Motivations

Penczak’s Outer Temple asks that we consider our motivations for practicing witchcraft – the magic in particular. I have been practicing magic since I was sixteen years old. I have been studying it even longer. My earliest days as a Seeker are vague, at best. But sitting down and thinking about it, I can remember my first inspiration: the spark that got the fire going.

 
 

It was Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I was ten, maybe twelve, when I first saw the Disney movie. I was still trying to find portals to Narnia in closets and odd openings in the house I grew up in. And although I understood that it was fiction … the bit with the enchanted beds seemed plausible to me. Or, it must have, because I remember clearly trying the spell to enchant my own bed. When it didn’t work, I assumed that the movie had gotten it wrong and went to read the book the movie was based on. The book didn’t actually contain the details of the spell, or any spell – it was deviously vague! – so I had to find other sources.

 
 

The rest, as they say, is history.

Twice Born

Last year at Beltane I performed a spontaneous Dedication, knealing before a sky-god who has yet to share his name with me.

Thirteen months later, a week ago yesterday, I completed my first Initiation ritual.

It was a two-part ritual, actually: the first part being an underworld journey at the New Moon in preparation for the second, at the Full Moon, where I was assisted in my rite by three close friends. The ritual included, among other things, my first fast – twenty-four hours of bread, honey, and water (and not much of it) – and the sacrifice by abstinence of all the potential debauchery that comes with the first day of the Heartland Pagan Festival.

The fasting was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. 9pm – 9pm is a relatively easy block: I don’t usually eat for almost half of that. At the same time, though, I was packing for the festival, making a midnight drive, getting barely half a night of sleep, and finally unpacking and setting up camp – a great deal of physical labor, as I’m sure my dear readers recognize. I also had to watch everyone else eat good food, drink coffee, and christen the camp site with the festival’s first joint and beers without partaking. I almost had to abstain from the communal dinner following the festival’s opening ritual, a terrible sacrifice given the importance I place on the ritual sharing of food, but fortunately there was some bread I could share. Still, by the end of the fast, I was somewhat faint and had to be careful how much I ate lest I make myself sick.

As a lifelong solitary practitioner, I had never undergone any formal training or initiation. And although the work I have done over the last two years, formalizing and re-examining my training and practice, certainly counts for something, I had little idea what to expect. Would the ritual be transformative? Would it simply be an acknowledgement of my personal progress? Would it even work given the disparate practices of the people I had assist me?

The answer, in the end, was “yes” to all of the above.

Over the course of the ritual, I came into closer contact that I had ever anticipated with the gods I serve. I lost one guide, grown impatient with my slow progress. I … acquired? Was awarded? Met? What is the correct verb here? … another guide during my descent, and made amends with a Titan whom I had accidentally slighted. I was unmade and reassembled. Twice.

When I gave healing massages over the course of the festival, I found that the energy flowed like it never had before. I managed to soothe two sunburns by laying hands. My lady Aradia said outright that my healing work is much more potent than it was the last time I worked on her, shortly after Beltane. I have never felt so powerful or so clear as I feel now, even a week after the ritual. Slipping into trance is significantly easier than it was a bare ten days ago, so I know it’s not just practice.

So today I write, re-examining the experience again, and say to you proudly: I am a witch. Slain and remade within the Circle, now twice-born.

A Brief, Rambling Argument For a Polytheist Universe

A religious scholar by the name of Stephen Prothero has recently put out a book denouncing the idea that “all gods are one God” and that “all religions are fundamentally the same”. I have not yet had the chance to read the book, but I have read the Boston Globe article he wrote which reiterates his thesis. There are problems with his thought process – not the least of which being that he seems to have limited his study to the post-Christian world – but we’ll leave those aside for the moment. What I’m really interested in is how this idea relates to neo-Pagan thea/ology

I do, incidentally, believe that the whole of the universe – energy, matter, humanity, life, non-life, divinity, ALL OF IT – are made up of the same basic stuff, and can be reduced to that sole common denominator. We are all, on a macro-cosmic level, One. Physics has codified this idea more clearly than mystics: E=mc^2, matter and energy are the same and can be converted back and forth between states. But let us not forget the equally important and true Law of Correspondence: “As above, so below. As below, so above.”

The material world is full of mind-boggling diversity. We have plants, animals, bacteria, all with radically different biological functions and reproductive strategies. We have minerals, gasses, and organic compounds, all of which are put together by the same sub-atomic forces, but which combine and interact in radically different and inconflatable ways.

Let’s do a little thought exercise.

