spooky sleepover or Halloween party would be relatively easy. Some other readers find this sort of thing offensive. Again, it’s a matter of desired outcome and choosing the right person for the job (again, there are choices better than me). This is almost never the sort of reading you should expect if you visit a shop that offers tarot readings or if you book something with a reader online. Most of the folks who describe themselves as “professional” readers (“professional” as a descriptor of decorum, not only in the sense that they earn money reading) won’t give you the magic-trick-spooky-scare-yourself type of experience.

My own approach to tarot is varied, and it tends toward something of a combination of the things above, more or less depending on the setting. I don’t consider my cards to be a magical tool, though I am both a witch and a magician. That’s a personal choice. I believe in gods and spirit communication, but I have other preferred devices for that sort of thing. If something has ever come through the cards, it’s never been in a client setting. I don’t subscribe to a collective unconscious or a universal human experience, so I tend to avoid that sort of language. I do, however, experience patterns in human demographics and am comfortable asserting that people tend to have similar problems, similar ways to deal with them, and similar sources for comfort. Put simple, people aren’t snowflakes. There’s definitely psychology at work, though I don’t have any formal training as a counselor. When I have intuitive responses to cards, these are rooted in empathy (a basic human quality and not a magical power), subconscious impressions (which is still empathy), and educated guesswork (i.e. a keen sense of observation). It’s not particularly mystical, but it is very effective. Ultimately, my goal is pragmatism. I look for concrete tasks in a reading and work to end sessions with tangible advice based on the spread and the cards.

And at any given point, some of the above may be in conflict, more or less true, and always in flux (because I’m human).

My experience has been that tarot is accurate and useful regardless of how much the client speaks or how direct the question because people have a knack for bringing up the things they want to think and talk about. It’s just what we do naturally. If you are mentally set on your love life and that’s all you care about in the moment, then it doesn’t matter if I draw a bunch of pentacles and The Hierophant next to The Hermit (or whatever). We’ll end up talking about your love life, or you’ll make the connections in your head on your own. If we end up talking about something else entirely, it’s likely because your love life isn’t as central as you think it is (I’ve been in enough therapy to know that when we’re worried and focused on one thing, that thing can often be a mask for something else more pressing). In this setting (which is mostly where I operate), a good reading depends on a reader being able to engage conversationally and communicate clearly. The client has to be comfortable and there needs to be some trust in place. Having some life experience helps, too.

The thing to remember is that it’s not a dichotomy between spilling your whole life story and sitting masked in stony silence. Either is fine, but there’s plenty of middle ground. I’ve had some clients who will ask very general, vague questions (“There’s some stuff going on with my kids and I’m not sure how I feel,” or “Where do I go next?”). I’ve had others give me topical information (“I want to talk about career stuff,” or “It’s about my love life.”). Sometimes, clients sit back and see what comes up in the first card or two and then interject with information that narrows things down and guides the conversation.

Whatever you choose is okay, but it pays to seek out the most appropriate reader for the job.

*This is related to the dilemma of whether or not you can read for yourself or read for close friends. I’ve already addressed the former, and will write about the latter another time, as it deserves its own post.

My Favorite Witch Stuff

Witches love stuff. We can have abstract conversations about materiality and assert all day long to seekers that, “You don’t need any tools!” That’s true, to an extent (more on that in a minute), but we still love stuff. And we often have a ton of it, whether it’s empty jars in the pantry, piles of salvaged wax and string, or expansive collections of books, bones, or stones (or all three). I co-taught a class at the shop a few weeks ago called “Are You a Witch?” and we started out by asking participants for their initial impressions of what a witch is. One woman’s kneejerk contribution was that witches are hoarders (her word, not ours), and those of us who’d been practicing for a while all had a chuckle.

So this post is dedicated to my favorite stuff and the artists who make it (go buy their work because it’s amazing). You may consider exploring some of these as potential arenas for the expansion of your own Craft, or simply enjoy the slew of pictures and personal adventures.

Bones and Skins and Critter Bits

photo 2Human beings are universally fascinated by our fellow animals, and this manifests in myriad ways. For witches and Pagans, this often entails the incorporation of animals into ritual practice, whether as familiars, totems, spirit guides, and all kinds of other things that I’m not qualified to speak on. This can involve actual live animals, their representations (statues, pictures), or their remains (skin, bone, hair).

