Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recommended Reading for the Intermediate Spellcaster

Several years ago, I was asked to provide a recommended reading list for those attending the first meeting of our local Pagan Council.  I took to this in a very serious manner.  It's not just about what books I  felt were good or the authors whose style I enjoy reading; we're talking about books that teach the most, have the most unique voice, and offer insights not found elsewhere.  And when I decided that I would make my list only for Intermediate studies (since I was fairly certain the other offerings wouldn't be), well, things really got cooking.

The reason that there are so many 101 books on the market is because we all like to help those who are clueless (they tend to be the most appreciative) and--quite honestly--writing intro stuff is a cinch.  Think about the differences between discussing addition and trigonometry.  Which one can you illustrate with apples?  How long do you think you'll spend explaining 2+2 versus 2 Sin2X + 2 SinX CosX - 1= 0?

Now I'm not busting on 101 book authors.  They do their thing because not everyone will respond to the same methods, so new books come out to show old information from a new angle (or to just put a new coat of paint on it).  But being a witch who sees a greater number of intro books than advanced ones on the shelves every year, I've grown tired of them even sharing such precious real estate.  So, I chose to dedicate my reading list to those who, like me, had to work irritatingly hard to find books which would offer useful information in an accessible way to those who already have spellcasting experience under their belt. 

Naturally, this list became complex, featuring whole books beside scattered chapters, old grimoires beside those freshly printed, references for learning the community and those for learning the practice.  But it's all here--the books I feel that I've learned the most from, the ones that made the greatest impact on how I use magic and why.


History of Magic, Witchcraft, Occultism and the Neo-Pagan Movement and General Information


Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler

Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson

Natural Magic by Doreen Valiente

Witchcraft at Salem by Chadwick Hansen

The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies and Magic by Migene Gonzolez-Wippler

Not in Kansas Anymore by Christine Wicker

Clues, Myths and the Historical Method by Carlo Ginzburg
  “Witchcraft and Popular Piety” (pg. 1-16)
  “The Theme of Forbidden Knowledge in the 16th and 17th Centuries” (pg. 60-66)

The Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton

The Satanic Mass by H.T.F. Rhodes

Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall


Practical Information, Various Types of Magic

Complete Book of Magic and Witchcraft by Kathryn Paulsen

  (Excepting the following, due to irrelevance in practical magic --)
  “The Rites of Satanism and Witchcraft” (pg. 17-21)
  “The Magic Ceremony” (pg. 22-37)
  “Divination” (pg. 38-41)

Long Lost Friend by John George Hohman

Crone’s Book of Charms and Spells
                                                                               }  by Valerie Worth
Crone’s Book of Magical Words

The Black Pullet   (Author Unknown)

The Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Agrippa

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode

The Element Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells by Judika Illes

The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey

The Anna Riva Books, especially:

The Modern Herbal Spellbook by Anna Riva

Secrets of Magical Seals by Anna Riva

Techniques of High Magic by Francis King and Stephen Skinner

Charms, Spells and Formulas by Ray Malbrough
  Chapters --
  3: Dolls and Magic
  5: Folk Spells and Miscellaneous
  Formulas Section (chapters 6, 7, 8, 9)
  “Using Psalms for Solving Problems” (pg. 146-148)

The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews by Scott Cunningham


Correspondences


Secrets of Modern Witchcraft by Lady Sabrina
  Chapters --
   4: Air, Fire, Water, Earth
   6: Beneath a Silver Moon
  11: The Color of Magic
  12: Herbal Lore and Wisdom
  13: Treasures from the Earth
  14: Objects of Power and Domination

Everyday Magic by Patricia Telesco
  Chapters --
  1: Magical Boosters, (the sections of) The Winds, Days of the Week, Colors
  2: The Gifts of Nature, (the sections of) Trees, Stones
  Appendixes A and B

American Folk Magic by Silver Ravenwolf
  Chapters --
  10: Indigenous Herbs
  16: Magical Psalms, Seals