All organic compounds include carbon. So do many gasses, actually. But what else is made of carbon? Let’s take diamonds and graphite: two allotropes of carbon. Both are made up of the same pure C2 molecule, but arranged in completely different ways: flat sheets of molecular carbon appear to us as a fine grey-black powder that we use as an electrical conductor or to make pencil “lead”; arranged in a particular lattice, by heat, pressure, and time, however, the same carbon molecules become a diamond.

Diamonds and graphite are made from pure carbon but are in NO WAY the same.

This is why, as a hard polytheist, I do not conflate “gods” or “the Divine” with “the Absolute”.

You and I, organic life forms that we are, are made up of a great deal of carbon. Are we made of diamonds? Pencil lead? No. That assertion is absurd.

This line of reasoning is directly contrary to (some) Wiccan and other New Age assertions, that all gods and goddesses are really masks of the Great God and the Great Goddess, facets of them.

Myself, I would argue the reverse: that the gods and spirits and people and plants and minerals and gasses and sub-atomic particles of the world are made up of bits and pieces that abstract Absolute. Or that, perhaps, the Absolute is made up of us. But this is NOT saying that we are, in fact, fundamentally the same.

All gods and goddesses and spirits and ghosts and souls and Powers are not One God. To say that they are is akin to saying that all straight men and straight women and intersexed folk and genderqueers of any sex and gay men and lesbian women and white people and black people and yellow people and brown people and red people and purple people are All One Straight White Guy Living in the Suburbs Outside Topeka.

Correspondences are relationships, not equivalencies.

Art as Magic

Early this month Aradia and I went to a lovely Kansas City event Known as First Friday. We looked at lots and lots of awesome art, although a great deal of it was not something anyone would actually want in their living room. Onesuch piece – which I would, in fact, not let within 100 feet of my home, no mater how gorgeous it was – also tied in with the evening’s other topic of conversation: using art to work magic.

The particular piece in question was an image of a woman. It was a blue figure on a black field, curled up in the corner of the frame. The frame itself was exaggerated, coming two or three inches from the canvas toward the viewer. A half-dozen chains were stretched across the canvas, mounted to the inside of the frame.

“See,” I said, turning to Aradia. “You paint someone inside of that, and they’re FUCKED.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, aghast. “And so are you.”

“Well, yeah. You’re never going to get anything accomplished until you let them out.”

Anyone who is, themselves, an artist knows how much time, energy, and soul goes into the creation of a piece. You recover, learn, and grow … but you never actually get those parts of you back. Much like big magic.

I recently drew a warding-glyph to protect my car: mechanical pencil overlaid with Sharpee and colored pencil, set off with a little candle magic. I still need to trim and mount it, so it’s still in my altar, but the ward matrix is already laid over my car. You can see it.

A while ago, I drew a meditation on fire: a pencil sketch covered with lots and lots of colored pencils. Some people have trouble touching it.

The interesting thing to me about using art to create magic is the depth and complexity of the intent that can be conveyed through an image, and the amount of refining that you can do over the course of the process. Layers upon layers upon layers of color and focus and power.

Has anyone out there ever tried this? Art as magic?

Ascending Practices

I am living a more productive magical life now than I have since high school, when – haphazard as it was – I was practicing nearly every day. I was almost this consistent in St. Louis – the only thing that took up more of my tiny studio apartment than my altar was my writing desk – but I was by myself, and meditation and house wards only get you so far.

My friend Chirotus invited me to help him start a magical study group about eighteen months ago. The premise was that we, as experienced and competent magicians of wildly different schools of thought, could learn a great deal from each-other by starting back at the basics. We started meeting monthly, practicing aura viewings and energy awareness, elemental conjurations (one month for each element), spent a couple months on personal shielding, and are back to aura viewings. At Samhain we started celebrating the Sabbats together, and will have celebrated half the year come Beltane. We have recently started meeting twice a month.

2020 has been the year that I’ve finally started keeping comprehensive magical journals. I’m not quite up to every day or every exercise, but I’m getting there. The things this does for my clarity and recollection are astounding. Why did I think journaling was too dorky for words? Oh, right. I was 19.

Over the course of the last semester I’ve started doing yoga every week or two. If you’ve never done an hour of meditative breathing combined with moderately strenuous physical activity, allow me a moment to highly recommend it. Last year I was doing three traditional Western work-outs a week (45-65 minutes) combined with meditative breathing. I need to get back on that: never in my life had I felt better physically.

I’ve started a daily tarot practice over the last two months. I still need to write about my thirty days of Rider-Waite. I’m twenty days into the Crowley Thoth, and while it will never be my primary, I already know I’m going to need to put in a second thirty (at least) before I can move onto another deck. My most significant insight from this so far was best put by Aradia: “You think doing daily readings will change your life, but it won’t. You still have the kinds of day you’ve always had.”