There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few years about the use of the word “totem” and the appropriation of Native American traditions with regard to the use of animal parts (and language about animals), and I would advise thoughtful readers to make themselves aware of these conversations (showing up at an open ritual and declaring that “Wolf is my spirit animal because my great grandma was Cherokee,” is a surefire way to ensure that people roll their eyes about you when you’re not looking).

Also necessary are conversations about the proper acquisition of animal parts. All fox tails being sold on the Internet are not equal and there are more laws attached to feather possession than most people could ever dream. Aside from the laws that may or may not apply to you depending on your geographical location and the critter in question, there are moral issues to be considered. Something being legal doesn’t mean it’ll sit comfortable with your ethical code. All of this should be considered with great care as you move forward.

I’ve been incorporating animal remains into my ritual work for the past several years, and my practices have changed over time. Sometimes, it’s about incorporating the cultural/magical associations (not to mention the actual biological traits) of the critter into spell work. Other times, I’m invoking the spirit of an individual animal (not just “Wolf” the archetype/totem/whatever, but that individual wolf spirit that resides in that unique skull/tail/etc). I’ve got a number of foxes, for example, and my experience has been that each has a very distinct personality (and therefore different purposes, in and/or out of ritual). My experiences with skulls have been the same. In some senses, they’re still alive, magically speaking. I think of my critters as companions, with their own agency.

photo 1

If you haven’t already checked out the work or artist and author Lupa, you’re in for a treat. I recommend her writing without reservation (and you can find plenty of material about cultural appropriation and animal parts laws on her website and blogs). My fox and coyote parts (and the periodic other beasty) come from her almost exclusively, because I trust her sourcing and have been totally satisfied with the care and quality of her work. I also majorly dig her artwork (and she’s working on a tarot deck right now!!1!OMG) and try to stuff as much of it into my life as possible.

The Green Wolf Etsy

Lupa’s website

Lupa’s Patreon

Paper and Ink

photo 3Writing is a major part of my practice. I’ve written before about my penchant for journaling and recordkeeping, but my use of ink and paper goes beyond this. I do a lot of sigil magic. I also do a lot with petitions. Suffice it to say that there’s always paper and ink at hand. Now, the paper and ink that you choose doesn’t have to be the fanciest thing around, but I like to make things special where I can. That could mean hand-cut goose feather quill pens and ink you make with your own blood (*ahem*) or it could mean a consecrated Bic roller ball used exclusively for magical work. But in just about any kind of magic, specialness helps.

I’ve been known to get super fancy with blank books used for magical purposes. As a young priestess operating in an established tradition, I’m grateful for my predecessors who ACTUALLY KEPT FUCKING RECORDS SO I DON’T HAVE TO FUCKING GO BACK IN TIME AND IMAGINE SHIT I DON’T HAVE A TIME MACHINE. It’s been important to me to document both my own training and the growth of my own coven. I hope someday it’ll make things easier on my downline, or at least make it clear to them where I was coming from (because I’m planning on being too addled to recall things in detail). I try to choose books that are durable, with materials that can survive more than just a couple of decades of handling.

It’s also much more pleasurable to write when your tools are romantic and fun. Writing with a quill is fun. Writing in a special magic book that makes you feel like a medieval wizard is fun (I strive to feel like a wizard as often as possible). Journaling can be a challenging skill to acquire (and still harder to turn into a habit), and I’m a proponent of doing whatever you need to do in order to acquire said skill. Surround yourself with things that excite you. Don’t be afraid to write in an expensive blank book (people always tell me they’re afraid of “ruining” it)—that’s what it’s for. And it doesn’t matter what your handwriting looks like. Once the book is full, it’ll look badass. I promise.

photo 4

Here are some cool places to buy books, ink, and other writing accoutrements:

Silver Willow

Arte of the Book

Okay, so back to the not needing tools thing.

That’s true to an extent. I think there’s something to be said for aspiring to be able to cast effective magic without tools. However, I’ve never found myself in a situation where I literally had access to nothing. So in my mind this is a little like working to memorize the periodic table of elements when it’s right there on the wall in the lab.

Is there a scrap of paper? Some frayed string? A pile of dirt? Some broken glass? Water? These are all things you could potentially use as a witch.

Usually, what people mean when they say you don’t tools is that you don’t need to spend money. And that’s absolutely true. Plenty of newbies make the mistake of dropping wads of cash on tools that they don’t really have a handle on yet. If you have the means to do so and it makes you happy, by all means (it’s only a mistake if it involves debt). There’s no shame in rejoicing in materiality and materialism, as far as my own Pagan perspective goes. But most people can’t afford a $100 leather book or a fucking hand-forged athame. And that’s perfectly okay in terms of what you’re capable of magically. Your Craft need not suffer.