The Magician’s Companion by Bill Whitcomb

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham

A Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Circlot



Self-Help, Mental Exercises


12 Positive Habits of Spiritually Centered People by Mark and Sarah Thurston

The Orange Book by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

The Grimoire of Shadows by Ed Fitch
  Part VII: Magical Training

The Satanic Witch by Anton LaVey

Evolutionary Witchcraft by T. Thorn Coyle
  Especially the Devotional Dances

Creative Visualization
                                                                               }  by Shakti Gawain
Developing Intuition

Monday, September 10, 2012

16 Lucky Tokens for Leaders



             Okay, so the title is a little disingenuous.  But we will be talking about both the power of luck and the power of the leadership role in the magical community.  Just hang in there.


             Because I’m a leader, though not quite in the typical business-world sense, I subscribe to a number of not-quite-typical leadership items, including a terrific blog, Leadership Freak (by the inspirational Dan Rockwell).

            I mention this because in the past few months I’ve seen many of such blogs clearly apply not only to coven leaders, but other kinds of leaders in the magical community like teachers, parents, elders, authors, and even website and newsletter writers.  It’s an odd validation of what we’re doing that our troubles are so like those of other organization builders.  And it’s an even greater one that so many of these traditional individuals are willing to share their knowledge with us across the vast expanse of our two mindsets.

            What follows is my take on one of the most eye-catching of these informative tidbits.  It invokes the blessed name of Good Fortune, which as most witches will agree, is a major part of what we’re all striving to achieve on a daily basis.  Good fortune is that kind of constant luck that needs no tending, but simply is a part of who we are.  Fortune carries us through difficult decisions and hard times to come out the other side a great deal wiser and with as little dusting as possible.  In my professional spellcasting business, besides love and revenge (because I’m an equal-opportunity spellcaster), good fortune is the request on every client’s lips.  How happy I was to find the following list describing mundane ways we can build this effect all across our lives, even when we forget our best amulets!  

            Note: The list belongs to Mr. Rockwell, but I have noted after each how they can be applied to our community specifically.  To see the original and a whole lot more, check out:




The Sweet 16 of creating good fortune:
  1. Stay open. The thing you seek may not be the thing you find.
It’s easy to get a picture in our heads about exactly how an event/group/meeting/etc. should—nay, WILL!—turn out.  After all, that’s what we do with much of our magical time, visualize.  But, as in spellcasting, with so many variables (read: other wild people with their own wild wills), we need to stay flexible.  Have a basic goal and stick to that.  If other things crop up (such as major location change for your event or a typically closed ritual featuring tag-along guests), start with damage control and then just roll with the rest.  So long as the basic goal stays intact, you’ve succeeded. 

  1. Keep asking questions.
I’m a question-asker by nature, but I’ve also seen how important it can be even if I wasn’t predisposed to it.  When we ask questions, we do more than find out what others know.  We show interest, raise others’ self-esteem, solve problems without blame, and open the way for creative thought.  Before taking on any kind of leadership position, ask a ton of questions: 

What’s the group/organization about?
What would I be doing specifically?
Who would work with me?
How long do I have to prepare?
How often would I be called upon to perform my functions?
Who would I be speaking/writing, etc. for and to?
Are there costs or travel involved?
Would I work with other groups/organizations/other leaders?  In what capacity?