Last Beltane, I performed a formal Dedication for the first time, and at Heartland Pagan Festival, I gave up the magical name I’ve been using since I was sixteen years old. I have, at last, chosen a new name, and this year at Heartland, I’ll finally undergo a rite of initiation.

My aura sight, my tarot reading, and my clairsentience are as clear as they have ever been. My energy work is almost as potent as I remember it being in high school, just before I gave myself the migraines, and it’s a hard to say that I don’t just know so much more now than I did then that I’m just judging myself on a much harsher scale: I’ve been on spiritual journeys that I could not have even imagined then.

I think these things may actually count as progress. Evolution. Maybe even ascension.

Buffy the Vampire

For about ten years now I’ve known a woman – we’ll call her B, for the sake of the pun – who is a rare example of a real-life psychic vampire.

It was subtle, when I first met her. Most folks would just describe her as “needy”. At that time in my life, I had a lot of friends with whom I was fairly physically intimate – these were the heydays of the WPA, and the couches in the dormitory kitchen/lounge where we met were almost always filled well beyond capacity. We greeted each other and parted with warm hugs, and no one thought anything of it. But as more and more of the group got into and out of relationships, and just as we got a couple years older, B’s hugs started to change. It wasn’t that she touched anyone inappropriately (not back then, anyway), but when she touched you … you came back diminished. And if you wouldn’t let her touch you, she’d give you the kind of look a kicked puppy gives you: uncomprehending disappointment. After a few months, it got to where I, at least, didn’t feel safe touching anyone when she was around.

The group met twice monthly, and every meeting I came home feeling exhausted. This was a rough period in my life, and the WPA was my only social outlet. I thought that it was dealing with people, putting on a happy face and pretending that I wasn’t coming apart at the seams, that left me so drained. But we had a lot of turnover, that year, including picking up a few people who’d been around the block more than us, and for reasons that escape me now (hell, maybe I never even knew back then), B began to miss about every second or third meeting. And we started to realize that on days B wasn’t there, we all had more fun and still felt good at the end of the night. Those of us who had been practicing magic for years – the group was always a mix of newbies and (relatively) more experienced practitioners – got to where we could feel our energy pouring into her.

We started meeting at people’s homes over the summer, and several of us warded our homes against her. One couple did the classic freezer-binding; I had her, and the rest of the WPA, cast a circle around the house I was living in, then used her part in the circle-casting to teach the wards what they needed to keep a lid on. House-level wards were effective, but almost nothing short was. Strangely enough, it was almost impossible to get people to join the group.

We tried calling her on it, in our various immature ways. “B, your aura’s sticking to me again.” “Can I have my power back? I wasn’t done with it.” She pretended we were joking, but by the time I was setting things in motion to move to St. Louis, I was being more direct: “You’re draining me again. Stop it.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t even know I was doing it” “I know. That’s what makes it even worse.”

Then I moved to St. Louis, and left her in everyone else’s hands. Their town, their problem.

I heard stories occasionally, of course. She found a group to do full, formal circles with, and it was filling her to the brim with power. Mutual friends of mine and hers moved, and found sticky cobwebs of her power after they’d taken down all their own wards. People would learn to shield against her, and she’d ask third parties why so-and-so didn’t like her anymore. Once, when supposedly casting a circle of protection, she ate all the mana out of a wall. On several occasions she has made people sick as fuck. People unaccustomed to her presence feel ill as soon as she walks into a room.

I saw her tonight for the first time in years. My lady-friend and a mutual acquaintance were hit first, almost as soon as she entered the room. It took a little while longer to overwhelm me, but not much: even working in the mall is not as toxic as half an hour in the same room as B. Before we all left, I had to pull tendrils off of each of them – sick, orange things that left a residue like fast-growing fungus.

Merely being in the same room as this woman made most of us exhausted, irritable, and even nauseous.

Tragically, there is not yet any conclusion to this tale. B remains at large, psychically assaulting everyone within reach, and driving newcomers away from the WPA – now the KU Cauldron. Something must be done, but what? Talk to her? Certainly the first step. Bind her? And be bound to her forever? Psychically assault her in return? All three, possibly.

How long will this go one before someone intervenes?

What troubles me most about B – what troubles me most about every one of the not quite half-dozen vampires I have encountered in the almost fifteen years I have practiced magic – is how similar their power is to my own. To heal, to weave … or to drain and bind … these things are not so different. I am partially resistant to her attacks, particularly aware of them, because I am perfectly capable of replicating them.