But I don’t know any witches that don’t collect stuff in some capacity, even if it’s just stashing empty baby food jars for later use in magic. We just like stuff. Stuff means potential. Some of the witches I know are like magical doomsday preppers (myself included). And I think a skilled witch strives, not to work with nothing, but to work with anything.

Being a Real Witch. Or whatever.

IMG_1231I try not to get entangled in “real witch” debates.  For the most part, I find these conversations pretty asinine, regardless of who’s having them, as they seen to me to necessarily be rooted in insecurity and misinformation.  We need other people to think our witchcraft is realer and more authentic because that’s how we construct our identity and if we’re not real then what are we.  It’s exhausting and mostly fruitless.

I get called “not a real witch” all the time.  It happened just the other day on YouTube, from someone who decided that real witches don’t hunt.  I deal with being “not real” indirectly—through books, blogs, Internet memes—constantly, from both non-Wiccan witches (who routinely fail to appreciate the difference between the dominant  New Age, non-initiatory version of Wicca and British Traditional Wicca and think I’m some kind of goody-goody narc out to take their curses away from them) and again from my supposed Wiccan fellows (convinced that real witches follow the Wiccan Rede and love a motherly triple goddess and think that I’m unethical and uninformed).  And that’s even before we get to disagreements within my own tradition, drama within whatever open community I’m involved in that season, and the anti-witchcraft or witchcraft-isn’t-a-thing crowd that people my social periphery.  There’s not really a way to win here.

I’ve already written about authenticity and witchcraft here to address much of the above, and began hinting at my own ideas for what constitutes an authentic witchcraft here, but I thought it might be worthwhile to more explicitly tackle “real” witchcraft as it operates as a category in my personal life.  Because the reality is that even though I have the scholarly training to understand the problems in the construction of authenticity, and even though I know full well that this is about identity politics (always fluid), I still have an opinion about what “real witchcraft” is.  I still make judgements about what other people do as “real” or not according to my own standard, though I rarely voice these judgements (because I am aware of how arbitrary and festooned with problems this conversation is).

So disclaimer first, as always: This is merely a description of what’s going on in my head when I’m evaluating whether or not to include someone in my personal, flawed understanding of what a witch is.  I acknowledge that it is as arbitrary as pretty much any other definition we could come up with.  I also know full well that definitions are not inherent, immovable things that exist independently of context.  I am not trying to persuade anyone to adopt my definition, nor would I publicly require anyone to meet my definition in order to be treated as a “real witch” (I say publicly because, privately, I have to operate according to particular standards within my own coven and Craft family).  If you think you’re a witch, then I won’t refute you.  This also isn’t a blog about being a “real” Wiccan, which I think is a different conversation (and one that scares me quite a bit more).

I just think it’s silly to pretend that we’re not all operating according to some parameters (because we’re human beings living in social groups and we deal with things through categorization) though outwardly we might be the most diplomatic and accepting people in the world.  Maybe it’d be a more interesting conversation to openly acknowledge those parameters and consider where they come from, as opposed to just fighting about it or totally failing to be self-critical.  So!

My list of things that are involved in witchcraft isn’t very long.  Funnily, it’s also mostly derived from my childhood understanding of witchcraft, long before I started doing any kind of real study or practice.  After almost twenty years of being obsessed with witches and witchcraft, I still envision the witches of fairy tales, Disney movies, and secondhand church stories:

1) Witches employ magic designed to fulfill day-to-day needs in the interest of personal gain (to include family, tribe, etc.).  An individual witch might do other things, too, but to me witchcraft is primarily about practical magic.  Spells for jobs, spells for control over a situation or person, spells to hurt enemies, spells to draw lovers, the conjuring of a fetch or familiar to send messages or acquire information, etc.  Witchcraft should attempt to affect mundane conditions and life circumstances.

This is how I distinguish between witchcraft and some other kinds of magic (for example, ceremonial, Qabalistic, New Age astral plane stuff, etc.).  I don’t think of visualization as witchcraft in and of itself.  I don’t think of Jungian-style “shadow work” or or anything involving phrases like “raising vibrations” or “inner child” as witchcraft.  Magic, maybe.  Powerful, maybe.  But witchcraft to me is something more narrowly defined by practicality, immediate need, and physicality.  It takes place lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and, as such, is rarely altruistic.