It’s these kind of questions that help you understand if you actually want to deal with all the different aspects of this proposed position.  But they also clarify the job and give the person you’re asking the chance to point out the good qualities and brainstorm how to circumnavigate the bad ones.  Only once you have as much information as possible can you make a truly wise decision, and not just one based upon ego or emotion.
  1. Look for favorable circumstances. People see what they look for.
When there’s a disorderly event, find a way to bring people together.  When everyone is arguing, seek something on which they can all agree.  There is a way through any forest, but you have to train your eyes to find paths.  A calm head keeps us looking for solutions, not problems.
  1. Set direction and goals; they help you understand favorable winds.
Every step of the way, you should be working towards a goal.  To keep the ship analogy, don’t ever sail without a heading.  Once you’ve achieved a goal, celebrate it, and then set a new one.  Being tossed around by circumstances can only happen when you don’t know where you’re going.  Give your group or coven a definite purpose beyond the pleasure of group rituals; set a destination for your writing and art; know what you want to be when you grow up!  How many ways can you impact your community—now go make a map to do them!
  1. Adapt to favorable opportunities that aren’t perfect.
I’ve often said that when I’m trying to accomplish something, my first choice never works as well as my second.  You may not have all the money or know-how, you might be short on supplies or help from others, but you can do great things with a little creativity.  Stay focused on the rare opportunity you’ve been given to do something important.  Don’t give up on the imperfect—it just needs a little molding.
  1. Keep moving forward even if direction changes.
Again, giving up is never a smart leader’s option.  Just like you can’t give up on your kids no matter what, you can’t give up on those you lead in the magical community.  Situations are never static, and we need to work around issues as they arise.  But don’t let your need for a strong defense keep you from trying to score points!  Move on always!
  1. Prepare for adversity.
Delays, arguments, loss, enemies…they’re out there and they will happen eventually.  You need to know what you’ll do when they find you.  How do you plan to handle these threats to your goal?
  1. Embrace turbulence; it opens hearts and minds.
My father always says, “Hard times make good people.”  When things are imperfect, people need to band together and bring out their very best.  You’ve got to be okay with circumstances that force you to be as good as you can be.
  1. Let go of failure.
I like watching Yahoo’s “Failure Club” now and again because the message is that no matter what the goal, we’re all driven onward by some hungry, mysterious force and also  that we’re all scared out of our wits.  But don’t focus on the fear.  It’s going to be there no matter what.  What’s even scarier is the thought that someday, when it’s too late, we’ll be sitting alone saying “I didn’t even have the guts to try.” 
  1. Talk opportunities. Talking problems elevates and validates them. The more you talk about problems the more problems you see.
Here’s some magical thinking if ever I saw it!  Focus on the bad, and bad is all around.  Especially since we’re in an entire community of magic-workers, we need to see problems as a new chance to hone our skills and stir up something unexpectedly wonderful. 
  1. Learn from mistakes.
Two quotes come to mind:
1)  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” 
2) “A smart man learns from his mistakes but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

So here’s two sides to the coin.  Repeating inadequate actions gets you nowhere, but also that other people can easily model what we don’t want just as easily as what we do.  Before making a big change, check around with others and listen to their stories.  Plan your best for avoiding their stumbles.
  1. Push through resistance.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  That is all.
  1. Disregard convenient activities; do what is right.
There’s usually a huge gulf between what is nice to do (or polite, socially acceptable, safe…) and what is right.  Should your group endorse something horrible in order to win more popularity?  Should your organization to host a coffee klatch or a conference? 
Where are you needed?  Be there with no regrets.
  1. Build a network of friends.
This one should be pretty easy for us witches, since we spend so much of our time in communication.  Each of the people you know has his/her own skills and specialties; they each have their own extended circles that don’t coincide with yours at the moment; they’ve undergone their own trials and come out with their own successes.  That’s the networking part—we’re each useful to each other in different ways.  But the friends part is the most important.  People who understand you and your undertaking, who seek your success as much as (if not more than) you do, can do you the greatest favor in any undertaking—they can make it all worthwhile. 
  1. Ask for advice, a lot. Seek out experts and others who share your experiences and vision.
Covered a bit in different sections here, seeking out people who’ve been there will help a lot when you’re not certain what the future will look like.  Listen well, write things down, be gracious.   
  1. Express gratitude.
Probably the most important part is to show your appreciation.  You had the vision but there were a whole lot of other people who went into your success.  Thank them along the way and once you arrive.  Thank the Gods and guides.  Thank the Earth, thank your ancestors, thank everybody.  I thank you.

