I bounced into work today with all the enthusiasm of someone who knows the long long walk to the train station is right at the other end of the day and a colleague commented how I always look happy in a morning. I can't see the point in being miserable I told him - I'm a cheerful soul at heart. He laughed and asked if I had ever heard of the principle of choosing your mood. I had but it reminded me of it and it's something I'd like to share with you today.
Miserable people surround us daily. We've all come across them, they'd destroy every happy thought in your head if you let them. Some people suck the very happiness out of life, not just their own lives but the lives of everybody around them as well. Mood hoovers... I did a blog about them a while ago. They annoy the hell out of me. Almost every miserable person I have ever met has generated at least some of that misery from their own determination to be unhappy. They wallow in the attention that misery brings and they take a perverse pleasure in turning down practical solutions. In my experience most people who are miserable are miserable because they want to be.
I commented on a particularly desolatory individual on Twitter a few weeks ago and somebody replied saying I shouldn't criticise people for looking miserable as something deeply traumatic might have just happened to them. Well yes, I suppose it might. But it's far more likely that they're just a miserable bugger. And when I look at just how many people sulk through the morning commute I find it hard to believe they've all had a dog drop dead on them that morning.
What I think is actually happening is that gloom is becoming the default setting for many people. "What have I got to be happy about?" - they cry. Well right back at you, what have to got to be so miserable about? I'm not saying people don't have problems and I'm not even saying that I'm the perpetually irritating ray of sunshine that I might be coming across as. But what I am saying is that a lot of people don't make the effort to fight back against the apathy of their general dullness. It wouldn't hurt people to make a friendly eye contact when I pass them in the street or to crack a smile back when I've made the effort to smile first. I'm not talking manners, I'm talking spreading a bit of happiness in the world. I'm talking about making the most of those days when you don't have problems.
Life as we all know is a series of peaks and troughs and the way I see it is when the going's tough good times are probably just round the corner so you've got something to look forward to and when life's good you may as well make the most of it because the one thing you can be sure of is that hard times will come round again. A lot of cliched new age memes urge us to live in the moment and I don't actually think that's bad advice. How does the poem go?
"Tomorrow should never concern us and yesterday's so far away..."
I'm not very sympathetic with the chronically miserable. Give me someone wanting a practical solution and I'll offer all the help in the world. Just want to whine? Go drag somebody else's mood down. I'm not interested in people who won't give happiness a chance. Misery has achieved a kudos that bores me. I don't give a toss how screwed up or nihilistic you are, get on with it and work harder to find something to be glad about. It's your life, you made it. If you don't like it make the effort to change it. And that change starts with you and choosing a better state of mind for yourself.
The trouble to my mind is that people lack perspective. Most of us generally have pretty happy lives and even when the rough times do hit we've pretty sheltered from real hardship in the western world. Nothing wrong with counting your blessings. I choose to be happy not because my life is perfect but because I know it could be a damn sight worse. I'll never have to walk four miles a day for clean water. I don't have to face the diseases and poverty of my ancestors. It's a pretty cushy number being around at this time in history in the western world and if anybody should be smiling we should. This is what I mean by choosing your mood. You can decide see your problems in isolation and let them get to you or you can see them in perspective and crack that smile. You can choose to let your problems get on top of you or you can choose to get over it and on with it. Your state of mind, your choice.
A friend wrote a poem about me when I left school and the last lines were;
Our fondest farewell we both do bid -
To the wondrous happy Head Girl kid.
I left school 20 years ago and since then I've had the same ups and downs as everyone else. But that description still fits me today and I reckon it always will. I'm happy and I will continue to be happy for the simple reason that I have made the choice to be.
Some witches are naturally gifted with herbs and plants. They know how to grow and cultivate both native and exotic plants and flowers and they finish the growing season with an impressive collection of neatly bagged herbs for use over the coming winter.
Unfortunately I am not one of those witches. I’ve got an enthusiastic rather than a green thumb, I’ll try to grow anything but my success rarely matches my ambition. Usually at the end of the growing season all I have to show for a summer’s hard work is a few half dead indefinable (though suspiciously weedy looking) pot plants and grubby nails.
