When career opportunities in the day job presented the prospect of a two hour commute every day to work and back I seriously considered whether any job would be worth it. Four hours a day on trains and buses seemed a pretty daunting prospect to say nothing of the demands on my time.
Admittedly I have none of the usual pressures that most women have, I don't cook or clean (I enjoy an open marriage and leave all the domestic business to my husband's other lady) nor do I have children, an addiction to soap operas or numerous friends clamouring to visit the pub with me. My time in many ways is more flexible than it is for most people and given that my free time is almost exclusively spent working for Witch Path Forward or writing romance novels I thought my literary pastimes might be something that could be adapted to daily travel.
I weighed up the opportunity until I was certain it would be at least bearable. I can manage quite well on six hours sleep a night and although there would be a fair bit of walking involved that could surely only be a good thing for a woman with a size 18-20 waistline. All things considered it was certainly worth a go and even it turned out to be a sacrifice I expected at least to be able to manage it.
What I didn't expect was to enjoy it. At least not to the extent that I do. I believed commuting would be something that took me away from my witchcraft and reduced the time I spent on my spiritual needs but contrarily and to my real surprise commuting turned out to be very harmonious with my life as a witch...
The train ride is very green and that is a big part of why I have become so passionate about my commute. I can't bear being trapped in cities or towns. I need the infusion of green in my life to function positively. Not that I'm a great walker, I appreciate nature most when I'm sitting down and that is exactly what the train journey allows me to do. I flood my eyes with a constant barrage of green, it invigorates me at the start of the day and soothes me at the end of the day. I whizz past trees, fields, hills, rivers and lakes immersed in scenery that most people only get to see on weekends and holidays. Every day is a chance to connect with nature and the world around me. After a while I began to see the commute not as an evil necessity but as a privilege and an opportunity to build on my relationship with the earth.
It is more than just what I see though, it's also the distance that I see things at. When commuting I'm always looking at the horizon and stretching my view to the distance beyond. Have you ever noticed that when taking a bus to your local town your eyes never focus more than ten metres in front of you? The immediate world is very close and claustrophobic. A close world limits perspective and it makes me feel very trapped and stifled. It hurts my sight to focus so closely on objects and buildings so nearby. I revel in resting my eyes on the green that stretches all the way to the horizon.
As a commuting witch I have also developed a far more profound relationship with the sun and the moon that I have ever had. I'm more aware of the seasons and the moon cycles and it is an awareness borne from personal interaction and not following a moon calendar. Like the Pagans of old I have a direct link to the world based on my own observations of the Earth, Sun and Moon. This has enhanced my ability to incorporate these elements into my magic.
When I commute I become freer, more aware of the world and the people beyond my own life. I pass over motorways filled with cars and people flowing from buildings at the end of their working day and I feel a sense of consolidarity with them. I look at the houses and imagine the people who might be living in them. My awareness of others and their humanity is enhanced.
I see commuting as the transition between worlds. I do sometimes wonder if as people we are closest to being ourselves when in no fixed place but travelling between two points. On the train I'm neither the mortgage advisor I've left behind at work or the wife I will become at home, I can concentrate solely on being myself, alone with no expectations and free of the roles that await me at either end of the day. It is in these inbetween times that I feel closest to my craft as a witch. There is a good deal of emphasis placed on the inbetween times in witchcraft - think the changes throughout the day, the magic times of dawn and twilight. Or the changes in the year, the solstices marking the turning toward the light and dark halves of the year. Commuting for me is the same thing - it is stepping between the worlds and resting in the temporary and welcome oblivion of nothingness. The train for me is the land of no expectations, a place I can exist for myself and nobody else.
There is also nothing to do in the sense that there is nothing I should be doing. This is what I mean by a lack of expectations. It is enforced leisure time and isolation and for somebody who finds it hard to turn down the volume of consistent work the rest is welcome relief.