A Few Introductory Thoughts on Tarot

Cartomancy, to the best of my understanding, lies somewhere between a technical skill and a psychic gift. One selects a deck by intuition, at random, or after careful study. Some bless or enchant their cards, others carefully nurture the spirit of a deck. Some favor traditional decks – true Tarot decks based on the Rider-Waite and Golden Dawn originals – others favor oracle cards whose artists have abandoned the five suit structure altogether. Some people I know have intense visionary and psychic experiences while working with divinatory cards, sometimes almost completely unrelated to the actual cards at hand; others, like myself, are more decoders of the symbols within the cards, occasionally assisted by strong intuition.

The traditional structure of a Tarot deck is of five suits: four lesser and one greater. The lesser suits associated with the ceremonial magician’s tools and with elemental power. Disks, Cups, Swords, and Wands. Earth, Water, Air, Fire. The suits have other names, of course, varying from deck to deck. Disks are known variously as Coins, Pentacles, or even simply Earth; Wands are sometimes Rods, Staves or just Fire; alternative names for Swords and Cups are rare, but not unheard of. The lesser suits are comprised of fourteen cards each:, most commonly known by the numbers and titles: ace through ten, page, knight, queen, and king. The fifth suit, the “Trumps” or “Major Arcana”, are a series of twenty-two ascending images and archetypes, originally from Renaissance Italian theology and popular culture (I don’t have the book on hand for a proper citation, but look to Robert Michael Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Interpretation) .

The suit of Disks – I favor the name “disks”, for whatever reason, though I recall that my first deck, the Hansen-Roberts, called them Coins – deals with the material world, material things, and material resources. Being associated with elemental earth, themes of fertility and fecundity are also found here. The suit of Cups deals chiefly with emotional attachments, memory, and romance. Being associated with elemental water, there are also some associations with psychic gifts and dreams. The suit of Wands deals with passion, glory, and drive. Frequently, this entails themes conflict, victory, and loss. The suit of Swords deals with suffering and torment. Being associated with elemental air, there are also associations with matters of intellect and understanding.

The major arcana is where the imagery of tarot cards get really, really interesting. It’s also where things begin to vary wildly between decks, as authors and illustrators embrace or discard the original Christian and Hermetic symbolism.

I’ve worked with four decks since I began my practice in 1996.

My first was the Hansen-Roberts deck, and Rider-Waite variant that moved a couple of the major arcana around (I can’t remember which ones, all these years later, and I’ve long since lost the original booklet that explained the decision; it may even be that they made the same moves as the Waite deck from the previous “traditional”, not instead of) and replaced the lackluster art with images that were infinitely more visually appealing, although symbolically similar if not identical. The deck developed a serious attitude over the years I used it, with a caustic voice to rival some (gentler) Thoth decks by the time I retired it. The deck was still in full working order, and I have it to this day, but at the age of 18 or 19 when I stopped reading the cards for a while, I simply couldn’t trust myself to read what the cards said, not what I wanted them to say.

The second is a Tarot deck only insomuch as it has the five suits. DJ Conway’s Shapeshifter deck owes more to the Thoth deck, I think, than the Rider-Waite, but softens the brutal voice of Crowley’s work with the fluffy-bunny attitude one rightly expects from Conway, with a dose of faux-shamanism and animal totem. The art and imagery are beautiful, drawing from that transformative/animal theme. If nothing else, I recommend it as a piece of art.

The third was the Robin Wood, another Rider-Waite variant, even more beautiful than the Hansen-Roberts. I purchased it when I resumed doing card work at about the age of 22. The deck was reliable, consistent, but unfortunately printed on slightly inferior paper, and I was forced to retire it when several of the cards became too badly damaged.

The fourth deck, my current deck, is one of two Art Nouveau decks I’ve found and purchsed, largely because they’re pretty. One of the two I will never use – the imagery is too sexist – but the one I am using has some interesting variations to the traditional themes. The images on the minor arcana are greatly simplified: a single man and woman, seemingly made out of stained glass, in a tableau depicting the theme of the card, with a different couple and color scheme for each suit. The major arcana is similar in meaning, but more modern in imagery and certain themes than older Rider-Waite based decks, and as I begin to explore the meanings of the Tarot, it is to this deck that I will refer most often and in greatest depth.