2) Witchcraft is scary.  Not for the witch, necessarily, but for onlookers.  Witchcraft operates on fringes, whether those are socio-political fringes, cultural fringes, religious fringes, or municipal fringes.  Witches are outsiders, though they might disguise themselves for a variety of practical reasons (though not indefinitely).  Witches, to an extent, actually can’t function in mainstream spaces.

This is why so much of witch lore is connected to death, sex, wilderness, danger, and liminal spaces.  Witchcraft poses a danger to the status quo.  For me, witchcraft is also closely tied to my own experiences with mental illness and trauma.  There is something about witchcraft that to me is just necessarily violent to normalcy.  It is taboo.  It can be ugly.  It breaks boundaries.  This is why “hedge crossing” is such a meaningful phrase for what witchcraft is about.

The moment that witchcraft becomes “just another religion/spiritual practice” or something that aspires to white picket fences, it ceases to be witchcraft.  Witchcraft cannot be normative.  This is the root of my discomfort with witchcraft churches, the quest for legal religious exemptions, anyone-can-do-it teaching programs, etc.

I firmly believe that not everyone can be a witch, nor should everyone want to.

3) Witchcraft operates independently of any one religious worldview.  Meaning that it doesn’t have anything to do with the gods you worship or don’t.  You can belong to a religious tradition and (with greater or lesser success) be a witch, or not.  Witchcraft is a thing you physically do and not a thing you believe.

I serve particular gods, but that service is not what makes me a witch.  One can worship my gods and perform their rites—though, I would argue, poorly—without being a witch.

This is why witches who identify as secular are so adamant.  For the last few decades, especially here in the United States, witchcraft has come to be tangled up in religious Wicca.  Now, as a traditional Wiccan, I do freely use “Wicca” and “witchcraft” interchangeably when not in mixed company.  In my ideal world, all Wiccans are, in fact, witches, though certainly not by any stretch the only kind.  In practice, however, it becomes painfully clear that they are not.

As a religious studies scholar, I also know that the category of religion is fluid, and I believe that strong arguments can be made that witchcraft in any form—gods or not—is religious (you can read a little about that here).  But putting my scholarly training aside, I freely acknowledge that those who believe in truly secular spaces (I do not) have a right to describe their practices in those terms.

For some readers, there are a lot of things that might seem to be glaringly absent.  I include nothing about a code of ethics, nothing about nature, and nothing about goddesses, self-empowerment in the New Age sense, or healing (the notion that “all witches are healers” is enormously irritating to me).  These things might be involved in individual kinds of witchcraft, but as far as I’m concerned are not fundamental.  I also consciously exclude certain kinds of magic and certain kinds of people, the latter being particularly provocative for some.

But this is the checklist I’ve got in my head when someone tells me they’re a witch.  It’s flawed and incomplete.  It doesn’t work all the time and it gets me in trouble.  But these are the things that I’ve never quite been able to shake.

So while I’ll always nod my head and go along with anyone’s claim to be a witch, I have a more definable boundary than I always like to admit, as I think we all do.

The key to healthy interactions with others seems to be not being so invested in my own definition that I end up with burst vessels when people disagree with me.  I think it would be naive to say that I have no investment whatsoever in the opinions of others as far as my self-identity goes—we all do.  But I try not to have so much.  My irritation at being told that I’m not a real witch because I hunt is only fleeting, because I know that this person has no idea what hunting actually entails or what it means for me in my space in the world.  I also try not to be irritated at the non-Wiccan witches who dismiss me offhandedly because their experience of Wicca is limited to New Agers quoting Silver RavenWolf (I think about the one young man who told me that Wicca was “witchcraft with its teeth pulled out”).  I understand that their attitude, like mine, is reactionary and rooted in their own experience of being marginalized in an already marginal community.  It is also unreasonable of me to expect them to have working knowledge of material that is reserved for Wiccan initiates and therefore to know how many teeth Wicca, in fact, has.  I also don’t let people in other kinds of Pagan and New Age communities who self-identify as witches worry me overly much.  As long as they’re not a part of Foxfire it’s none of my business, anyway.  Finally, because my definition of witchcraft is consciously limited, I am mostly immune to the kinds of enraged debates that arise when witchcraft shows up unfavorably in the media, as it did most recently in Time.

Just some thoughts.  So, reader, what makes your witchcraft real?


IMG_1525HI!  I’m Thorn.  Some of you might know me from YouTube, Tumblr, or my Wiccan blog, Thorn the Witch.