Take last year for example. I was passionate to the point of giddiness about my elaborate plans for using my two new greenhouse for my herbs. I planted, I watered, I tended them religiously - I even sang to them a bit when nobody was watching – and the results? I think I ended up with two pots of Chamomile, a half dead pot of Rue, a slug eaten Datura stick and a load of random saplings that I couldn’t identify.
When I say ended up with… I made two monumentally stupid mistakes last year. The first being that I labelled the plants with stickers rather than those little plastic things you stick in the pots. The consequence of course being that with all my meticulous watering the labels fell off and I couldn’t identify anything. Knowing I had some pretty strong poisons growing among them I had to get rid of anything I couldn’t safely identify. Pretty heartbreaking - poor plants…. I’m not entirely sure if I am legally culpable if I end up accidentally killing people with my badly labelled herbs but I thought perhaps better safe than sorry!
(Actually now I think about it I remember that I did have one mistaken identification issue where I made a stew and confused Wormwood for something else - Oregano possibly- and shoved a load of it into the dinner. If that had been Castor Oil plants I’d have killed the lot of us.)
My other massive mistake was even stupider. I didn’t realise that perennial meant the plants would come back the next year. I got it confused with the word annual so I chucked a load of perennials away before finally clicking when I came to Lavender, googling the word and realising I’d killed half my plants for nothing. Unbelievably I have a degree in English. Just goes to show nobody gets it right all the time.
The ups and downs of the growing season frazzled me last year. I got extremely excited that my Hemlock was growing until my husband kindly and patiently pointed out that I was actually nurturing a rogue dandelion. Daft thing is that they look absolutely nothing alike. A sad case of wishful thinking, I really did want that Hemlock.
The plant I have always really, really wanted to grow is Datura. I must have planted over 40 individual Datura seeds last year. Bloody slugs had a field day. They ate the heads off my shoots as soon as they peeped through the soil. Mind they got their comeuppance, Datura is not a plant to interact with lightly. Every one of the stealing little slimies exploded after eating the Datura stalks. Small comfort though, I still ended up with nothing but a greenhouse full of dead slugs. Useful enough in their own way I suppose but not exactly the end result I had planned for. Datura remains my key focus this year – you’ll notice most witches with a plant ambition usually focus on Mandrake but Mandrake is so far out of my league and any weak claim I might make to Herbalism that I’m not getting any hopes up at all. I have bought some seeds – you’ve got to have a go haven’t you - but the chances of me sprouting anything more complicated than a dandelion are odds not worth betting on. Which is funny really as the dandelion has a similar root system to the Mandrake plant. It’s a good magical substitute for it. Only a hell of a lot easier to grow - I’ve managed a lawn full!
So this year - March 2014 – the start of the growing season. I’m armed with permanent markers, plastic plant sticks and an excel spreadsheet of instructions a mile long. I’ve read up on herbs this winter, I’ve turned my old snake vivarium over to seed sprouting and I’ve planted up my first batches. The seeds that need stratifying are in the fridge (stratification still confuses me – do I put them in soil? Water? Leave them in the packet – what??) and I’m ready to go. I’m so confident I’ve even nicked my husband’s electric coffee grinder to grind up all the herbs I’m going to produce. I’m ready, I’m prepared and I’m going to succeed this year…
Of course realistically it won’t work out like that. I’m damn good at using herbs to work magic but my relationship with the growing stage will never be what I want it to be. I just don’t have that certain something that my green fingered friends do. I’ll be updating you gloomily in a few months with pictures of my scrappy barely alive creations and begging random people on the internet to tell me what they are. I suppose it’s good for my soul to be humbled by my own inadequacy sometimes - there’s the silver lining to this particular cloud, lol. I will however take some comfort from the fact that I’m going to learn from last year’s mistakes, I’ve done the research, I’ve put the work in – even if I never get great I’m going to get better and that has to be worth something...
Oh and I absolutely love doing it – I’m in my element out there in the greenhouse. And
doing something you love, that has to be worth any amount of mistakes. Doesn’t it?
