As the wheel turns into the dark half of the year, we move toward the sabbat most popularly associated with witchcraft – Halloween. This festival, perhaps more than any other, is shrouded in mystery and misconception. Those not in the know are aware that...something...goes on at Halloween and the suppositions and guesses are enough to fill many a Hollywood horror film and to decorate card shop windows all over the world.
For many, the popular depiction of warty women riding brooms and carrying black cats is the only concept they have as to what it means to practise witchcraft. Halloween is therefore an excellent opportunity for Witches and Pagans (should they choose) to speak out about what it is they do and to share the less secretive aspects of craft working with those interested in the truth behind the fiction.
Witches don't tend to refer to this particular sabbat as Halloween. The common naming originates from the name of the evening preceding the Christian festival of all Saints – hence All Hallows Eve. Witches and Pagans refer to this sabbat as Samhain, its origins being Celtic and traditionally celebrated as the beginning of Winter.
Essentially Samhain is the day of the dead, it is a time when we honour our ancestors and remember those who have left the earthly plane. It is a chance to celebrate the lives of those who have passed over and to remember what they shared with us when they were here. Celebrations may include the use of the dumb supper where a symbolic extra place setting is set at dinner to welcome past family members back into the home or the baking of biscuits and breads to be left outside the house door to nourish passing spirits who may choose to visit.
Samhain is the last of the three harvest festivals celebrated by Pagans. It is the end of the harvest, the end of the light half of the year and it marks a rest for the earth after the fertility and productivity of the summer months. This period of rest can be echoed in our own lives as well. At Mabon (the second harvest festival) we took stock of our own personal harvests, we looked at what we had gone before in the preceding months and we reviewed what we had reaped from the seeds sown and grown into our own personal harvests. At Samhain we can now put the year to bed, we can stand back and evaluate what worked well for us and what changes we would like to make in the coming year. Samhain is a time for self honesty - the hustle and bustle of the year has slowed right down, the nights are drawing in, people feel tired, a little slower and more lethargic. It is in this mindset that perhaps we are most vulnerable to the negativity in our lives. Samhain is a time for discerning what negativity lies in our hearts and for planning steps to take in the coming year to make our lives better. Just as the farmer in days of old may have changed his crop plans for the coming year, we too can decide to sow different seeds to bring happiness in the seasons and harvests ahead.
Similar to the earlier sabbat of Beltane (in May) which marks the time of year when the walls between the world and the world of faery are at their weakest, Samhain is the night of the year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Witches and Pagans will often refer to this time as the thinning of the veil. Samhain is therefore a traditional time to attempt communication with the spirits in the otherworld. The much maligned concept of the modern séance may well be undertaken by those practising the craft on this particularly spiritually auspicious night of the year.
Many of the traditions and symbols of modern Halloween can have their origins traced back to pagan times. The symbol of the pumpkin is highly appropriate as pumpkin would have been one of the crops being harvested in mid to late October. The witch flying on her broom remembers the fertility dances danced by wise women among the crops in order to raise energy and luck for a prosperous harvest the following year. The skull of course is representative of the dead and honours those who have crossed the veil.
As to where the modern associations of evil come in, I'm afraid I can't help you there. To the witch communication with spirits is a beautiful and a sacred thing and the thinning of the veil a time for celebration and joy, most certainly not for being frightened. But without a doubt Halloween/Samhain can also be a time for fun and the fact that the festival brings so many people - witches and non witches included - so much pleasure is a good thing in itself. And perhaps, for those of who believe at least, our ancestors looking across from the otherworld (or wherever your particular path has them ending up) would be glad to know that we're all having a good time, albeit in our different ways, on October 31
Image http://fav.me/d14nadq (A_lthea)
The question of whether witches are/should be vengeful is commonly debated among magical communities. The fashionable Neo Pagan view seems to echo the Christian belief of turning the other cheek. But to many serious practitioners of witchcraft, vengeance can and still does play a part in their craft.