Seasonal Transition

If Samhain is my most favorite season (tied, perhaps, with Beltane) – the autumn weather, the symbolic emphasis on death and rebirth, the opportunity to wear my “Witchy clothes” out in public without drawing the attention that it does the rest of the year – then Yule is my least favorite. This has nothing to do with Yule, itself- the embryonic year which we will shape with our rites between Samhain and Imboc – and everything to do with the American holidays that take place at about the same time.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have been a nightmare for me ever since I was old enough to pick up on the social tension within my family. The details are beside the point – you all have families, and while the particulars vary from one family to the next, the dysfunctional dynamics are largely similar. Suffice to say, I’d skip it all if I could. Moreover, working in jewelry, I’m exposed to a uniquely savage side of the holiday shopping frenzy: propitiative diamonds, engagement jewelry, and frantic “what do you mean it will take an hour?” repairs and alterations. There’s the incessant Xmas music and – as I currently work in a mall – the screaming children and the grownups fighting like children. And so on, and so forth, ad nauseum, ending with New Years – a fantastic drinking holiday that I might like more if I weren’t so scared of being run over by the amateurs who only drink and drive on St. Patty’s and New Years.

That the weather has finally turned cold here in Kansas City both helps and hurts the situation. On the one hand, it’s comforting that the season is finally moving on – 60-70 weather in November and December was somewhat disconcerting. On the other hand, the cold makes me want to hibernate, which just makes me grouchier. Whether it’s seasonal stress, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just Pavalovian conditioning, I’m finding it difficult to react to things proportionally.

I’ve been trying to get into the spirit, I really have. Last year, I even bought a Santa hat (of course, it does read “Bah, Humbug!” across the front). I’m wearing it at work again this year, and I’ve got a little reindeer at my bench, clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels (which I might well drink in an emergency). I’ve been studying the Sabbats a lot – that whole “starting at the beginning again” thing – and I’ve volunteered to write the ritual for my working group. Last week at the full moon, my partner and I changed over the house altar from Samhain to Yule. My Death God’s Mask was replaced by the still-drying Solstice God Mask, which I am painting and ornamenting to serve as both Oak and Holly King, and our various symbols of death and tributes to the dead were packed away; she made dinner out of the winter squash we’d had on the altar, and we decked it up in garland, put a golden Sun Candle in the center, and finished our first semi-formal Esbat with some trancework. The Yule altar is turning out to be pretty spectacular, actually: the garland, the candles, the mask. I even let Aradia talk me into putting up a tree (something I actually forbade my previous room-mates to do): it’s a three-foot plastic thing that she already had (we really wanted a live tree, but we’z po’), and surprisingly attractive and tasteful.

The Solstice will come soon enough. And spring soon enough after that.

Introduction


Hello.

My name is _______. I have been a practitioner of magic and a member of the neo-Pagan community since I was sixteen years old; astronomical Samhain marked my twenty-ninth birthday. I have identified as a witch, specifically, for about three years now, during which time (between moving from St. Louis to Kansas City, starting a new job, attending college for the first time ever, and getting involved in a romantic relationship that is quickly approaching the one-year mark) I have been rediscovering the basics. I am looking for ways in which to give back to the community that has sheltered me for almost half my life.

I am a bisexual hedonist witch. I am a writer of fiction and a student of history – and, as such, I would like to see both better prose and better scholarship coming out of the neo-Pagan world. I am a jeweler and craftsman, and I believe that this makes me a better witch that I would otherwise be: that fire, metal, clay, and the blank page have taught me Mysteries that can be learned no other way. I have been involved with working groups for most of the last decade – most notably the WPA, now the KU Cauldron, as well as several smaller, private groups but I have always been a solitary practitioner. (Although, recently, my working group started has asking, “Have we turned into a coven?”) Out at Heartland Pagan Festival, I am known as “that guy who hangs out with Camp Taco and the Big Damn Heroes” and “that guy who always carries around a bottle of massage oil”.

Drawing on my research into and growing experience with Wiccan ritual and neo-shamanic practice, I am developing a Tradition of my own: the Obsidian Dream, named after the Void that has been my experience of the astral and inner planes. Dionysus and Hephaestus are my patron gods; I am still searching for my goddesses.

If you follow beyond this, my introduction post (Yes, the introduction post! That inteweb font of self-aggrandizement and self-mutilation!), this weblog will be a place for me to explore and share my experiences and musings, exercises and rituals, hopefully to the benefit and amusement of those who stumble across it. The primary focus will be just what the subtitle says: jewelry, hedonism, and witchcraft. But, because these things also fascinate me, there will also be some politics, history, feminism, and good, old fashioned, sex, drugs, and rock&roll. As such, while this will never become an “adult blog”, there will certainly be some discussions that are not for the immature.

Welcome, then, to this space. Thank you for joining me on my journey.