Bonus: Do your best where you are.
I believe that we should always live below our means and above our station.  You can do great things right now, even without the best of everything around you.  You can embody greatness right now and impact the lives of those you have yet to meet.  If you can see it and go boldly into it, you will have all the good fortune you need and more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Don't Bring Me Down, Grooose!


Yep, that's all that runs through my head lately.  There seems to be nothing quite so delightful to the average magical mind as proving what an erudite occultist they are by making someone else feel stupid.  This just has got to go.

I've had to reply to more than a few people who get nothing but put-downs from local groups, group leaders, and solitaries for not knowing more or for not having the same practice.  Cautious people are called "fluffy bunnies" and "whiny babies," black magicians are called "goths," professionals are "cheap sell-outs."  Each tradition, each teacher, each book has detractors who whip daggers at their target without end.  Why all the labeling?  What's it to you?  What's it to any of us?

I guess I have a bit of a different history than most of the other practitioners I meet.  I spent about the first two years of my practice in complete isolation, without telling a soul or discussing magic or Paganism in any way.  All I did was read and practice.  After that, I told only a handful of the people closest to me and to the rest kept my silence.  Even when I met people who were interested in magic, I said nothing.  This went on for the next year or two.  In that time, I had amassed quite a stock-pile of knowledge and experience in ritual and spellcasting.  I didn’t feel less than any other witch because, in my life, there weren’t any.  I grew confident in myself and, because of that confidence, became eager to meet other witches.  Over the next few years, I learned to use the Internet to find them. 

This, I find, is the fatal flaw.

Here in the digital world, we can be anything we want.  Online is a veritable theater of colorful characters, some entirely made-up, some a projection of dreams, others a nightmare.  But none of them have to be real so everyone is free to play with as many costumes as they wish.  While that can be considered psychologically healthy as an expression of Jungian archetypes (guess who took psych. in high school!), it can also be considered lying.  Especially if one is acting out these personas as though they were one's real life and personality, the average person can get easily confused and hurt.  So, we learn to weed out the lies, test every person we meet, go through all the facts as though we were each little Colombo's, verbally extracting threads of damning evidence from na├»ve suspects.

But the rules change.  Now the suspects think they're on the case.  They inspect you as much as you inspect them.  They pull the old finger wag and "Just one more thing..." as much as you do.  So we suspect everyone and assume that no one is who or what they claim.  Since we cannot see one another, we cannot judge by the usual clues whether this person is for real or not.  Since we cannot hear each other, we can't even be sure that we're being received in the same manner that we think.  Since communication online is instant, the rule of order is quick decisions, snappy retorts, and categories for everything. 

So, sure, that's online "life."  But it's a poor substitute for real life.  I've seen my share of irritating comments and callous behavior in the magical community around me but online, stealth aggressiveness is the white noise at the back of every conversation.  Maybe it's just this manner of communication as it has evolved that causes it to be this way or maybe we just find it easier to bring out the weaponry when we can't see who we're shooting.  In any event, I've had just about anything and everything lobbed at me online while most of the terrible things said to me/in my presence offline were based on the old standby of awkward conversation: "foot-in-mouth disease." 

Sometimes these little foibles (okay, irritating-as-hell personality flaws) come out as the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I let them slide.  Most are desperate grabs for attention and acclaim.  Once in a while I get all Freudian on them and seek out their underlying issues; sometimes I just make an ass of them in public.  (Hey, I never said I wasn't as flawed as the rest!)  For example, I once was contacted by an older woman about joining my group.  She was a fast-talking, self-promoting type but I thought I’d at least give her a chance.  When we met in person she assured me that she was perfect for our coven while simultaneously swiping all my paperwork I was using for examples.  Later, she told people that we met only because I was desperate to join her group.  Wha..?  I let it slide since it was pretty obvious to all that she was begging for attention in any ways she could get it.  Another time a fellow local coven leader introduced me to a newbie and then proceeded to tease her about the same bad pronunciation we all had before we heard the words spoken (like saying Sam-Hane) and made snide, psudo-confidential remarks to me even though she was right there in front of us.  I turned the tables, explained the pronunciation to the girl, and then—“confidentially”—told her how asking newcomers to say “Athame” is how some folks try to get a leg up on fresh young minds like hers. 