Concepts like Karma and the (Wiccan) Rule of Three are bandied about in the form of moral rulings, the implication being that personal workings for revenge are wrong and incompatiable with modern Witchcraft. These moral imperatives make the suggestion that personal workings of vengeance are intrinsically wrong in themselves and that magic should only be used in the pursuit of "good." I take issue with this because I am most definitely the only arbiter of my own moral judgement. I neither read scriptures nor listen to guides who try to impose a single view of right and wrong. My definition of what is appropriate in a given situation stems solely from my own beliefs. To put it politely, I think for myself. I am therefore loathe to subscribe to the idea that there is a generic law of right and wrong to which I must ensure my actions adhere. Not only is such a concept far too simplistic - certainly anybody prepared to consider the matter in depth is forced to conclude that morality is highly relative anyway - but an absolute morality negates my choice and my right to perceive the world as I see it, to an extent that I would find totally unacceptable.
When we define the world in terms of good and evil we are unwittingly applying a moral code that suggests one is better than the other. But again, such a comparison is relative, this time to the end a person wants to achieve. If your ambition is to bring as much light and happiness into the world as you can then, yes, perhaps restricting your magic to the less vengeful workings may help you to achieve that end. But I have to be honest and admit that this aspiration is certainly is not the end toward which I work with my own life. For the vast majority of the time I am focusing on the pursuit of my own interests. My aim is solely to make my own life easier and happier. There are times when making those around me happy achieves this aim, equally there are times when I have to step on other people to get what I want, I am comfortable doing both. When dealing with issues of morality we have to acknowledge that people all have different views on their individual idea of endgame. What can be "good" on one path may be wholly unsuccessful for an individual on another.
I actually think it is important to get away from the whole good/bad, dark/light thing. Energy actioned through intent (which is all spellwork really is) is not any kind of absolute in itself. People who talk of light and dark magic are missing the simple truth that magic is really just the tool of the caster. And not only are dark and light relative, they are also subjective. What may appear good to one person may appear bad to another. With this is mind, it is hard to understand how an absolute moral law could ever come about. And I would question how those who believe in karma would explain the problem of subjective morality. Who decides what is right or wrong? Possibly one could appeal to the omniscience of a higher being but there are many witches who have no belief at all in deity. Such an explanation would render the supposed laws of karma entirely useless to those witches.
So, vengeance... A friend of mine described the difference between justice and vengeance with the explanation that justice is something that should happen and vengeance is something that people choose to make happen. I don't disagree. However, what I do disagree with is the implication that I should choose not to take revenge on somebody who has wronged me on the basis that it is always wrong to do so. As a witch who believes in balance, I would argue that sometimes two wrongs do make a right. Vengeance can be a balancing of the scales, a negative act equalised by a negative energy. If I am hurt and hurting somebody else makes me feel better, is that balance within myself not restored?
And I'll go further than that. I'm even prepared to make the first move to prevent other people from harming me. If there is such a concept as preventative revenge, I'll happily admit to using it - To hurt before being hurt, so to speak. Again, a morally grey area but what I'm getting at here is that many witches do not subscribe to this socially acceptable single idea of morality. Or even perhaps morality at all. I may weigh up a situation and decide that to act one way would be considered the objectively moral thing to do but to act conversely would be in my best interests. And I'll tell you what, I act in the way that works best for me every time. That doesn't make me a 'bad' person, it makes me a selfish person. But I strongly suspect I don't differ greatly from most other people here, except of course in the fact that I admit it.
Incidentally many witches cast revenge workings by 'mirroring' the negative energies sent toward them. Kind of like the Wiccan's beloved threefold law, but deliberately and specifically applied. The idea is that the person receiving the hex suffers no more than they intended their opponent to suffer. A word of warning though, go gunning after most witches and you'll get a hell of a lot more back than you sent out. As I remind you regularly - I'm the lovelier end of the market...
The famous saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold," suggests vengeance is always the result of cold calculation. I am unsure that in witchcraft this is true. Certainly speaking from my own experience it isn't. The energy from my anger and frustration would work a far more effective spell for me than any amount of plotting and planning. The flip side of this of course is that when I'm feeling angry enough to want to revenge myself on someone, I may not be in the best frame of mind to make the judgement that it is the best thing to do. Personal involvement may well cloud judgement. As a witch I am also aware that some of what I do may not be entirely conscious. Should I dislike an individual enough to wish them harm, even if I take no tangible steps toward bringing that harm to reality, it is likely that some effect will occur, simply by nature of the will of my subconscious. Focused intent will always work best but unfocused subconscious energies can certainly play their part as well.