I actually use the time I spend commuting to useful effect. I write snippets of my novels and devour romance novels from my competitors. I meditate on my ideas and plots for my books and attend to the Witch Path Forward correspondence. But I use th
e time constructively in a spiritual manner as well. I meditate, ground, shield and centre on the move, I listen to beautiful music and I take the time to ponder on the philosophical questions beyond my own mundane existence.
I step out of the world for between three and four hours everyday and far from seeing this as a bind or an inconvenience I see it as another welcome part of my life as a witch.
The other day when I was bemoaning the current struggles at work to get my paperwork to make sense a friend, confused by my obvious frustrations, asked why I was breaking my back to achieve the results I wanted when I could simplify the whole process by using magic. It was a question I'd been asking myself. There was no single reason why I hadn't used magic. I suppose as a matter of personal pride in my intelligence I wanted to rely on my brain to produce the necessary results. I perhaps also felt that maintaining an intense magical and mundane focus would absorb me to the extent that I would lose the balance with other things in my world. But the real issue lurking at the back of my mind was that in using magic to affect my work performance I might actually be cheating...
Ridiculous really - cheating through spell work is the easiest thing in the world to keep secret. I wouldn't risk more conventional methods of cheating - I've seen too many people lose their jobs for dishonesty and it isn't worth the sleepless nights worrying about joining their ranks. Besides, other methods of cheating are generally accepted as being wrong and/or against company policy. I don't need to speculate if bribing/bullying someone to do my work for me is wrong, I know it is and therefore I rule it out. But use of magic is far more morally ambiguous and has the advantage that it doesn't need the involvement of anybody but me. I'm not forcing anybody to do my will, I'm forcing circumstances to do my will. There is no direct consequence to anybody else other than myself as a result of the paperwork improvement spell.
Cheating via magic is also entirely unprovable. Imagine if my company took me to disciplinary for using witchcraft (non customer related spells incidentally) to improve the quality of my paperwork. My union rep would have a field day! My reluctance to use magic at work isn't a fear of discovery. Indeed I'm even being open in writing a blog about it. I'm hardly worried about the consequences of being "caught" but I am concerned that by employing an unrelated skill - a skill that to the best of my knowledge none of my colleagues can summon - I could still be in some way cheating. Not in a disciplinary sense but in a moral sense. I'm stacking the deck to give myself the best opportunity for success and there has to be some moral question as to whether manipulating circumstances to favour myself in the workplace is ethical.
I could of course check with the HR department if using witchcraft is considered cheating. But I suspect they may question my general level of sanity if I did so. One of the ways we witches get away with so much of what we do is due to the fact that the public simply don't believe in magic. This is another reason why I couldn't be held accountable at work, they'd have to acknowledge there is such thing as a witch before they can discipline me for using witchcraft. And they won't do that because to do so might bring ridicule from the sceptics (and the press scandals would of course be ruinous...). How much easier to pretend it doesn't exist and just leave witches to do their own thing, (Possibly the only exception would be if I cast direct magic against the customers or the staff but as I genuinely don't believe doing so would be appropriate that isn't an issue. And even if I did, I wouldn't be daft enough to put an admission to it in writing!). Likely it would be a similar situation with my colleagues, if I told them I could influence my performance with witchcraft they would almost certainly not believe me (I suspect many of them already consider me a trifle strange...) so there is little point in being open and honest about it. As long as people refuse to believe that a) I can influence my performance through magic and b) that I will influence my performance in such a way - then I'm pretty safe from actual repercussions and the disapproval of those I work with.
But am I cheating myself? To an extent I think I might be. I'm using a tried and tested skill to mask a weaker ability. I'm denying myself the chance to feel genuine pride for my learning and ability to develop in other areas. I don't need any more success to feel confident as a witch but I do need more success to feel I'm doing well in the day job. Playing to my strengths may be good for short term results but it makes me a one trick pony which is ultimately very limiting. It also sets the trap that once I start achieving work related performance results through magic I have the choice of either continuing with the workplace magic and never developing the mundane skills or stopping the magic and baffling my company as to why the quality of my work takes a sharp nose dive downwards one day. And I'm not doing myself any favours putting the development period off. It is quite natural to need a bit of help after six months in the job but I'm not sure the helping hand would be offered if after six years I suddenly decided to go it alone and stop using magic. I strongly suspect that after this length of time I would be very much on my own.