Yeah, those people suck.  But they probably suck in all areas of their lives, not just as witches.  It certainly didn't originate with their lives as witches though the feeling of entitlement probably helped.   So, without singling out the wise from the wicked, how do we combat this mess?  We do what witches have always done--we go our own way.  If being around a certain person fills you with feelings of inadequacy, stop seeing them.  If a group or teacher puts down your beliefs, move on.  If your community doesn't accept you, don't accept them.


But, wait.  It doesn't end there. 

We know we can't simply walk out on everyone who doesn't make us deliriously happy every day or who makes us realize how little we've accomplished.  What we need is some perspective.  Get out a notebook and answer some questions.  Write until both wrists ache (even though you only use one to write) and then write some more.


1)  That person who makes me feel bad.
  a)  What specifically makes me feel bad?  Is it what they do or what they imply? 
  b)  How does this change my view of myself before and after I'm with them?
  c)  What would I need to do/become in order for this not to bother me?
  d)  What would I need to do/become in order to feel like I'm on the same level?
  e)   Can I learn anything from this?

2)  The group or teacher who puts me down.
  a)  What do they say, do, or imply that is a put-down?  What part of me are they insulting?
  b)  What makes it an insult to me?
  c)  If I were a teacher, would I ever say this?  Even as a test or a lesson?  What would I say instead?
  d)  What would be my ideal experience with a teacher/group? 
  e)  Can I learn anything from this?

3)  The community that doesn't accept me.
  a)  How am I excluded? How much of the community excludes me?
  b)  How much of the community have I seen? (list all events, stores, workshops, open circles, meet-and-greets, festivals, etc. and what the reaction was at each)  Where have I not tried?
  c)  If the worst of these events happened today, how would I handle it? 
  d)  What would I like to be accepted for?  What do I want others to see in me?
  e)  Can I learn anything from this?



As you can see, the final thing we must always ask ourselves is "what is the lesson here?" (and yes, some of these questions are a trick.  But it's a nice one--think deeper) and even, "is there one?"  Sometimes the lesson is as simple as learning that we should leave a conversation before it becomes an argument; sometimes it's more about learning to stand up for our ideas or not allowing other to intimidate.  Other times we find that what hurts can be for our own good.  It depends upon the person and the situation as to what the answer to these questions will be. 

But, in the end, we should always learn.  This keeps us from becoming bitter, jealous, or cruel.  And we know that if we allow those things to take over, they'll only end up spilling out onto innocent people.  Don’t let others bring you down and certainly don’t become one of them!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Never Home for the Harvest


                 Though many of us consider the end of summer to be Labor Day, or even the first day of a new school year, we recognize the true beginning of autumn with the coming of the Equinox.  Fall has always been a time to bring in the crop, so to speak, and plan for winter.  Harvesting what is passed, planning for the future, and celebrating the good fortune of both are central to the Fall Equinox.  We give thanks for the blessings of another season.

                That’s enough of the lesson!  Now for my take on the issue.  The Equinox is about those things, yes, but it’s also about reflecting on the process.  The seed planted last fall slept through the winter to bloom in spring.  Now it is ready to be picked so we may enjoy it.  This same cycle is played out for each of us whether our own patterns of creation are yearly or not.  Some of our plans only take a week or two to manifest, some take months, but the pattern remains the same.  We harvest and we enjoy.  Some of the big harvests (large-scale projects like a new home or the completion of a book) call for parties, sharing the great news with friends and family.  Smaller ones might be shared between a few friends or, in the case of we witches, the coven.  “So, that awful woman at work got fired, eh?  Good job!”  “Let’s have a few drinks and celebrate the wonderful healing work Lucy did for her aunt!”  We should always celebrate happy endings.  That way, we know where they are.