I'd question why magical revenge is perceived as less moral than practical revenge. I'd be applauded if I slapped a cheating husband but frowned upon if I hexed one. Double standards arising from fear of the unknown perhaps? The perception that curses and hexes as the esoteric tools of the select few are not seen as fair game? I don't know, I can't explain it. There does seem a deep psychological fear of cursing even in modern day society and I'll tell you now, its something witches exploit. I've seen the suggestion of a hex work as effectively as a hex itself. Irrational fear does make it very easy for witches to manipulate people...
Now having said I don't believe in karma or the Wiccan threefold, I have to acknowledge that I do believe opening yourself to vengeance can bring about negative consequences. Balance is a key concept for the witch and a witch who fills her heart with hatred and the need for revenge will find herself singularly unbalanced. Hate unfortunately does breed hate and a witch who dwells solely on the negative will find herself locked into a negative mind spiral that she would find it hard to break out of. I personally limit my workings of vengeance and indeed negative workings of any kind and try to achieve a balance between the type of energies I want to work with. That is not to say that if I cast a healing spell I frantically look around for someone to curse to balance it out, but it is to say that I choose not to open myself up entirely to either extreme end of the spectrum - at least for any significant period of time.
Personally I refuse to conform to a socially accepted norm, I create my own ideas of justice and act as I believe appropriate and I would be very surprised to find a witch who doesn't do the same.
Image http://fav.me/d2zipvh (Moroka323)
Those of you with a keen eye may notice that the content for this week's blog has been lifted in the main from another section of the website. There is a reason for that - the year long Pagan blog project is coming to an end and I didn't want to let the project end without making reference to the use of the elements in magical workings.
Not all witches choose to use the elements, Traditional Witches in particular tend to focus more on calling upon the energies of ancestors rather than elements. But it cannot be denied that the four primary elements (and the less tangible fifth element Spirit) can play a valuable role in spell work. The elements can be invoked when casting a circle (again, very optional for witches) and their powers called upon to assist the caster. This may be termed "calling the corners," "calling the quarters," or (primarily in the Wiccan religion) "Evoking the Watchtowers.")
The elements can be represented within workings, for example a candle may be lit to draw upon the power of fire and each element has traditional correspondences associated with it, though it must be stressed that these associations can vary between individuals and traditions.
Here are some of the key correspondences associated with the elements:
Earth – To be still
Colours: Brown and Green
Age: Old Age
Animal: Dogs and Horses
Herbs: Patchouli, Vetivert, Mosses
Magical Tool: Pentacle
Ritual: Money, Prosperity,Grounding,Fertility
Water – To dare
Colours: Indigo and Aqua
Age: Middle Age
Animal: Fish and Dolphins
Herbs: Water lillies, Roses
Magical Tool: Chalice
Ritual: Purification, Love,Peace,Psychic
Air – To know
Colours: Blue and Yellow
Herbs: Fragrant Flowers
Magical Tool: Wand
Ritual: Knowledge, Instruction, Freedom
Thought, Intellect, Freedom,
Fire – To will
Colours: Red and Gold
Herbs: Thistles, Chilli Peppers
Magical Tool: Atheme
Image - Elements - http://symenex.deviantart.com/art/elements-18534913 (Symenex)
Image - Earth - http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1422940 (Alfi007)
Image - Water http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1427872 (Jtkunley)
Image - Air http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1429880 (AlinWill09)
Image - Fire http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1422186 (puma_a)
One of the great advantages of being a solitary witch is that you can continually develop and design your own path. The solitary is beholden to nobody and although some solitaries do choose to follow a rigid tradition, most of us use the freedom of being alone on our path to evolve a craft of practises and beliefs which have an emphasis on personal meaning and which work the best for us.
My own twisty turny witchy path has been influenced very heavily by my interest in astronomy - note astronomy not astrology, I have little patience with star signs I'm afraid - What I am interested in is working with the individual energies and characteristics of the planets and drawing those strengths and powers into the workings that I undertake.
A couple of years ago I put together a collection of sphere shaped crystals that formed the basis of a representation of the solar system (and yes, I included Pluto as a planet, lol). My intention was to design a physical representation that could be used in both its entirity to draw down the energies of the solar system and individually to call upon the individual characteristics of the planets.
