This is an excerpt from my new book, The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation. I am sharing it because I have noticed an awful lot of activists on my Twitter feed expressing pain, rage, and exhaustion. Accordingly, I have revived a hashtag, #activistSelfCare. I didn’t do this to promote the book; I did it because I saw people in pain.
It turns out that the term ‘self care’ originated with Audre Lorde , who wrote,
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
The night journey: witchcraft as transformation
This book is aimed at witches who want to deepen their engagement with their Craft. It explores modes and types of ritual; how rituals work; the uses of sound and silence in ritual; the witch’s journey through life; the stages and pitfalls of the inner work. It shows how Queer Witchcraft is an inherent aspect of the archetype of the witch; how witchcraft relates to the land; witchcraft as resistance to oppression; working with ancestors; the witch’s pact with spiritual powers; the relationship between madness, shamanism, and witchcraft; and the concept of the night journey, another very old image from the history of witchcraft; how to use insights gained from the practice of witchcraft in everyday life; group dynamics; being a coven leader; teaching and learning in a coven; egregore, lineage, upline, and downline; power and authority; the process of challenging oppression; how to evaluate your Craft; the meaning and purpose of ‘spirituality’, religion, and magic; the archetype of the witch and what it means.
When I was writing Dark Mirror
, I didn’t realise until I stitched all the files together that I had written 150,000 words. So I thought the best thing to do would be to split it into two books, and this is the second of the two. Its focus is more on traditional witchcraft, the land, and resistance to oppression. I chose the title partly because a friend commented that she really liked the phrase, partly because the concept was so central to ideas of witchcraft in past centuries, and partly because of its resonance with other esoteric traditions.
Since Hollywood and TV don’t seem to have heard of male witches, I thought it would be fun to make a list of my top ten wizards. There are quite a lot to choose from, what with the Harry Potter universe, the Discworld, and many more. Not all of them are called wizards, but they embody the archetype of wizard, which seems to be derived ultimately from the image of ancient druids and shamans, but has picked up the symbolism associated with magicians, occultists, astrologers, alchemists, and scientists along the way.
My preferred metaphor for gender is a scatterplot (not a spectrum). If one’s assigned gender is at point (a,b) but one’s actual gender is at point (q,r) then one needs to change to match one’s actual gender. If one’s actual gender is at point (c,d) it’s quite near one’s assigned gender, so the person is cisgender.
If we model gender as a spectrum, it suggests that male and female are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and supports the gender binary, hence positioning genderqueer, nonbinary, and gender fluid people somewhere on that spectrum, whereas they might be outside it. A line is a one-dimensional model. We have more dimensions available to us than that.
Perhaps we could reimagine gender as a landscape. The mountains of the Fierce Femmes. Little Cisgender on the Wold. The village of Enby. The river of Genderfluid. Much Genderqueer in the Marsh. The valley of the Otters, near Bear Forest.
The image of the witch in fiction is ambivalent. The witch defies patriarchal notions of womanhood, asserting her independence, her right to her own sexuality, and her innate power. This is scary for the patriarchy, so witches are often portrayed as coming to a bad end, or being bitter and destructive
. But every so often, there’s a movie witch who transcends these ideas and asserts her right to be sassy and feisty and powerful, and
gets to live happily ever after.
Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft
Available now from Lulu
Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. It can also mean the transformation of the psyche that comes about through engaging in religious ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is about making meaning, weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love. Creating a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity. Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.
Wiccans can be polytheist, animist, pantheist, monist, duotheist, atheist/archetypalist, or “all of the above depending on the day”. Most Pagans believe that the divine is, or deities are, immanent in the world; and that includes most Wiccans.
This theological diversity works in ritual settings as long as everyone can “translate in their head” and have a certain amount of flexibility as to practice and the wording of rituals.
Imbolc is the time of year when I like to start new projects and endeavours. Imbolc would be an excellent time to celebrate a transition from one gender to another. It’s the time when the first signs of spring appear (at least in my neck of the woods – your local climate may vary). The goddess most closely associated with Imbolc is Brighid, goddess of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.
Sex is assigned according to seven different biological characteristics, which can and do vary considerably. Intersex children are assigned a sex depending on how closely these seven characteristics match male or female. A lot of people have six out of seven matching a particular sex, or five out of seven. A lot of people never find out that they have less than seven matching characteristics. However, this massively calls into question that there is such a thing as two distinct biological sexes.
Furthermore, why do we attach so much importance to sex (clearly a social construct) that we are prepared, as a society, to surgically modify babies?
Gender is how you feel on the inside. You can be non-binary, genderqueer, male, female, femme, butch, gender-fluid, etc.
It is often assumed that the purpose of religion is to shape its adherents into nicer people. However, a quick look at the number and variety of unpleasant people in every religious tradition gives the lie to this idea. If religion doesn’t make people nicer, what is it actually for?