I’ve been meaning to start a blog specifically about tarot for ages.  I’ve screwed around with various ideas, sketched things out in notebooks, flirted with creating a professional tarot business, and despaired into my wine after deciding that there were already a gazillion tarot people doing the same thing all over the Internet and in my local community.  God who needs another reader.

It was my friends who pointed out that I was actually up to something a little different.

“I like getting readings from you because you’re direct.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a reading with so much swearing.”

“You don’t talk about self-actualization.  I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”

“I feel like I can actually go home and do something about my problem.  You’ve never told me to meditate or consult my inner child.  What even is that.”

I wasn’t sure how to take the comment about swearing.  Should I not swear?  Am I totally off-putting?  So why do people keep asking me to do readings for them?

The short answer, I think, is that I come off like a pretty regular person.  I don’t do Yoga, meditate for an hour every morning, brew organic herbal tea, or talk to spirit guides.  I drink Jack Daniels and eat hamburgers and say “fuck” a lot.  I have stupid, boring problems, just like everyone else, and I don’t chock them up to karma or consider them messages-in-disguise from the universe (mostly).

Don’t get me wrong; my life is super magical.  I’ve been practicing witchcraft for almost twenty years and have had an ongoing obsession with the occult since childhood.  But my approach is practical and critical.  To me, magic is about experimentation and adventure, not the abandonment of my intellect or common sense.  And my approach to tarot is the same.

I’ve been busting my ass for the past several years studying the tradition of esoteric tarot and contemporary tarot practices.  Intuition is important—as is personal experience—but it’s only one small part of what tarot has to offer.  Why only talk about hunches and feelings when we can also draw on the wealth of established tradition and history surrounding the cards?  The tarot community is full of bright people doing lots of worthwhile things, and we’ve all got our own styles.  You can rely only on your intuition and be an amazing reader; that’s just not my personal flavor of tarot.  I like the concreteness of hundreds of years worth of conversation, contemplation, and practical application.  I like being able to tell you where these images come from and why they look the way they do, down to the tiniest detail possible.  I like exploring the parallels across Western occultism, contemporary Paganism, Christian and Jewish traditions, and the New Age.  I love the contexts surrounding tarot and the magic that happens when we can apply it to our unique situations, which sometimes seem so removed.

Tarot is fucking magical.  It’s a spiritual system all on its own, but it can also complement whatever other path you follow (even if you don’t follow anything at all).

So this blog is about my own obsession with tarot.  I’ll write about my studies, provide practical advice, ask for input, tackle problems, and post information about local events of interest.  I’ll also write the periodic book, deck, or class review.

Stay tuned.

Dreams and Dream Diaries

Trigger warning: all the triggers

On a whim, and fueled by too much coffee and the sort of stressed boredom that comes along with Festivus in Alabama, I purchased Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-Body Experience by Robert Bruce and Brian Mercer.  I confess that part of my interest was generated by Brian Mercer’s hilarious author photo (sort of a cross between an elementary school yearbook picture and a realtor’s calendar headshot) and Robert Bruce’s self-aggrandizing author description and introduction.  Increasingly, I read books because I’m interested in their authors, not their subjects, and these two looked fascinating.  I also tend to like “training programs” for new skills, neatly divided into calendars and weekly tasks.  This one also has, of all things, a CD-ROM (which contains something called the “BrainWave Generator”), which I’m really pumped about.

Anyway, of course, first thing, I’m supposed to be keeping a daily dream diary.  You’d think after almost two decades I’d stop being like, UGH WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT ME TO DO THAT SRSLY FUCK and just get on with it, but I . . . just can’t do it.  I’ve tried for years, I always manage a couple of entries that make no sense later (usually in the form of horribly violent sketches or strings of seemingly unrelated single words).  Dreams and sleep are a problem for me, as I imagine they are for the mentally and emotionally special everywhere (“emotionally special” just sounds nicer than  the terms that doctors and counselors have thrown at me in the past).

First of all, I don’t sleep easy.  I don’t nestle into soft sheets and warm blankets and gently drift into a land where anything is possible.  I do a bunch of drugs, maybe run until I’m exhausted, and then curl into a fetal position like a rat burrowing into a nest of trash, lulled by the sounds of the same audio book (Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage, disc one), which I use to drown out my brain.  I wake up with the blankets hanging off the bed, drool crusting on my face, and my arms tight and spasming from clutching a stuffed animal to my chest like a frantic kid with some seriously special needs.  It comes in cycles and is pretty closely tied to how stressful my life happened to be that day.  It’s a problem–I know.  And I’ve already had All The Treatment, thanks.