Once I had spent many enjoyable weeks amassing the collection (and maxed out several credit cards...) I then had to start thinking about what I would use each individual planet for. Some were relatively easy, planets like Mars and Jupiter have very definite associations of strength and power. But once I moved toward the gas giants, Jupiter's moons and the dwarf planets beyond Pluto I encountered far fewer of the commonly accepted associations and I had to start thinking for myself and deciding what each of the celestial bodies actually meant to me. It was an interesting meditative exercise, sitting with each of the crystal representations and trying to merge my scientific understanding of the planet/moon with the emotional connections it represented to me. Some links were easier to make than others - I use Jupiter's moon Europa to generate a sense of calm and peace as the moon's surface is physically very smooth and I use one of Jupiter's other moons Io to raise fiery energies as the surface is covered in volcanoes. Others were harder to find a resonance with, Mercury in particular took me a long time to build up a relationship with. Some associations were based on the physical characteristics of the planet, i.e. the powerful winds on Jupiter, some on the behaviour of the moon or planet, i.e. Triton, the only large moon in our solar system to have a retrograde orbit and therefore excellent for work in rejecting conformity and finding your own path. Other associations were made with the perceived colours of the planets, I associate Saturn very much with the colour pink and so it follows that I base a lot of my relationship work on my dealings with this plant. You can see more of my own personal associations on this section of the website - planets.
In the beginning I worked primarily with a few planets and moons that I felt comfortable with, predominantly the Earth's moon (as being a witch the moon is heavily linked to my own relationship with the craft) but over time I established very definite personal connections in my mind and I even expanded the collection to include some lesser known celestial bodies like the moons of Uranus and Saturn. I have now moved beyond the solar system with a representation of Proxima Centuri our nearest star in the galaxy. I would imagine that eventually I will expand to include some of the more well known exo planets and pick up some of the missing bodies of our own solar system - I have always felt that the moons of Mars are a bit conspicuous by their absence.
The influence of the Universe energies on my path has been substantial and my workings have become closelvery affiliated with my crystal collection. I use the spheres with some regularity to form a working circle and I notably performed a powerful finding spell recently by calling on the energies of the close orbit between Pluto and its similar sized moon Charon. I often clasp the Earth in my hands when grounding and I've even lent elements of my collection out to others who have needed them. (Husband: I'm feeling a bit down, Me: Hmm, I'll just nip up and stick Saturn under your pillow...) Working with the Universe has given me a powerful source of energy to tap into and a very tangible understanding of what it is to call upon external power. It is perhaps similar to the Wiccan ritual of Drawing down the Moon, but with more scope for diversity of different energies. Predominantly and most importantly for me my crystal solar system has allowed me to develop my path as a witch down a very unique and personal structure that I have been able to design and evolve myself. This independence of thought is one of the most crucial elements of being a solitary witch, I create the path, I don't just follow it.
Image (top) http://www.deviantart.com/art/Solar-System-92938702 (holly66696669)
Other images personal to the Deguwitch's collection
Witchcraft is enjoying a revival at the moment and basking in its new accepted place within pop culture. The traditional magical paths have become accessible to all thanks to the popularity of cult television and the accessibility of information available via the internet and social media. If you want to be a witch these days there are 100 websites telling you how to do it. This does have its positive side - gone are the days when informative sources were furtive and unverifiable. Learning no longer has to be based on trusting an individual or an individual's viewpoint. The wealth of information available allows people to evaluate for themselves what is and what is not worthy of learning.
The downside is that every man and his dog is a witch these days. Now I'm not the elitist type and I'm glad to see all these witches roaming free, but sometimes when the worlds of the Traditional Witch and the New Ager collide, I do find myself wondering if the traditions of what it is to be a witch are being watered down to the extent where the definition can only be applied so loosely that the term witch doesn't really fit at all.