                Reflecting in this way is an important part of the process.  When we begin something, we always know it’s beginning.  When we’re working toward a goal, we know it’s in process.  But when we finish, and do not take the time to recognize it, and only start again on a new goal, it doesn’t feel finished.  We turn the hamster wheel only to see that, with the next step, it needs turning again.  

                This, in a nutshell, is me.  I am forever on one project or another—usually several—and when one is nearing completion; another idea pops up ready to take its place.  It’s somewhat like a relay race—the baton is passed with both parties running like hell.  So I am never done, my work is never done.  There is research work, writing work, spellwork, divination work, recording work, and teaching work…and research work, writing work…   Where one leaves off, another picks up.  

                Most of the time, this unlikely system works for me.  Of course, that’s not to say it doesn’t cause me irritation at times but it’s become so normal that I expect it every time.  Usually people like to strike a balance between work and rest.  This pattern, however, means that the only way to keep balance is through momentum.   

                I doubt that I am alone in this situation.  A lot of people consider witchcraft to be a “hobby.”  Even if the practitioner doesn’t feel that way themselves, others around them will, and expect the same level of free-time from a witch as they would any other person.  But those of us in the magical community know that magic is no hobby and can take a substantial amount of time in its practice and training.  So sometimes the pressure to do more with less time comes from within and sometimes from without.  

                When we come to the Fall Equinox, we’re supposed to be taking stock of all this.  We reenact rituals with heartfelt thanks to the Gods.  We talk about bringing in the harvest and settling in for the calm of winter.  But do we all really do this?  Do I (or anyone like me) do this?  Hell no!  We plan and arrange for the ritual, we bake and cook to make a great feast for everyone, we memorize lines, and we guide others, but we don’t settle in, there simply isn’t time.  Constant progress means that while everyone else celebrates the harvest contentedly, we’re out in the field, either still gathering or putting down a new crop.  And the time that follows this sabbat is only for preparation for the next.  After all, Halloween is the biggest night of the year—there’s a lot to do and not a minute to spare.  We take a moment during the ritual to touch on thankfulness but there’s no time to explore it.

                I suggest that if any of readers are now nodding (or grimacing) to the familiarity of all this, as I certainly am, we all STOP and take a deep breath.  I have the answer.

                We do nothing.  That’s right – nothing.  I’ve tried all different kinds of solutions for this problem – meditating, changing my social patterns, different books, different spells, different everything – and it still persists undaunted.  So now is the unveiling of my new plan – Nothing.  I propose that all we overworked, over-stressed, over-stimulated Pagans take a certain amount of time (no less than a week) and do nothing whatsoever to do with our path nor our practice.  Now, to some, this is counterintuitive, to others, counterrevolutionary.  But it is in fact a healthy part of practice.  Just as the moon has her period of absolute dark (where she decides her “me time” has nothing to do with lighting your evening), so should we too have down-time of calm and rest.  

                I began this method sporadically a few years ago.  It was from an absolute burn-out, and that has been my only use of this “Dark Moon” ever since.  But now I see that it can and should be a regular part of the cycle, not something to be drawn out only when I feel overwhelmed by the expectations of coven, friends, family, self, and clients.  Our Dark Moon can be incredibly relaxing and help us come back even stronger.  During this time I don’t read books on witchcraft/Paganism/the occult at all, nor do I visit websites or talk about it with others; I don’t cast spells, research in any way, plan coven meetings or events, gather components, or even watch movies/documentaries pertaining to these topics.  Nary a charm crosses my lips and my almanac languishes unopened for a week.   For me, that’s a lot.  It turns out to mean a lot, too.

                So, this Equinox, while you’re standing in the circle, reciting your piece and mentally running to-do lists for after the ritual ends, remember to make time for a vacation.  Believe me, you will have plenty of time during it to count your blessings and give thanks for every one.