So my dream life is fucked up.  First of all, I’m usually too drug-addled to either have or remember anything.  Second of all, when I have dreams, they’re usually FUCKING HORRIFYING.  I have to wonder how many of these dream-diary keepers are trauma survivors, PTSD sufferers, or just, uh, emotionally special, because I’d bet not many of them.  If you’re biggest sleep worry is just remembering or interpreting your dreams, then I envy you.


It’s fucking terrible.  It’s not all the time, but it’s enough that I don’t always look forward to sleep.  And I don’t put much stock in dream interpretation, like, ever.  It’s gotten better over the years, and I’m not sharing any of this because I feel sorry or because I need to be held and comforted (gross), only to make a point.  Or think out loud.  In writing.

Keeping a dream diary isn’t something that you necessarily just do.  Like la la la.  I don’t want to write about some of these things, or recall them better.  And I certainly don’t need to spend any time wondering “what they mean,” because it’s pretty fucking obvious.  I’m just trying to decide whether something like astral projection (if that’s even a thing) or lucid dreaming might be helpful or harmful.  I mean, I journal a shit-ton about everything else, and some of that stuff’s just as horrible.  It usually helps.  Maybe this would help, too, if I kept at it for longer than the usual week or two.  Or maybe I’m the last person who needs to have any control in their dreams.

Maybe I’ll just photocopy the author pictures from Mastering Astral Projection and make myself some sort of comforting charm that involves hanging them above my rat’s nest of a bed.  Maybe if I just laughed a little more.

Leave my brain alone. Seriously.

I get really tired of being told by other woo people that I need to do less thinking.

 Have you heard this?

 “You’re thinking about this too hard—just go with your gut.”

 “This isn’t intellectual—you need to get out of your head.”

 “You’re making this too complicated—just go with your feelings.”

 Sure, there might be limits in certain circumstances where one can over-think (maybe), but I’ve always sensed a general sort of mistrust of things intellectual in Pagan and occult circles (woo communities).  Everyone’s all about their intuition and their feelings and there’s a tendency to discount the conclusions that must be reached through reason or complicated analysis.  Nevermind the sort of inherent problems that go along with the intellect/intution, mind/body dichotomies that we all take for granted, but the total discounting of (because I’m out of words) brainy approaches to magical stuff really grates on me.

 This is sort of embodied for me in my approach to tarot.

 Me, I could give a shit about what the cards “mean to you.”  Most readers seem to do their work intuitively, and that’s just dandy if that’s your approach, but I find a great deal of meaning in considering historical context and traditional symbolism.  I use the Rider-Waite because of its rich symbolic connections with the Golden Dawn and Kabbalah (or Qabalah, if we want to get a bit more New Agey), and because I think the history of this specific deck is fascinating.  So I bring that into my readings for other people, with great effect.  It turns out that when we consider (for example) the use of the color yellow in The Fool, and stop caring about what yellow means to you and you alone, there’s still a lot of really useful information to be gleaned (maybe even more).  I think that when people choose not to learn the systems in which the cards are based—instead relying upon feeling—a great deal is lost.  You might still be a great reader, but how much better could you be if you added these additional elements?

 Magic, Wicca, whatever, seems to work the same way.

 At our open circle the other night, we had two gentlemen (of varying levels of experience) engaging in a conversation about magical practice.  The more inexperienced of the two was trying to connect his budding practice to his work as an engineer, and finally the other (presumably more experienced) fellow simply told him, “You’re making this too complicated.”

 I can see where the latter was coming from, but what he essentially did was discount the guy’s understanding of magic as overly intellectual.  He told him later that he should just focus on “feeling it.” 

Well excuse me, but what does that even mean?

 It’s not my intention to disparage the sort of visceral or intuitive approach to magic that so many people advocate, only to politely observe that there are alternatives.  Intellectualism isn’t the sin that woo people so often make it out to be.

 This is why I’ve lost my shit at people (quietly, politely, demurely even) for suggesting that I meditate to “quiet [my] mind.”  That I’m somehow spiritually deficient if I don’t block everything else out and just focus on breathing or something. 

 My mind is my greatest asset.  It’s my favorite thing about myself and a hell of a lot more reliable than my feelings (which are usually stupid and not to be trusted).  Why on earth would I discount its input in my magical or religious endeavors?