Take secrecy for example - throughout history the safety of the witch has depended on her ability to be secretive. In much of the modern world the safety aspects don't apply as much today, but the pendulum has perhaps swung too far to the other side. What was once the practise of secret and private arts has become akin to a public spectacle. Witches proudly display their witchy status and they campaign for rights at work and even recognition for their witchlets at school. It smacks to me a little of the need for public recognition and validation. Certainly my close family and friends have a good understanding of what I do and I'll admit to being quite frank with my work colleagues and Facebook as well. But I'm quite content that the stranger on the bus doesn't need to know I'm a witch, nor does my doctor, my customers at work or the elderly members of my distant family. In short, I am happy to be discreet. For me, being a witch isn't something I need to shout about. The new age wave of witches who insist on telling everybody everything doesn't sit well with me. Discretion is power, secrecy is power, baring your soul to the world...? Lets be honest, there's a bit of attention seeking going on. (Incidentally this attention seeking isn't just confined to those just starting out. I recently visited the shop of a well known Wiccan witch and was amused to see she had her own personal altar right in the middle of the shop for all to see. Entirely unnecessary and in my own (not so humble) opinion, rather silly posturing.
I'm also bewildered with some of the viewpoints espoused by the new age witches. The horror when they find out my slightly scathing views on threefold and their beloved karma... The trend seems to be for witchcraft that focuses solely on the light and the lovely. Again, I'm tolerant but I will admit to bring frustrated when I'm told with earnest sincerity that every negative piece of magic I perform will come back to bite me on the bottom. I assure you my bottom is free of tooth marks (with the possible exception of my husband's teeth if he's feeling particularly randy) and as for magical bounce back, you can forget it. I hex with the confidence that I know how to direct my energies. This new age loveliness is all very well but its based on idealism (and dare I say a little ignorance) rather than reality. The truth is that any witch worth her broomstick makes use of every type of magic to fulfil her aims.
I think I'm more tolerant than most with the fluffies but most witches will sigh in exasperation when faced with an individual who has read one of Silver Ravenwolf's charming little teach yourself witchcraft books and suddenly decides they know it all. Part of coming to an understanding of your own path is opening yourself to the realisation that you don't know it all, that you in fact know very little. Its almost a paradox, the wiser and the more experienced you become, the greater the clarity of your understanding as to how little you actually know. I get a little tired of the attempts at dogma and the striving for scientific precision in a craft that has more basis in intuition than in fact. The new age witch who insists on treating magic like she would a recipe book (it says green candle and rose oil so if I've got those the spell HAS to work...) irritates the knickers off me. I have a great respect for anybody prepared to think and to use their own imagination in their workings but someone who just reads from a book is fooling themselves in my opinion. Magic isn't about utilising someone else's thoughts, its about formulating your own. Sadly, some people just don't get it.
I've also noticed a real confusion in terms of the definition of what a witch actually is in the
uprising of the modern flock of witches. There seems to be this attitude that a witch is all powerful and that any power ever demonstrated by any witch has to be claimed if they are to be taken seriously in their craft. This leads to some pretty outlandish claims of power and some quite frankly total lies about their personal practises. I was assured on a website the other day that one individual uses the fat of unbaptised babies in ritual. Like hell they do, they said it because they think it sounds good. Its cobblers that all witches are psychic or all witches communicate with spirits or mix potions, or work with herbs etc. etc. What you're more likely to find is that each practising witch has her own area of ability and a cheerful admittance that other aspects of the craft are not for her. I'm not psychic and I can't scry for toffee. Does that make me less of a witch? Not at all, I'm the best bet you'd have if you wanted a manipulation spell performing. Horses for courses. But every time I hear someone telling me they've got every trick in the bag, I grind my teeth. A little humility mixed with a little realism would serve some of these enthusiastic wanna be witches well.
I can't deny it, the modern world has been good for witches. From the safety elements to the ease of meeting others of like mind, the technology and general acceptance of the world has been a positive step forward. But I hope that this new found openness doesn't become the death to the traditions and the practises of old. I'd like to think some secrets aren't published all over the internet and I'd like to think some witches still have the common sense to keep their mouths shut about their practise of what has long been a secretive craft. Most of all I'd like to hope that something as wonderful and as dark and mysterious as witchcraft doesn't end up being reduced to a politically correct social trend shining so much love and light everywhere that it illuminates everything except the slightly shadowed path to where the real power lies. I hope not.
Image http://fav.me/d5cp5g1 (mariannainsommnia)
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