Earlier this week I had to make a decision on the matter and despite my reservations I understand I have a responsibility to my family to do the best I can. If my best involves utilising skills that differ from those expected in the role then I can justify that by saying that at least they are my own skills and the results, however unconventionally obtained, are still my own work. So I went ahead with the spell work.
The results were actually rather spectacular, I went from chaos to flawless in the space of one case check. In fact it went so well that I actually plan to tone it down a bit. I want to put in a solid performance not draw unnecessary attention for suddenly handing in perfect work that ends up being held up as the standard for others. I could see the question....how... on my boss's lips and although I don't feel a true explanation would gain me any credibility in a commercial workplace I also don't want to arouse suspicion for cheating in ways of which I am genuinely innocent.
So after making my decision I'm left with just the ashes of my dilemma. I don't really feel guilty if I'm honest, I'd be a pretty poor witch if I didn't manipulate things in my life for the better. I may have broken the mundane code that cheating is wrong but I have acted in accord with the true essence of what it is to be a witch, namely - you've got power, use it!
A friendly enquiry from a fellow witch sparked my interest the other day and the question she posed in the interests of casual debate played on my mind until it eventually turned into this week’s blog post. The question she asked me was this – If you had to give up working magic or writing novels which one would you choose to give up?
(For those of you around in the eighties you may remember the TV advert where the little girl is asked if she likes Daddy or chips the best. For me Magic v Art is a similar dilemma though much much harder. I mean my father is a fine man but....chips...!)
Magic V Art is a hard question to answer. The thought of giving up anything so integral as to who I am rather goes against the grain. I'm generally for the pursuit of self interest and I rarely practise self denial so the thought of giving up either something that allows my life to function as I wish it or something that gives me great emotional satisfaction isn't one I relish. But I’m rather fond of hypothetical questions and I didn’t want to leave this one unanswered if for no other reason than my own peace of mind. Truth is once my curiosity was sparked, I wanted to know for myself.
The simplest thing might just be to give up the one that I am the least proficient at. If that's the case then I should have no hesitation consigning my pen to a lifetime of redundant oblivion. I’m not a bad writer - in fact my romance novels wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf with most of my peers in the genre – but if I’m honest I’m mediocre, my books wouldn’t jump off the shelf and smack you between the eyes either. I’ve read books that have kept me up all night crying and I’d love to have the kind of skill to inspire that level of response in a reader but I’m simply not that talented. I'm neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad. When it comes to writing romance I’m just Miss Average… I am however a rather successful witch. Were I to base the choice between Magic and Art on what I happen to be very good at - it would be witchcraft all the way. Miss Average quickly turns into Miss Achievement when the working of spells is involved.
But there is a lot to be said not for pursuing what you happen to be good at but what you genuinely love doing. I happen to be brilliant at designing organisational spreadsheets (really, I'm quite unnaturally good at them - not the maths bits but the planning and structuring...) but I have no passion for Microsoft Excel. Being good at it doesn't make me enjoy it. To an extent it is similar with magic. I'm good at it and it is something it benefits me to utilise but I don't spend all day looking forward to casting a spell the way I feel giddy with delight when I know I've got the house to myself and an uninterrupted evening to add a new scene of pirate lust to the latest novel. I like what magic brings me but I'm not necessarily passionate about the process. (I do have to point out here that I'm talking specifically here about magic and not witchcraft as a path. I do look forward to my meditation evenings, to working on my shields, that sort of thing. But the question was Magic or Art so I'm not counting all the peripheral things that my craft path involves...)