I'm going to leave the nature nurture debate to the biologists. As witches we've done the subject matter to death and we are still no closer to a universally accepted answer. My own view is that it's a pointless debate anyway. Without an exhaustive knowledge of personal genealogy I'm unable to tell you what witches lurk in my family tree. And what about those witches who choose not to practise? How would we even know about those? Some witches can trace their hereditary lineage, many cannot - that is not to say that those without definite proof do not have witchcraft in their family tree.
What I am interested in discussing today are the changes that occur when you do become a witch (or to put it in more appropriate language for the more traditional among us - when you actualise the craft that lies within you).
There are no standard changes of course, the experience is different for every person who chooses to make the crossing. And I used that wording very specifically. To my mind there is a single definite step when you choose to take the step of committing to a craft path. Many people practise the craft before taking that irrevocable step and some never choose to, content that they may practise magic on occasion but they have no wish to step through the looking glass and embrace the
changes that mark the beginning of a changed way of life. This crossing over for some is a formal stylised ritual, for others it is a moment of quiet and simple certainty. In either case when it happens you become aware that you are starting on a journey that will change almost everything about you - a journey from which you will likely never be able to go back.
Ever wondered about that old saying "Once a witch always a witch?" It means that once you have awakened dormant levels of understanding in regard to both yourself and the world around you you cannot step away from that knowledge, you cannot unlearn your own awareness. You may decide never to practise magic again but you cannot turn away from the person you have become. Not a decision to be made lightly.
When I speak of awareness I'm speaking of awareness in many different areas but one of the specific ways in which most witches experience this awareness is developing a greater empathy with nature. I distinctly remember always being irritated with litter droppers but after my own transition litter developed the ability to incite me to rage or induce me to tears. I could do some beautiful hexes at those who drop litter.... (and I probably will, lol).
Other witches have spoken to me about a sense of feeling set apart from other people. This is not about feeling inferior or superior it is simply that the core of your life is on a different playing field to the people around you. The walls of time become thinner, the mundane harder to endure and eventually reality itself becomes kind of negligible. As a witch you are not tied to time and place in the manner other people are. Eventually you lose perspective on the world that other people inhabit.
Witchcraft certainly does change the way you think, it illuminated my own philosophical thinking and turned me into a person who cares passionately (possibly a little too passionately - think those ill advised political debates on Facebook and Twitter) about the world I inhabit. It sets me apart from people who live in the detail of the moment. This is true of many witches who speak of a sense of isolation. I would always caution someone new to the path that witchcraft can be a lonely road.
The most profound change for me was an absolute confidence in my own opinions,
a reliance on self validation rather than the thoughts of others. This to an extent is isolating and perhaps explains why I always talk about witches having a touch of arrogance. This sense of total confidence spread to all areas of my life influencing my work (not so bothered), my appearance (unconventional and growing comfortably fatter by the day) and my relationships (not integral to who I am as a person). I would offer the warning that the path to the craft can change your personality substantially and not always for the better. There can be something quite unlikeable about the self satisfied know it all and it's very difficult to be humble when you've gone from seeing the world morphed from black and white into glorious technicolour. Even the least assuming of souls would find it hard not to be a little smug with the new abilities and perception. That said, those attuned to their path and accustomed to success often regain a sense of humility.
The confidence is also borne from power. Power does change people and developing a power over yourself and other people can be exhilarating. But the old saying warns that power corrupts and sadly it's very true. Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should do it. And quite a lot of witches could do with learning that lesson...
Power on a personal level for me means far more than just casting spells though there is undeniably a satisfaction from using magic to manipulate self, others and the environment. Witchcraft unlocked a deep sense of creativity in me resulting in the frenzied writing of several novels and plays. This seems to be a common characteristic in most witches - the urge to create. I have come across very few witches who are not involved in the creative process in one way or another. There is an impetus, almost a desperation to create. I regularly work 18 hour days to capture the needs of balancing the day job with my own desire to do something worthwhile with my life. Beware of becoming a witch, you end up exhausted most of the time!
On a serious note I'd recommend anybody to dabble in the fringes of the craft if it appeals to them. Many non magical people would be surprised what they can do if they put their mind to it. But as for that final irrevocable step where you commit in your own mind to becoming a witch and accepting all that it entails, think long and hard first, it does change you, it does separate you from other people and in every sense of the word it is a change you make for ever. There really is no going back...
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