But I balk at the idea of giving up a passion in favour of a talent and although I enjoy working with magic I view Witchcraft not necessarily as an end in itself but as a means to managing my life and the lives of those about me. To me it isn't a passion, it's a utility. It does interest me that this view isn't shared by the majority of witches that I meet, most of whom seem to take the view that being a witch is an end in itself. A lot of newer, younger witches in particular seem to view the craft as a life cycle of - I perform magic to be a witch and I'm a witch because I perform magic. But for me the reality is different. Witchcraft is something I do not to actualise myself as a witch but something I use to make my life (both magical and mundane) more pleasant. I don't practise magic for the enjoyment of casting spells, I practise magic for the very deliberate purpose of getting a tangible result out of it. I use magic to get my own way in the world. It follows from this that as I don't practise magic in order to be a witch, there is a me beyond the craft that must be more or something other than witch. Being a witch is something I am by natural virtue of the fact that I practise witchcraft but it is not my defining identity. I could stop practising magic tomorrow without losing the essence of who I am.
Another simple way of looking at the matter could be to take the altruistic view and examine which out of witchcraft and novel writing does the most to serve others. Here again the craft would have to win out as it sadly must be acknowledged that as far as writing goes, romance novels really are the lowest common denominator (believe me fellow romantic novelists I feel your pain on this one…). My writing doesn’t change the world, stimulates little philosophical thought and has little intrinsic worth as an art form. It hurts to say it but my books don’t really matter.
I have however on lots of occasions been instrumental in helping others with the use of witchcraft. I've helped people get jobs, improve themselves, become happier and healthier and with "Ask a Witch of Question" I've put a fair bit of my advice and assistance back into the world. I'm pretty certain my novel writing has never helped anyone (except possibly my husband who gets watched with less of a beady eye when I'm in the midst of a masterpiece...) If I had to choose to keep the craft or the novels for the sake of others and for the worth of the skill itself I would have to prioritise being a witch before being a novelist.
Then there's the concept of perception. Leaving aside would I rather be a novelist or a witch would I rather be viewed by the world as being a novelist or a witch? Perhaps if I was another Dostoyevsky the answer might be different but if the truth be told there's not much kudos in being a romantic novelist. It's not a greatly admired art form and people tend to be quite scathing of it (I mean would you admit to reading Mills and Boon...?) But people can't ask enough questions about what being a witch involves. If I cared about my image (and I think my readers know me well enough to know that I don't) it would be out and proud witch all the way and the novels hidden in a discreet pile under the bed.
Some people might be reluctant to give up magic because of the power it involves and it's true, anyone with a good understanding of magic does wield a fair bit of power. But the power I command as a witch is nothing compared to the power I command as a novelist. As a witch I manipulate and influence an existing creation but as a novelist I give birth to my own creation. I take an idea or a concept from my imagination and I bring it to life in a way it can be shared with others. As a witch I'm no threat to the Gods, I'm working in their world on their terms. As a novelist I'm playing them at their own game - I'm having a go at creating life. That is real power.
Being a witch for me is all about balance. I use magic to carefully eradicate anything from my life that might disrupt my balanced equilibrium. I balance dark and light workings, demands on my time and I even use magic to balance out my moods. The better I get at spell work the more content and placid I become. Spell work for me is almost akin to tranquillity... Novel writing however has quite the opposite effect. When I'm immersed in a novel and I neglect the magic that makes my life run so smoothly I turn into a demented hair twisting tangled and snarling mess, crying, drinking, riding the euphoria and the despair of my poor tortured characters and suffering right along side of them. And I love it! I do, I love it. I love being awake at three in the morning near dead with exhaustion and checking my word count to find I've written over ten thousand words since I last checked. I love to read back on my books to see that I did manage to transfer that stubborn mental image of a character into actual black and white words on a page. And most of all I love being able to step onto the emotional rollercoaster and be able to feel things as intensely as I did as a teenager. Nothing in real life could do it and nor could any amount of magic. Through writing I have emotional experiences that only art could ever inspire.
So possibly not the answer that most witches would give but after giving it a lot of thought if I had to give up magic or art I would give up magic. I can't deny that I would miss magic greatly, it plays a big part in my life and it really does help me get my own way (and I do like that). But ultimately magic is a utility, a means to an end...
Simply put - Magic is what I do. Writing is who I am.
Join the Witch Path Forward Facebook community. (Click the icon).